A family vacation needs to be a time to get away from the everyday hustle and bustle of things. Your family has lived on a budget all year long, so the last thing you want to have to tell them is that you cannot afford to take them on vacation.
You can extend your family vacation budget if you play your cards right. Remember to start the process early, though. Getting coupons and free passes might take some time, and planning with your budget in mind will take some creativity.
However, it will be worth the effort when your family has a fun adventure together and memories that last a lifetime.
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Plan Your Vacation Budget
When deciding on when and where or if you will take a family vacation, the number one concern is always the cost and budget for expenses. So even get started on budgeting takes a bit of planning. Consider where you will go, how far it is, can you stay with friends or family, or will you need accommodations?
When I begin planning and budgeting, I first ask myself these big questions. The big questions are the ones that take the largest bite out of your family vacation budget. If you don’t know where you’re going or where you’re staying, the rest of the planning and budgeting is inconsequential.
Save On and Consider the Fixed Costs
When pricing and saving for the fixed costs, there are a lot of factors to consider. We took a two-week trip a few years ago to Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, and Washington D. C., not the most affordable destinations. However, I planned and made choices all along the way to help with the overall cost.
Luckily, my husband had hotel points we could use for most of the first week’s stops, but I still chose the hotels with certain desires in mind. With six children, I always look for a hotel that serves breakfast! A morning stop at McDonald’s can cost us $40, so even if the hotel is slightly more expensive, it might be worth it.
We also found a hotel in Philadelphia that also served an evening meal, which meant we were only eating out for lunch each day. So when I have to stay in a hotel, I look for a few things to make it as economical and easy as possible:
- Do they serve breakfast? (or possibly dinner as well)
- Is there a kitchenette?
- At a minimum, we need a microwave and mini-fridge.
If we’re not taking a “road trip,” but more of a single destination trip, we usually use VRBO and find a weekly rental at our desired destination. When the kids were younger and not as tied to a schedule, we would save immensely by taking our trip just a bit after school went back. When we waited until the first of September, it was still warm at the beach, but the rental prices were half.
So if your schedule is a bit flexible, you can certainly shop based on rates.
Gas is also another fixed cost to include in your family vacation budget. Consider how far you are driving and work backward to estimate how much you should budget for gas. This is also a great skill for the kids to learn.
Figure the number of dollars you will need to buy gas (based on the miles you will travel). It also helps to search the web for average gasoline prices on the route you intend to travel. Gasoline prices can fluctuate significantly, and you don’t want unexpected gasoline increases to run you short on money. Also, extra cash in case your vehicle breaks down can serve as fixed costs.
Try to buy your gasoline in bigger cities (where gasoline prices generally run lower), and don’t forget to figure in gasoline for sightseeing.
Determine Where You Will Eat
After accommodations, food is one of the biggest line items on your family vacation budget. You will find it easy to pick a place that looks good (or one you have heard of) and stop there to eat. However, if you fail to know their pricing, this can devastate your pocketbook. You don’t want to upset everyone by telling them that you cannot afford the prices once you get into the restaurant.
Even more, you don’t want to have to give them an option of eating there or visiting the main attraction due to money issues. Eat at restaurants that you know that you can afford on a family budget, visit a local grocery store, pick up some food from the grocery store, and have a picnic.
With a family of 8, food is always a consideration and an expense, so I take it very seriously (even if no one else does). On our two-week trip, I planned food carefully, packed a cooler, and had a plan. On the way to Niagara Falls, we had a picnic both days for lunch, and the second day we even stopped at a beach on Lake Erie!
For dinner, I pack premixed meals for the Instant Pot and cooked in the hotel. I would set it to cook, we went to the pool and came back to dinner. It worked perfectly. I also noted where we could stop along our route at an Aldi (my fav) to replenish.
Another expensive stop for our family is the gas station for snacks. We always take our snacks to avoid the $25 expense every time we stop for gas.
A bit of planning with your food can make a big difference in your overall vacation budget for your family.
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Get Coupons and Check for Reciprocity To Main Attractions
When planning what we’ll see on a trip, the first thing I always consider is our existing memberships. If you have a membership at a local science museum, art gallery, zoo, or aquarium, they will often gain you access to museums in the same network.
- Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)
- North American Reciprocal Museums (NARM)
- Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM)
- Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program (MARP)
- American Horticultural Society (AHS RAP)
- Associations of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
These are just a few of the bigger networks; check your memberships website for the specifics of your museum.
We have visited so many places on trips simply by using our existing membership. When we went to Philadelphia, I don’t think I paid for a single entry between our reciprocal memberships and free entry at National Park Service sites.
You can also contact the Chamber of Commerce where you will be visiting and ask for coupons to main attractions in a particular state/town. Usually, the Chamber of Commerce will either send you some coupons or tell you where you can pick these up.
Additionally, you can contact Customer Relations at the main attraction that you intend to visit. Ask if the company has any type of promotion going on that might help save your family some money.
Pack For Possible Medical Needs
I’ll admit, preparing in advance for the bumps and bruises is not my strong suit. However, packing for possible earaches, headaches, fevers, cuts and scrapes, sunburns, upset stomachs, and other such occurrences is smart and can save you not only money but time and meltdowns.
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These happenings are inevitable during family vacations, so save yourself from purchasing items that you already have at home. A great way to carry such over-the-counter medications is to store these in a plastic pencil box and throw it in a backpack. You can also fill a resealable plastic bag with a few essentials and put it in your purse or bag to carry throughout the day.
We were recently in New Orleans and had to buy some of these things on the go, and it can get pricey. Plan ahead and make traveling easier.
Take-Along Bottled Water
Always take along a case or two of water. This way, you do not have to stop and buy drinks, saving money and time. Also, spillage won’t stain the inside of your vehicle, and if you do break down, you will have drinks available, causing one less worry.
If your kids are old enough, have them be responsible for carrying their water bottles while sightseeing. When you’re parched from walking, you’ll pay whatever price for a sip of cold water, so cut down on the desperation by taking your own in advance.
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Simple Ways to Save the Family Vacation Budget
When deciding on and planning for a family vacation, we often worry most about the big expenses like the hotels and travel. Still, when we manage the costs that we have more control over, it frees up some of our budget for those bigger expenses.
Sometimes that means a bit more effort, like cooking in the hotel or toting around the water bottles. Still, in the end, we get to have the memories and experiences of visiting new and interesting places with our family.
So think of some creative ways to save on your family vacation budget and take that trip. You’ll be glad you did.