Monday, 5 December 2011

Your Guide to a Family-Friendly Travel

Written by Marie Rea

In this era of global economic downturn, can ordinary families still afford to travel or enjoy holidays?

Our family can, so can yours!  You can do it too, through careful planning and budgeting.

Guell Park SPAIN
Instead of showering our boys with material things or brand named clothes, gadgets and the like, we prefer to expose them to the world at large.  This way, they are gaining a broader understanding of their environment, learn about different cultures and help them make informed choices for everyday living.  Travelling as a family has always been a more lasting experience for us and has helped us get closer than ever!

It is quality time at its best! 

Here are some General Tips:
ANZ Stadium Sydney AUSTRALIA
  • Make sure though that your kids will not be disadvantaged.  Plan the vacation dates towards the end of school terms about one week ahead.  Or vice-versa,  towards the start of a new term when your kids won't be missing too much school, depending on how long you'll be away.  Make sure you inform the school and their teachers.  You can also request for handouts and other important notes and organize rescheduling of tests, homework submissions, etc. 
  • During school holidays, travel by train is cheaper using Countrylink. There is a deal where kids travel for one dollar with two paying adults and up to three kids, all for a dollar each!  Check the website or the nearest Countrylink in major train station
Wollemi National Park Sydney AUSTRALIA
  • Before going to the holiday of your choice, research places of interest which offer free entry or free escorted tour.  Many Australian government-owned museums are free to the public and go there first.  In Canberra, the Australian War Memorial and Australian Parliament is free to the public.  There are heaps of things to see and learn from a visit to this place.  You will be able to impress upon your children the importance of preserving peace and the sacrifices our forefathers did to preserve it!  At Australian Museum (Sydney), after 4 P.M. is free also.  Do check before going as rules sometimes change with the seasons.

Harbour Bridge Sydney AUSTRALIA
  • Compare fares, accommodations and holiday packages using reputable websites and show these to your travel agent.  See if he/she can give you a better deal or equal what you got in the net without having to go back to those sites.  Sometimes, it is better travel agents do the work if you have multiple trips.  One site that we always use is expedia.com.au (I booked our Japan and US trips here) as air and hotel packages are offered at discounted rates.  These days, I also book with bestcruises.com.au (South Pacific cruise), ozcruising.com.au (for our Tasmania cruise) ~ this one even has a 5-day cooling off period when you book.  Then a small deposit and you pay six weeks before your sail so it is like a lay-by-plan!  Another good site is cruiseaway.com.au where I booked our New Zealand cruise and our latest one for 2012, another cruise to several points in Asia.
  • Follow the exchange rates of your currency and go when the Australian dollar will have a greater exchange rate. 
Archibald Fountain at Hyde Park Sydney AUSTRALIA
  • Take some essentials with you when travelling to save time and money.  If you are family of four like us, you are allowed at least 80 kilos of luggage for international flights so you can take sachets of coffee, powdered milk, choco drink, even your kids' favourite cereals in case you do not know the area where you're going at first.  Little snacks, biscuits and small drinks in tetra packs (must be in your checked-in luggage and depends on the customs regulations there).  Or, get them at the local supermarket.  Don't forget to take basic family medicines like paracetamol, antihistamines, and puffers for allergies/asthma.  You need doctor's prescriptions/letter for off the counter medication.
  • Your kids need not necessarily see all the theme parks which are often expensive, or zoos/aquariums in a particular place.  Instead, National Parks/Reserve (especially in Australia) are usually free or have discounted rates to families so better go there where there's something for everyone.  It will be fun spotting native birds and other animals on your own.
Darling Harbour Sydney AUSTRALIA
  • Always take a small cooler bag with you and some disposable plates and cutleries when travelling domestic or abroad.  After a few days, eating in restaurants can not only be expensive but tiring for the kids so having your own take away food or if you can cook your own meal, or barbecue in parks with barbecue facilities will also be equally appealing for the whole family.  No need to worry kids will misbehave or annoy anyone.
Tobogganing in Sydney AUSTRALIA
  • Make sure you join the frequent flyer program of the airline you're flying.  They are usually free.  For example, it is Asia Miles for Cathay Pacific Airlines in partnership with Qantas and many airlines.  As member, you're also allowed more luggage, like 23 instead of 20 kilos for some frequent flyer clubs.  A very good one is Etihad's Guest program as I just recently got my free Tablet (Creative Ziio) from redeeming our miles from last years', including free delivery which was within a week.  We still have a good number of points ~ my boys are just having a hard time choosing what to get!  Who said Japan is expensive?  We saved around AUSHongkong.  Many Pinoys also use Philippine Airlines so make sure you join PAL's Mabuhay Club.  The points can be transferred to relatives as far as I know.  Sometimes, points can be redeemed for domestic travel.
  • If flying or cruising is expensive for you (which you can save up for in the future), then one cheap way is to go camping.  If you are a member of NRMA (motoring organization) this group can help you plan your getaway easily.  Or get together with your family and friends for a night or two or even a week of pure adventure  with the barest of essentials!  There is a huge number of family friendly caravanning and camping places to choose from anywhere you are.  Let your fingers do the walking.  You can even download maps, location, places of interest, etc. from the various sites.  A good one is visitnsw.com  Even driving directions are there, you have no excuse for not going.
  • If all else fails, you can always do a "staycation."  That is, stay home but take the family on day trips to your local reserve and take a picnic with you!  Or check your local papers for activities sponsored by your council as they are often FREE.

So, have fun with your family!  You don't need to buy them expensive presents or clothes, toys and computer games that usually don't last anyway.  Your time spent with them will be with them for as long as they live.  Trust this mum of two boys ~ 12 and 16!  So far, the boys have been to over twenty countries and counting.

Cheers and happy travelling!

Note: Re-posted with the permission from the Author. Published in "Ang Kalatas" a community newspaper in Sydney, Australia

Author Bio: 
Marie is a Tasmania-based columnist whose writings appeared in journals and community newspapers in Australia. Her work "If I were a flower" won in a writing competition held in Melbourne. She is the founder of Global Citizens Care Movement helping needy children of her native country, the Philippines.