As spring brings us all back out of hibernation, it's important to remember that we don't have to travel far or spend a lot of money to have fun with the kids. Just about wherever you are in the UK, a little research will reveal a whole heap of attractions virtually on your doorstep, many of them completely free. In the February and October half terms in particular, when the weather can be lousy, they can be lifesavers.
If you're going to make lots of day-trips or short breaks in the UK, we heartily recommend investing in a Family & Friends Railcard, which pays for itself almost rightaway in terms of discounted fares as well as giving holders access to 2-for-1 offers on attractions around the UK. As well as being more environmentally friendly, travelling by train will save you the stress of driving with kids, of finding your way around unfamiliar places and of locating parking spots.
-- If you're hoping to enjoy special school-holiday events, plan ahead as even free activities can get booked up in advance. If possible, book ahead by phone; if not, make sure to arrive at the venue as it opens to secure tickets and avoid disappointment.
-- Similarly, don't talk up particular events to the kids in case they get booked up or even cancelled. Focus on the venue itself, and any activities that take place will then be added bonuses.
-- If a venue isn't free, search the Internet or look out for discount vouchers on the venue's own website, cereal boxes, local newspapers and similar, or use supermarket loyalty points.
-- Take a picnic. While many museums and attractions have fantastic cafés that are well worth your patronage (most help fund the attractions that are free), you can spend a huge amount of money on lunch and snacks on a day out. If you're on a tight budget, many attractions have picnic areas (indoor and/or outdoor) where you can eat your own food.
-- Leave on a high. Don't think you have to stay until closing time and see everything a venue has to offer. Far better to enjoy your time and leave the kids wanting to come back sometime than to put them off by dragging them round when they're tired.
-- If you're travelling by train, don't go for the first ticket you see or the most obvious route. Take time to look at the various fares and you might find substantial savings and/or more convenient options.
-- Don't overload yourself as you'll inevitably end up carrying the kids' coats and paraphernalia (take advantage of free cloakrooms and lockers if you do). Take a backpack so you're hands-free and can get involved. For train journeys, take space-saving entertainments - a flatpack of plasticine and simple paper and pens keep all ages occupied without being cumbersome.
-- Don't forget that the £££s add up quickly – a few coffees and overpriced bottles of water over a day or two can make all the difference between a cheap and an expensive break. Bring what you can.
-- Don't go to the giftshop, even for a 'look around' – you'll inevitably crack and end up buying something just to stop the whinging. On the other hand, if you're not on a strict budget, bear in mind that giftshops are an important revenue-generator for free attractions – and are especially good for stocking up on unusual gifts. (Remember you don't even have to visit them – most have online shops too).
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