If there’s one thing I love, it’s getting out of town with my family. Something about getting away, even for a long weekend, just lifts my spirits. But vacation costs add up fast. Since I’m the money-manager of the family, I’m always looking for ways to save money on family travel.
Our family vacations can vary. We’ve done road trips and lake trips, local treks, and staycations. (And if you’re traveling with a tween, check out these travel products that work for us!)
A lot of our planning depends on budget. Some years are bigger than others in terms of where we go. And now that we’re a one income family, I am even more conscious of our vacation budget.
I used to cringe watching the vacation expenses add up on vacations. Many times, we’ve opted to stay put instead of going somewhere, simply because of the budget. And while it’s important to be smart about expenses, I’ve changed my views on spending money on travel.
Travel = Experiences
Why? Because I see the value of experiences.
Little B is ten. And while I feel like we’ve done a lot of fun things, I’m realizing there is so much more that I want us to do and experience together. Our experiences and memories as a family, during this time, while she’s growing up, well, that’s priceless.
I hear so many moms talk about how fast their children grow up. It’s true. Ten years have flown by in the blink of an eye. So I just want to make the most of this special time. I don’t want to miss out on these opportunities with her while she’s young.
As I mentioned, travel expenses can add up fast. But that doesn’t mean you can’t cut some corners, saving money for your family vacation. Here are some hacks I’ve found:
Use a Travel Agent
Yes, you can research your own deals, all day long. And that’s perfectly fine. But what many people don’t realize is that travel agents can actually save you money, because they have access to deals and specials you might not otherwise find. They work directly with many vendors offering special discounts and promotions. Their commissions are typically paid by the vendors, as well.
I’ve booked our own trips and also used travel agents. There are benefits to both. To me, using a travel agent is seamless and takes some of the stress off. When I use an agent, I find that I don’t fret (as much) about the details.
Like I said, you can research your deals and many times, an agent can get that same rate. For our upcoming trip. I researched pricing for our upcoming trip to an Excellence Resort and sent it to my travel agent. She took it from there and booked everything. This way I saved time. In some cases, time = money.
Book an All-Inclusive Package
I could go on all day about how much I love an All-Inclusive vacation. Typically, an all-inclusive means you pay one fee for the entire stay, including room, food and drinks, tips and taxes. (Note: It’s a good idea to take some extra single for tipping. Some say not to, if it’s all-inclusive. But we do because we sincerely appreciate great service.)
The reason I include all-inclusive on this post is because that from a budgeting standpoint, it’s pretty straightforward. Since everything is paid in advance, you don’t have many costs other than additional excursions, activities or souvenirs. There aren’t any unforeseen expenses or costs, which makes it easier to stay on budget.
I don’t have to allocate money for drinks or meals. We eat and drink whatever we want, when we want. It’s magical.
Share a Vacation Rental with Friends and Family
My brother does this every year and loves it. They go with another family each year to Florida. Usually in January, he books a beautiful house for a very affordable price, once they split the cost. He books homes right on or very near the beach, using VRBO (vacation rental by owner).
I used to be creeped out by this. I’m not an early adapter of a lot of things, VRBO included. But I’m happy to report that we have also used this method successfully with friends. It’s super economical and in our case, cost less than a hotel room. Plus, you can save money by cooking vs. eating out for every meal.
Groupon and Living Social
Coupon and Deal Sharing sites like Groupon and Living Social offer money-saving Get Away Specials. Just search Groupon GetAways or Living Social Travel. You can refine your search by location, interests (beach, family fun, international, outdoor & adventure, etc.) and price.
You can even find fun staycation ideas in your local area
Travel Deal Sites
Similar to the above deal sites but specifically for travel, travel deal sites can help you snag a bargain and save money for your next vacation.
TravelZoo is a travel site that researches and publishes travel deals from more than 2,000 travel and entertainment companies. Their experts review offers, seeking out the best deals for their 28 million members.
You can search travel deals by packages: such as Sports and Adventure, Escorted Vacations and Guide Tours, Beach Vacations, Family Friendly, etc.
KAYAK is another travel deal option. KAYAK searches hundreds of travel sites to show travelers the information they need to find the right flights, hotels, rental cars and vacation packages.
Both are free, but require you to sign up for an account to access the deals.
Hotel, Airline and Credit Card Points
With all of the different points programs out there, it’s possible to pay for aspects of your trip with points. You can use credit card points, hotel point, airline points, etc.
For example, my husband travels some for work. He signed up for a Rewards Program with Marriott. When he travels, he stays at one of there properties whenever possible, earning points that we can use for hotel rooms when we need a hotel.
One of my best friends has used her Southwest credit card for years to earn free trips. She uses the Southwest credit card for a lot of her purchases and expenses, which quickly earns her flight credits.
If you don’t know much about how to use points strategically, check out The Points Guy. He offers a ton if information on how to use points to your advantage.
Take a Road Trip
Hit the road! Thus far, we’ve only traveled by car for our family vacations. This summer will be our daughter’s first plane trip.
Even though the gas can add up, road trips work well for us and have proved to be economical. We use points for hotels and are smart and selective about meals. Little B is a snacker so we pack snacks to tide her over between meals.
To calculate and budget fuel costs, try AAA Fuel Cost Calculator. You can enter your starting point, destination, make and model of vehicle (or MPG), and it will give you an estimate of your total fuel cost. It’s very handy for budget planning.
You can use Gas Buddy to find the best gas prices along your route. Or if you are a wholesale club member, Sam’s Club and Costco offer lower gas prices for members.
Keep in mind, these are only a few options to cutting costs and saving money on your family vacation. Be sure and do you research for additional ways to save!