6 Ways to Save on Family Vacations

by Jamie Simmerman · 8 comments

Finding the funds to invest in a family vacation can be difficult, especially in a sour economy. There always seems to be something more important for your funds than a vacation – new shoes for the daredevil child, a deposit to the bookworm daughter’s college fund, or even upgrades to the house that can be enjoyed every day – rather than a short-lived family vacation. But family vacations can be vital to revitalization and bonding. When you get away from home, the distractions of the leaky faucet, flowerbeds that need weeding, and calls from your boss all slip away and allow you to focus on what matters most- your family. Traveling also enriches your lives and creates family memories that last a lifetime. Here are a few tips to help you travel with the family for less money.

1. Travel with friends. Consider vacationing with another family you enjoy spending time with to save big on vacation costs. We found a cabin in the Smokey Mountains with a home theater, full kitchen, and a hot tub for less than half of what it would cost for two families to stay in a decent hotel.

2. Off-Season trips. Summertime is the ideal time for a family vacation since kids are out of school and the weather is warm and sunny. But taking a vacation during the off season is a great way to get in a budget trip. Off-season cruises and stays during off-peak months can help save you a bundle.

3. Bring the cooler. Eating out can take a huge bite out of your vacation fund, especially if you have kids who tend to eat every 2-4 hours (like mine). To save money, we pack a cooler for on the road, and refill it once we get to our destination. We eat sandwiches for lunch instead of eating out, and occasionally eat a light breakfast from the cooler as well. Snacks and light meals are often enough to enable us to skip eating out for at least one meal a day. If you have small children, plan ahead and pack easy-to-grab snacks and refillable cups to cut down on food costs.

4. Pizza night. While it’s tempting to try to sample every nice restaurant in the area, you can save $50-$150 on substituting your evening steak and potatoes with a pizza delivered to the hotel one night during your vacation. It’s not exciting, but it’s familiar and frugal. Cooking while you are on vacation can also save you a boatload of money.

5. Talk to the locals. It pays to get to know a few locals at your favorite vacation spot. Not only can they tell you about the best places to visit, they also have access to discounts you probably don’t know about. Some areas have special tourism taxes that are higher than what the locals pay. We’ve had several vendors we frequent on vacation offer to give us the “local discount” for visiting so often and being friendly.

6. Service your vehicle. If you plan to drive on vacation, don’t skimp on vehicle maintenance before you leave. Getting a tune-up and safety check not only makes your trip safer, it improves your gas mileage, which can really add up over long distances. Also, you don’t want to spend your vacation stuck in a garage waiting for repairs and praying the mechanic is honest and the bill won’t max out your credit card.

What ways have you found to save money on vacations?

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  • Jacob Sandys says:

    Planning ahead is usually the best way to get good deals on your vacation. Also there are many sites online that can compare prices of various hotels and flights to get you the best deal. With a little research and time you can find a great deal on a vacation to almost anywhere in the world.

  • Alexander Collins says:

    The best tip on how to save on family travel vacation is to have relatives in city where you will have a vacation and live with them. Great saving on accommodation.

  • Persepone says:

    Our “annual vacation” with our 6 grandchildren is adapted from vacations with our daughter. When they were tiny we picked out a destination about 2 hours from their home–enough of a drive and scenery change to have the “illusion” of “away.” As it is a “resort area,” there are lots of attractions for children. We found a motel there with 2 double beds + cot rooms and small refrigerator/microwave in rooms and a “patio” area with outside tables/chairs. Hotel owners are great, hotel, while older (and less expensive than some other area properties) has pools, jacuzzi etc. Breakfast in room; coolers for lunches and some dinners, one “nice restaurant” each trip (actually it’s relatively cheap, but sit down, and illusion for the kids of “nice restaurant). We’ve done this for 16 years. The kids look forward to this trip and all the little rituals (ice cream cones one night at “our” ice cream cone place, etc.) It is always “affordable” and can expand or shrink with our pocketbook–but even in lean recession years, it was affordable. Sometimes a morning’s entertainment was the public park’s play area. Bubble stuff entertains kids for hours. In flush years, we’ve done the “train rides” and other higher-priced stuff in the area. Some years it’s been a whole week, other years 3-4 days. But enough of the core stuff does not change so that it is a predictable summer vacation for the kids to look forward to each year. It’s “away” so they have the sense of having “gone” on vacation.
    I think having some basic no frills summer “vacation” as the basis/focus for family vacation is important. There is always a “vacation.” By choosing something totally affordable (“cheap” to many people), when the economy turns to ___t, there is still “vacation.” In the end, it has far more going for it than the glitzier vacations. And kids like having those memories over years and years. They don’t get tired of the “same” vacation… Every year it’s a sort of rediscovery. I recommend the strategy even if, in the end, you supplement this with (but not replace it) with the glitzy vacations if you can afford them.

  • John Schmoll says:

    Great tips on making vacations more frugal! We also like to take a cooler with us to help cut down on costs. Additionally, we look for hotels that have fridges and/or microwaves to help us save money on food. That way one of our first stops is at the grocery store to get some staples.

  • Shane says:

    Great tips, when traveling we always pack a cooler, we also have a great group of friends that we split vacation costs with. we have actually been able to go to some great places and save a ton on hotels by renting a house that can fit everyone in the same place. that way you can cool food rather than going out.

  • Lance@MoneyLife&More says:

    I am taking my first cruise in off season and it is going to save me a ton of money! Off season gets you some great rates.

  • gail says:

    My husband and I just got back from a 9 day road trip to Glacier National Park and I’m proud to say we didn’t eat fast food ONCE during our 4,000 mile trip.

    We packed deli meat and cheese, pb&j and tuna fish for lunch, ate granola bars and yogurt for breakfast and made dinners on our Coleman stove (our dinners included tuna mac & cheese, bean burritos (beans + spices +tortillas and shredded cheese), spaghetti (dry pasta + canned spaghetti sauce) and cheese & salami with crackers. We also stopped at grocery stores and walmarts to pick up additional fruit and veggies along the way. We also kept water and gatorade in the cooler which we found really helpful.

    It was actually a lot of fun to picnic at rest stops (when you start looking for picnic tables you realized they are EVERYWHERE) and cook dinner under the stars. All this to say, we saved a lot of money along the way by doing a little bit of prep work before we left.

  • KM says:

    Choose camping over hotels – it’s more fun and costs less. Also, you can cook your own food, which is cheaper than going to restaurants. Otherwise, find a hotel with a kitchen so you can cook there.

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