Planning a Family Vacation on a Budget
Location, Location, Location
Obviously vacations are needed to help "recharge" your battery and to take a much needed break from the hussle and bussle of everyday life. Unfortunately vacations can be a quite costly and stressful item to budget and plan for. The easiest way to save money on your vacation is to focus on the location, location, location...some locations tend to be more expensive certain times of the year. During the summer is a good time to focus more on your Mountain side when mountain rentals tend to be less booked and of course wintertime is the cheapest time to visit the beach. If you have a larger family you may want to consider a vacation rental property which will give you a discounted rate for staying for a week which hotels don't usually do. With cruises usually booking within a month or so from the cruise tends to be cheaper as they are trying to fill empty rooms for maximum profit.
The savings don't stop with your hotel stay. I meal plan at home on a regular basis so it's extremely hard for me to break that habit even when I'm on vacation. I will generally start planning my vacation 3-4 months ahead of time. As I see items on sale at grocery stores I will stock up on them and eventually meal plan around those items such as cereal, juice boxes, pasta, snack foods, etc. I take a good bit of food with me on vacation so I only have to purchase meat, dairy, and perishable items once I'm there. If I'm staying for a week I will generally plan on eating out 3-4 times during that time to help save money. I try to stay in houses or condos so I can cook a lot of our meals which helps save money as well.
Tip: Make sure to be cautious of certain meals that may require special kitchen tools; not all rentals come fully stocked with every kitchen tool and utensil.
Activities seem to be a necessary evil for most people even though they leave home to relax. If you have children there's no time to relax; they need to be entertained somehow. I like to search the city website of wherever I'm visiting for information on what there is to do around there. Museums and wildlife facilities are usually cheap or free options that not only entertain children but also educate them. A nice picnic in the outdoors near a playground is always a good option to distract the children for an hour or two and makes for quality family time. Another option that costs absolutely nothing is to consider renting somewhere with a pool...what kid doesn't love splashing in some water!?! My kids would stay in a pool all day if they had the option especially if I throw in some water toys and pool floats.
Tips: Some rental properties that have a pool on site offer pool toys available for renters.
As much as I don't want to be the lady with an itinerary it really does help save money while on vacation. I try to plan our activities for every other day and the days that we're out exploring the town are the same days we eat dinner/lunch out. This saves money on gas from coming and going all the time especially if your activities aren't extremely close to your hotel/house. I am flexible about my itinerary (hello I have 4 kids flexibility is required) sometimes outdoor activities will need to be switched out with indoor activities if there are inclement weather issues.
1. The closer to home you are the cheaper your vacation will most likely cost you.
2. If you can go in the off peak season you are more likely to get cheaper deals on not only hotel stays but local attractions as well.
3. A positive to going on vacation in the off peak season is that you will not have to deal with the typical crowds and will be able to spend more time having fun and less time in lines.
4. If you are on an extremely tight budget maybe try a "staycation"...stay in your own city and spend a few days exploring and showing your kids all the things about their own city that they didn't even know existed. Take in a ball game, visit an aquarium, go to the museum, visit the historic areas, etc...