Budget-friendly travel is possible–even with a family! Before you plan your next trip, read these essential tips to save money on family vacation!
By Hilary, Contributing Writer
I love to go on vacation.
Love, love, love it.
But I also love frugal living. And sometimes, it doesn’t seem like the two can coexist.
When I get away from my familiar community where I know how I can best save money, I have a fear that I’ll have a tendency to overspend.
I’ve found that it doesn’t have to be so bad, though. I can save money on vacation (and you can, too!) with these 5 ways:
1. Plan ahead…but be flexible.
Spontaneity is fun, but planning ahead can help save a lot of money. This is true in everyday life, and it’s true when you’re on vacation, too.
First of all, know where you’d like to go and when. By planning ahead, you can do your homework online and track down discounts for the area. (If you’re a member of AAA, check for discounts before you go.)
Yet as you’re making plans, keep some flexibility with your dates of travel or where you’re staying. By checking into alternate dates, you can save a lot of money. Plus, lodging just a town away may be much more reasonably priced.
As I’ve been planning my family’s summer vacation, I’ve found some good bargains by making reservations months in advance. Plus, there has been a big difference in booking weekdays compared to weekends.
2. Scope out where you’re going.
As you’re making your plans, check out the area you’ll visit, either online or by contacting convention and visitors bureaus.
I like searching for attractions that could be a great fit for my family. Once I have a basic idea of what we could do, I also look to the cost so I can see how much we need to save if we choose to do it.
Sometimes Most times the cost is the deciding factor. (Last year my husband and I thought about taking our kids to an alligator zoo for a couple hours that we had visited years before…until we saw that it would cost our family $75! Not worth it, in our opinion.)
Once you’ve narrowed your list of attractions, check for possible coupons. This summer, my family’s planning a trip to Legoland–partially because of the fact that kids can go for free with a coupon and the purchase of an adult ticket. We’re saving $138 thanks to two coupons we gathered from LEGO sets!
As you’re researching the area, check and see what restaurants and stores are nearby. You may have discount cards for stores in the area – if so, bring them with you! I save a grocery store customer discount card for a regional grocery store at our favorite beach. Even if I only use it every couple years, it saves a LOT of money when we do use it.
Check out Groupon before you go, too, for potential regional deals. I’ve found that the Entertainment Book and AAA also offer great national discounts.
3. Choose your lodging wisely.
If you’re planning on staying at a hotel, look for one with a complimentary breakfast. While it may only seem like a small perk, it could save a lot of money depending on how many people are in your family and how many nights you’re staying. (Plus, it just makes mornings so much easier to walk down to the lobby and grab your breakfast.)
If you’re not staying at a hotel, do your research for lodging that fits your budget. Does it make more sense to use a camper? Or timeshare? Can you rent a house or condo or cabin? Can you stay with a friend or family member? While this step could take the longest to research, look carefully – and pay attention to cancellation policies.
You can find a variety of accommodations on AirBnB, from the super frugal (a local’s guest room) to the more unique (renting someone’s mountain lodge). You can get $45 off your first trip of $75 or more when you click through this link.
4. Wisely use credit cards and gift cards.
If you’re not opposed to using credit cards, find one with amazing perks – and use it to your advantage. Friends of mine recently opened a credit card to get free airline miles. While they’ve paid their credit card balance off already, they also earned enough miles to fly their family of five to Florida for free.
Also, if you know you’ll use gift cards on your trip, buy them at home if you’ll get some sort of benefit. At my local grocery store, I can earn discounts on gasoline for gift cards I buy. Before vacation, I buy Subway gift cards so we can stop on the road for a Subway lunch, since we’ve found they’re in small towns and at gas stations all over the country. When we pay with our gift cards, I know I’ve scored a discount on fuel in the process.
5. Bring what you can.
Sometimes, you simply don’t have room to bring extras – especially if you’re flying and just have a carry-on bag. But if you’re planning a road trip, pack food, drink and snacks – it will be cheaper and easier on the road.
