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Saving on Vacations - Plan, Plan, Plan

Updated on April 21, 2007

Saving money while you are on vacation may seem pointless, but it is not. For many people being on vacation means free spending. And then they get home and can't pay the credit card bill or their regular expenses because they spent too much on vacation. Saving money while on vacation requires planning, planning and more planning. But it can be done! And the more money you save on the essentials like food, the more money you will have to spend on the fun stuff while you are there.

We are currently planning a cross country road trip for this summer. It will take us three days of driving each way. That is a lot of time in the car and a lot of food and drinks that six people will need during this time on the road. Food is one of the big expenses while on vacation, especially if you have a large family. This is also one of the most flexible areas of the budget at home and on vacation. Everyone has to eat, but it doesn't have to break the bank.

Right now I am looking for good sales on individually packaged snack foods. I don't normally buy things like this, but it will be a life saver to be able to hand these out while we are driving. By starting early and combining coupons with sales I have already gotten some great deals on yummy, filling and nutritious snacks. I will also pack water bottles for everyone and refill them along the way. Packing snacks and water bottles should eliminate the need to purchase items at gas stations along the way. If we were to all pick out one snack item and one drink at a gas station twice a day, that would cost us $24 a day, minimum, on snacks. For six days on the road that is $144 I can spend on my vacation, on something other than snacks and drinks.

I will pack a lunch for our first meal on the road. Yes it will only provide us one of the nine meals needed while on the trip out, but it will also save us $30 at a fast food restaurant. That is $30 that I can spend on a fun activity once we get to our destination. If you will have a kitchen where you are going, take along food if possible. This is very easy to do if you are driving. Purchasing food in your hometown (non-perishables) will be much cheaper than at the one high priced grocery store you can find when you get where you are going. If it is a big tourist area, the prices are usually much higher. If you can pack a couple of bags of groceries, such as canned goods, boxed cereal, granola bars, drinks, etc then you can just get the perishables when you get there. If you want to eat some meals in your hotel or condo, plan ahead for these and take what you can with you.

Speaking of food, people usually end up eating out while on vacation, us included. To me one of the best parts of vacation is not having to cook. However eating out a lot with small children isn't always a vacation either, so having a plan for this and combining eating out with eating in makes it much more doable. Once you are at your destination, ask around with the locals about restaurants that offer kids eat free deals. This can usually save us $20 or so. Other options would be to take advantage of happy hour specials by eating your dinner a little early. You could also make lunch the meal you eat out. Lunch entrees are generally less expensive than dinner entrees.

If you are staying at a hotel and they offer free breakfast, make sure you take advantage of it! Don't let free food pass you by. Some hotels offer kids eat free deals for every meal. This could be a huge money saver for people like us. By planning our activities carefully, we could eat most meals at the hotel and save a lot of money.

We are considering a vacation to several other places over the next year as well. I went online and requested information about these places. I have gotten lots of great brochures in the mail. This is giving me information that will allow me to plan what we are going to do. By planning ahead of time the things we are interested in doing I can find the best deals on these things.

If there are two activities that appeal to us equally, we can compare prices, how long the activity will take (compare the hourly rate it will cost), do they let kids in free at all, what is the discounted rate for kids (if any), etc. If the two places we are considering cost the same amount of money, yet one will occupy us for two hours and the other four, it is a better deal to do the four hour one. However with young children they might not last four hours and maybe the two hour activity would be better. The more information we have, the better decisions we can make.

No we don't need the entire trip planned out in advance, but having a plan and knowing the things we really want to do allows us to save the money in advance for it and find discounted tickets or go on a day that is discounted. Maybe Mondays offer a discount. Maybe kids go free a certain day of the week. Maybe weekdays are cheaper than weekends. Planning ahead will allow you to take advantage of these things.

One thing that we consider when choosing activities is what is available to us at home. When I am somewhere new I would like to do things that are new to me, unique to the area, or something that isn't available to me at home. This makes it more special for everyone. Carefully choosing a few things to do will leave plenty of time for relaxing, which is what vacations are about, right? I also always look for free activities. Hiking in the mountains, swimming at the beach, museums that are free, festivals going on, etc. are always fun. These kinds of activities create lots of memories, are very relaxing and best of all, don't cost anything!

When we go away for awhile we always end up having to do laundry. Throughout the year I request samples of laundry detergent. I have five in my laundry room right now. Instead of using them at home, I save them for our vacations. They are super easy to squeeze in a suitcase and very convenient to have at your destination. You don't want to purchase a big jug of laundry detergent when you get there, yet paying $1 or so for detergent for one load of laundry is a bit ridiculous. Taking these samples with us saves me $5 or more on trips. I do still have to pay money to run the machines, but at least the detergent was free.

If you are going somewhere that your kids will be begging for souvenirs, plan ahead! Many garage sales and consignment stores sell t-shirts and things from places like Disney World. Keep your eyes open in the months before your trip for things that might satisfy your kids while there. You could take care of their urge for souvenirs for pennies on the dollar of what it cost to purchase a t-shirt at your destination.

If it will take you awhile to reach your destination, take the boredom out of the traveling for little money. Watch at garage sales or clearance racks for small items that will occupy your children in the car or on the plane. I have bought many handheld toys at garage sales for a quarter usually that have been a great surprise midway through a trip. It stops the tears and gives the kids something to be excited about in the car. A few weeks before a trip I will also go through the things we have in the house. I will put away videos or toys that will be good for the trip. Not having played with these items or watched these videos for awhile before the trip, makes them seem new again while on the road.

Going on vacation is lots of fun. But just like planning for your trip before you go, you also need to plan your trip for while you are there. This will make a big difference in how you spend your money while on vacation. Saving money while on vacation can be just as much fun and beneficial as it is while at home. Have fun!

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