When it comes to travel, every family has their own style. Some families like road trips in RVs, and stop at state and national parks to marvel at the wonder of nature. Other families prefer to get there fast and then stay at a 4-star hotel where they can visit with friends and enjoy city life. Others prefer to stay in an Airbnb where they have the comforts of home and the space to accommodate everyone. Whatever your family’s favorite way to travel, it doesn’t have to break the bank. The following are some tips for traveling affordably, no matter how you travel.
How to Have an Affordable Family Vacation
Don’t be too specific about your destination: Have a list of available places you might be willing to consider traveling to. When you limit yourself to one destination, you could be missing out on a much more affordable stay somewhere else.
Budget for travel ahead of time: Whether your family travel vacations are spur-of-the-moment “I-really-need-a-vacation-right-now” trips or highly detailed and well-planned itinerary trips, it’s always best to have a budget ahead of time for travel. Setting aside the right amount of money for travel takes a lot of the stress out of planning for the knowns and unknowns of travel, while also helping you stick to a budget. This is especially important when planning for a recession. Often vacations are the first thing to do when the economy starts to slide.
Have some flexibility with your dates: Sometimes it is better to travel during a holiday and other times it is better to travel just after a holiday, when there is less demand for travel. Our family discovered that Thanksgiving is an excellent time to visit Death Valley, as the weather was cooler and there were less tourists. There were plenty of camping spots to choose from. Rates can often be much lower during the winter and fall season. Also, by opting to fly a few days before or after your ideal travel dates, you can often save hundreds of dollars.
Book ahead of time: Secure flights six to nine months in advance, as they are often cheaper. Same goes for hotels and other types of lodging requiring a reservation.
Stay longer: Vacations are family time. We the parents all know that it takes a day to settle into a new place and a day to pack up and mentally prepare ourselves to say goodbye to a great vacation. That’s why it’s important to have several days in between to simply fall into vacation mode and unplug from those office emails and the daily grind. You can also save a lot of money, and sometimes earn extra days, by choosing to stay a week at an Airbnb instead of three or four days. Go ahead and make the most of it. You won’t regret it.
Search for local deals on restaurants and other fun activities ahead of time: Use a website like Groupon for your travel destination to discover fun things to do with your family, like enjoying mini golf, boat rentals, horse back rides on the beach, riding around on sand dunes with sand buggies, or taking a pottery class. Consider renting a car and exploring off the beaten path or check out the local newspaper for their deals on great restaurants, entertainment, and other local events in the area.
Avoid tourist traps: Visit smaller towns that are off the beaten path. Try out mom-and-pop shops away from the main tourist venues. In Rome, I visited trattorias instead of the fancier ristoranti. The food was just as delicious at half the price, much less formal (great for a family with active and/or tired kids) and the owners were very personable. It was a great way to learn more about the local culture just through talking to the waiters. Oprah and her friend Gayle did a cross country road trup from California to New York stopping at several smaller towns along the way.
Use those mileage points: You can save up for a trip by redeeming your mileage points. I had a friend who would use her credit card to pay for her regular expenses, pay them off right away, and use the rewards to pay for her vacations. She always looked forward to her vacations every year and spared no expenses.
Use Checking Accounts Rewards: Its a little known fact that you can get valuable travel rewards from checking accounts. Most consumers know about travel rewards for credit cards, but you can also bank some slick travel deals by working with the right bank.
There are so many creative ways to save on family vacations, no matter how you do them. A little bit of planning and room for flexibility in your itinerary can go a long way in helping you afford your dream family vacation(s). Another good idea is to seperate your vacation plans by long term and short term goals. For instance, you may want to plan a much larger family vacation in 5 years and thus saving more would be required.