Family travel survival guide for the summer holidays

Time seems elastic. One sunny salty day sweats into the next.

Summer holidays are a blissful bumble between barbecues.

Once the chaos of Christmas is over, it's an endless array of salty baked ham and sweet fruitcake.

Staying at home is lovely: You catch up with friends, ignore the housework, and loll about.

Until you start tripping over each other, trapped in a fraught family from which there is no escape. (You know it. We've all been there.)

This is the time to travel, whether for a weekend, a month, or the whole darn season.

But where to go? What to do? And how to afford it?

The good news is that there's plenty of availability, even in the most popular spots.

Camping grounds are booked months in advance, but you can still nab a caravan or motor home site.

If camping's not your style, check out airbnb.com.au, trivago.com.au or lastminute.com.au for a spontaneous summer getaway.

(There are even rooms left at the Holiday Inn Resort Phuket Mai Khao Beach, where we spent a week last December: the last word in affordable luxury. Log on to phuketmaikhaobeach.holidayinnresorts.com.)

Here are some handy hints for that last-minute holiday, from budget to bling.

BEACH

THE LOWDOWN Sun, sand, and surf – what's not to love about a flop and drop holiday? An all-inclusive resort with kids' club will keep the clan entertained. Or simply rent a home through Airbnb within walking distance to the beach. Bliss.

WHERE WE'RE GOING Australian families still flock to the high octane Gold Coast or laid-back Sunshine Coast, but Byron Bay is the place to be for older teens. In NSW, the Central Coast and South Coast are perennial favourites. Beyond our sandy shores, Aussies are planning beach breaks in Thailand, Bali, Fiji and Malaysia.

WHERE TO GO There's still time to escape to Thailand's Centara Kata Resort Phuket. The recently refurbished rooms accommodate up to seven people, and most are equipped for self-catering. You'll be spoiled for choice with three swimming pools – including waterslides – and two kids' clubs. From $300 a night. See centarahotelsresorts.com.

Novotel Twin Waters Resort on the Sunshine Coast has space over summer. Kids love bouncing on the water trampoline, trying their hand at sailing, and learning circus skills. You can leave the little ones at the kids club to go for a round of golf. Rooms from $420 a night. See novoteltwinwatersresort.com.au.

Fraser Island, off the south-east coast of Queensland, stunning at this time of year. Kingfisher Bay Resort has two bedroom villas, includes breakfast for four, starting from $268 a night. See kingfisherbay.com. Use it as a base to explore the rainforest and beaches of this heritage-listed island.

SURVIVAL TIP (PARENTS) Take time to relax in between catching waves and collecting beach toys. Book a massage or find a babysitter for a night out.

SURVIVAL TIP (KIDS) Sun safety is a must, especially at this time of year. Kit the kids out in long surf wear and spray-on sunscreen.

BUSH

THE LOWDOWN A long and languid summer is the perfect time for a digital detox. Stay somewhere off the grid to go bush bashing. Because it's hot, best to head south, rather than north.

WHERE WE'RE GOING Camping will never go out of fashion for Aussie families, but glamping and bush retreats are booming, too. For a longer getaway, Tasmania and central Australia are ideal. Escape the big smoke for a weekend away in the Hunter Valley, south and central coasts or Blue Mountains.

WHERE TO GO Go to Australia's beating red heart for an unforgettable Christmas at Kata Tjuta National Park in Uluru. Be immersed in nature, astronomy and the culture of the Anangu people. Stay at the Outback Pioneer Hotel for the special rate of $198 a room a night. Kids 15 years and under stay for free. See ayersrockresort.com.au.

You only need to travel a few hours outside Sydney to enjoy the bush. Eagle Reach Resort in Vacy has a family adventure package from $280 a night for two adults and two children including breakfasts. There are free fishing kits for the kids and a glass of bubbly for the parents, plus complimentary bike, kayak and sports equipment hire. See eaglereach.com.au.

Rafferty's Resort at Lake Macquarie is available for late January bookings. Family rooms start from $199 a night and offer kids' club activities all school holidays, including pelican feeding. See raffertysresort.com.au. Use it as a base to explore the spectacular local hiking trails. See visitlakemac.com.au.

SURVIVAL TIP (PARENTS) Put a limit on everyone's devices during your bush holiday – including the parents. Respect your physical limits when it comes to choosing bushwalking routes.

