This week I was a little giddy about booking this year’s summer holiday, and I whacked a photo up on Instagram announcing that I had booked ten days in Greece, for £216 per person, well under £250. Woo hoo!! (Obviously I am still excited!) There were quite a few comments on that photo with people wanting to know; how I booked ten days in Greece for under £250. So I figured I should really share the secret!
I’m a teacher, so I can only go on holiday during term time. My kids have all left school now, so although I long for a term time holiday to cut costs, sadly it’s not to be. So, I still have to make the most of my experience in booking cheap breaks during the school holidays.
I have written a post about cheap holiday hacks, with my top tips. But I thought that it might be more useful to show you how I actually go about finding these deals, using what I’ve learnt over the years about getting the most holiday for my money.
So here’s How I Booked Ten Days in Greece for under £250…
This is essentially my blueprint for a cheap holiday and the ‘rules’ I follow every time to find the best deal.
We always travel independently.
We avoid package deals and all inclusive holidays like the plague, because they are expensive and don’t provide good value for money (in my opinion). It is a little scary the first time you book a trip in this way, but with a little research you can save a fortune. Book all aspects of your trip on a credit card, make sure you have good travel insurance and you will be covered for any mishap.
Start researching and planning well in advance!
For long haul I would say that this is usually about 12 months in advance and 8-9 months in advance for short haul. I read travel blogs and use a host of travel apps to research availability and prices, to get ideas and investigate cheaper alternatives to popular destinations.
I’ve fancied Greek Island hopping for a while now, so I bought a book and had a chat with some friends who have been island hopping for years now. Their top tip was to choose islands that I hadn’t heard of! They are less touristy, which makes them cheaper!
We are realistic about how far our money will stretch.
We’d all love a champagne lifestyle, but let’s be honest we’ve most likely only got lemonade money! I may well want to spend two weeks in Santorini, but I know that it’s well out of my budget.
So the secret, firstly, is to be completely relaxed about your chosen destination. I research and see what’s available in my price range. Then, I narrow the options down to find a similar alternatives to my dream destination, that will have a much cheaper price tag.
Whilst I would have loved to have gone to Santorini on this trip I knew it was expensive. With so many islands to consider the only limitation I had was that I’d like to try and visit two islands during the trip.
Start researching flight prices first.
I use a couple of apps to do this. Skyscanner and Kayak. Kayak is particularly good, because it will let you search by budget which I love. When I am researching flights, not only am I flexible about the destination but also the departure airport. (This can save quite a bit, but it’s only worth it if you don’t lose the saving through the extra cost of getting to the airport.)
Once I find a flight that I think will be suitable, I do two things: 1. I research what is within a couple of hours of the airport and transport links. For example the Italian Lakes is only an hour away from Milan. 2. I go directly to the airline to see if their price is any cheaper.
So for this trip I just searched flights to Greece! The cheapest were to Athens at £111 per person return with Wizz air, a Hungarian budget airline. As Athens is the hub for ferries to the islands this was perfect.
Don’t book the flight straight away.
I check out accommodation prices before I commit to booking the flights. There’s no point having a cheap flight if the accommodation costs are ridiculous. For accommodation I use Expedia, Booking.com and Airbnb, to see what the most affordable option is. (If you’re not sure about Airbnb check out my post about my experiences of using it.)
I mostly use Booking.com. This is because they have a good loyalty programme, they price match and you don’t have to pay up front. Which means you can secure the best prices months in advance.
So the search for cheap accommodation began!
I literally put Greek Islands into the Booking.com search panel and chose the cheapest island, with a regular ferry service, which happened to be Paros. Four nights in an apartment for £80. I then looked for the next nearest and cheapest island, which was Naxos. Again 4 nights in an apartment, but this time for £76!
We had been advised that it’s a good idea to get back to Athens a couple of days before your return flight. So we’ve also booked two nights B&B in Athens close to the station for £54. This will give us a chance to see a bit of Athens rather than just passing through.
Getting it booked
Once I’m happy with the accommodation costs, I start booking (make sure you use the incognito browser option, this stops a site from recognising you have previously visited and bumping up the prices!). I booked this trip to Greece, as usual, using my Monzo card.
This means that there are no fees for foreign currency transactions. All transactions come through to the app on your phone. Plus you get the Mastercard exchange rate which is usually as good as it gets!
- Flights: £222
- Accommodation: £210
- Total: £432 (For 2 People)
- £216 per person
This doesn’t include the cost of the ferry, which we have budgeted 90 Euro for (About £79), It also doesn’t include travel insurance costs. We have an annual policy still in place that we bought last year.
But I bet it doesn’t work in the school summer holidays, or for family holidays!
Actually it does…
Lets have a look at an example for a family holiday in the school summer holidays, the most expensive time to holiday! (Details correct March 2018)
I start off with my Kayak search. Using the explore option I just do a general flight search in August. From the Kayak search, I can see that Milan is coming out the cheapest for 2 weeks in August. From the 1st August to 14th August 14 nights
The total cost for flights for a family of 4, flying from Stansted to Milan with Ryanair is £239.11
Next I think about where I want to stay. There are quite a few family friendly options around Milan. Within an hour of Milan is the Italian Lakes, or a little further afield and about 4 hours by train is the Italian Riviera (it is lush!). A return ticket for a family of 4 would cost about 120 Euro (£105), and the trip is beautiful, really scenic and a bit of an adventure!
Moving onto accommodation.
Personally I would start with spending a few nights in Milan. It’s a great city with loads of cheap, free things to do. Then, I would move onto somewhere on the coast. The Italian Riviera is beautiful and really family friendly.
A quick search of booking.com and 3 nights in Milan in an apartment is £200. Moving to the coast to Ameglia, close to the Cinqueterra, 11 nights at Camping River, a family friendly resort, in a luxury tent is £710
So that’s a total of £1254.11 for a family of 4 to spend 2 weeks by the Italian Riviera. In terms of saving, over a year that’s £3.44 a day, the price of a daily coffee. (Easy Saving Tips)
A comparable self catering package with a tour operator is around £1800-£2000. So doing it yourself really does give you a massive saving.
Obviously there is also the issue of spending money to consider, but Italy is surprisingly cheap once you get away from the super touristy hotspots. Eating out is surprisingly economical. You can easily have a meal for 4, a main, dessert and drinks for no more than £8 or £9 a head. The supermarkets are also unbelievably cheap. Fresh produce is really reasonable and local booze a real bargain! Just 70c for a large bottle of Peroni and Prosecco can be found for 3 Euro a bottle! Another plus point is that the public transport is really cheap and reliable, making exploring a doddle!
How do you save money on your holidays? Do you have any top tips?