‘You must be rich then.’
This is what the taxi driver who took us to the airport last Thursday said when he heard that we are going away for two weeks.
This made me think.
I’ve never thought of us as rich. We are a middle class family, we have above average income and a healthy net worth. But rich we are not.
Yet I’m sitting here, looking at the ocean. I’ve just come back from a walk and the sand felt like the softest silky shawl.
For six days now, we’ve enjoyed the dramatic views: the vertical cliffs that shelter alcoves of smooth sandy beaches.
In the evening we go promenading in the nearest town; we look at the Super-Moon and the path it charts on the ocean.
It is a lovely and relaxing piece of paradise!
A month ago we didn’t know where we’ll be going for our summer holiday.
Two weeks in the Algarve, Portugal will costs us less than £3,000.
I know this is a large amount of money; my point, though, is not about spending little but getting the most value for your money.
Let me tell you what we’re getting for less than £3,000:
- Return flights from Manchester, UK to Faro in Portugal for three people;
- Transfer from and to the airport (about an hour and a half car journey);
- A one bedroom apartment for 14 days (kitchenette, sitting room with sofa bed for our son and a bedroom);
- Unlimited access to a swimming pool;
- Food (self-catering and eating out);
- Renting an umbrella and beach chairs for the duration of the holiday (the beach is four minutes’ walk away);
- Treats and small purchases.
Altogether, I don’t think this is too bad. Many people spend more than this for a week holiday and our past experience tells me that they are not necessarily at better places and have better conditions.
(Okay, there are two small issues here: the Atlantic is really cold and there is not much anyone can do about it, and there is no washing machine in the apartment).
In our family, the one who books holidays is John. So tonight, I asked him to tell me his top five tips to get the best value for your money when booking a holiday.
This is what we worked out.
One: Wait and Watch
Usually people start asking me about our plans for a summer holiday in January and February.
I always tell them the truth: I have absolutely no idea where we’ll be going. This is because usually we book our holiday in June/July and go away in August.
When we were paying off our debt we didn’t even do that. We just booked flights to Sofia and once there we looked for any last minute deals. This way we managed to have inexpensive beach holiday’s while staying on course to paying off the debt.
If you wish to snag a great deal, you should keep your nerve, wait and watch (there are many sites on which you can do this but John uses LastMinute.com).
Two: Be Flexible
Be prepared to be flexible about your holiday. Set only very broad rules and requirements.
For example, we knew that we want a beach holiday (Bulgarians believe in the health magic of sea, sand and salty water) and we knew that we want to go away for two weeks (we’ve tried going away for a week and found that it is not enough to be able to rest). Two other requirements were booking a self-catering apartment and having a swimming pool.
We were completely flexible about everything else. John looked at holidays in Crete, on the Greek islands, on Gozo, in Malta and in Spain.
We ended up in Portugal.
Three: Go Self-catering
Going self-catering in the summer is, we find, a great idea. And is far less bother than it sounds: for two weeks we don’t have to cook elaborate meals.
We always find that we have very healthy diet when on holiday.
Breakfast is easy: a piece of toast with butter and jam and a coffee is all we need.
Lunch is easy and we have tomatoes, salad, cheese and eggs.
Dinner can be a bit more tricky; still soup, pasta and rice based meals are easy to prepare.
Every evening after dinner we go for a stroll and have a treat.
We’ve tried having half board or all inclusive holidays and it doesn’t work for us. We don’t eat or drink enough to make an ‘all inclusive’ worth it and half board can become really boring.
Four: Agree on Pampering Rules
Right. It is a holiday, isn’t it?
So some pampering should be included in the programme. If you don’t want to over-spend though, it is important that the pampering rules are worked out and agreed by all members of the group.
We, for example, have agreed that every fourth evening we’ll go for dinner in one of the local restaurants.
Last night we had wonderful dinner in a local fish place: the sea bass was delicious and the white wine went well with the meal and the heat.
Five: Hire with Care
When on holiday, people do need to hire stuff.
We hire an umbrella and deck-chairs every day (well, except when we decide to stay at the swimming pool). It is much cheaper to buy an umbrella – we do it for the comfort of the chairs and it is not that expensive (much cheaper than in Bulgaria anyway).
In the past, we’ve hired a car for a week and used it a day. We don’t do this any longer. It is likely we are not going to hire a car at all.
We may book some trips, though (I’d like to go to Seville, for example).
What I’m saying is that you’ll get much better value with some planning and aiming to eliminate waste when hiring cars and other things.
‘Going anywhere nice?’ – our taxi driver asked.
‘Portugal’ – I said.
‘For how long?’
‘You must be rich then. It is very rare today that people go away for two weeks; it is usually one week or ten days.’
‘Well, it is more a matter of how you organise your trip.’ – I said.
And I really believe this.