Just having kids can be a drain on expenses, let alone taking them on holidays. But there are ways to tighten belts without sacrificing everyone’s enjoyment (and your sanity). Tiana Templeman shows us how.

Things that could save money on your next family holiday: (a) Leaving the kids at home; (b) Cutting fuel costs by camping in the backyard; (c) A road trip that includes bunking down in the car; (d) Reading this article; (e) All of the above.

Technically, the right answer is (e). But the fact that you’ve read this far means you’ve chosen the best answer – which is, of course, (d). Sure, travelling with kids can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are myriad ways to cut the cost of a family holiday without cutting the fun factor.

Getting there
Travelling by car remains a good option, provided you’re immune to the phrase “are we there yet?” (Note: On a long trip, it will likely be you saying this, rather than the kids). Car travel means no airline baggage restrictions, and you can stop whenever and wherever you like. In-car audio books (available for free at your local library) will help the kilometres fly by. If you’re renting a car, consider beginning your trip mid-week, since travelling from a Tuesday to a Tuesday, for example, can equate to a far cheaper deal.

Kids under two fly free, so enjoy it while you can (but bring a change of clothes and your sense of humour). If you’re flying with older children, consider leaving a day or two earlier or later, especially around school holidays; being flexible with dates can save hundreds on airfares.

Kid friendly tours are another economical way to reach your next destination and have fun along the way. Tasmania offers great options – families can tour the west coast and go hiking, canoeing, cycling and platypus spotting for less than $125 per person per day, which includes all activities, food, accommodation and transport from Hobart to Devonport (www.adventuretours.com.au).

Staying there
Staying in an apartment may be slightly more expensive per night than a hotel room but it’s easier and more convenient, especially for larger families. Once you take into account self-catering (and self-laundering) it can be a real money saver.

That aside, staying in a hotel room isn’t out of the question, particularly for those with only one child. Keep an eye out for studio-style digs with a sliding partition between the bedroom and living area, as this allows flexibility and can save the cost of an adjoining room. It also means you won’t have to hide out in the bathroom or sit in the dark waiting for your child to go to sleep (been there, done that – not recommended).

All-inclusive resorts such as Club Med Lindeman Island (www.clubmed.com.au) also offer great value (particularly for parents with perpetually hungry pre-teens), but my pick would have to be family friendly properties that provide stuff for free. Parents who mention Novotel&Family when booking at any one of 22 Novotel hotels around Australia score free accommodation and breakfast for two children up to 16, a cuddly toy or music download card for bigger kids, free in-room cartoon network and a play area in the lobby to save their sanity on check-in. Even better, the whole family gets to enjoy a 5pm late checkout (www.novotel.com.au).

Playing there
Keep that long-suffering wallet firmly in your pocket by making accommodation work for you. During a stay at the recently renovated Novotel Twin Waters (www.twinwatersresort.com.au) with my five year old, we sailed catamarans, went swimming, played at the beach, bounced on a trampoline and watched the big kids learn trapeze at a circus school. Free on-site activities such as these keep kids entertained without any additional cost. After all this excitement, my son and his free stuffed leopard were also in bed early (a bonus for Mum and Dad). Consider booking online (see online tips and tricks) for added savings.

If you do plan to spend money on activities or attractions, how about agreeing on which ones before you leave home? Don’t let your holiday be spoiled by arguments – either have them before you walk out the door, or give older children a set amount to spend while away. Another tip is to try and buy only useful souvenirs; a school drink bottle will likely get more use than a jumbo pencil with a pineapple on top.

Unfortunately, parents cannot control the weather. But they can plan ahead. Wet weather eats into a holiday budget faster than you can say “tropical low”, so pack a few board games or consider buying a new one while you’re away (cheaper than a tourist attraction entry fee, plus you can take it home with you). Keep your mind open to different ideas and don’t rule out pooling resources with other parents. Towers of Chevron Renaissance on the Gold Coast (www.chevrontowers.com.au) has a private theatre which seats up to 18 people and is available for hire at $15 for three hours (much cheaper than Birch Carroll and Coyle, even before you split the cost).

Test drive some of these suggestions on your next family holiday and you’ll soon discover that saving money can be child’s play.

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