SURVIVAL TIP (KIDS) Pack toys and games for car rides and down time in your room. You'll need good walking shoes, a backpack, and repellant to keep the mozzies away.

CITY

THE LOWDOWN Cities come alive over summer. From museums to art galleries and festivals, a CBD holiday is easy to plan. There are plenty of free activities and entertainment over Christmas and New Year.

WHERE WE'RE GOING Sydney is always popular because of the entertainment around the harbour. Increasingly, families are heading to Canberra because of its interactive museums and galleries.

WHERE TO GO Melbourne has something for families who are sporty, arty and foodie. For a luxe getaway, try the Hilton South Wharf's family fun package from $549 a night. You'll stay in a glamorous two-bedroom suite, where a chef will prepare a roast dinner. A bonus is a family pass to the Polly Woodside Tall ship and Museum. See hiltonmelbourne.com.au.

Head to the nation's capital for an entertaining and educational break. The Crowne Plaza Canberra has a family getaway package, which includes buffet breakfasts and family passes to Questacon, Cockington Green Gardens and the Australian Institute of Sport. Rooms from $300 a night. See crowneplazacanberra.com.au.

The Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Harbourside has interconnecting rooms for families from $699 a night. On King Street Wharf, it's walking distance to all of the entertainment and activities at Darling Harbour. See tfehotels.com

SURVIVAL TIP (PARENTS) Check to see if Wi-Fi is included in your room rate or if there are any restrictions for the number of devices, so you don't get stung with extra charges.

SURVIVAL TIP (KIDS) You might need to share a bed with your brother or sister, but it's worth it to stay in a cool hotel.

SNOW

THE LOWDOWN Need to escape the summer swelter? An overseas snow trip is just the ticket. Have a white Christmas, making the most of the northern hemisphere's ski season.

WHERE WE'RE GOING Japan is a hot destination for skiers and snowboarders this season. It's cheaper than Europe, especially with the soft Aussie dollar. But there's still something special about skiing in the French Alps. Many expats head to Europe because of the two-month break.

WHERE TO GO What could be more magical than visiting Santa's home in Lapland? Add some snowmobiles, husky safaris, a stay in Santa Claus village and a visit to a reindeer farm and you have a storybook Christmas. See santaclausvillage.info.

APPI Resort is a bullet train ride from Tokyo. There is a dedicated family park for snow babies to try tubing, sledding and snow play ($10 a child over 3 years) plus kids' club and family-friendly accommodation. See appi_english@ihr.co.jp.

Take to the slopes at postcard-perfect Innsbruck in Austria. A weeklong ski package at Olympia Skiworlds is $1109 a person. It includes six-day ski passes for the family, and ski courses for kids aged three to six (over seven years on request). See innsbruck.info/en.

SURVIVAL TIP (PARENTS) Decide whether you want to buy or hire ski or snowboarding gear. Borrowing or hiring is a great option for growing kids.

SURVIVAL TIP (KIDS) For the long flight, pack plenty of small toys, books, stationery and devices, plus refillable water bottles and snacks. Choose a family-friendly airline, like Emirates or Singapore.

HOME

THE LOWDOWN Families who are feeling the financial pinch of a combination of Christmas and the falling Aussie dollar can have a relaxing summer break without straying far from home.

WHERE WE'RE GOING Sydney is a playground for families over summer, with Carols by Candlelight and the Sydney Festival. Families are also in love with caravanning: for the third year in a row, vans and campervans are the fastest-growing vehicle registration category in Australia.

WHERE TO GO Darling Harbour is hosting Santa Fest throughout December, finishing with fireworks on Christmas Eve. See darlingharbour.com. Have breakfast with Koalas at Wildlife Sydney Zoo ($190 a family), wildlifesydney.com.au, or head to Barangaroo to make a giant cardboard city, ready to be demolished on Australia Day (free Jan 8- 26). See sydneyfestival.org.au.

Fancy a harbour view? Manly's Q Station, in Sydney Harbour National Park, has ghost tours, coastal walks, swimming, snorkelling and bike riding. From $193 a night. See qstation.com.au.

How about camping in the Harbour? Cockatoo Island has glamping, heritage houses and apartments. It's a short ferry ride to an intriguing slice of our convict and maritime history. Two-bedroom glamping is from $310 a night. See cockatooisland.gov.au.

SURVIVAL TIP (PARENTS) If you have kids with a broad age-range, let each member of the family choose what to do for a day during your staycation.

