How To

How to Plan Your Family Vacation on a Budget

Family Travel

As summer approaches, thoughts turn to planning and saving for the family vacation. While the summer might be the best time to travel with the kids, since they are off from school, it can be the worst time to travel, budget-wise.

Although prices might be higher in the summer, you can plan your family vacation with your budget in mind. I have a few tips on budgeting for a great family vacation, no matter when you plan on traveling.

Rethink the Hotel

A hotel isn’t your only option when traveling. In fact, it’s often not the best option when it comes to your budget or your sanity.

If you choose to stay in a lower to moderately priced hotel, you can end up paying around $100 per night per room. That’s $500 for a five night trip in one room, not counting tax.

Most parents don’t relish the idea of sharing a room with their kids for five nights, so that cost can easily double or triple.

When you plan your family vacation, think beyond the hotel. Here are just a few lower cost ideas:

  • Staying in a hostel. Forget what you’ve seen in horror films. Today’s hostels are clean and family friendly. You can book private rooms at a hostel for a third or half of what you’d pay for a hotel.
  • Renting a home. Vacation homes are typically much more affordable than a hotel, especially if you have a big family. They also have the added benefit of a kitchen, so that you don’t have to eat every single meal on your trip at a restaurant.
  • House swap. This last one is for the brave. You can trade homes with a complete stranger in another part of the country, or the world, for a set amount of time. It’s free to swap, but most swap websites charge a fee when you register.

If you just can’t give up the hotel, look for deals online before you book. Deal websites abound these days, all trying to give you 50 percent off or more.

You can also try traveling in the off-season, when many hotel rates are half what they are in the summertime.

Budget Activities

It’s not just the cost of lodging that you need to account for when you plan how to save for a vacation. You also want to plan a few activities to keep your family occupied.

While some activities, such as visiting an aquarium, can be downright pricey, many others are inexpensive, or even better, free.

If you are heading to the beach, look for one that doesn’t charge you for beach tags. Heading to the beach each day can then be a free activity.

When planning how to save for a vacation, do some research into local parks or historical sites in the area you’ll be visiting, too. While you do have to pay a fee to enter some national parks, you can visit regional or city parks for free.

Smaller historical sites are also pretty affordable and usually charge less than $10 per adult. Depending on the age of your kids, they might be admitted for free. Your family will get to learn a bit about history that is usually overlooked or even forgotten.

Wildlife refuges offer an affordable alternative to pricey zoos. You might not see a lion at a refuge, but you get to see animals and other living creatures in their natural habitat.

Transportation and Food

Tips on budgeting for your vacation aren’t complete without some advice about traveling to and from your destination and what to eat while there. Meals out will take up a big chunk of your travel budget.

If you don’t have access to a kitchen where you are staying, you can get creative and still save on food.

For example, if you are going to the beach or the park for the day, instead of buying lunch to go, pack a picnic in a cooler. Head to a grocery store or deli before you reach your destination and pick up the basics for sandwiches, plus some fruit and other snacks.

If you are going to stay at a hostel or hotel, pick one that offers a free breakfast and make sure you wake up in time to enjoy it.

Investigate the cheapest ways to get to and from your destination. Taking a bus might be the least expensive option, but if you are traveling with young kids or going far away, it can also be the most unpleasant.

Taking the family car wherever you are going can be ideal, as you don’t have to rent a vehicle when you get there. If you can find another family to travel with you, you can split the cost of gas and tolls.

Kelly Anderson is a financial planner who blogs about financial advice you can use in your everyday life. Connect with her on TwitterFacebook and Google+.