In the years BC (Before Children) you didn't have to plan so much to go on holidays. Nowadays, it's akin to a military exercise. But it doesn't have to be like that. Believe it or not, there are plenty of last-minute deals available. If you're flexible about the destination, the world is your oyster.
Is there anything better than feeling the sand between your toes, hearing the waves crash on the shore, and watching the kids build sandcastles?
Most Australians think not: 77 per cent of people with children living at home want a beachside escape for the summer holidays, according to recent research by lastminute.com.au.
The most popular destinations, based on the number of family rooms booked through HotelsCombined, are Sydney, the Gold Coast and Melbourne, with an average nightly rate of around $200.
"The peak rate tends to drop from the middle of January, so try to travel at the end of the holidays to save money," says Amanda Woodward, owner of familyfriendlyaccommodation.com.au.
As an early Christmas gift, here is a selection of last-minute deals for your family summer holiday.
Seven of the 10 best family apartments and holiday parks in Australia are on the Gold Coast, according to a survey by Wotif, including the five-star Soul Surfers Paradise and Peppers Broadbeach.
A quick trip across the spit is the Ramada Couran Cove, with 4WD and quad-bike tours, plus free kayaking, volleyball and tennis. Or you can stay for seven and pay for five nights in a two-bedroom apartment at the Turtle Beach Resort in Mermaid Beach, plus airfares, from flightcentre.com.
While a little more tropical, there are bargains to be had in Far North Queensland. Cheap rooms are available at the 4.5-star Oaks Lagoons in Port Douglas, with full kitchen and laundry facilities and a private spa on the balcony, through lastminute.com.au.
Big4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort in Airlie Beach has outdoor movies, pool parties, and trivia nights through summer. Then in January, the Kids Driving You Nuts package includes free Kids' Club, pedal-kart hire and mini-golf. Book on adventurewhitsunday.com.au.
In Cairns, check out the family-friendly Novotel or Coconut Holiday Resort.
New South Wales
If you have young children, you can't beat the BabyQ package at QT Sydney, with its Bugaboo Bee3 urban strollers, iiamo designer baby bottles, and Milk Baby products.
For older kids, Sydney's Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel has a deal for two adults and two children, including hot buffet breakfast and tickets to Luna Park. That's on lastminute.com.au/deals.
And Swissotel is offering 20 per cent off its best available rate for summer. (We love the kids' rooms, decked out with toys, games and character bed linen.)
Outside Sydney, try Youth Hostels Australia. Port Stephens YHA has bungalows set on 1.2 hectarec of rainforest gardens, with a saltwater pool and outdoor camp kitchen. It's a great base for sand-duning and dolphin-watching. Blue Mountains YHA has a package including the world' steepest railway, on yha.com.au.
For water sports, spooky ghost tours, and the only Asia Cup game in a regional centre, take the kids to Newcastle. There are still good deals at the Crowne Plaza Newcastle and Rafferty's Resort Lake Macquarie.
If you're an active family, check out A&K's four-day Twelve Apostles Eco Walk along the glorious Great Ocean Road, with meals made from local produce. Details are on abercrombiekent.com.au.
The Mantra is the only beachfront property in Lorne. Built around the oldest guesthouse in Victoria, its Summer Escape Package includes kids' movies at the outdoor cinema, surf lessons, and a high-ropes course. The website is mantralorne.com.au.
On the other side of the bay, Merricks Stable on the Mornington Peninsula is in the top five Best Properties for Families stayz.com.au.
(And it's right near the wineries, if the kids are driving you crazy!)
In Melbourne, the lovely Langham Hotel is offering deals from mid-December until the tennis starts in January. Log on to Melbourne.langhamhotels.com.au.
"Tassie is perfect for summer holidays," says Amanda Woodward, who stays there every second Christmas. "It's not crowded, the weather's good, and there are some great things to do too."
The Cradle Mountain Family Adventure is a three-day trip from Launceston through the Mole Creek Karst caves and Forth Valley, staying at the Waldheim cabins and Lemonthyme Lodge.
"Many family holidays concentrate on the resort-style option and we strongly believe this short walking experience in one of our most iconic wilderness areas is a great stepping stone to encourage a love of the outdoors in youngsters," says Brad Atwal from tasmanianexpeditions.com.au.
