PARENTS

Why Are Family Days Out So Expensive?

22/05/2012 15:17 | Updated 22 May 2015

It's time to punctuate the school holidays with a few family days out.

But I'm strangely reluctant to go anywhere at all. I think I've been scarred by the past.

Years ago, when I was about eight, we piled into the car to celebrate my brother's birthday. I have no idea where we were going, because my memory supplies only the vital moment when Stuart, one of my brother's friends, projectile vomited from the back seat, covering himself, my mother (in the front seat) and me (squashed next to her).

Dad stopped in a layby, and my mother persuaded Stuart out of his sick-soaked T-shirt and into her white M&S nylon cardigan - luckily stored out of harm's way in the boot - because, she said, no one could really tell, if you buttoned it up, that it wasn't a shirt. (She has great powers of persuasion, my mother. She should have been a politician.)

We all set off again, and Mum reached for her glasses on the dashboard, and the frames were encrusted with dried vomit, as beautifully decorated as Dame Edna's jewelled spectacles.

But the real problem - apart from the fact that I clearly need counselling - is that family days out in Britain are so ridiculously expensive. You start off quite optimistically, thinking, ooh, let's go somewhere on the train. But then you find that, even with a family railcard, it's going to cost you a million pounds, and you have to come back on the 15.32 or you'll be beheaded by the transport police. So you think, OK, we'll go in a coach, we can just about afford that. But you find the round trip takes so long that you'll end up with only 14 minutes on the beach. So, you think, so we'll have to take the car. Which is why most British families spend every August Saturday hyperventilating in a queue on the motorway.

And that's just the journey. Nearly all attractions charge exorbitant entrance prices. There's often a discount for a family (2 adults, 2 children, because all British people are expected to stop having sex once they've had two babies), but it usually amounts to an incredible 50p off. Generally, the larger the family, the more you have to pay, as if it's quite obvious that anyone who has more than one child must be an eccentric millionaire.

Then there's the age at which 'child' becomes 'adult'. You might think it's 18. But you'd be wrong. In cinemas, theme parks, museums and exhibitions, it's usually 12 or 14. Why? In which parallel universe do children suddenly come into vast amounts of money in year 9? Then there's all the overpriced food. No one (apart from eccentric millionaires) could possibly afford to buy lunch on a day out. We ran out of water once on a visit to an incredibly boring castle in Kent and had to ration one-second sucks from one of those miniature cartons of orange juice.

So here's a thought. Next August bank holiday, turn your back on all these family days out. Stay at home instead. Set up an obstacle course - complete with paddling pool - in the back garden (theme park); rent a DVD (cinema); and design a treasure trail round the house (children's activity pack in a stately home). No car sickness, no queue for the toilets - and no hole in the bank account.

The kids won't mind. And, unlike me, they might remember more about the day than who projectile vomited from the back seat.

What's the most you can remember (if you haven't blotted it from your memory!) paying for a family day out?

Is it ever worth it, part of building a happy memory bank for your children?

Are there any places you would recommend as either worth the money, or extraordinarily cheap - or even better free?

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