5 Ways to Save on a Family Vacation
How to save (a little) money when traveling with kids
No matter how you do it, going on vacation costs money. There are ways to save though. Here are five of my favorites.
1. Embrace flexibility
Often the best way to save money is to not make plans. This is almost impossible for we control freaks. Instead, just sit back, relax, and let the deals come to you. With a totally open mind, browse travel deal sites like www.travelzoo.com and www.kayak.com or pick up the Sunday travel section of your local paper. If you’re brave enough to leave your vacation planning to chance, the savings can be substantial.
I know, I know— road trips drive me a little bit crazy too, but if you’re looking to save money, there’s no avoiding them. Pick up a copy of Frommer’s 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up at your local library, choose an iconic American destination close to home, and pack up the car.
Be sure to treat yourself to a nice place to stay, a few new apps, and plenty of children’s audio books with some of the money you won’t be spending on airfare and car rental. Remember: your children will have these memories forever. It that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will!
3. Say no to hotels
It’s no secret that staying in a house or condo instead of a hotel will usually be a budget-friendly move. Be honest with yourself though. Do you really want to forgo room service and daily maid service? If not, forget it. If yes, you’ll have much more privacy and room to spread out. I’m partial to www.vrbo.com and homeaway.com.
If you haven’t stayed in a hostel for a decade or so, things have changed. They still offer clean, basic accommodations and excellent value, and now often have private bathrooms, free WiFi, and included continental breakfast too. Preparing dinner in their communal kitchens saves you even more money, and is a fun adventure if approached in the right spirit. Check out www.hostels.com.
4. Eat out smarter
If all this talk of cooking on vacation is getting you down, don’t despair. You can still go to a restaurant now and then. Try lunch instead of dinner. Not only are food prices generally lower, you’ll be less likely to order an exorbitantly marked-up bottle of wine with your meal.
Don’t over-order either. After years of paying $8.95 (and up) for our kids to eat 14 french fries each plus trace amounts of Frisbee-sized hamburgers, my husband and I wised up to portion sizes. It turns out three entrées are more than enough for four people. We all drink tap water too—it seemed kind of monastic at first, but now we’re used to it.
Another way to save is to eat a simple picnic meal and then splurge on a very special dessert — this is especially fun when it’s a local specialty.
5. Pinch pennies
Once you’ve shelled out for ice cream sundaes, sunscreen, and a waterproof disposable camera, what’s one more souvenir tee-shirt, right? Wrong. It turns out spending has a proven numbing effect—the more times you pull out your wallet and empty its contents, the less painful it becomes. Really.
Practice saving instead. Borrow books and DVDs from the library before your trip. Ask a neighbor to take care of your pets and plants while you’re gone, and offer to reciprocate. If you fly, get a friend to drive you to the airport. Encourage your kids to collect postcards instead of pricey souvenirs. Bring your own snacks and refillable water bottles from home.
It might not seem like much, but it all adds up.