Holidays: Stay at home or go abroad? Determined to find a value-for-money summer break? We do the sums and compare staycations with trips abroad By Cathy Adams Picture the perfect summer family holiday – are you camping on the windy Norfolk coast or island hopping around the Greek islands? If it's the second option, we've got news for you: it might not be as pricey as you might think.
When family budgets are tight, holidays are typically the first luxury to go. But that doesn't mean families are choosing to stay at home: a recent survey by car insurer Admiral found more than 50% of families would sacrifice other household expenses to ensure they could still take a holiday, although more than 40% of families said they would choose to stay in the UK.
But does a staycation really offer the best value? We compare three UK trips and three trips abroad for a family of four for less than £500, £1,000 and £3,000*.
UK: £500 Believe it or not, you can still enjoy an exciting holiday with your family for under £500 – but it'll be in a luxury yurt, rather than a five-star hotel. Luxury Devon Yurts is a collection of safari tents and yurts just four miles from the beautiful Devon coastline in West Hill, with plenty to keep adults and children amused – from feeding lambs to visiting Cornwall's Eden Project for a day.
A four-night stay in a yurt during July costs from £295 to £325 (luxurydevonyurts.co.uk).
ABROAD: £500 A foreign holiday for under £500 for a family during the peak months requires some flexibility. The first is on accommodation: try renting a holiday apartment through Airbnb (airbnb.com) rather than staying in a hotel or swapping your home through websites such as Home Base holidays (homebase-holidays.com) or Swap My City Pad (swapmycitypad.com). If you fancy something more active, try a volunteering holiday. You'll have to pay for flights but accommodation and most meals are free. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (wwoof.net) lists details of farms in a variety of countries all over the world – although Western Europe is the best covered - that offer working holidays for adults and families.
Wwoof.net lists an olive grove in Pistoia, Tuscany, that welcomes children. easyJet flies to nearby Bologna for around £300 return for a family of four in July.
UK: £1,000 Take to the water and hire a narrowboat for a week to cruise around the dense waterways that criss-cross the UK. Not only can it provide hours of sunbathing on the deck but it's a fun way to explore the length of the country, stopping off at country pubs along the way. If you're yet to gain your sea legs, there are plenty of mooring stops along the canals to pitch up for a few days.
Hiring a narrowboat that sleeps four for a week in July starts from around £600 to under £1,000, which includes insurance, fuel and bed linen (waterwaysholidays.com).
ABROAD: £1,000 The Alps isn't just for winter skiing – it makes a great summer destination too, with activities such as hiking, paragliding, mountain biking and potholing to keep older children amused. Peak Retreats offers some competitive packages during the summer season, including a package to a chalet in Montgenèvre, on the French/Italian border, for less than £1,000. There are even touches of luxury thrown in, including an on-site spa and access to several swimming pools and jacuzzis.
A seven-night self-catering holiday in Montgenèvre, staying at four-star Chalet des Dolines, starts from £749 including return ferry crossings for the week commencing 26 July (peakretreats.co.uk).
UK: £3,000 Why check into a room in a hotel when you can hire out an entire castle? Make your children's dreams of living like Harry Potter come true with a Celtic-style fort. Brackenhill Tower in Cumbria dates back to the 16th century and has acres of landscaped gardens for kids to play in. The tower can sleep up to 10 people (so plenty of space for extra sleepovers) with grand four-poster beds, fireplaces and even a suit of armour. It's in the activity-packed Lake District too, which offers plenty of watersports and outdoor pursuits if playing hide and seek around the castle gets too tiring.
Exclusive hire of Brackenhill Tower for seven days in July for two adults and two children costs £2,700 (celticcastles.com/castles/brackenhill-tower).
ABROAD: £3,000 Thanks to the group-buying discount you'll benefit from when you book a holiday through large-scale travel agents such as Thomson, it can pay to check out their deals. Croatia is an ideal destination for a family holiday, being only two hours away by plane and boasting stunning scenery and cheap accommodation. The traffic-free island of St Andrew, a 15-minute ferry from the coastal town of Rovinj, offers a huge range of activities for kids. In addition, it's close enough for a day trip to Venice, or even to the eerie Postojna Caves in nearby Slovenia.
A Thomson package to four-star Hotel Istra on St Andrew costs £2,826. Flying from Gatwick on 5 July 2014, based on four people sharing a family room with sea view on a half board basis, travelling with Thomson Airways (travelsupermarket.co.uk/holidays).
While the UK offers a wider range of inexpensive holidays thanks to the cheaper travel costs, when it comes to value for money, a foreign holiday typically comes out triumphant as the pound goes much further abroad. Additionally, you won't have to shell out for indoor family activities on an overseas holiday, as there is more likely to be guaranteed sunshine. The key is to pick destinations that your hard-earned cash will go the furthest and set a strict budget to ensure you don't blow your money on the first day.
*All holidays based on two adults and two children, during July. Prices checked during 15-20 May.
How to get a cheap deal on your holiday, wherever you go * Bob Atkinson, travel expert at comparison site TravelSupermarket, says setting an initial budget with a set of criteria for what you want from a holiday is the first step. "Research and compare the costs of both package and DIY trips online, travel mid-week to get lower prices and consider both the cost of the holiday and how much you will need to spend in resort, too," he adds.
* When booking, pay on your debit card or by bank transfer. Many holiday companies pass on credit card charges to customers, so always pay directly if you can.
* If you don't have school-age kids, consider the timing of your trip to avoid school holidays, if possible. "Start your trip in the first few days in July if you can," says Dee Edwards, director of Telltale Travel. "On a trip to Thailand, it would save a minimum of £800 on a family of four to start a trip in early July rather than late July." * Check voucher discount sites and sign up for travel company newsletters such as Travelzoo. They often email special discounts and details of flash sales that offer huge reductions on package deals.
* Look for destinations around the world in which the currency is weak, to make the most of sterling against local currencies. For example, Bali and Bulgaria are currently two of the best value-for-money destinations, according to the Post Office.
* Be flexible and open to new ideas. If you haven't rented an apartment abroad before, try it. As well as being much cheaper than a hotel, the owners will often give great tips to hidden places in the neighbourhood, meaning you can avoid the tourist traps.