Family vacations are practically an American institution. Whether it’s a trip to Grandma’s house or a long-awaited vacation to a Disney theme park, vacations allow you to spend quality time with your family while creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Of course, vacationing with a large brood also means spending more on everything: food, accommodation, entertainment, and attraction tickets, to name a few. But just because you’re on a tight budget doesn’t mean you should avoid family vacations.
There are ways to plan a family vacation without going into debt or paying a fortune. Being smart about making the most of every dollar allows you to enjoy your trip without sacrificing fun. It’s the best of both worlds – making memories with your family and avoiding the shock of stickers when all is said and done.
Profitable ideas for family vacations
Took my kids on two vacations this year, neither exotic nor expensive. And while I didn’t take my kids to see architecture in Europe or hunt elephants on an African safari, we had fun, made memories, and took tons of album-worthy photos. My children are seven and four; they are happy to stay in a hotel and go swimming. I’ve learned that vacations are not so much about the destination as they are the experience, which means that a profitable plan can be just as enjoyable as an expensive vacation.
Here are some of the best ways to get a memorable trip for less:
1. Plan a stay
Whether you are visiting a historic site, a national forest, or meeting places in a local town, booking accommodation where you live and stay close to home, you can have the vacation experience without the expense of travel. Look for inexpensive attractions and tours, and ask your hotel if they offer a discount for local residents. One of the best places to find home vacation deals is on group deal websites like LivingSocial, Travelzoo, and Groupon. Most of these sites offer deep discounts on everything from hotels to food to activities.
Doing something out of the ordinary, even if it’s close to home, can help create a vacation atmosphere without requiring extravagant travel. Whether you choose to go camping at a nearby campsite or stay overnight in town to witness the opening of a new museum, you don’t have to drive or fly to find a place to visit. holidays.
2. Be active
If you think about it, most of the attractions and events you pay for on vacation are passive activities. Watching a baseball game, going to the movies, seeing a play, or going for a walk in a theme park is expensive, but these activities don’t always lend themselves to bonding. That’s why I prefer active routes. Not only does a hike through a state forest or a bike ride through town cost much less than show tickets, these types of activities give you the chance to talk and connect with your family.
Here are some ideas for active vacations:
- String lessons
- Tyrolean lessons
Look for nearby ropes or leadership classes that take private participants. For a pretty low admission price (the ropes course near me charges $ 15 per participant and $ 30 for a zipline tour), you can add an amazing element to your profitable vacation.
3. Reservation with the owners
Hotels can be expensive, and some don’t even offer as many amenities. The trick to getting the most out of your investment is to find accommodation that offers more than a bed and a bathroom.
I love the Airbnb site. It offers condo and vacation home owners the ability to list their properties for much less than what you would spend on a traditional hotel website. For example, a full-service condo listed on Airbnb by its owner in Miami Beach, Florida costs $ 134 per night, while a comparable hotel room in the same neighborhood costs over $ 267 per night.
You can specify the size and amenities of the accommodation you’re looking for, and in most cases, you can get additional perks like a working kitchen and on-site gym. I like being able to work with the owner rather than with a hotel. In fact, my friends and I take an annual girls’ trip to Park City, Utah, and we use Airbnb to find a place big enough to accommodate 15 women. This type of flexibility makes it a great resource for large families or family reunions.
Other sites like Vrbo, HomeAway, and FlipKey offer similar services, so compare options and prices before you book to make sure you get the best deal. Finally, read tenant reviews before booking with a landlord; you want to make sure the property lives up to your expectations.
4. Package up
While it may seem more cost effective to research the best deals on airline tickets, car rentals, and accommodation separately, I’ve found that you can save a lot by booking a full package. Online travel sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz offer plenty of options, but you can also consult a travel agent for packages. Some travel agencies may have amazing deals that you can’t find online.
You can also consider booking a vacation package directly with your airline. I recently got a good deal on airfare and a hotel in Maui by booking through US Airways. Find the best deal by pricing airline tickets, hotels, and car rentals separately, then compare the total to a variety of packages.
5. Book in the club shops
It’s an unusual way to book a vacation, but club stores like Costco offer vacation planning services with great deals on attraction tickets. For example, a Disneyland vacation package booked for November that includes park passes and Paradise Pier hotel accommodations costs $ 2,603, whether you book through Disney or Costco. However, Costco members get more for their money, receiving perks like a dining experience with a character, a $ 20 Disney gift card, and other perks.
Even if you’re not a Costco Club member, you can search for options on the Costco Travel website. If you find a good deal at Costco or another club store, it may be worth the cost of membership to get travel discounts, even if it’s just one trip.
6. Visit the less crowded beach
Beach vacations are essentially the holy grail of family vacations. Sand, sun, relaxation and family time all add up to a stress reduction and memory experience. However, staying on high-end real estate on the beach is going to cost you money, especially if you’re throwing your shift to popular vacation destinations. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid the beach altogether. The United States offers 88,633 miles of coastline to explore, so you should be able to find something more commendable.
Instead of heading to Miami or Southern California, consider the Gulf Coast of Alabama or the beaches of Galveston, Texas. Or, skip the vacations issued in Orange County, California to enjoy the laid-back vibe of San Mateo County, California. Other beaches include the coasts of Oregon and Washington, or the east coast between South Carolina and northern Florida. A beachfront hotel in San Diego in July costs around $ 234 per night, while a beachfront condo on the Oregon Coast costs around $ 100 per night at the same time, which on its own is significant savings.
In addition to cheaper accommodation, less crowded beaches offer lower cost food and activities. If you really want an insider’s opinion, ask your friends, family, and acquaintances who make a living from the water of their favorite locations. Getting a local opinion helps you avoid some expensive tourist traps by giving you an authentic local experience.
