Happy First Day of Spring! The first day of Spring also marks another important occasion…summer vacation planning!
Arghhh!! Are you already hyperventilating just thinking about the cost? Do you feel torn between making family memories and not blowing the household budget? With a little planning and effort, it is possible to have a wonderful, inexpensive family vacation.
We have compiled some of our best travel and vacation tips. From dining to lodging to entertainment, save big bucks this summer using a few of these tips.
Before you go
1. Consider giving children a daily vacation allowance. Decide in advance on a daily amount that you can afford and/or is appropriate. Each day, agree together on what the requirement for “earning” the day’s allowance will be. Some examples are no whining, carrying their own suitcases (if possible), sharing interesting facts about the location they are visiting, trying a new food, and my personal favorite no fighting. They are then responsible for buying their own souvenirs or treats. That way you won’t get hassled to death with the “I wants”, won’t have to say “No” a thousand times a day, and you have a concrete way to encourage positive behavior while away. The kids learn a little about budgeting and making good choices.
2. Consider buying an inexpensive prepaid cell phone that the entire family can use as the emergency phone. This will not only keep your individual minutes down if you don’t have an unlimited plan, but you also don’t have to pay surcharges for roaming minutes. Not to mention save potential fees from not using the phone in your hotel room. Best of all, the kids don’t have the opportunity to text/talk on their own phones, so it encourages great family bonding time! Remember when people actually used to talk?!
3. Set up a dedicated savings account for your trip. If you are serious about your effort to fund your travels directly, rather than out of whatever is in your bank account when your trip comes around, this is a critical step. In most cases the cost to set up an account is zero, except for your time. If you go this route, make sure you do not face any minimum balance penalties when you actually start to spend the money you’ve saved. It may also be useful to have ATM and online access to the account, which will let you draw money directly from the account when booking and while you travel; this keeps you from mingling your regular accounts with your “trip money,” guaranteeing that the money you set aside for the trip is the money you actually spend.
4. The Change Jar Method is a tried and true way to fund your family vacation. I have personally used this one to fund a trip to Jamaica (prior to having a family 😉 ). Filling up a large jar of spare change, is less of an effort than one would think, especially if you make it a point to only use cash for your purchases. In the matter of a week, my family tends to save anywhere from $10 -$50 just in coins and our spending is probably significantly less than what most other families experience. At a minimum that is about $500 during the course of a year. Resist the convenience of the supermarket coin machines, they take about 8 percent of your money. Instead, open a savings account and deposit them directly into your account.
5. Consign or hold a yard sale for your old stuff and fill up your dedicated travel accounts with the income. Most families do not realize the “extra” money that is lying around the house in closets, cabinets, and garages.
1. It’s amazing how much of my family’s travel budget goes toward meals. The first thing I look for is a “kids eat free” family promotion either included at the hotel or at nearby restaurants. Three meals (and several snacks) a day PER CHILD over the course of a week can really add up.
2. For a few extra bucks, reserve a room with a kitchenette or at least a small refrigerator. You can save a lot on your food bill if you don’t eat every meal out. In addition, if you are traveling with kids, it can be very stressful to eat out with small children. Eating a relaxed meal in your suite takes the pressure of mom and dad for one evening and gives the kids the opportunity to enjoy the amenities at the hotel/resort.
3. Keep a cooler in your vehicle with fruit, juice, water, and sandwich fixings. We agreed that breakfast and lunch would be “picnic style” or “en suite” but dinner would be something to look forward to. The kids will love picking out restaurants for dinner and you will like saving the money.
4. For my fellow coffee lovers out there be sure to always travel with a thermos. Most gas station shops will let you fill it to the brim with coffee for just a dollar or so, which can save you big bucks on a long road trip. In addition, coffee shops such as Starbucks offer rewards programs which allow members free refills and other perks.
5. Normally I am not a fan of online grocery orders because I typically find the grocery prices to be higher than what is offered in the store. However using an online grocery service such as Peapod is a particularly savvy move for folks who will not have access to a rental car but will be staying in accommodations with a kitchen. For families flying with a baby or toddler, it’s a brilliant way to avoid lugging a week or more’s worth of baby supplies (food, diapers, wipes, and so on).
6. Dying to try out a nice restaurant? Make lunch the big family meal out. A restaurant’s lunch menu is usually less expensive than its dinner version, even when dishes are the same. Then keep it cheap and cheerful for dinner such as a sunset picnic on the beach.
