Thursday, 6 February 2014

Dreaming of summer holiday fun (on a budget)

Lovely as this seemingly permanent wet, dreary and stormy weather is, I can't help casting my mind back to sunnier times. Specifically last summer's family holiday, when the sun shone all the time, and I relaxed on the beach or on the verandah with a cocktail in my hand...ahhhhh!

Except it was the UK and the sun didn't shine and I didn't go to the beach, or drink any cocktails but it was a brilliant holiday, never-the-less, especially when viewed from the following February. We specialise in low budget holidays and last summer was no exception.

The first step of the Shoestring summer 2013 family holiday was to upgrade our accommodation; we bought a bigger two bedroomed tent on eBay for £45. Great price and a great tent, but it really had seen better days. (When daylight is visible through the fabric you know you're in trouble). 

We should have addressed this minor detail with the seller but didn't get round to it in time, and anyway the problem was easily overcome by stretching a gigantic tarpaulin over the entire tent. This kept us dry and we survived (although the rain hammering down onto it at night was hardly the kind of soothing pitter patter that is conducive to sleep).


Cycling was the main aim of the holiday, in particular a section of the Taff Trail in Wales. After scrutinising the maps closely we decided not to cycle the trail in a linear route but to base ourselves at a Youth Hostel, Dan-y-Wenalt, near the Tal-y-Bont reservoir, where there is a small orchard for campers. I recommend camping at a Youth Hostel; if bijou campsites with few tent neighbours are your thing then you'd love it.

There is no self-catering kitchen at this hostel, but we had our own camping stove and supplies, and treated ourselves to a reasonably priced meal at the Hostel café one evening. 

Another advantage of camping at a Youth Hostel is that in addition to being cheaper than staying inside the hostel itself, you are able to use all the hostel facilities. When it rained in the evenings and we were simply too overcome with the beauty of Wales in the rain, viewed from a leaky tent, we were able to loll around in the lounge playing board games, reading and chatting with other hostellers. 

Dan-y-Wenalt lies right beside the Taff trail, so we cycled north to Brecon one day, and south towards Merthyr Tydfil another, returning to our tent each evening. The walking is also superb in this area and we hiked as well as biked.


For the second half of our week's holiday, we headed to another Youth Hostel, Llanddeusant. Staffed entirely by volunteers, this really is in the middle of nowhere. No hostel café here - it's DIY food and fun all the way.

The day we arrived coincided with the day that sheep are brought down from the hills; it was gratifying to see my kids (who sometimes have to be prised apart from their digital gadgets) awed by the spectacle of hundreds of sheep trooping past the Youth Hostel.


Here we were able to camp right outside the Youth Hostel, and were the sole happy campers, apart from one evening when a group of Duke of Edinburgh's Awarders pitched up next to us.


Although we hadn't planned to do any cycling in this area, the lure of the deserted lanes was just too appealing and a few miles down the open road we found another off-road cycle trail around the Usk Reservoir.

This area is definitely off the beaten track, tourist-wise, but there is a daily influx of people arriving to see the Red Kites being fed at 3pm in Llanddeusant village, and it would have been churlish not to join them. After an hour long wait whilst the Red Kites circled tantalisingly above the feeding station, they finally swooped down and made off with the meat.  These reintroduced-to-Wales birds are abundant in this area and we saw and heard several soaring and whistling above us whilst we were out and about, but to see them really close up was something we won't forget.


We've never been the types to start planning our summer holiday in the depths of winter so I've no idea where this summer will take us. As long as it doesn't involve too much rain, I'll be happy.

How about you? Are you planning your holiday already, or are you more lastminute.com, or is it a staycation for you this year? Any other tips for low budget holidays?

15 comments:

  1. Great post! We usually need to buy airfares several months ahead, but we plan the rest about 1 month ahead. Our trips are mostly travelling to stay with relatives, with a fun weekend added on.

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    1. We do a lot of staying with relatives too as most of our extended family are spread out around the UK.

