10 tips for a value-for-money day out
The summer holidays are a notoriously expensive time. Even when families have pledged to take a staycation and keep the kids entertained with the odd day out, the costs start to mount quickly and painfully.
However, with these ten tips you cans cut those costs dramatically.
%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%> To test just how much we could save, we followed our own advice, and took the family to eight theme parks and attractions, with the aim of saving as much money as possible.
1. Plan ahead
It's all very exciting to wake up and decide to go somewhere on a whim, but it's also much more expensive. Train fares are anything up to 80% cheaper when booked in advance.
A huge number of attractions also offer discounts for tickets booked online and in advance. We visited the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in the New Forest (complete with a stunning collection of cars from the Bond films and the Top Gear experience) for £49.50 for a family of four, compared to £55 if we had bought on the day.
The Eden Project, with its incredible biodomes and huge events schedule offers two tiers of ticket depending on how organised you are - with a 10% discount if you book at least a day in advance and a 15% discount if you book seven days in advance. This brings down an adult ticket price from £23.50 to £19.95.
2. Build in your mode of transport
If you combine your travel tickets with entry to attractions, the savings can be phenomenal. We went to the Isle of Wight on Red Funnel Ferries and saved a small fortune by buying our attraction tickets alongside the ferry tickets as part of the Red Funnel Great Wight Days Out campaign.
Booked in advance the ferry cost just £37.50 for a day return (including up to seven passengers). This then entitles those travelling to savings of up to a third on eleven attractions. We packed in a trip to the Seaview Wildlife Encounter and the Needles Park, and did the whole lot for a family of four for just over £90.
Train companies offer a similar kind of saving. If you travel to London by train and keep your ticket, for example, then you can get 2 for 1 entry at 150 attractions (as long as you print out a voucher and take it with you).
3. Go green
An interesting new development in ticket prices is the green option, where you can make a saving if you make any part of your trip by public transport or bike. Beaulieu offers a 20% discount - and can be approached by bike through some beautiful parts of the New Forest.
The Eden Project does this discount too - and is very helpful in providing details of public transport. By combining the advance purchase and green discount we saved £16 on entry for the family.
4. Build in your accommodation
If you plan an overnight stay, check what deals can be included in your stay. If you stay near the Eden project, for example, and book through Eden's website, you'll get free entry for one child with every adult, money off food and discounts at the shop.
Family Theme Park Paulton's Park (home to Peppa Pig World), meanwhile will give you a second day's entry to the park for free if you book accommodation through the site.
5. Find a multi-attraction deal
There are a number of attractions which let you buy a combined ticket at a reduced price. Merlin, for example, offers a discounted combined ticket for its attractions. So you can book the London Eye, Madam Tussauds, The London Aquarium and the London Dungeon for £333.60 for a family of four - a saving of 40% - albeit still an eye-watering cost.
A variation is where on buying a ticket you automatically qualify for discounts at local businesses. Spinnaker tower in Portsmouth does this deal, where entry will qualify you for a number of local discounts, including 25% off food at Giraffe.
6. Exploit vouchers
This is where you can make the biggest difference. Your first consideration ought to be Tesco Clubcard Vouchers. Clearly this is a marketing gimmick for the supermarket and should never influence your shopping decisions. However, if you're going to shop at Tesco you may as well take advantage, and bargain days out are one of the best returns on the scheme.
An adult entry to the Eden project costs just £8 in vouchers. Meanwhile, Flambards family theme park in Helston is one of many which offers £20 in tokens for £5 in clubcard vouchers. This reduces the entry for for a family of four from £60.90 to just over £15.
If you don't have the vouchers for this, there are still some great savings out there. Check the voucher sites from Voucher Cloud to Groupon well in advance to see what's available. We found a 50% off deal for family entry to Portsmouth Historic Dockyards through vouchercloud, saving us £36. We also got free children's entry to Spinnaker tower through the same site, saving £13.50.
7. Return for free or at a discount
A number of attractions offer this deal, in many instances making what seems like a very expensive trip into a handful of good value days out.
Eden offers you the chance to return for free as many times as you want within a year. The rolling programme of events means that there's plenty to see on the return trips too. The Historic Dockyards at Portsmouth offers the same deal, and because it is divided into a number of different museums and attractions - from the Victory and the Mary Rose to a kids activity centre, there's plenty to see on your return.
Beaulieu also has an offer on return trips, where you can return to any of the attractions - including the museum, Abbey and Top Gear Experience - for free once in the following six days. And Flambards (unusually for a theme park) offers a second visit for free within five days.
8. Keep a tight lid on spending when you get there
If you're not careful the odd ride here and there, something from the gift shop, and snacks and meals out can easily double the cost of your trip. During busy times, queuing in hot cafes can also be a horribly stressful experience.
It's worth checking out the picnic facilities. Somewhere like Beaulieu, for example, is dotted with picnic benches, while Paultons Park is exceptional for a theme park in offering a number of attractive picnic places.
This may seem like obvious advice, but when you're trying to get everyone in the car at the crack of dawn it can be easy to give up on the idea of a picnic, and find yourself with a lunch bill of £60.
9 Plan your trip properly to make the most of it
This is especially true for theme parks, where going to the most popular rides first will ensure a far shorter queue. However, it's well worth planning in depth anywhere you go. Seaview, for example, initially seems like a small, bird-heavy zoo. However, if you ensure you go to each of the 'encounters' you can feed parrots and penguins, and learn strange and unusual facts abut animals you thought you knew for a very unusual experience.
The Needles Park, meanwhile, has a number of attractions, from the chair lift to the carousel. If you plan in advance what you want to do you can buy a book of discounted tickets, and save 25%.
10. Consider less obvious attractions
A big name theme park like Legoland may be thrilling, but it's also expensive and full of queues. Smaller family theme parks like Flambards and Paultons are a fraction of the price, and have next-to-no queues.
You'll need to do your research and ensure that the rides are suitable for the age of your children, because they don't have thrills across the board like somewhere like Alton Towers. However, on our visit to Flambards one child clocked up 26 rides - which for £12.50 is pretty good going compared to £39 for Legoland, where the same child only managed nine rides plus an enormous amount of standing in queues.
Of course the cheapest days out are to the park or the beach, or a free museum. There are cheap days in too - where raiding the recycling for junk modeling, or building a record-breaking Lego tower can absorb kids for days for nothing.
However, for those few days this summer when you want to indulge the family and have a treat, these steps should enable everyone to have a couple of very memorable days without breaking the bank.
All in all we saved almost £150 on our days out: how much could you save?