Planning affordable holidays when you have a larger than average family.

When we had just a "normal" amount of children we, like many people, aspired to at least one getaway a year. Not a tropical beach or exotic location but just a break and a change of scenery. That's not always the case now but I have managed to plan or blag a few cheap hols over the years so I thought I'd share how we managed to holiday with 7 children.

Our first holidays with children were at campsites in France where the tent is already erected for you. Proper beds, a decent kitchen, a real fridge for the cheap wine and continental meats and best of all a barbecue.

DH enjoyed his morning walks to the boulangerie to pick up French batons and croissants for breakfast and we enjoyed relatively cheap and easy holidays just enjoying the countryside and beaches near our camps.

We even managed to do Disneyland Paris on a budget a few times, booking campsites within an hours drive of the park and buying day tickets, one at a time throughout the year from our local Disney store to spread the cost.

Pregnant with DS#3 (when both of us had proper jobs) we even upgraded to mobile homes - some of them better equipped and with more bathrooms than our actual home!
boys with crab on spade
We caught a crab!

But as our family grew and my full time job gave way to part time and badly paid casual work we had to accept that even cheap French holidays were out of our range.

We bought a tent - a big tent! We discovered some amazing campsites in the UK and revisited holiday locations from our childhood taking delight in rock pooling and crabbing. We had a whole week on a lovely site near Bournemouth for just £90!

Then camping became trendy, more and more people bought large tents. Many campsites caught on and started charging a premium for big tents and disappointingly for us, started charging per person. That same holiday in Bournemouth went up to £300 - cheap I suppose but add on petrol (the price of which had also rocketed) and ice creams and excursions and it became undoable.

So we asked around to see if anyone had a static caravan on a site they were willing to let us use cheaply. Better than that, our priest's mum offered us the use of her beautiful home near Portsmouth for a week while she visited family elsewhere. It was ideal - she got a free house sitter and we got a free holiday. We also had the biggest car break down disaster ever necessitating rescue from friends driving two cars 100s of miles to rescue us, and a badly broken leg (DS#4) while we were there but still, good memories on the whole!

girl digging on beach
DD#2 nr Portsmouth
We had two years in a row staying there and I would love to go back but it seems cheeky to ask again. The children loved it and in fact my eldest now lives in Portsmouth!

We've also had breaks at a friend's lovely cottage in the Cotswolds. No seaside obviously but lots of fun to be had river wading! And stayed with my friend in Germany and my cousin in Sandhurst -which is a better holiday destination than you might think but that's mainly down to the company!

I'd say it's definitely worth asking around or posting a begging message on Facebook - you never know who might be looking for a house sitter and even if their home isn't near a beach a change is as good as a rest!

Social networks also great for hunting down last minute bargains - a lot of holiday accommodation providers post messages looking for people to fill last minute cancellations at knock down prices.

In recent years our holidays have consisted of one-night camp-outs organised by our local Team Parish which are now anticipated with the fervour I would associate with going on a cruise. Bizarre that the prospect of hurtling round a field with their friends in the dark while their dads drink beer and barbecue is apparently the perfect holiday for young children!

Milton Keynes shopping centre beach
DD#1 on the beach at MK
We have even enjoyed a few days on the beach in Milton Keynes - no, not  not by the lakes but in the shopping centre where for a few years they have opened a fabulous sandy "beach" and provided buckets and spades - all FREE!

And through an inheritance and the generosity of a friend we have twice managed to get our whole family out to visit Grandma in Cyprus. Obviously the children would choose to do this every year but flight costs alone prevent this. Although you can swap Tesco club card points for flight discounts with some carriers.

This year - well this year was extra special. I was dumbfounded to discover last summer I had been chosen as a Butlin's Ambassador. This entitled me and mine to one free holiday at any of their sites. I was a bit nervous - had always vowed I would never go to Butlin's imagining a seedy, tatty holiday camp with badly behaved kids and their badly behaved children running riot.

Butlin's  giant deckchair
relaxing at Butlin's
I could not have been more wrong! The Wave Hotel at Bognor was sophisticated and tasteful and extremely well equipped and ideal for families. They accommodated our bigger than average brood with ease and the food alone was worth the trip!

The children (and the adults!) loved all the activities - go-karting, fencing lessons, fairground rides, shows, spa sessions, swimming, playgrounds, gaming, soft play.....Oh and theres a lovely beach just over the road too!

We enjoyed that holiday during the May/June half term a few weeks ago and I was a bit nervous as that left us with nothing planned for the long summer hols.

But thanks to the church "Dads, Lads, Daughters and Dogs" annual camp and a variety of days out (mainly free and blogging related thankfully)  plus a trip to the Black Country for Nanny's 90th birthday party the children are happy with what we have planned.
boy on campsite eating ice-cream
Grumpy at church camp

I shall also throw in a few walks and picnics, playdates and BBQs and hopefully when their big brother has moved into his new house, a trip to the seaside to see him and FDIL. I'm also keeping everything crossed for good news from Butlins - having had such an amazing time I am hoping to be chosen again for 2014-15 so I can visit their other sites and spread the news about how awesome Butlins is for all ages for another year. New Ambassadors will be announced later this week. Eek!

Anyway -surviving the holidays when you have a big family -not always easy but it can be done, and on a tight budget too with a bit of imagination, a helping of sheer cheekiness and a dollop of luck.