Stayz.com.au has plenty of accommodation available for summer, such as a new beachfront cottage at 16 Newell Street on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
The World Tennis Challenge is in Adelaide mid-January, while the largest cycling event in the southern hemisphere, the Santos Tour Down Under, runs through the latter half of the month. Or, you can hire a riverboat to cruise the Murray for the Sounds by the River festival, on January 17.
You've got to love a resort that caters equally for parents and children.
The Margaret River Discovery Package at Smiths Beach Resort includes accommodation in a three-room villa, full-day winery tour, plus entry to the Sunflower Animal Farm. More on smithsbeachresort.com.au.
Older kids will enjoy Intrepid's Perth-to-Exmouth adventure, wading among the dolphins at Monkey Mia, exploring Ningaloo Reef, and hiking through Murchison Gorge. For details, visit intrepidtravel.com/Australia.
A rich history, stunning beaches, and friendly folk – Norfolk's got it all. And it's just two hours' flight from Sydney or Brisbane. Tintoela, Hunky's Homestead, which sleeps eight people, is $1249pp for seven nights, including airfares, minivan hire, and a half-day island tour. Visit oxleytravel.com.au.
The Westin Resort in Nusa Dua, Bali, now has a Teens Zone, where they can hang out with their own to play Wii and Playstation. Younger kids will enjoy the 12-metre waterslide, or go to the Kids' Club for face painting, kite making and fishing. Book on westinnusaduabali.com.
The Family Holiday package at RIMBA Jimbaran Bali and AYANA Resort and Spa Bali, with connecting rooms and buffet breakfasts, has just been extended into 2015: rimbajimbaran.com and ayanaresort.com. And check out smithandfamily.com for discounts of up to 55 per cent on top-end properties, including Karma Kandara, a lofty lodge on Bali's Bukit Peninsula.
In Thailand, Intrepid has a 12-day family trip visiting Bangkok, the bridge on the River Kwai, and an Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. The kids will experience village life at a homestay with a local family.
Kids eat, stay and play for free at the Sunwing Resort Kamala Beach: $1708 a family for seven nights' accommodation. For younger kids, Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket has a Family Getaways package, with discounted entry to Baan Teelanka (also known as the upside down house), maze garden, and Phuket Trickeye 3D museum.
If you're seeking something sedate, stay at the InterContinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort on the unspoilt west coast of Koh Samui. Pop them in the Planet Trekkers' Kids' Club while you explore the seven swimming pools, cliff-edge Thai spa, fitness centre, PADI dive centre, and Thai cooking classes. Ahhh…
And there's 20 per cent off rooms at Anantara Si Kao Resort & Spa, a 90-minute drive south of Krabi, if you book three weeks in advance.
Fiji is ideal if you have a baby or toddler. Stay seven nights for the price of five at Malolo Island Resort: maloloisland.com/packages. Or enjoy all-inclusive meals on Castaway Island, also in the Mamanucas. Book on castawayfiji.com. Flightcentre.com has terrific deals, including flights, accommodation, breakfast, and Kids' Club entry, at places like the Naviti Resort.
In Vanuatu, Warwick Le Lagon is offering a seven-night package, including airfares, transfers, and activity vouchers, from $1195 per adult and $485 per child, through hootholidays.com.au.
Meanwhile, Homestays in Kanak communities in New Caledonia are a great way for the kids to learn about Melanesian culture, try out a few words of the indigenous languages, or practise their French. For something swish, try the Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Resort & Spa. (Starwoodhotels.com/Sheraton.)
Summer is an excellent time to visit New Zealand – hot, but not too hot!
If your kids are fans of The Hobbit, take them to the gorgeous Lake Wanaka region, where the Misty Mountains scene was shot. The lake is ideal for swimming, fishing, boating and paddle boarding. Accommodation ranges from lakefront family camping – a truly Kiwi experience – to luxurious lodges and apartments. Details at lakewanaka.co.nz.
Or stay in one of the Heritage Hotels in Auckland, Hanmer Springs, Christchurch or Queenstown. They all have family packages over the summer break, on heritagehotels.co.nz.
From now until the end of February, most Holiday Inns in the Asia-Pacific offer a Family Getaway Package, where children can stay, dine and visit a local attraction for free. Information is on holidayinn.com/hotelpackages.
Another option is house swapping. For a small membership fee, you can list your own home then browse those at your preferred destination. "We still have hundreds of swaps available for Christmas," according to Bee Cogger from houseswapholidays.com.au.
So, it's not too late to take your family on a sensational summer holiday.
This article first appeared on Traveller.