While eating out is fun, planning ahead and packing a picnic lunch for the road is easier. Plus, it can be much cheaper and healthier than eating at restaurants. And make sure you bring along reusable water bottles, along with a gallon or two of drinking water, so you can refill your water at rest stops.
As long as you have room for a cooler, keep it stocked with breakfast and lunch foods – and find a grocery store once you reach your destination so you can refill your grocery supply during vacation and for your trip home.
Try to use the same approach with toiletries. Of course you can buy things while traveling, but you can save a lot of money by bargain shopping before you leave home. Sunscreen bought on a great deal before your vacation will be much cheaper than sunscreen bought once you reach a tourist destination.
These aren’t the only ways to save money on vacation, but they make a fantastic start. By thoughtfully making a game plan before you leave home, you can save money on vacation.
How do you like to save money on vacation? What works best for you?
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I’m going to a conference at the end of June, and my husband and I are taking advantage of the opportunity to travel somewhere we never have before (it helps that some of my travel expenses may be covered by my school). We’re saving a ton of money on the hotel by staying in university housing where the conference is. We’re staying for 7 nights for around $325! We’re also planning to do what we did on our last trip, which is bring breakfast, and possibly lunch we can eat in the room, so we can afford to try out some of the restaurants for dinner (which is honestly one of my favorite “attractions”). Love the idea of checking Groupon; will have to do that for this trip!
What a great way to save money! I love the thought of both of you going to the conference location – and saving money with conference housing deals. I hope you have a wonderful trip!
A great way to save money and try some local restaurants is to get certificates through restaurant.com
I know lots of folks who use parent #1’s driveable business travel as a cheap getaway for parent #2 and kids. Lodging, Travel and Parent #1’s meals covered by company so you are only out of pocket for meals and activities for Parent #2 and kids. But if you do this please make sure if is okay with your company. I once went to a continuing education conference on a lake where attendees were assigned two per condo. One had 1st floor and the other had 2nd floor. Some goober brought his family so my friend wound up having to share his space with someone’s wife and kids he didn’t even know and wasn’t able to do his conference homework at night for all the noise the kids were making. The goober didn’t do it on purpose, he didn’t have any idea he would be sharing a condo with another employee until he drove from Louisiana to TX with family. But he should have asked.
Oh no!! What a horrible conference for your friend! Checking first before you bring your family along on business travel is important!
Sarah @The Teacher's Wife
I love the idea about the gift cards! I hadn’t thought about that, but I usually see lots of gas perks on gift cards during the summer, so that’s a fantastic idea! Thanks for sharing!
I hope it will help you save some gas money!
Actually I think the best way to save money on travel is to not really care where you go – it’s amazing the cheap airfares you can find when you’re just not at all picky! We’re going to Japan in a couple of weeks; airfare + accommodation for 5 nights was only $500 per person. We didn’t have any particular interest in going to Japan – not that we’ve got anything against Japan; I’ve been a couple of times, my husband’s never been and was never really interested; but when those airfares came up, we thought, Why not? (At the time we were on another one of our “who cares where we go” holidays, that time in New Zealand – Nothing’s more fun than booking a holiday while you’re on holidays! Seriously, it means you’re not even sad when the holiday ends, because you’ve already got another one to look forward to.) We’re currently on the look-out for cheap airfare for the next holiday – Who cares where, if the price is right?
What a great perspective – AND strategy! I hope you have a wonderful time visiting Japan!
Half the fun is in the planning and anticipation. Get everyone in the family involved from the start.
Finds some fun facts about the place you plan to visit. Check out you tube for videos for things you would like to see or do. Each of our family members will pick out something they would like to do and then we find prices, bargain days, and coupons. Can we bring a lunch? How can we make our $’s stretch.
Check out reviews of attractions from places like trip advisor before you go to see if it’s really something you would like to do.
Take things as they go and relax. There is always next year.
I love traveling so I’m already making a list of places I want to go see. Awesome advice, I agree about packing light. I have found that you wear two to three items of clothing constantly so stick to them and keep room for Five star all those treasures you will bring home along the way. I prefer an aisle seat instead of a window on long haul flights. Good luck traveling all.