Traveling as a family is a great way to spend time with your kids and also build lasting memories. Whether your family likes to hit the the open road or lay claim to a spot on a sandy beach for a few days, these are moments enrich our lives. The downside is that these adventures can quickly become prohibitively expensive. To be able to travel more often without breaking the bank, here are eight useful tips for planning more budget friendly family vacations.
Saving on Airfare
Booking flights for a family vacation is often enough to cause mild chest pains, especially if you don’t live near a major city airport. Shelling out $200 to $400 per ticket, plus dealing with layovers is not a great way to start a vacation. There are a few tricks to finding cheap airfare, or at least not spending all of your hard earned vacation money just getting to and from the destination.
Before you begin your search, decide which airports are viable options from home and near your destination. For instance, I have a major city airport and a smaller airport the same distance from my home. While I prefer the smaller airport, sometimes ticket costs or inconvenient layovers mean I have to go with the larger hub. Ticket prices between the two can vary wildly depending on the destination since my favorite small airport has limited airline service.
The second item to consider is how flexibly you can be with travel dates and times. Ticket prices vary by hundreds of dollars merely by time and date. An early flight Wednesday morning may be under $100 while coming home Sunday night could cost three times as much. Having a little flexibility means huge savings.
Drive Instead of Flying
For many families, especially larger clans, flying can be prohibitively expensive. Driving, on the other hand, is very affordable. We frequently visit Disney World 1,200 miles away from home. Airline tickets cost us an average of $1000 to $1500, so we switch off between driving and flying to make it more affordable. Driving costs a mere $250 in gas plus food along the way, which means more money in the bank for other vacations.
Driving to a destination has a few other bonuses. Flexibility is king on the road. Stop and take a break when you wish or turn off to see some interesting little tidbit of history. The odd roadside attraction is enough for me to make a detour along the way.
Hauling your own luggage is another benefit for both convenience and savings. You can pack a lot more of what you need for a vacation, which is perfect for long trips with a baby on board. Some airlines charge $50 per bag with further penalty charges if you go over the weight limit. This adds up very quickly for a week long vacation, but it’s not even an issue when driving.
Another benefit some parents enjoy is the flexibility of being on the road with a special needs child. Some of our children do not do well in crowded airports or being confined to a seat for a two plus hour flight. Being in my own vehicle means my daughter is in a familiar environment and I can pull off at an exit whenever she needs some fresh air.
Choose More Affordable Destinations
Choosing a more affordable destination is a great way to stretch your travel dollars further. For example, most popular family vacation destination in the US is Disney World, yet it is also very expensive. There are two ways to work around high cost destinations. One is to mix it up a bit. Plan part of your vacation at the expensive place you are looking to go, then move on to a cheaper hotel or attraction to cut costs. Many budget minded Disney World visitors spend a few days at the resort, then use the rest of their vacation time at cheaper local Orlando attractions and hotels.
The second is to choose a completely different path. Instead of heading to an expensive all-inclusive resort, scout out other options in the area with access to the same attractions. Or simply choose another type of vacation, head to a smaller town to explore or plan a multi-stop road trip where your family can see many different places.
Choose More Affordable Activities
Look at more affordable activities for your vacation time. A theme park or luxury spa may be fun, but exploring the great outdoors may leave more of a lasting impression. Touring the many monuments and museums in Washington D.C. Can easily fill a few days and is extremely cost effective. A great way to save on museums and zoos across the country is to purchase an annual pass at your local attraction that has reciprocal privileges for discounted or free admission.
Shop Around for Accommodations
Hotels accommodations can quickly eat a hole in your wallet if you don’t shop around. Use the many travel websites to your advantage, not only to scout prices, but also for reviews. Major sites, like Travelocity or even Google, will have dozens of reviews from guests to help you narrow down hotel options before you even look at the prices. Once you start shopping prices, also be sure to look at the hotel’s own website to compare their price and see if there are special deals. I’ve found packages that include meals and attractions through hotel websites for a price similar to the room only on booking sites.
Another option is to look at rentals and extended stay suite hotels. Popular travel destinations often have condos or even houses that are used primarily as rental properties, which can be perfect for large families.
Be Flexible on Travel Dates
As mentioned before with airlines, flexible travel dates will save you money. This also applies to other items, like hotel prices and attraction discounts. Traveling in the off season or shoulder season between holidays can net some huge savings. Hotels are looking to stay filled by offering discounts and attractions may have lower prices or package deals available. Added bonus: lower crowds.
Use Credit Cards and Loyalty Reward Points
If you travel often, using credit cards which earn points to miles will come in handy. There are several types of cards ranging from specific airlines to cash rewards that can be applied to your particular travel style. For instance, I use a card linked to Disney which earns enough points to pay for my annual pass just from buying gas and groceries.
Hotel chains also offer both loyalty systems and credit card points for guests. At the minimum, sign up for loyalty programs when you travel and keep a list of which hotel chains you’re signed up for when making travel plans. Some can earn a free stay after only a few trips.
Budget Your Spending While On Vacation
Sticking to a budget while on vacation may seem like added stress, but it can be done easily with a little pre-planning. Begin a list of basic expenses that aren’t flexible, such as admission tickets and transportation. Once you have an idea of those costs, decide how much you wish to spend daily on other items. Food tends to be one of the most variable expenses on vacation and can be used to make room in your budget for other things, like souvenirs. Look for coupons on attractions or dining in local travel brochures to save a bit extra.
Use these valuable planning tips and tools to save money on upcoming family trips. Whether it be making a dream vacation affordable, or using your savings to go on more excursions, a bit of travel budget help goes a long way.