The Beach Trip
I remember one year the kids wanted to go on a beach vacation for spring break. Our budget was very limited so I told all four kids that we would have to cut back on running through the drive-thru and other extra activities so that we could save for the beach trip.
We decided to drive to the closest beach to us (Gulf Shores/Orange Beach). That way, we wouldn’t have to pay for airfare for 6 people, a closer beach meant spending less money on gas, and it would only take us one morning of driving to get there.
We booked an inexpensive condo in Gulf Shores. It wasn’t fancy and we would have to share a bathroom, but the condo was right on the beach and had plenty of beds and privacy. The condo also had a kitchen, which was nice.
I discussed the budget with the kiddos which may seem like a huge buzzkill, but I wanted them to know we couldn’t go crazy and blow a lot of money on this trip. After that discussion, I took care of the gas budget, grocery budget, and the condo budget. The money we had leftover, I divided up into a daily budget.
I explained that if the kiddos wanted to eat out for dinner, we would have to eat breakfast and lunch at the condo. If they wanted to do an activity, we would have to factor that in. Fortunately, the kids’ favorite activity was playing on the beach, which is FREE.
The trip was a lot of fun. We were able to eat out a few times (plus a couple of trips to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts) and even did a little shopping at the local Outlet Mall. On our last day, we stopped at a popular souvenir shop to pick up a few things for the kids and family back home.
On the way home, I asked the kiddos what their favorite part of the trip was. They liked when we got up early to look for seashells and watch the sunrise. Another favorite part was when they played in the sand and the ocean waves at the beach all day. Their favorite memories of our trip had nothing to do with spending money. They enjoyed the time we spent together.
Saving Money On Family Travel
I am not a financial wizard, but I have traveled solo, in a couple, in a group of friends, and in a family of six. And my traveling has always been on a limited budget. Here are a few things I’ve learned throughout the years on how to save money on family vacations.
Make Travel A Priority
We put money back for traveling, just as if it were a bill. Sometimes it is a few dollars, sometimes it is a few hundred dollars. Since I work as a freelance photographer and graphic designer, my paychecks tend to be sporadic. I also have kiddos who eat like truck drivers and need braces. So, as anyone with kids knows, the money is sometimes gone before we even get it. But we do make saving money for traveling a priority.
Our family has a “piggy bank” which is a glass jar that we fill with loose change that my hubby brings home. We saved for a year and paid to stay 3 nights at the Sheraton in Birmingham, AL.
I have read that if you fill an entire 2-liter soda bottle with dimes, you will end up with $700 – WOW! That’s an experiment worth trying.
I don’t get my nails done, our family’s clothes mostly come from consignment shops or clearance racks, and I shop BOGO sales with coupons when buying groceries. My vehicle is 9 years old. We take good care of it and I am driving it until the wheels fall off. Even then, I may Flintstone-it for a while. We cook and eat at home 95% of the time. If I have a choice of spending the weekend taking the family to eat out ($100+) and shopping for new clothes ($200+) and getting a mani-pedi ($60+) OR saving that money to use toward a weekend getaway – I pick weekend getaway every time.
Look For The Best Price for Lodging
This takes some time and effort, but I always try to shop around for the best prices for airfare and lodging. Our family has also used frequent flyer miles for free flights and hotel stays. We have also signed up for reward/loyalty programs with the hotel chains we really like. I always check these first before planning a trip.
I also like to check our options with memberships that we have with AAA, AARP, and Costco. These have saved us a lot of money. I was also surprised to learn that EBATES offered cash back on some travel options. Say what? Say huh? Just click on Ebates.com, then click on All stores, then in the drop-down menu click Travel & Vacations and see what offers interest you.
There are also some fantastic deals on Discount Travel Sites and Flash Sale sites. We have also used HomeAway, VRBO, and AirBnB and saved money on accommodations. If at all possible, we vacation in the offseason, which is always cheaper. We have even gone camping several times to save money.
Book a Condo or Hotel With a Kitchen
This has saved us tons of money. Taking 6 people out to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner adds up very quickly. And if we stop for a snack (like ice cream at $4.00 a scoop), the money goes fast. We try to book a condo or hotel with a kitchen. Sometimes I bring dry goods (and toilet paper, paper towels, soap, etc) from home that I have stocked up on from grocery store sales or Costco or SAM’s Club. And then we make a pit stop at the local farmer’s market and grocery store for other items we might need.
Having a kitchen makes it easy to throw together a salad, sandwich, or other quick meal at the end of an adventurous day sightseeing. I also like to bring a crockpot/slow cooker. It is a pain to pack and bring and unload, but I am always glad that I have it. This way, I can make our family’s favorite spaghetti or other meals (there are some great slow cooker recipes on Pinterest). We get to enjoy our day, and lunch and/or dinner is ready for us when we return.
I really like that we don’t have to get up early, get everyone dressed, and head off to a restaurant for breakfast. We can have our coffee, juice, and a simple breakfast in our condo in our pajamas. We can relax and take our time.
Room with Kitchens (Continued)
We are not big alcohol drinkers, but it has always saved us money when we buy alcohol from local supermarkets (we have found great deals at Costco or Trader Joe’s) instead of paying per drink at restaurants.
Sometimes, the available hotels in certain areas only have refrigerators and microwaves in the rooms. We still bring snacks, waters, drinks, and fruits for the room. Then we purchase other foods or meals that need to be refrigerated. If we are going to eat out, we try to find local deals or order pizza to help save money on food. When booking a hotel, we also try to find one that has a nice continental breakfast to help cut down costs.
I really love AIRBNB. They have a great variety of rooms and homes available and you can always find something that fits your budget.
