Today is the day that we all truly put Christmas behind us and start thinking about our summer holidays. It may only be the first day back at school, but today is apparently the busiest day of the year for flight bookings, peaking at about 1pm as we all rush online in our lunch breaks, desperate to get away already after only a few hours back at work.

Whether you’re going abroad or staying in the UK, deciding what to pack for your holiday can be one of the most stressful things about it, especially if you have young children. Before you start your holiday packing this year then, check out this little infographic to help you decide what’s a suitcase essential and what can probably be left at home with the kitchen sink:

Click here to view a larger version.
Packing for Family Holidays: Infographic

[Image provided courtesy of Center Parcs, specialist in family holidays.]

What are your holiday must haves? Funnily enough I don’t often forget to take my appetite with me, although I have been known to accidentally (on purpose) forget my swimming costume.

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This is my 500th post.

I know right? Five hundred posts. That’s got to be at least 150,000 words, quite a lot of them a little on the dull side and many of them saying things like ‘I know right?’ and ‘So anyway…’

So anyway…

I thought it might be apt to make this birthday type post the post I use to tell you about our trip to Disneyland Paris, where they are currently celebrating their 20th birthday. We visited as guests of Disney, along with four other lovely bloggers –  Pippa, Sian, Rosie and Sophie – and were treated to an advance screening of the fantastic new Disney film, Wreck it Ralph, out in the UK in February.

We also got to stay in the Disney hotel, the one right by the park gates where Mickey casually strolls around the corridors. It was certainly different from when we went last year and stayed in the Santa Fe barracks.

Last weekend also happened to be the weekend that Disney were officially launching Christmas, so there was the odd bauble here and there, and I think I may have heard one or two Christmas songs quietly playing from time to time.* Fortunately I LOVE Christmas, so I was quite happy to have ‘Dashing Through The Snow’ stuck in my head for days.

We had such a wonderful time that I thought I’d sum it up in photos. A picture is worth a thousand words after all…

"Disneyland Paris rides"

Our favourite Disneyland Paris sign – ‘No doing the night fever dance on this ride’

"The Tower of Terror"

About to take a ride on the service elevator of DOOOOMMMMM!!!!

"Monsters Inc"

Belle is confirmed as officially loud.

"Disneyland Paris"

Happy Birthday Disneyland Paris!

"Lollipops"

Edible lolly table centrepieces

"Wreck it Ralph"

The Wreck it Ralph car made of sweeties

"Disneyland Paris"

Belle watching the after hours laser show

"Woody"

Bye bye!

*Massive understatement

Find out more by following Disney on Facebook or You Tube.

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Before the summer holidays started, I sat down and had a little talk with Belle about the impending six weeks, and exactly how we were going to manage the whole work, fun, childcare balance. As much as I didn’t want to, I explained to her, I was going to have to do some work, and as useful for me as her week away with Gran was going to be, we needed to come up with something else too.

“Don’t make me go to Clifton College holiday club!” she wailed, a look of panic on her face.

“I won’t make you go there again,” I reassured her, “I promised didn’t I?”

She looked relieved.

“I don’t want to go to the holiday club at school either,” she pleaded, “they just make you decorate keyrings all day.”

“OK,” I said, rapidly running out of options. “How about sports?”

We were quiet for a moment, both thinking about the disaster of the two-day football camp the previous summer. Belle, as you may have worked out, is not a fan of the whole ‘wrap-around-care’ concept. For her, holidays and after school are for watching all the television she has been kept away from during school hours.

“Well then,” I said, laughing hysterically inside at the very idea that she would agree, “the only other option is a residential camp, where you go away for the whole week with lots of people you don’t know.”

“I’ll do that one,” she said, and turned back to MI High, the conversation apparently now over.

Well, that was a shock.

So, tomorrow, she’s off. Monday to Friday, sleeping in yurt dorms, wading through swamps, meeting red squirrels, and tagging crabs. She’s only going to be about an hour away, but I am so proud of her. She’s getting pretty excited about it, and this afternoon has been sorting out what she wants to take, and zealously labelling everything with her rather lovely personalised stickers, provided specially for the occasion by This is Nessie. This is Nessie do a whole range of gorgeous personalised stuff, so if you are a stationery geek like me, they are well worth a look.

"Personalised name labels"

Who do these belong to then?

In the morning, we’ll be up early, and by 9.30am I will be child free for five whole days, as Bee is away next week too, doing some very grown-up work experience.

Five whole days!

I’ve never actually been alone in the house for that long. What will I do? Who will I talk to? Looking at Belle’s programme, I’m quite jealous. I quite fancy a safari scavenger hunt. Bonfires, marshmallows, yes please.