If you are away from any beach, a lake vacation is another option. My family enjoys vacationing on Lake Powell in southern Utah. There is an entrance fee of around $ 30, then shore camping is free. Other expenses include food and fuel – totaling about $ 400 for a week in the sun. See areas like Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, Lake Tahoe in Nevada, the Finger Lakes region in New York, and Lake Havasu in Arizona.
7. Work (on a ranch) for the weekend
Believe it or not, you can find inexpensive vacations at working farms and ranches all over the country. While it is certainly a seasonal activity, think about how much your kids would love to learn about farm life, collecting eggs, caring for animals, and even going horseback riding. And, since you make your living while staying on a working farm, it’s usually quite profitable. These hands-on experiences provide rustic accommodations for families – typically a cabin or bedroom with bunk beds – and also feature meals that you share with other farm visitors, giving you the chance to enjoy the camaraderie with friends and family. other suburban families.
The Flying L Guest Ranch located just outside of San Antonio, TX charges approximately $ 90 per day for adults and $ 40 for children and teens for an all-inclusive vacation that includes horseback riding, swimming and even miniature golf.
Families in the New York City area can find a quick getaway at the Malibu Ranch in Milford, Pennsylvania. Located about 75 miles outside of New York City, this ranch offers weekend packages for $ 500 per family. While it may seem pricey, food and accommodations are included, as well as attractions like a guest rodeo, fishing, a shooting range, cattle races, and campfires for four. It’s a great way to expose your kids to new experiences without breaking the bank.
Keep in mind that not all ranches are cheap vacation options. Boutique-style ranches can be very expensive, so be sure to add in the costs of food, accommodation, and activities before committing.
Vacation planning tips
Get more for your money by putting a plan in place to make sure you enjoy every smile and every mile of your money:
1. Set a budget and stick to it
Calculate your family vacation budget before you even start looking. According to CNN, the average American family spends about $ 1,200 on family vacations, setting aside 5-7% of their family income for the holidays. But, at the end of the day, you have to spend what you can afford, setting and sticking to your budget from the start.
2. Be aware of additional charges
When booking a hotel or adding a plane ticket, it’s easy to overlook unpublished rates and additional expenses. Resort fees, taxes, parking, baggage fees and surcharges can increase the cost of your family vacation. Leave some wiggle room in your budget to factor in the extra charges and make sure you know how much you’re going to spend. I like to read reviews on TripAdvisor to see if a hotel has any hidden rates that aren’t clear on the booking site.
3. Book free attractions
Sure, you can go to a Disney park or see “Wicked” on Broadway, but there are plenty of free attractions that let you vacation for less. Nature-based activities like hiking, biking, and sightseeing are usually free or cheap, but you can also look for cheap factory and museum tours. Try an Internet search for free attractions at your vacation spot. This way you can save your vacation money for some of the more expensive attractions.
4. Request updates
Hotels and attractions often offer upgrades to qualifying guests, but you usually need to request them. I got updates on everything from plane tickets to hotel rooms, just because I asked the reservations staff if there was anything else to update. When he was staying at the Hyatt Regency in Maui, part of the hotel was under construction. By simply requesting a room in another part of the hotel, my husband and I were upgraded for free to an ocean view room. Even if the hotel staff say no, you have nothing to lose by asking the question.
5. Find a fridge and microwave
When booking vacation accommodation two of the things I look for are a refrigerator and a microwave. Eating on vacation can get really expensive, so I like having the option to reheat leftovers and store food in my room. My family recently traveled to San Diego, and although we splurged on room service and restaurants a few times, otherwise we only ate the food we had stored in our room.
6. Ask your teen for help
Teens can be a huge asset when it comes to browsing the web for vacation bargains. After all, your teenager is probably already an internet whiz. Ask for their help by providing you with a quote, accommodation restrictions, and attraction ideas before challenging yourself to find the best price. Delegating homework saves time and, in all likelihood, will save you money as well.
7. Shop for souvenirs off-site
Theme parks and attractions make a lot of money selling souvenirs, so expect to pay extra if you buy souvenirs locally. Instead, head off site to collect tokens. Even department stores like Walmart and Target often carry inexpensive souvenirs in stores near theme parks. Take Disneyland, for example. A locally purchased autograph book costs $ 8, but you can get a small Disney journal for around $ 2 if you shop at Walmart. If your kids are dying to buy a souvenir at the park, set a budget and stick to it. Once the budget is spent, remind your kids that there is nothing left in the jar for unbudgeted items.
8. Request contributions
If your child’s birthday, graduation, or other special event coincides with their next trip, ask grandparents and other family members to contribute to the experience instead of buying gifts. For example, g
randma might foot the bill for a special activity you are planning while on vacation, like a surf lesson. This way your kids will have a great experience without breaking your budget.
9. Be flexible
Lucky for you, there’s always some sort of travel or vacation sale going on. If you keep your dates flexible, you’re sure to find a better deal than someone whose dates are set in stone. With a more flexible mindset, you could get a cheap Groupon deal on rafting or get a cheaper hotel room when traveling during the week or off season. While it’s not always possible to just drop everything and go, an open mind will go a long way in helping you find the best deals.
Remember, family vacations are a luxury, not a necessity. Even though everyone’s family spends their summers at the beach, that doesn’t mean it’s worth taking on debt just to keep up. Instead, get creative and stretch your resources to pay for a family vacation. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if you stick to your vacation budget, but if you do, the resulting peace of mind will help you enjoy your vacation even more.
What’s your favorite way to save money on vacation?