What's the attraction?
The autumn school term is the longest of the year. Life for school children becomes a bit of a slog as the mornings get darker and the afternoons shorter and chillier. But the half-term holiday – which, for most English and Welsh schools, runs from Saturday 22 October to Sunday 30 October – offers the chance to get away, perhaps even catch some sun. And even with less than three weeks to go, there are still holiday deals to be snapped up.
Natural Retreats (0844 384 3166; www.naturalretreats.com) has some properties available on the beautiful Llyn Peninsula in north-west Wales, in Cornwall, the west Highlands and Yorkshire Dales. Four-night breaks on the Llyn Peninsula cost £593 for a residence sleeping up to six.
Alternatively, cosy up in a four-person timber pod on Saughy Rigg organic farm, Northumberland (01434 344 120; saughyrigg.co.uk), which costs only £30 in total per night if booked through www.pitchup.com. Hoseasons' 10 "Go Active" holiday parks (from Cornwall to Dundee) offer activities from archery to rafting. A three-night half-term break costs from £299 for a family of four, without activities.
Scotland's half-term holidays fall during either the second or third weeks of October, which means that cross-border travel can save money: Scottish families may find better deals south of the border up to 22 October, while after that people based in England and Wales may benefit from heading north for a less crowded (and cheaper) holiday. Visit Scotland is offering up to £100 off accommodation across the country this month – from golf course hotels to lochside self-catering. Discount vouchers are available at www.visitscotland.com/surprise.
One such property is Tigh Cilmartin cottage on the Isle of Skye, which sleeps up to six. Surrounded by woodland on the Trotternish Peninsula, it now costs £650 for a week-long stay from 22 October, booked through Visit Scotland.
Travellers in northern England and southern Scotland can also take advantage of the discrepancy between holiday dates by choosing an airport across the border.
Scots can save hundreds of pounds by booking a package from Manchester airport on 15 October, rather than Glasgow: with Thomson (0871 231 4691; www.thomson.co.uk) a family of four, spending a week in the Sa Tanca Apartments in Ibiza will cost £1,760 from Glasgow. The same destination, same day from Manchester is only £1,012. English families prepared to go north for departures on 22 or 23 October will also save money.
Sometimes sun isn't the point. Discover the true force of nature in Iceland with volcanoes, glaciers and geysers. The far north specialist, Discover the World (01737 214291; www.discover-the-world.co.uk), has a four-day "Family Northern Lights Adventure" departing on 26 October, returning 30 October, for £2,197 for a family of four. The price includes scheduled flights from Heathrow on Icelandair; rental of a 4x4; one night's hotel accommodation near Reykjavik (and the Blue Lagoon) and three nights' self-catering in a summerhouse on the Golden Circle Route (which passes many of the island's landmarks).
Dive into Egypt
The Red Sea resorts are in peak season in autumn, when temperatures aren't too stifling. As a result of the disturbances elsewhere in Egypt earlier this year (the Red Sea resorts were almost completely unaffected), there are also plenty of bargains to be had. Red Sea Holidays (0845 026 5973; www.redseaholidays.co.uk) has a "Family Diving Experience" allowing families (with children over 10) to learn to dive together. The full five-day course (£295 per person) leads to a Padi Open Water Diving qualification. The package is available at seven-, four- and five-star resorts in Egypt's Sharm El Sheikh. Seven nights' all-inclusive at the Sharm Resort Hotel, with flights departing Gatwick on 23 October costs £3,316 for a family of four.
Feel the force in Tunisia
"Tunisia is no longer experiencing the widespread unrest that occurred during the 'Jasmine Revolution,'" according to the latest advice from the Foreign Office. "Public order is now maintained in most places including the main tourist coastal areas".
On Tunisia's east coast, with beaches, desert, camels, golf and a marina nearby (as well as Star Wars film locations) an all-inclusive holiday at the three-star El Mouradi Club Selima costs £1,977 for a family of four with Just Sunshine (0844 756 0056; www.justsunshine.com). The price includes flights from Gatwick departing 22 October and transfers.
If you want guaranteed sun on the beach before the winter, the UAE still has highs of 35C in October (and lows of 25C). Bypass the soaring skyscrapers of Dubai and head for the nearby emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, which offers a lower-key beach holiday with desert dunes and wildlife sanctuaries thrown in for good measure.
Letsgo2 (020-8329 2855; www.letsgo2.com) is offering five nights' B&B at the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah for £1,834 for a family of three departing Heathrow on 23 October. Flights are to Dubai via Doha with Qatar Airways.
Thailand also represents excellent value at the moment, as well as offering balmy beach holidays. Trailfinders (0845 054 6060; www.trailfinders.com) has eight nights in Krabi, costing £2,465 for a family of four departing Heathrow on 22 October and staying at the Krabi La Playa Resort, with breakfast.
Best for brickies
Just in time for half term, the world's biggest Legoland opens in Florida on 15 October ( florida.legoland.com). Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859; www.virginholidays.co.uk) has packages from Gatwick (£2,649) and Manchester (£3,095) for a family of four departing October 15/16 respectively, staying at the Best Western Lakeside (room only), the closest hotel to the resort. Meanwhile, Flight Centre (0844 800 8628; www.flightcentre.co.uk) offers a 23 October departure from Gatwick staying for a week at the Seralago Hotel in Orlando for £689 per person. Quote MCOLONPROCT for bookings made before 10 October, for an extra £70 off.
Who said that?
"It used to take me all vacation to grow a new hide in place of the one they flogged off me during school term." – Mark Twain
"Nothing you do for children is ever wasted." – Garrison Keillor
"I find that a change of nuisances is as good as a vacation." – David Lloyd George
"If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work." – William Shakespeare, Henry IV: Part One