Drive to a Nearby Destination or Shop for Best Flight Deals
It is almost always less expensive for us to drive on vacation rather than purchasing flights for 6 people. We look for places we can drive to within a few hours or in a day. One of our favorite family vacations was camping at Tannehill State Park, which was only 1 hour from our house.
Of course, some destinations require flying. If at all possible, we try to travel in the off-season. I also shop around and check different airports. Our closest airport is Birmingham, but I always check Atlanta, Huntsville, and Nashville to see if the little extra drive to the airport will end up saving me a lot of money (I also factor in parking costs).
My favorite way to shop for flights is with Google Flight Search. After putting in your desired dates for travel, the website will compare the prices on your selected travel dates with other days in the same month (and the following months). The best prices are highlighted in green, and if you are flexible, you can find some fantastic deals. If you don’t find the deal you want, check back often. I have found great travel deals while looking mid-week. But, I have also found fantastic deals on flights while just randomly checking on a Saturday night. It only takes a few minutes to check!
Drive or Fly (Continued)
In the past, I have found great deals on flights but can’t book immediately because I needed to make other confirmations. When I had gone back to the same website the next day, the price for the exact same flight had doubled. Sometimes, this just happens. The cost increases.
Look for Free or Cheap Local Attractions & Activities
One thing I have found helpful is to research the area we are visiting. I look for parks, museums, festivals, hiking trails, etc that are free or very inexpensive. It has also been helpful to check Groupon or Living Social for good deals in the area we are visiting. Sometimes, I pick up local coupon books from the Welcome Centers in the place we are visiting.
If there is an attraction or activity that everyone is excited about that is going to cost money, we may visit that place in the morning. Then in the afternoon, we will visit a free museum or other free events to balance out the costs.
We also like to bring cards and our family’s favorite games to play in our room or condo. It’s free and we get to relax and spend time together as a family.
Take Public Transportation, Rent Bikes, or Walk
If you are in a situation where you can’t use your own vehicle or a rental, taking public transportation, renting bikes, and walking are great, affordable options.
Find the Best Deal When Eating Out
When booking a hotel, I like to see if they have a free (preferably hot) breakfast. This saves a lot of money, and many of them have eggs, bacon, fruit, yogurt and other nice options.
If we are going to eat out, I try to make it for lunch instead of dinner. Most restaurants have lunch specials with reduced pricing. A lot of these lunch specials run until 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. This works well, especially on days we may have slept late and had a late breakfast.
I have had success in asking around for local specials and have found out about some great deals. Some restaurants offer Happy Hour food specials or 2-for-1 meal specials, especially mid-week.
There is also the option to come to the hotel for sandwiches for lunch if we are planning to eat out for dinner. If the hotel room or condo has a refrigerator, this is easy to do.
I also like to look for restaurants where the kiddos can eat free. The best list I have ever seen is located HERE.
Shop Around for All-Inclusive or Cruise Deals
We have found some great vacation discounts on cruises and all-inclusive resort vacations (especially if they include airfare). As a family, we have been able to visit exotic locations that we couldn’t afford otherwise. With any other type of vacation, we would need airfare for 6, 2 hotel rooms per night, and three meals a day plus snacks, car rental + gas, etc. It can get expensive.
With a cruise, we still need two cabins, but all of the meals, snacks, and entertainment is included. If the deal is right, we end up saving a lot of money. That’s why I love to shop around for deals for these kinds of vacations.
Sometimes these are money saving options, but sometimes they are not, depending on where you want to go and when.
Cruise Deals (Continued)
Let’s say a cruise is listed for $300 per person for 5 nights. That seems like a great offer. Lodging and food and entertainment are all included! But…that price might not reflect taxes and port charges. The gratuity cost is usually $12+ per person, per day. For a 5 night cruise that’s $60 per person (it’s totally worth it, they wait on you hand and foot!) For a family of 6, that’s an additional $360. There is also extra gratuities for the room steward, bartenders, and for room service (again, it’s totally worth it, they work so hard). Soda and Alcohol are usually extra on a cruise, and excursions off the ship can cost a lot depending on what you do. Plus parking is usually an additional $100 for the week. Where is the departure port? Miami? That’s either a 17-hour drive from my house (2 days driving/gas + hotel stay + feeding 6 people) or we’ll have to add in airfare for 6 ($$$ + $$$).
SO…that deal… wasn’t so great after all. However, sometimes we do find great prices on cruises that leave from a nearby departure port. I shop for early deals and last minute deals and only look for cruises with departure ports near our home. Overall, cruising has been a very affordable option for us (AND SO MUCH FUN!)
Have A Budget – And Stick To It
I always have a budget for our vacations, considering traveling expenses (flying or driving/gas), hotel or condo cost, eating/grocery budget, and a daily budget for activities and fun. Our daily budget for our beach trip (mentioned above) was $50 per day – for 6 people. It wasn’t a lot of money, but we still did a lot of fun things. Since the kiddos spent most of their time at the beach and eating at the condo, we had a little extra money to eat out again and do a little shopping on our last day of the trip.
If we have extra money left in our daily budget (this is rare, honestly), then I save it for another day, an activity I thought we wouldn’t be able to afford, or a special treat on our way home. I never borrow from the next day’s budget. This is hard sometimes, but I know we will need it later.
Dealing with a budget is not fun, but I want my kids to learn how to budget and spend money wisely. I also want them to learn to save money for the things they want or need. They have learned to take care of the things they have (like beach toys that can be reused) and to be content with things they have. They have also learned that spending money is not what makes us happy – what’s most important is that we enjoy the time that we spend together.
How do you save money when traveling with your family? Do you have any money saving tips I should know about?
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