Family vacations are the stuff from which memories are made—and the last thing you want your kids to remember is fighting about how much money you’re spending. These budget family vacation tips can save serious money on family vacations while keeping the focus on fun family time and leaving you money to splurge on making memories. Best of all, they really do work – every single one of them is suggested by real parents with real kids on real family vacations.
While most folks think that hostels cater to students and backpackers, there are many hostels, both domestic and international, that are very family friendly. Check out Hostelling International USA for a list of hostels with family rooms and private bathrooms.
Ask for a better deal.
After you book your hotel, keep checking back for better deals that may come up between your booking date and your reservation. If you see a better deal, call and ask for it. The worse the hotel can do is say no – and you could end up saving hundreds of dollars on your hotel lodgings.
Feed your kids for free.
Look for hotels and resorts that offer a kids eat free promotion – Holiday Inn and Marriott often offer free kids meals with family reservations. Don’t forget that there are restaurants around the hotel that may offer family meal deals as well. And always get a room with a refrigerator – and, if possible, a microwave. You’ll save a fortune in snacks and room service if you stock up on snacks and quick meals you and the kids can eat in the room.
Bring your own DVDs – or Netflix it.
Don’t pay a fortune for On Demand videos and DVDs from the hotel’s library. Bring your laptop, tablet or Xbox, and tap into your Netflix account for family entertainment when you’re on the road.
Order food online.
No, not pizza, silly. Groceries! If you’ll be staying at a resort or in a suite with kitchen amenities – but without a rental car – go online and see if there’s a local grocery that delivers. You can order basics, including fruit, diapers, snacks and baby food, so you don’t have to lug them along in your luggage (and pay hefty baggage fees for them).
Plan ahead for discounts.
About a week before your trip, check the local newspaper at your destination to find promo deals and special events. The travel and tourism sites only go so far. When you check the local events listings, you’ll find sweet deals, coupons and special events happening at local attractions like zoos, museums and theme parks. You can print them out and save big on many activities you wouldn’t even have known about otherwise.
Eat lunch out and dinner in.
Let’s face it – dining out is part of the fun of vacation, but there are ways to do it on the cheap. Even in the nicest restaurants, lunch is cheaper than dinner – even if the dishes are the exact same. Plan your vacation around big lunchtimes and eat dinner on the cheap to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Book admissions to theme parks online.
Don’t pay for admission to zoos, theme parks and other attractions at the gate. When you book online a few days ahead, you can almost always save a few bucks here and a few bucks there. All those few bucks really add up – one mom reports saving more than $150 on a week-long family vacation just by paying for day passes online in advance.
Choose freshwater instead of salt.
Ocean vacations can be really really expensive. By contrast, many areas have beautiful lake resorts that are far less expensive – but offer all the same amenities: sandy beaches, water sports and water play parks among them. On top of the savings, you also don’t have to worry about big waves, sharks and other ocean dangers.
Grab coupon booklets wherever you go.
Hotels and restaurant lobbies often are a treasure trove of coupon booklets with discounts for meals, sightseeing and local attractions. Always check the courtesy packet in your hotel room as well – they’re often stocked with deals that will save you money.
Buy souvenirs before you go to theme parks.
You can buy a character T-shirt at Kmart or Target for $8 to $12. Once you get inside the gates of the theme park, you’ll lay out $25 for the very same T-shirt, hat or keychain. Pick up an assortment before you head for the park and hand them to your kids at the gates of the park.
Hit the grocery store before you hit the ski slopes.
In nearly every ski area, you’ll find lift tickets and coupon books on sale at local supermarkets for a fraction of the price you’ll pay at the resort. Think like a local and you’ll save big.
Use wi-fi hot spots instead of paying for roaming Internet access.
You’ll find free wi-fi at most public libraries, as well as at many coffee shops and major fast food chains and bookstores. You may even find highway rest areas with free wi-fi. It’s a great money saver for people who have to check email and pop online for communication and other reasons while you’re on the road.
Rent a car for longer.
If you only need a rental car for four days, check the weekly rate before you rent for the shorter time. It’s often cheaper to rent the car for a week and return it early than it is to pay the daily rental rate for four days.
Book the cheapest rental car possible.
At busy destinations, budget rental cars often sell out. When that happens, most car rental companies will upgrade you to a bigger model. If you’re not offered an upgrade, you can change your booking to a bigger car at the desk — which will almost invariably be cheaper than doing the same thing online or over the phone.
Never gas up on the highway.
On road trips, avoid filling up with gas at rest areas or at gas stations right off the main road. The prices are almost always several cents more per gallon. Download a cheap gas app for your iPhone or tablet and use it to locate the cheapest gas locally – usually complete with directions. It’s nearly always worth driving a few extra miles to save a few dollars on a tank of gas.
Load up the iPod with sing-a-long songs.
As tacky as it might seem when you’re thinking about it, singing old sitcom themes and moldy oldies on the road will end up being something your kids remember forever.