1. Host a movie night in your suite. Before you leave for your trip, stock up on family friendly DVDs and movie snacks such as popcorn and gummy bears. Pop the popcorn and push play. This is a great alternate activity for rainy days or if someone is feeling under the weather (which unfortunately does happen when on vacation).
2. Before our family trips, I like to go online to the newspaper at our destination to hunt for special promos. 90% of the time you will find great entertainment and restaurant deals available around town. This works in just about every destination. I Google the local paper’s website, then search for an entertainment or even dining page. You can also find coupons for attractions like zoos, theme parks, and museums. I also keep my eyes open for coupon booklets in our hotel lobby and at the entrances to restaurants and attractions. I always find discounts for meals and entertainment, and it ends up adding up to a lot of savings.
3. In addition to #2, you may save a lot of money on tickets to local attractions (theme parks, zoos, museums, etc) simply by booking the passes online a few days ahead of your trip. You need to plan out your visit in advance so you know what you want to visit. But in my experience, the savings are worth it.
1. This is a trick I learned when I used to work in the hospitality industry. Be sure to check back with your hotel/resort a month or two after booking for any deals that may be posted before your departure day. 99% of the time the hotel will honor the promotional pricing if requested. If you see a better deal, ask for it. I have saved hundreds of dollars simply by asking.
2. Don’t fall victim to clever hotel marketing. Nearly every hotel has a “Kids Stay Free” policy where kids under 12 (or sometimes even 18) can stay in your room at no extra charge. However, “Kids Stay Free” deals typically only amount to $10-$30 per day depending on the number of additional guests. Instead look for “Kids Eat Free” deals (as mentioned above). At active resorts, also look out for “Kids Play Free” or “Kids Ski Free” deals. Excursions can be very expensive, and if traveling with a large family, can easily consume as much of the budget as lodging & transportation. I have been on excursions which were easily in excess of $150 per person. Look for family friendly resorts which offer these types of deals to maximize your travel budget.
3. There’s nothing better than a beach vacation but don’t get stuck in the same rut. In the past few years, I’ve discovered that we can easily save over $1,000 on our one-week summer getaway in Ocean City simply by heading to Deep Creek Lake which will be in the midst off its off-season. Many resorts on large lakes, such as Deep Creek, MD have gorgeous, sandy beaches and nearly all the water sports you find at the ocean. There’s something to be said for swimming in freshwater and you don’t have to worry about riptides, big waves, or unfriendly ocean creatures.
4) Instead of a hotel or resort, check out affordable condo and apartment rentals near your travel destination. Not only will you most likely save several hundred dollars on a weekly rental but you will also save tons on hotel taxes and fees such as occupancy taxes, room charges, and newspaper delivery. The easiest way to find a rental is online. Check online classified sites like Craigslist and local newspapers in addition to realtor websites.
1. If you belong to a discount club such as Costco or Sam’s Club check to see if they offer gas for members. If you are traveling a far distance even a savings of a few cents per gallon can make a big difference. I recommend printing a list of all the locations along your route with gas stations and plan your stops accordingly. Also by watching your speed to ensure you are going no faster than the speed limit and by limiting idling time, you may just be able to save a few extra miles per gallon.
2. If you need a rental car for four or five days, you usually get hit with paying the high daily rate. Check the weekly rate instead. It often turns out to be cheaper to rent for seven days and return the car early.
3. When you’re booking a rental car at a very busy destination, reserve the least expensive category possible. The budget categories almost always sell out, so you’re likely to get an upgrade to a roomier model. Nine times out of 10, this works like a charm. If you arrive at the rental desk and no upgrade is offered, you can always change your booking to a bigger car. If that happens, upgrades are almost always cheaper at the counter than those booked in advance. However, this plan could backfire if upgrades aren’t available so be sure you are comfortable with the size of the vehicle prior to reserving.
4. In my experience, gas stations immediately off the highway always seem to charge considerably more per gallon than gas stations away from the interstate. Using your GPS, you can easily find the next-nearest gas station, and prices are just about always lower. Or use a tracking app to view gas prices in your location.
5) Drive with an E-Z Pass. An E-ZPass will function across 12 Eastern and Midwestern states that use the same transponders. You can temporarily add up to four cars to your E-ZPass account online or over the phone, making it easy to register your rental car. In addition, E-Z Pass account holders save money on each per trip cost.