New directions1 Long-time lovers of overseas travel, Australians have recently begun spending their holidays closer to home, suggests an annual study of cultural change conducted by research agency Quantum. We've also become more spontaneous, choosing where we go, when and for how long according to the deals and discounts available. There's a wealth of websites that offer great savings on domestic getaways. Try Escape Travel, which features a range of family breaks at great rates. If you worry about leaving your furry friends at home, find out where you can take them with you at www.petfriendlyrentals.com.au.
Take a break2 Accommodation rates are higher during school-holiday periods, so consider a weekend break mid-term. Sundowner Breakwall Tourist Park at Port Macquarie, on the NSW north coast, recently calculated that a weekend away for two adults and two children can come in at under $600. That figure includes return petrol costs from Sydney, two nights in a Spa Riverside Cottage ($260 for Friday and Saturday night, off-peak), meals and activities.
Home for the holidays3 Rather than hiring hotel rooms for a multi-family break, consider renting a holiday home. Sharing accommodation costs and cooking your meals can save you loads. Go to www.rent-a-home.com.au or www.letyourself.com.au.
Hire a houseboat4 Another good way to pitch in with other families and share holiday costs is to hire a houseboat and cruise down one of Australia's many waterways. Equipped with everything from bedding to barbecues, houseboats typically feature two to 10 berths. Try the Murray River in South Australia and Victoria, the Hawkesbury in NSW, the Tweed in Queensland and Western Australia's Peel Inlet. Search for more options at www.aussiehouseboathire.com.
Talk to the animals5 For a truly special mini-break your kids will remember, book a Roar & Snore sleepover at Sydney's Taronga Zoo. You'll stay in private safari tents with views over the harbour. Enjoy a buffet dinner and night tour, then wake to feeding time and go behind the scenes before the crowds arrive. Camp-outs are held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, and every night during NSW school holidays. Children must be over five to attend. Costs per night start at $216 per adult, $167 for under-18s.
Cheer for Australia6 Scheduling your holiday around a major sporting event can make for great memories that will inspire your children for years to come. The 2009 Triathlon World Championships will take place on Queensland's Gold Coast this year, from September 9 to 13. A five-day festival marking the event will offer plenty of free family activities to enjoy.
Good as gold7 The Gold Coast is one of the most child-friendly destinations in Australia. If you're the type of parent who's a big kid at heart, you'll be just as excited by Dreamworld, Warner Bros Movie World, Wet'n'Wild and Sea World as the littlies. If not, make the most of local beaches, nature parks and package-friendly hotels such as Paradise Resort, which has superb children's facilities, including a mini fun park.
A capital idea8 For years, Canberra suffered an unfair reputation as being a bit on the dull side. While a visit to the National Library or Parliament House may seem too much like school for some, any child will enjoy Questacon - the interactive National Science & Technology Centre - and the Australian Institute of Sport, which offers tours led by elite athletes. At a recent family reunion, our Travel Editor's entire family, aged three to 70, loved the miniature gardens and English village scenes at Cockington Green. And given Canberra's proximity to the ski slopes, who could resist to a daytrip to the snow?
Cultural exchange9 There are few experiences as unique to this country as an Aboriginal culture tour. Experience Australia's Red Centre on a four-wheel drive tour and camp-out with RT Tours, which is operated by traditional owners. Private trips can be arranged for groups of five or more.
Down on the farm 10 Farm stays offer suburban kids the chance to see how the other half lives while Mum and Dad dream of a tree change. Located in southern NSW, 60km from Canberra, Brindabella Station is a working farm that was the childhood home of Australian author Miles Franklin. Or try Old Boyneside, north-west of Brisbane in the foothills of the Bunya Mountains. A luxury option is Arkaba Station, a 24,300ha sheep farm in South Australia, which merges the splendour of the Flinders Ranges with comfy accommodation and country hospitality. For more farm-stay options in your state, go to www.australianfarmtourism.com.au.
Take the wheels11 To get the most out of the road less travelled, hop on your bike: a cycling tour is an excellent way to experience exotic places and lifestyles up close. Red Bicycle Touring Company (02 9960 2932) specialises in family-friendly two-wheel treks. Their 11-day Indochine tour through northern Vietnam and Cambodia will introduce you to bustling cities, picturesque villages and superb ancient temples. Land costs - from $4299 per adult, $3499 for children eight to 16 - include accommodation, most meals and entry to cultural sites such as World Heritage landmark Angkor Wat. Support vehicles, bike mechanics and guides travel with you. Other itineraries cover Samoa and Australia's own Great Ocean Road. Hit the road12 Tasmania is a terrific holiday destination, no matter whether you're single or in a couple, have young children in tow or want to try out the grey nomad experience. Hire a campervan and take in the delights of the Apple Isle for as little as $33 a day. Go to www.familymotorhome-tasmania.com.au. If you prefer the comfort of a coach and hotel stays to self-drive touring, a range of competitively priced group-tour packages is available through AAT Kings (1300 556 100), for short or long trips Australia-wide.
Snow business 13 If your family prefers skiing to swimming or snorkelling, there are amazing discounts to be had in some of the world's best snowfields. Travelplan Ski (1300 754 754) offers a family package to Aspen, Colorado, for $4787. The package is based on a family of two adults and two children up to 12 years of age, and includes seven nights' accommodation and lift passes for six days. Stay a second week for just $3887.
Going wild14 GAP Adventures offers a range of packages to suit thrill-seeking families who crave new experiences in exciting places. The Serengeti Family Safari is a seven-day tour through the wilds of Tanzania in search of the 'big five' - lions, leopards, buffalos, elephants and rhinos. Prices start at $2371 per adult and $2201 per child aged five to 17 (excluding airfares).
Sail away15 The Costa Classica 1680-berth cruise ship is designed for families who desire laidback luxury. A 17-night Orient & Disneyland package, booked through ECruising, includes a day pass to Hong Kong Disneyland, return airfare with Qantas, 14 nights on board and three nights' hotel accommodation. Fares start from $3249 per adult, with children under 18 cruising free (up to two children, sharing a cabin with two adults).
A walk in the sun16 Soak up the serenity on a scenic New Zealand walking tour. The Franz Joseph Trail meanders through the South Island's diverse scenery, including the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, World Heritage forests and sweeping beaches. Tuatara Tours (1800 044 633) offers a four-day guided walk along the trail, appropriate for walkers of average fitness, with all meals provided and comfortable accommodation each night. This is a perfect way to bond with university-age kids, or perhaps with your own parents, as these tours are designed for adults. However, if you can get together two or three families to make up a group of 12, they'll consider allowing younger hikers.
Resort to lower prices17 Package deals have never been better, as travel companies try to thwart the global financial crisis by offering tempting discounts. Fiji has long been held in high regard as a family destination, thanks to well-organised kids' clubs, friendly service and brilliant baby-minding facilities. Qantas Holidays offers six nights for the price of three at the 4.5-star Warwick Fiji Resort and Spa on the Coral Coast; prices start at $423 per adult twin share, while two children under 14 stay and eat free. Sale ends September 30 for travel between August 1 and November 30, 2009. Call Qantas Holidays on 13 14 15.Text by Elisabeth Knowles Photograph by Image Source