Maybe I’ll book myself in…

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I was talking to a friend this weekend about summer holidays. “Are you going on holiday this year?” I asked her.

“God no,” she said, looking appalled, “I just couldn’t bear to part with hundreds of pounds just to spend a week shivering in a caravan with the kids complaining and wishing they were at home watching Cbeebies in the warm.”

She has a point. I’ve never taken my whole family abroad, as I just can’t afford it, and even my supposed money-saving holidays end up costing a fortune – £950 for seven days in a caravan in Poole? It’s hard to justify as ‘fun’ isn’t it?

One alternative is to take the risk and book something cheap last-minute, but ‘spontaneity’ and ‘small children’ don’t really go hand in hand do they? It takes hours of planning and preparation just to leave the house with young kids, so how on earth could you feel confident taking the chance with a range of last-minute cottages?

I’ve always imagined that last-minute holidays were a bit hit and miss, but I’ve recently come across Late Lettings, a really well-designed site aimed at bringing you high quality last-minute holidays deals, with families in mind. See, they have a picture with children in, so it must be true:

"late lettings"

Sausage anyone?

I’ve always tended to think of last-minute holiday deals as being mainly in cheap hotels in Tenerife, but Late Lettings focuses mainly on the UK, particularly Devon and Cornwall, so it’s ideal for families looking for a bargain break. (They do have some properties in Cyprus too if you’re feeling adventurous).

"last-minute holidays"

Pasties and clotted cream. What more could you want from a holiday?

If you’re not sure where to start, click on ‘inspiration’ in the top left hand corner, and you can browse by theme rather than by location or dates. If you’re desperate to take your dog away with you, browse the dog friendly holidays. Looking for a sea view? Check out the late availability cottages to let near the coast.

"last-minute holidays"

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…

Whatever you fancy, Late Lettings could well be just what you need to enjoy a holiday away this year that doesn’t break the bank.

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This weekend, inspired by the budget, and a significant amount of time spent listening to all things financial on Radio 4, I’m having a money theme. Yesterday we talked savings and investments for families, and today I’ve written a little Slummy single mummy guide to saving money on family holidays – some top tips from the woman who, for about ten years, was too cheap to even own a passport.

Don’t do itAccording to one survey, nearly 40% of us stayed home last summer, so the ultimate money saving holiday tip? Simply don’t go. You’ll save hundreds if not thousands of pounds in travel, accommodation and family travel insurance, have far less washing to do at the end of it, and probably feel a lot more relaxed than if you attempt to introduce small children to the delights of European architecture in sweltering heat. Believe me, I have tried, all they care about is when they can have a lolly.

They say a change is as good as a rest. They lie.

Stay in the UK – I was perhaps being a tad hyper-cynical with my last suggestion, as I do actually like going on holiday, I just don’t see the point of dragging small kids thousands of miles, knowing they’ll complain the whole way there about ‘feeling sick’ or being bored, when we have such a wealth of beautiful countryside and interesting cities in the UK. Staying in the UK means you cut out the hassle of foreign travel, save money on flights, and have a bit extra to spend on treating the family.

If you’re worried about looking cheap, tell the other parents at school you’re doing it on environmental grounds.

Camping for wimps – Hotels cost a bomb, and even caravans can set you back a fair bit, but seriously, who wants to spend a week with kids in a tent? Not me. I do like the idea of camping though, so for a low-cost, self-catering, back-to-nature option, we’ve spent several of our summer holidays in yurts. As a single parent, you can bring the cost down even further by bunking up with another single parent friend and splitting the bill. This year we’ll be spending a whole week yurting on the Cornish coast for just £300. Bargainorama.

Shop around – given that there are about 27 million price comparison websites nowadays, you really have no excuse for paying full price for anything, whether it be flights or flip-flops. It may feel like a bit of a faff, but shopping around really can save you loads. Just think of it as every few pounds you save meaning one extra gin and tonic in the hotel bar.

Don’t risk it – I have a very simple approach to insurance. If I could afford the consequences should anything go wrong, I don’t bother. With foreign travel though, you really don’t want to risk it. Think about how often you intend to travel during the year to work out whether a single trip or annual travel insurance gives you the best value for money, and if you’re travelling in Europe, don’t forget to apply for your European Health Insurance Card.

And there you go, that’s my indispensable family travel guide. Do let me know if you have any destination recommendations or holiday money saving tips.

This is also my entry for the BritMums Piggy Bank Tales competition, sponsored by Virgin Money

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