By Johny Cassidy
Millions of families across the UK are excitedly looking forward to their first summer break together since the end of pandemic travel restrictions.
But a third of parents are worried they will fall into financial difficulty as they juggle paying for childcare, food, entertainment, and holidays over the next few weeks, according to research from debt charity, StepChange.
The rising cost of living means many are getting creative about how to make the most of their time off.
Marion Zielentino in Cambridgeshire is one of them.
After having her third child she was keen to contribute to the family budget again, so decided to rent out their home on Airbnb to holidaymakers.
"We've already been away a few times this year, on different camping trips, when people have been staying in our house," she says.
Marion has cannily also saved even more money by using a camping equipment and tent sharing website called Tentshare, for these trips. People list their tents and kit for free on the site and charge whatever they think their listing is worth.
"There's no point in us buying a tent for just a few weeks a year," she explains. "We have hired a big, family-sized tent, for the two [summer] weeks. We're going to be camping in my father-in-law's garden.
"It's a great way to save a bit more which we can use on days out and treats for the children whilst we're camping. It'll be an adventure for them."
Whereas, Rebecca Douglas in Kent, is sticking to day trips closer to home this summer instead of going away on holiday, to save cash.
"We didn't want to get caught up in Covid and staffing chaos at airports and lose money," she says. "Or, have to pay out because of disruption."
As a self-employed photographer her work has also been "stop/start" she says, for the last two years. "I couldn't risk a holiday away and then getting stranded and then having to lose work."
Instead, Rebecca and her husband have researched day trips closer to home.
"We realised we didn't need to go very far to be immersed in nature and have a holiday in a day. That means we can also keep tabs on how much money we're spending on diesel," she adds.
Rebecca spent long summers at her grandparents' beach hut as a child and inherited what's become known in the family as Grandma's box.
It contained everything "you would need for your beach hut stay," she explains. One day, she realised she could do something similar this summer.
Rather than getting frustrated with "being on the waiting list for a beach hut for the seventh year running," she says, instead they decided to kit their car out like a mobile beach hut.
"We can load up with hiking stuff, paddle boards, snorkelling gear, chairs, loungers, a brolly, a table, gas stove and supplies and spend the whole day out and then come home to the comfort of our own beds and save money into the bargain," she says. "What's not to like?"
Recruitment professional, Mary Fine from Glasgow also came up with a Plan B this year.
When she was quoted around £4000, just for flights and hotel to attend a friend's wedding in the US in May, she was shocked. Car hire would have added a further £1500 on top.
The wedding trip seemed impossible until Mary had a lightbulb moment – house swapping.
Mary and her husband have spent several years renovating a large, Victorian house in Glasgow. Renting it out on Airbnb during the COP26 climate summit made them think all the "hard work and effort could work to our advantage."
She joined the Love Home Swap site, where swappers pay an annual fee, starting at £96, to list their property. They upload pictures plus a detailed description of their house and wait for matches.
The couple found a property near the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia in the US and linked up with the owners who luckily were also interested in their Glasgow home.
"It was a fantastic experience," she says. "It saved us so much money. We were able to use their car as well as their house which really helped. They also had a boat on the lake which we certainly made the most of!"
It may also be worth checking out what your local authority or public library service, is offering for families for free over the summer.
At this time of year, Alex and his young family would usually be preparing to head off to Spain for a well-deserved break. But when he lost his job as a head chef at the start of the pandemic their financial situation changed.
"I went from making a good wage, to having to claim benefits virtually overnight," he says. "I'd always been quite frugal, but it was a massive shock to have to tighten our belts so much and so quickly."
Although the family worry about money constantly, they're determined to make the most of a Kent initiative which offers free bus travel anywhere in the county for families during the summer holidays.
The scheme is part of Reconnect: Kent Children and Young People, launched in March which will run until August.
Separately, in similar schemes, people aged under-22 in Scotland also qualify for free bus travel this summer and Northumberland is running a scheme where children under-11 can travel free on buses, with a paying adult.
"If it wasn't for the free bus pass we'd be stuck in the flat, or only able to stay close to where we live," Alex says.
The local school also sent a fact sheet home with every pupil detailing free days out for families over summer which he says has proved useful.
"We can plan our days out knowing it's not going to break the bank," Alex adds.
"It's going to make a real difference to our summer holidays. It's not quite Spain, but it's not far off."
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By Johny Cassidy