SURVIVAL TIP (KIDS) Pretend you're a long way from home, exploring a new city. It's amazing what you can see through the eyes of a tourist.

THE LOWDOWN

Vanessa Liell (44) and Ella McCutcheon (15), Summer Hill, NSW.

The trip: "We've booked a week at Thredbo during the summer holidays with my husband, Andrew, 15-year-old Ella, 11-year-old Zac and seven-year-old Lucie," Vanessa says, after booking a holiday house in Thredbo through a silent auction. "Our best family holidays are outdoors so we loved the idea of taking the kids on walks, horse riding, bike riding and whatever else might wear them out."

Looking forward to: Vanessa: "The chance to do nothing! I love that we have nowhere to go and nothing [we have] to do. It's just great to spend time together, relax, enjoy a new experience and see where each day takes us."

Ella: "Going bike riding and horse riding, not having to do anything and just relaxing by being away from everything."

Best thing about a summer holiday: Vanessa: "Time out: the beach, outdoors, family, friends, sunshine, BBQs, board games, books, movies and great conversation. Family time comes first, and then ideally, some kind of adventure."

Ella: "Doing activities that you wouldn't normally be able to do during school time, getting to relax, and spending time with family."

Worst thing about a summer holiday: Vanessa: "That it ends! It's always a bit tough to go back into work and school schedules, however it's so much better when we've spent some great time together, and created lovely memories."

Ella: "Getting burnt, not seeing enough of my friends, and having to go back to school at the end of it!"

Cameron (42) and Josiah Douglas (6) from Jannali, NSW.

The trip: A cultural visit to the Philippines. "We've been part of a project getting a campsite built," Cameron says. "We'll visit the local villages and slums, so the kids can see how some people live in a developing country.

Looking forward to: "Going to the campsite, visiting the schools," Josiah says. "I'm looking forward to catching up with old friends to see how they've coped with a number of typhoons going through their villages," Cameron says.

Best thing about a family summer holiday is: "Building memories with my family; stuff we can talk about for years to come," Cameron says. Josiah reckons it's "being away from your house".

Worst thing about a family summer holiday is: "Not having our home bed, because I have never found a comfier bed than my own," Cameron says.

NAME: Helen Roche (51) and Genevieve McIlwain (11) from Mitchelton, Queensland.

The trip: A week at Mooloolaba Beach on the Sunshine Coast. "We have a two-bedroom apartment, which we hired through Stayz," Helen says. "There will be my husband and two kids, and my sister's family has also hired an apartment there."

Looking forward to: "Relaxing, the sound of the ocean at night, not going to work, less technology and lots of walks on the beach, spending time in close proximity with my family," Helen says. Genevieve reckons "no school, card games, going in the massive waves, and getting an ice-cream every day" will be the best bits.

Best thing about a summer holiday: "Not having to worry about how you look, no make-up, storms over the ocean, spending time at the beach without having to drive there."

Worst thing about a summer holiday: "Not seeing my friends, you almost always have to eat out, having to see my brother every second of every day, having only boy cousins to see, having to play soccer, rugby and boy games the whole time," Genevieve says.

THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF THE FAMILY SUMMER HOLIDAY

1. I am the Lord, thy parent. Sure, rules are broken on holidays, but I'm the boss. Do as I say, or lose all rights to ice-cream.

2. Thou shalt have no other gods. Yes, I know your friends are going to Aspen. But THIS is your family, for better or worse. Deal with it.

3. Do not take the Lord's name in vain. This also applies to calling your sister a "bloody idiot" or your brother a "piece of crap". Try to be tolerant.

4. Take a sabbatical from technology. It could be a certain number of hours a day, or one full day a week. Otherwise, you'll all be bug-eyed.

5. Honour they grandmother and grandfather. Sure, you might like to listen to Eminem, but they like to go to the art gallery. Compromise is key.

6. Thou shalt not kill each other. Familiarity breeds contempt, so take time out, even an hour a day, to read a book, go for a walk, or meditate.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. This includes making inappropriate comments about half-naked people on the beach. It's like looking directly at the sun.

8. Thou shalt not steal. Those tiny shampoo bottles are an environmental catastrophe. Leave them there. Teach your kids to reduce packaging.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness. If it was your kid who spilled the orange juice on the floor at the breakfast buffet, fess up. You can't escape CCTV.

10. Thou shalt not covet. Another family will always have the penthouse apartment with private butler. Get over it. I'm sure they're secretly unhappy.

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