Planning a Family Vacation Without Breaking the Bank

Taking a summer vacation can be a great way to get away and spend some time together as a family. In some cases, however, vacations end up draining savings accounts and causing more stress then they relieve.

The good news is that it doesn’t have expensive to go on a great vacation. I’ve listed below some tips that helped us save money on our last couple of vacations.

Compare prices on multiple travel sites

You can often find great travel deals online. Just be sure to compare prices across sites, as the results can be surprisingly different.

If you’re new to online travel planning, here are some sites that we use:

If you have any questions about local hotels, TripAdvisor is a great resource.

Handling a car rental for the trip

For our family vacations, we usually rent a car. Our cars are older and have pretty high mileage, so we don’t like to go to far from home in them. Beyond that, rening a car is typically cheaper for us than flying, and we’re usually able to make the drive itself relatively entertaining.

Using Priceline’s bid option, we got a ‘name brand’ standard size car rental for one week at $14/day (plus fees). For the sake of comparison, the ‘base’ rate from the rental agency’s site was about $220.

Another tip here is that many credit cards provide car rental insurance and, in some cases, your car insurance will cover the rental as long as you’re driving it in place of your own car. If you’re not sure, call and check.

Finding a good deal on a hotel

On our last trip, we went down to Orlando to see Disney World and Universal Studios. Once again, we used Priceline to bid on a three star or higher hotel and ended up saving around $50/night after taxes and fees. Our hotel was so close to Disney World that we could see the Magic Kingdom fireworks from our window.

Dining out inexpensively

We usually try to find hotels that include breakfast. We then eat out for dinner and save the leftovers for lunch. This is especially easy if your hotel has a kitchenette.It worked pretty well last year. We checked and the hotel has a kitchenette.

A great way to find local spots with great food at a reasonable price is to read reviews online. One useful trick for this is to look up your hotel on TripAdvisor and read the reviews — many travelers talk about their dining experiences in the area. You can also check menus online with MenuPages, and even make reservations with OpenTable.

A few other money saving tips include skipping the appetizers — order a salad with your entree instead — and skipping (or splitting) dessert.

Souvenir shopping for friends and family

Picking up a few local gifts for friends and family is often a part of our family getaways. We are, however, careful not to buy too much, as we don’t want to create clutter.

The key is to avoid overpriced trinkets from souvenir shops. Instead, try to pick up a thoughtful gift that reflects the local culture.

Have fun!

Remember… The whole point of going on vacation is to relax and have fun. By planning ahead and saving up for your expenses, you can relieve a lot of the stress associated with going on vacation.

One last tip… Be sure to check out local activities/events in addition to the “big” attractions. Viator is an excellent resource when it comes to planning a memorable vacation.

What trips are you planning this year?

13 Responses to “Planning a Family Vacation Without Breaking the Bank”

  1. Anonymous

    I think the budgeting and saving is the best way to save money on a trip. You always want to pay cash so that the vacation can be nothing more than fun.
    From there you can save so much buy spending a little extra time on the booking stage. Check multiple sites and be flexible with your timing.
    Finally, remember that even though it is a vacation you can still say no and have a great time. We falsely believe vacations should be without restraint. This will typically result in a bad financial aftertaste after you get home.

  2. Anonymous

    If money’s really tight you might want to consider taking long weekends (3-4 days) as opposed to a full week. That will work well with Laura’s emphasis on traveling locally and by car.

    An added benefit is that it might enable you to travel to two different destinations, say Diseny on one trip, the beach on another. Plus if you space the trips, it might be a little easier on your budget than taking one big trip at once.

    Might also keep you from using up paid vacation time at work, especially if the weekend trips are combined with a holiday. You may need only 1-2 vacation days for each trip, rather than 5, and you can use the unused days for other purposes (or other trips!).

    One more thing; if your hotel doens’t provide a breakfast in the price, picking up some donuts, bagels or a box of cereal for the kids at a local grocery store or quick mart saves a bundle over restaurant meals.

  3. Anonymous

    If you’re going to be in a place for a week or more definitely check out the rates for an extended stay hotel. These places have GREAT weekly rates often 1/2 to 1/3 the price of a conventional hotel.

    Best of all they have their own mini-kitchens that allow you to cook your own meals and refrigerate your own food.

    Two of the better and relatively cheap extend stay hotels are Extended Stay America and Inn Town Suites.

  4. Anonymous

    Great posts. Planning is one sure way to save without breaking the bank. You have some really great tips. Bookmarking it now 🙂

  5. Anonymous

    Bonus tip for fcn readers: Once you bought a ticket: Keep the track of fare to see if it drops. Several airline gives best fare guarantee. If the fare drops by midnight on the same ticket (itinerary and class), you can get the difference refunded. Register yourself to, Input your information, yapta which will track fare shifts for you.

  6. Anonymous

    I’ve always felt very frustrated looking at multiple sites like Pricleine, Orbitz etc. I use Expedia and I don’t remember the last time I compared Expedia to something else and found a cheaper and feasible option there.

  7. Anonymous

    @Erik: Having a kitchenette is very helpful. We love keeping out food until the next day. It saves money and we can just stay an be lazy on vacation. 😀

  8. Anonymous

    I just had one of my vacations of the year — went to London for Memorial Day weekend with my GF. British Airways was running a special — buy two RT tickets and they’d pitch in two nights in a hotel. I bought a third night — total cost for airfare from DC + hotel was $1150. While there, we spent about $750 — our transportation was always the tube and Heathrow connect, except when we took the wrong train back to the airport and had to pay $30 for a cab. I don’t buy souveniers, and she bought hers for under 20 GBP.

    We’re taking a week-long cruise at the end of the year. The ship departs from a local port, so we don’t have to worry about airfare. We’ll be getting a balcony on this ship for under $1400 (inc taxes) for the two of us.

    We’ve got some more exotic stuff in the works, but we’ll need to save for it. That’s what the GF and I do — live frugally so we can take the vacations we want. I don’t care for nice cars and big houses, but I do care to see the world. For me, the choice is a no brainer.

  9. Anonymous

    If you will be gone for more than three or four days, I definitely recommend finding a hotel room or vacation rental with a kitchen. You will save so much on food costs by cooking breakfast and lunch. Then, you have more money to spend on a nice dinner and doing activities. Don’t waste all of your spending money eating out!

  10. Anonymous

    Nice post!

    I think many people forget themselves and their finances on vacation– “Oh well, it’s my vacation and I deserve it!”

    Proper planning, budgeting, and spending as you outline can make for a nice vacation without the post vacation blues of paying the bills.

  11. Anonymous

    Just being aware of having a budget for vacation is great.

    I am ashamed to admit it but the last time we went on vacation, we didn’t even discuss these items.

    Great reminders….next time, I’ll have this discussion with the family.

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