When it comes to family vacations, I want to go all-out making the most of this time away from my job and honey-do chores around the house. That being said, living a lifestyle of the rich and famous, which would bust our family’s household budget, isn’t in the cards when we go on family trips. So, I’m always on the lookout for ways to make it seem as if we are having luxurious experiences while still pinching pennies keeping our family travel expenses manageable. Here are six tips for having a champagne family vacation on a beer budget:
AVOID THE CROWDS: TRAVEL OFF-PEAK
You can save up to 50% on travel expenses by avoiding the peak vacation seasons. Discounted airfare and hotel rooms mean you can often get flights or places to stay that would otherwise be out of your budget price range. Plus, when you save money because of off-season discounts, that means more cash in hand to spend on other champagne lifestyle perks that you might not have otherwise been able to afford. Experiences like taking in a show, visiting a spa, or indulging in an expensive dinner are suddenly possible.
The best perk of traveling during the off season for me though is places tend to be less crowded. If I’m saving up throughout the year for a vacation, I want the experience to be exceptional. For me, going to an amusement park, beach, or museum that is jam packed just isn’t fun. Being able to avoid crowds is always a priority for a family getaway when selecting vacation destinations.
That doesn’t mean you always have to travel in the dead of winter to go on an off season vacation. For many people, summer doesn’t start until Memorial Day but you can enjoy a nice vacation full of family fun the week before at substantially lower prices before peak room rates begin that holiday weekend. Also, more and more children are going back to school in mid-August making the last couple weeks of the month a great time to get travel deals and avoid crowds. Just don’t expect deals on Labor Day weekend when everyone is trying to get one last summer trip in.
Want to enjoy the ambiance of a Christmas vacation without traveling during the holiday? Many places begin putting up their Christmas decorations and hosting holiday themed activities in mid-November so consider taking a family getaway between Thanksgiving and mid-December. Crowds are low and plenty of discounts are available for airfare and room rates during this time period, before peaking again the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. We’ve gone on some wonderful family trips during this time of year to Orlando, taking in the holiday decorations at the Universal and Disney theme parks.
TAKE THE “ROAD LESS TRAVELED”
Have your heart set on a Hawaiian beach vacation but it just seems too pricey? Consider less traveled vacation spots that are looking to attract visitors like Barbados, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Puerto Rico or Samoa for a tropical getaway. An alternative vacation idea to a budget-busting trip to the City of Lights, could be visiting the historic city of Montreal, Canada which some say has a more traditional French vibe to it than modern day Paris. For a Mediterranean beach vacation instead of traveling to Spain, Italy or Greece, consider the more affordable Croatia which stood in for the Greek Isles in filming the Mama Mia movies. Instead of an expensive ski vacation in the United States to Aspen, Colorado keep in mind Iceland which has been doing a lot to promote tourism lately for an affordable family vacation.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: RESEARCH YOUR VACATION DESTINATION
Research places for vacation ideas by visiting the websites of convention and visitor bureaus. Go to cvent.com for a directory of tourism agencies from across the globe. Convention and visitor bureaus provide a wealth of information about places to stay, where to eat and things to do within the areas they represent. They also often promote special deals to encourage tourists to visit. These promotions can be a great way to enjoy a champagne lifestyle while traveling on a beer budget. Most of them have active social media accounts which are a great way to get a heads up about discounts and deals being offered in a destination you want to go to.
Sign up for watchdog sites that will send you alerts about deals on airfare, cruises, hotel room rates and more. For example, airfarewatchdog.com will send you real time announcements when bargains arise related to criteria you’ve registered to have them monitor for you as the service scours route information for thousands of airline flights every day. Instead of searching for deals let them come to you through these online services.
In today’s era of DIY Internet services, it is easy to forget that there are still real live travel agents out there who can help you plan out exceptional trips and save money. Best of all, most travel agents these days don’t bill you for their services but rather are compensated through commissions from the vendors they pair you with. Tell them your budget, and let them do what they do best. Many travel agents can get you prices and perks that can’t be obtained through online travel sites and can help you focus on an itinerary that will delight the whole family. Another edge you get with a travel agent, is they can connect you with tour operators and excursion companies that only deal in business-to-business transactions. This opens up opportunities for family trips you may not be able to access on your own.
