Vacation. A word that can simultaneously make you excited and anxious all at once. Excited for the chance to make memories with your family. Anxious about the inevitable tired, grumpy kids and, of course, the cost. We recently took a family trip down to San Diego. We wanted to make some memories but didn’t want to spend a lot of money. Travel can definitely be a huge budget buster but it doesn’t have to be. It does require some serious planning ahead of time if you want to be sure to maximize your money. Here are a few ways you can be sure to make the most memories without blowing your budget.
Planning where you are going
Fiji sounds great right about now right? But do you have a plan for all the planes, trains and automobiles to get there? If you’re on a budget, be strategic about where you choose to go. Do you have family somewhere near an attraction you’d like to visit that you could stay with? Do you have a place that’s within driving distance you’ve been wanting to take your kids to? Is camping an option? What about where you live? Could you potentially stay at home but plan day trips for several days to visit local attractions? If your goal is simply to create great family memories than why not plan a trip to the beach or a National park? There are a lot of free or low cost places to visit where the majority of your budget can go to things like food and lodging instead of paying for attractions.
How are you getting there?
There is not a one size fits all answer to this question but typically if you can drive there that’s the cheapest way to go. But do your research! If you do choose to fly, don’t forget to budget for airport parking, baggage fees, transportation to and from the airport or rental car fees. All of that can really add up if you forget to plan for it.
If you decide to drive it’s also easier to bring your own food. Even fast food can get expensive when you’re buying it for every meal. Bringing snacks and light meals with you will save you big time. Also consider downloading an app called Roadside America. You can plug in your location and see what cool attractions are near you so you can plan the stops you’ll take and see something cool while you’re there. World’s largest ball of yarn? Yes please!
Where are you staying?
This can vary drastically depending on so many things. Typically though if your’e planning on staying for several nights I love the idea of a vacation rental property. If you’re staying for several days it’s nice to have access to a kitchen and even laundry. You can save a ton of money by cooking at home instead of going out to eat for all your meals and you can pack lighter if you can do laundry while you’re there. Oftentimes its the same price as it would be for a hotel room and you have a whole house to yourself!
If you are staying at a hotel think about how much time you’ll actually be in the room. If you’re traveling with kids and you’ll be there a substantial amount of time, it might be nice to spend a little extra for a hotel that has more amenities for the kids and a little nicer room. But if you’re going to be gone all day and will only be at the hotel room to sleep then consider a more budget friendly option. But be sure to do your research because cheap can also mean sketchy. We learned this the hard way on our last trip. Let’s just say we were in the heart of an adult night life area with lots of interesting characters walking around. Thankfully we were only there for a night. Lesson learned!
What are you eating?
Did I mention you should bring your own food to save money? But seriously, bringing a loaf of bread, peanut butter, some fruit, snacks, will all keep you from being tempted by all the expensive quick food options, especially if you’re going to a theme park. We all know how expensive theme park food can be.
But if you can manage it in your budget and do want to be able to eat out, why not take a family vote each day for one meal you’re going to eat out. Pick between breakfast, lunch or dinner for that day based on your schedule. That way you can still enjoy a meal out but not have the expense of every single meal. Also try to avoid the meals being inside of a theme park or other attractions because it’s always going to be much more expensive there. So if you’ll be gone all day at a park, maybe go to breakfast somewhere outside of the park before and then bring your lunch with you into the park.
What about spending money?
There are temptations everywhere when you travel and it’s easy to go over budget in this area so plan ahead. What temptations do you think will arise while you’re there? I know for my kids when they start seeing all the treats in the shops and the souvenirs they start asking for things that are definitely not in our budget. And we all know the last thing your kid needs is another stuffed animal.
Going to Disney? Order a Mickey Mouse shirt before your trip and bring it with you so when they ask for one you can bring it out and surprise them for half the price. On our recent trip to San Diego I bought some fun souvenir type cups for $1 each and then grabbed a tub of cotton candy, all from Target for $1.50. While we were sitting in the stands watching the whale show and the guy came around with his $8 drinks and $6 cotton candy and then kids gave me the pleeeeeeeaaaassssseeeee look I took out my budget friendly versions and they were happy campers!
Moral of the story, family vacations are totally doable without going into debt. Kids don’t remember the food you ate, how you got there, or what souvenirs they got, but they will remember the experience. See, don’t my kids look thrilled? 😉