Keep calm and have (free) fun!
As if the sodden start to summer wasn’t bad enough, even gloomier than the grey clouds was a report last week that found 54 per cent of mums are planning to cut back on family days out because they can’t afford them.
The study by Family Action found the average day trip costs upward of £80, with entry fees to attractions making the biggest dent in the budget, and the cost of transport and eating out also becoming too expensive. The charity has called on tourist attractions to lower family ticket prices, but until that happens, how can we hardy Brits make the most of the holidays without going into the red?
Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard points out that summer can be a tough time for families struggling to make ends meet, with increased food and childcare bills. But she adds: “Summer fun doesn’t have to break the bank. There are hundreds of great activities to enjoy with your kids which cost no more than a couple of pounds – or are even free. All the research shows children want time with their parents more than expensive days out.”
But where to start – stick a pin in a map? Not quite, but surfing the web can get the creative juices flowing. Find out what tourists already know, on the official tourism websites. VisitEngland.com has lists of budget days out, VisitScotland has listings for free things to do in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and Visitwales.com features the top 10 free attractions in Wales.
There is inspiration by the bucketload on parenting websites, on their blogs – where parents share tips for keeping kids amused – and in tried-and-tested reviews of day-out destinations.
Netmums has awarded gold, silver and bronze medals to free attractions in every region, from parks to visitor centres to museums, all voted for by the site’s community, while Mumsnet has teamed up with businesses to offer holiday discounts. And of course the king of web discount alerts, Moneysavingexpert.com, has a team of researchers daily updating where to get the best deals.
Justine Roberts, co-founder and CEO of Mumsnet, advises: “The golden rule is to keep it simple. Sometimes the best days out boil down to outdoor space and dry weather or, if we’re realistic, outside space and wet weather. For younger children, stuff your bag full of snacks, baby wipes and a packed lunch, and jump on a bus to try out a different playground across town.
For older children, an annual membership to a local farm or adventure playground means you can save money long term by making multiple trips to a favourite venue. But whatever you decide on, you’ll need to pack a little imagination, your rain ponchos and the patience of a saint.”
Netmums’ Siobhan Freegard hopes that the jetstream may, as forecasters predict, relent and there will be an opportunity to have fun outdoors. “Organise a picnic in your nearest park or invite your child’s friends over for a treasure trail with penny sweets or fruit as prizes. If you cycle, let your child choose a local spot on the map and travel there together on an adventure.”
But if those rainclouds return, all is not lost. Siobhan suggests that arts and crafts activities are perfect for rainy days indoors. “And there is no need to buy expensive paints. Keep old wrapping paper, cereal cartons, egg boxes and tinfoil to make everything from monsters to spaceships to princesses’ crowns,” she says.
The fashion for everything retro is alive and well. “A pack of cards, a packet of elastic bands for French skipping, marbles, torches in the bedroom, cardboard box robots – the things you loved as a child can all be reintroduced,” says Siobhan. In other words, the simple pleasures in life can still be the most, and cheapest, fun.
For extra inspiration visit www.netmums.com/activities/free-family-fun