Where do you find a travel agent? Online of course! Go to travelsense.org operated by the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). To provide consumers with some peace of mind about using ASTA members each of them must follow a code of ethics which if infringed upon can result in disciplinary action and membership revocation. According to ASTA their travel planning pros on average can save people 3.5 hours in making vacation arrangements and more than $300 per trip. That is a nice chunk of beer money to keep in your pocket! Why not look into seeing how a travel agent may be able to help you have an affordable family vacation.
CREDIT CARD POINTS & TRAVEL REWARDS
Using your bonus rewards from credit cards to help pay for vacation expenses is another way to save money. Points help you save money by getting free or discounted airline tickets, hotel stays and other perks to alleviate your travel costs. My family has a Disney branded Visa card. Based upon our spending with the credit card, we earn Disney gift cards that we can use on-site at their Florida and California amusement parks. We also get discounts for using the credit card while at Disneyland or Disney World theme parks. Getting this credit card a few years in advance of a planned trip to Florida for a Magic Kingdom theme park visit has allowed us to incorporate our family’s spending on basic necessities throughout the year to help us pay for the luxury of going on this trip.
There is a caveat to using credit card rewards though. They are great if you are able to afford paying off your bill in full each month. The value of these perks and discounts is nullified if you start having a carry over balance that results in penalty fees and interest accruing. Be mindful of not going into debt when trying to save money for a family trip through the use of credit cards!
ALL INCLUSIVE STAYS CAN SAVE YOU A BUNDLE
Looking for resorts that offer all inclusive pricing is a good way to get a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to taking the whole family on a vacation. These beach resorts are particularly popular in the Caribbean but have been expanding in recent years to vacation destinations across the globe. These packages normally involve generous meal plans and free attractions providing guests with exceptional experiences, and allows you to vacation financial-worry-free.
Cruises can be another way to keep your vacation spending in check while on a family vacation. They have many of the features of an all inclusive beach resort but guests get to travel to various vacation spots as the boat travels from port to port. I always enjoy visiting Miami, Florida or New York City as a port of call for a cruise. Cruises also can be very kid friendly providing an enjoyable experience for the whole family.
A trip to a national park like the Great Smoky Mountains can also be a fun and economical vacation destination. It is essentially all inclusive as you pay a reasonable site fee for a tent or camper than can enjoy the amenities of the park. Of course you have to bring your own food and shelter with you. On the other hand, there are a lot of interesting outdoor activities to do during a visit to a national park especially if you are looking to go on a kid friendly road trip. Hiking trails, biking, kayaking, swimming, pickup baseball games, and wildlife watching provide lots of family fun when visiting a national park. Go to nps.gov for more info about United States national parks.
ASK THE LOCALS ABOUT MONEY SAVING OPPORTUNITIES
A family tradition we have when traveling is going to a local post office to mail a memento back home. My kids have accumulated a collection of cards with post marks and stamps from the places we’ve on family trips. But I also have another motif behind these visits to the post office … looking to save money! I ask the people who live and work in the community where they go out to eat and about free attractions. We always get great recommendations of places that have local character, good food and prices that aren’t marked up to take advantage of tourists like us visiting these vacation spots.
Whenever you check in to a room, a restaurant reservation, or any activity, always ask about free upgrades. Sometimes it is just as simple as having a pleasant conversation and sharing a smile at check in, especially if you notice the person in front of you just gave the staff a hard time. Other times you just need to ask about signing up for a no-charge loyalty program to get some perks thrown your way. The worst that will happen is you’ll be told no. It never hurts to ask!
There you have it! Some of this traveling dad’s very own used tips to have a champagne family vacation on a beer budget. Head over to ageekdaddy.com to follow along on my family’s adventurous road trips and see how we lead a champagne lifestyle while traveling on a beer budget.