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  2. We usually fly by the seat of our pants. Even if we go to France (camping) we buy a Dover/Calais ferry crossing when they're on offer and then just...go. We usually have a rough idea of what direction we're heading in but then just drive until we find somewhere that looks promising. Last year we ended up on a site next to a lake with a swimming 'beach' where the children swam everyday, virtually.
    This year is the UK again, which I love actually; there's so much to see here. Wales is a big favourite (Have you done any of the- free- Welsh National Museums? The ones we've been to (Wool and Big Pit) have been fab.) but the children have never seen Northumberland, W Yorks, Kent... We'd like to cycle the Monsal and Tissington Trails this year too.

    I must look into camping at a Youth Hostel. We've stayed in them, but never used them for camping, I don't know why, it's such a brilliant idea.

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    1. Camping in France is on our list of things to do one day. Likewise the Welsh Museums - have been past the Big Pit several times and I love the sound of the one near Cardiff (St Fagan's?). However I can speak for Northumberland (staying at Bamburgh was one of our all-time best holidays, maybe because we weren't camping but self catering...) Cycled the Tissington Trail also, pre-kids, many years ago and it was great.

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  3. Hi your Post brought back fond memories of youth hostelling in the 1970s. Pea soup and cleaning duties at night and then walking through beautiful Derbyshire Peak District at day. I gather Youth Hostels are still fun amazing places although a lttle less basic nowadays although the tablecloth looks familiar!

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    1. We love Youth Hostels - I still love the basic ones best! I remember chores too, and my Dad remembers the days when you weren't allowed to arrive by car.

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  4. It was fun to hear about everyone's vacations. A good distraction from the weather for a bit. We've camped both in tents and cabins in state parks here. Costs are minimal and the surroundingss and activities are usually good. It's been a good way for extended family to gather when money is a concern.

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    1. Your national parks always look great. Have you ever stayed in one where there are bears?

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  5. With our kids all grown we don't have family holidays any more so DH and I often holiday with Shearings Coaches. We leave booking until a couple of weeks before we want to go to take advantage of their last minute offers. We never know until then where we'll end up and we've been to Blackpool, Scarborough and Durham, places we might not have considered without our last-minute take it as it comes approach. Their hotels aren't fancy but we had a 4 night break in Scarborough last year for £109 each that included return coach travel from Dover, 4 nights Dinner, Bed and Breakfast and 2 outings. We're planning on going away during the Easter break but once again we don't know where we'll go until a week or two beforehand.

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    1. Thanks for that idea Helen. Your Scarborough holiday sounds a bargain - just the petrol costs from Dover to Scarborough alone would be considerable, and you're being more eco-friendly too.

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  6. I also just returned from a frugal holiday to a place 1 hr away from home that cost me $250 in site fees for 6 nights in a 5 star resort doing what is known here as "glamping". We made the investment years ago on a camper trailer (after one of those expensive apartment holidays) and completely stocked it with every thing we would need (except clothes and food) and it sits in readiness for each trip. It has more than paid for itself though it does require about 4 hrs to set it up as we like it. My latest trip was as a runaway Mum, on my own with books and a boxed set of Downton Abbey, Check out my recent post. I must confess to being so lazy i didnt move further away than the nearest willow tree with a book and a cold drink. Which made it a very frugal holiday indeed. All my groceries came from home or out of my garden or were donated by other campers leaving to go home. It pays to be nice to people. I got so much meat donated that i had to invite my family to come and help eat it. One group handed over 16 eggs to me as they were leaving and so many veggies i had to bring them home with me.

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  7. Am not a big fan of camping so we usually try to rent a cottage. Last year was Padstow which wasn't that cheap and I had to do exam marking to pay for it. But we had a really good place in Normandy, a couple of rooms in old water mill, a couple of years ago which was quite reasonable as it was out in the wilds. The Taff trail sounds good - hadn't thought of youth hostels, not being that youthful!

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    1. If you were to go Youth Hostelling you wouldn't be the oldest by any means - you get all ages of hosteller these days. The Taff Trail was good but very hilly in places!

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  8. Nice post and really great blog to remember. it's always happy to see this kind of useful blogs. thanks

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