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Inexpensive family vacations: How to save money on trips with the family

Updated on December 9, 2011

I recently returned from a short trip with my kids, so I thought an article about saving money on a vacation might be a good idea. Vacations can be money pits, especially if you have a family. And while a vacation should be a time when you can (and should) splurge a bit, there are lots of ways to save money on a vacation. What follows are some ideas to save money while on family vacations.

Stay within driving distance. There has got to be some attractions within a one day drive of home, right? While gas isn’t cheap, airline tickets are even more expensive. Make this an opportunity to check out some of those nearby places that you always wanted to go to but never have. If you children are young (as mine are), limit yourself to less than a four hour drive. Believe me; your sanity will thank you.

Downgrade the hotel. While it might be neat to stay in a five star hotel, do you really need to? How much time will you be spending in the hotel room? If you are like me and my family, we spend very few non-sleeping hours at the hotel. Because of that, many of the high-priced amenities have no value to me. I do like free continental breakfasts and fitness centers, but they are not must-haves by any means. Generally, three stars is more than enough for me.

Search for the best hotel prices. Put the internet to work for you and use it to find the best price possible. Sites like Priceline, Expedia, and can do much of the work for you, and often times you can see what the hotel rooms look like while online. Most of these sites will allow you to search by the number of stars or a particular amenity (like a swimming pool or the continental breakfast). The nice thing about these search engines is that you can compare different hotels in the area without bouncing between a bunch of websites.

Keep the food bill down. While on vacation, my usual strategy is to make the evening meal where I splurge, and save money everywhere else. As I said earlier, I try to stay at hotels with a free continental breakfast, thus allowing me to skip out on the breakfast bill. If I can’t find a hotel with the continental breakfast, I usually bring breakfast from home. I have a small travel-size coffee maker, and if the room has a small fridge, I can keep milk for cold cereal. Rather than a true “lunch”, I usually pack snack like trail mix, granola bars, or apples, which we work on through the day. Dinner is where we will spend our money, and after being cheap all day, I don’t mind spending money on a nice restaurant.

“Borrow” a friend or family member’s vacation home. Just because Uncle Joe can afford a vacation home doesn’t mean you can. But since Uncle Joe is a nice guy and owe’s you a bunch of favors, see if he will let you use his vacation home sometime. Offer to do a little housework or repairs on the place to pay him back. If you choose this option, be sure to leave the vacation home in better shape than when you arrived….you may want to use the vacation home again!

Find free or nearly free attractions. One would be amazed at the number of free attractions out there. And for stuff that isn’t free, find discount tickets. Often times, if you are a member of a certain club or are season ticket holders to a particular attraction, you are eligible for discount tickets at multiple attractions. For example, I have a family membership to the Cincinnati Zoo, which gets me discount rates at attractions all over the country.

Go camping! This is one of my favorite ways to vacation….and it has nothing to do saving money, I just love to camp. While you will often have to pay fees at campgrounds, many of the state and national forests have free campsites. And even if you do have to pay site fees, the price is far lower than any hotel. So grab your tent and sleeping bag, and go experience the great outdoors!

My latest trip

To give you an example of using some of these methods, let me tell you about my latest family trip. The kids were on spring break, and I couldn’t get off work for the whole week, so we knew it would be a short trip. We decided to see some of the attractions in Dayton, Ohio, which is only about 1 ½ hour’s drive from my home.

We used Expedia to find a hotel in Dayton that had a continental breakfast (as a bonus, our room had a mini-fridge, coffee maker, and microwave). On our first day, we visited the Sunwatch Indian Village, which is a Native American museum/archeological site. Since I am a member of the Cincinnati Zoo, we received 50% off admission. Day two was spent at Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, a children’s educational museum. Once again, admission was half off due to the Cincinnati Zoo membership. Our final day was spent at the National Museum of the Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (if you like military aircraft, this museum is a must-see). Admission to this museum is free.

We ate breakfast every day at the hotel. Two of the days, we munched on snacks I brought from home (apples and granola bars) for our lunch; on one of the days we did fast food for lunch. As far as dinner, we had Italian twice (the kids picked, not me), both times at pretty nice restaurants.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. Have a money saving tip? Post it in the comment section so everyone can read it. Be sure to stop by my blog at for more great money-saving advice! Thanks!


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    • passionate77 profile image

      passionate77 4 years ago

      so informative post and very helpful hub, would love to try them. thanks for sharing dear such useful post. loved it and just bookmarked the page, million blessings for sharing this all info!

    • profile image

      vacationkids 5 years ago

      Nicely done AJ! For folks who want to save even a bit more, I'd suggest whenever possible, eat your biggest meal of the day at lunchtime if you're splurging on restaurants. Lunch time meal prices can be 30-50% cheaper than eating out in the evening. Also, some mega food stores offer fully prepared meals and salad bars to go. Often these prepared meals are significantly cheaper than table service. If you have a micro wave and frig in your hotel room, you can also utilize the frozen food aisle. Sally from

    • profile image

      Ron 6 years ago

      A round of applause for your hub. Will read on...

      Ron from

    • AJReissig profile image

      Alex J. Reissig 6 years ago from New Richmond, Ohio

      Thanks! Wright-Pat is a great museum to see....even for a retired Army guy like me!

    • profile image 6 years ago from upstate, NY

      AJ-Thanx for your useful tips. Sometimes I do what you say and offer to do some work at the place i'm staying at, if thier a friend or relative. And I would love to see the museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, because i'm ex-Air Force myself.

    • apersonalmoney profile image

      apersonalmoney 6 years ago from Malaysia

      Nice article. I did some of the tips on my travelling. Downgrade hotel, having simple lunch and pre planned all my trips are very common to me. I wish to keep my travelling budget at the lowest and saving some money for next vacation.