Updated: May 16
Kids on average in the UK get 13 weeks of holiday a year; even by my poor maths we would never get the chance to holiday as a family for that long, nor would our bank balance handle it. So how do I handle the 13 weeks of holidays!
Most people in the UK work full time; we spend our time running from school drop off and pickups, extra activities and birthday parties. So far this year we have had a birthday party every weekend! Childcare is balanced on a knife edge, and when it comes to the school holidays it's exhausting. But how do we manage it, financially, and ensuring that we make the most out of the time with the kids?
As much as I genuinely love spending time with my kids I also enjoy watching them thrive with other kids. Whilst the cost of childcare goes up any easy way to get a good balance is to see where you can share the load with another parent. A good friend of mine works on a Monday and Tuesday and always needs cover. So we switch the kids between us. This works fine, however, being honest with the other parent involved is critical to establishing a good relationship, especially in the winter months when free outdoor activities are limited. Whilst taking on someone else’s kids sounds like a total hassle it will allow you to gain a solid network for the future. My honesty with parent 2 goes a bit like this… ‘Happy to take them Monday/Tuesday, rock painting and arts and crafts in the morning, picnic lunch in the den and then movie afternoon with popcorn’ but balancing the leave day is really where the trick is…
Let’s look at annual leave entitlement and start at Christmas…
Christmas hols: Days used: 5 - Total Used 5
Most children break up a week before Christmas. It’s a strange one. If the tradition of Christmas Day and Boxing Day didn’t exist we honestly would be in warmer climates! The truth of the matter is that the children’s holidays normally start 1 week before, so unless you’re a hard core ski family the kids are kicking around for at least a week before. If you use 3 days holiday between Christmas and New Year this gives you about 9 days holiday in total. If you use an extra 2 days to split the load with parent 2 that means you have it covered. 9 days seems like a long time to be kicking around at home and if you don’t fancy it and want to make the most of travelling overseas, flights are cheaper on both Christmas Day and returning New Year’s Day. If you have decided that you are heading further afield, remember flights open 9 months before the date you want to travel, and you can pick up a great bargain for South Asia and the Far East.
February Half-Term: 2 days used - Total Used 7
So I’m going to be honest this is the worst half term of the year! The weather is shocking and there isn’t a great deal to do. What’s more is that the kids are exhausted after a busy Christmas by running around seeing family or travelling, and they NEED A BREAK, so use this is one to recharge. It's ok to put a movie on, it's ok to be inside and play board games. This is the holiday that I ask the grandparents to help out, let them play all day and chill out and use the TV when I need to. The most important thing about the February half-term is that you take it easy on yourself, and don’t feel bad if it’s a slow week. The kids are grateful for the rest and not every holiday needs to be full of activities wall to wall.
Easter Break: 2 days used - Total Used 9
So the weather is looking better and it’s time to get outdoors again. If you add 2 days to the Easter Holidays you will get a good 6-day break as a family. Whilst it’s still a little chilly to camp, there are lots of other options like holiday rentals in the UK’s stunning national parks or exploring the islands and highlands. Easter is the time that some of the larger attractions start to open up in the UK, and you may have a number of local village Easter fetes. If you are going to look at clubs, this is a great break to start to try them out as the kids will be outside more than normal. If you are looking to save some money on clubs look at the smaller pop up ones, not the big names. Your local Families Magazine will have details of what’s available locally.
May Half-Term: 4 days used - Total Used 13
Normally hiding within the half-term is the May Bank holiday which helps give you an extra day back. May half-term is the ideal school holiday break to get overseas, whether that is a package holiday or a driving one. As you still are out of season the prices for a getaway can be a fraction of the cost of those in the summer. With travelling overseas you will also get the best of the weather with Turkey coming in at a pleasant 25 degrees and Spain at 22 degrees. The other pleasure is with being early season there are less bugs and mosquitos around. Check out our advice pages to help you get travelling stress-free.
Summer Holidays: 10 days used - Total Used 23
Yep, it’s the big one! 5 whole weeks of summer. It's crazy, isn’t it! But there are lots of ways that you can get through it without breaking the bank and also making sure you have at least 2 whole weeks off together as a family. The first thing I’m going to tell you is don’t be a superhero, even if you wanted to take all 5 weeks off with the kids they would have sent you crazy by the end of it! If you are keen to get them into clubs, shop around beforehand and book early as most places offer a discount for advanced bookings. Also, work out if you can get away with some half-day clubs. Now the world is starting to return to normal, businesses are more flexible to the hours that people need, to ensure a better work life balance; there is certainly no harm in asking the question. Reach out to Granny, Aunt and extended family for help… EVERYONE IS IN THE SAME BOAT.
But the real question is what you can do with those precious 2 weeks which means that you haven’t had to sell a kidney to do it. If I told you that you can be south of Venice for just over £1400 for 2 weeks you wouldn’t believe me. But it is entirely possible if you take the plunge and camp. You may think this isn’t your thing but if you are committed to trying something new, eurocamping is entirely accessible when you want it to be. Most non-campers have at some point gone camping at a festival, had a 5 mile trek to a toilet block that resembles the aftermath of an 18 year olds party, and realised that they haven’t got even a mug with them to make a coffee. Family camping is another level, my children have bunk beds which help with space, my bed is 75cm off the ground, we have sofas, electricity to plug hobs, cooking equipment, and the toilet facilities are better than a first class lounge at Heathrow. The great thing about camping is the ability to get up and go, but if you are worried about not having the kit, start with looking on Facebook Marketplace. Most equipment there is in really good condition as it’s just being upgraded by the diehard campers. Facebook is also a great place to get tips and ideas, but don’t forget our pages and free checklist here!
October Half-Term: 2 days used- Total Used 25
Like the May break, Europe is a good option as it is still warm on the continent, but when you haven’t got many days left to take, booking early with Centre Parcs Europe is a good idea. They have lots of options in terms of days and packages. October is a great break to put in a long weekend somewhere, with lots of UK attractions open for their final weeks before closing for winter.
So … I have managed to sneak 4 holidays into the school year, which for a travel-mad mum isn’t bad! But it’s all about family time. Ben actually gets a lot less holiday than me in a year, so I often treat my mum taking her away with the kids for a few days at the back end of the year. It’s a win win, however it does take some convincing to get her down the rapids(!).
If you are travelling for the first time with your kid there are loads of free resources for you to use, but the most important thing is to make time for your family and make those memories!