10 Money-Saving Tips For Family Vacations

in Financial Planning by

KEY POINTS
  • How to see the world, with your kids, without breaking the bank.
  • Look into trading homes with a foreigner or surviving a Timeshare presentation for free hotel nights.
  • Plan out a credit card rewards strategy for next year to help cover your future expenses.

With summer in full swing, it’s never too late to plan a fun and affordable trip with the kids. They’re only young once, after all, and the time we have with them is fleeting. But, where should you go? And more importantly, how can you fit a nice trip into your budget?
Unfortunately, the terms “affordability” and “summer travel” don’t always go hand-in-hand. Not only is peak travel more expensive, but nearly everyone else is traveling right now, which often means less availability in the first place.

Trust me, I’ve been there. As a credit card rewards expert and travel writer, I am under a lot of pressure to actually experience the things I write about on a regular basis. And with my oldest child starting first grade this year, we are becoming extremely limited not only by the school calendar, but also by the cost of special activities and sports.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered tried and true strategies that allow me to travel affordably with my kids year-round, even in the peak summer season. Word from the wise – check out a few of these tactics to continue your quest to see the world without breaking the bank:

Tip #1: Book a Vacation Condo

No matter where you’re going, you have a plethora of options for renting vacation condos and personal homes. Next time you’re planning a family getaway, peruse sites like VRBO.com and AirBNB.com. For a price that is often more affordable than a weeklong hotel stay, you can often find condos with multiple bedrooms, full kitchens, and a full set of amenities.
Even better than sharing family time in a fun vacation home, you can save a bundle by using the kitchen to prepare meals and snacks instead of going out for every meal.

Tip #2: Drive, Don’t Fly

If the only way you can get to your preferred destination is to fly, you might want to consider scrapping your plans and vacationing nearby instead. Airfare is a huge expense, and one that continues to multiply as your family grows.
Although you’ll have the costs of gas and wear and tear on your vehicle to contend with, you won’t have to worry about paying $500 and up for each domestic ticket – or fees for incidentals like checked baggage.

Tip #3: Take a Road Trip to Visit Family

If you have a family member across the country, taking a road trip to visit them could wind up being a fun, unforgettable experience. No matter where your loved one lives, you’re bound to find interesting sites to see and things to do along way.
Visit a waterpark, stay in a famous hotel, or camp out in a state park as you complete your journey. After that, count on some quality time and home cooking with your loved ones before heading home.

Tip #4: Go Camping

Whether you try camping at a state park, a local campground, or in your back yard, your kids will probably get a kick out of it. I know mine do! Since they’re little, they think almost anything out of the ordinary is fun – and they love to get dirty.
If you’re able to stake up an old tent, borrow one from a friend, or rent a cheap cabin, camping can also be extremely inexpensive. Just pack a cooler full of food and drinks, grab your bathing suits, and you’re good to go!

Tip #5: Pick an All-Inclusive Resort

Although most all-inclusive resorts are outside of the U.S., they can still offer substantial savings. By including all of your meals, drinks, and entertainment for one low price, all-inclusive resorts make budgeting for vacation easy while also offering maximum value.
We took our kids on their first all-inclusive trip this year, and it was a great experience for all of us. Not only did I get out of cooking and cleaning for an entire week, but the kids were able to eat and drink almost any time, and with no limitations. The live music, free watersports, and ongoing entertainment were simply icing on the cake.

Tip #6: Swap Homes If You Can

Here’s another option if you live in a tourist area yourself – try out a home swap. Using a site like HomeExchange.com, you can trade a week at your home for a week at someone else’s, provided you find another family that is a match.

Currently, the site offers approximately 65,000 homes in 150 different countries for trade. If you can make it work, you can do exactly what the site’s tagline suggests – “Travel anywhere. Live like a local. Stay for free.”

Tip #7: Endure a Timeshare Presentation

If you’re willing and able to sit through a sales pitch, timeshare presentations, and the free hotel stays that come with them, can provide exceptional value. Although it isn’t necessarily ideal to spend 90 minutes of your trip listening to drivel, doing so often means scoring your entire stay, and other perks, for free.

I recently thought long and hard about sitting through one of these presentations at a resort near Walt Disney World. In exchange for enduring a two-hour time share presentation, my kids and I could stay in a two-room suite and receive two one-day tickets to the park. We ultimately declined, but I would consider it in the future.

Tip #8: Shop Around and Book Early

According to a recent study from CheapAir.com, waiting for last minute airfare deals is usually a bad idea. Prices fluctuate until around 14 days out, which is where they surge their highest.

Using an analysis of over 4.9 million flights in 2014, CheapAir.com now claims that the prime booking window for airfare is somewhere between 27-114 days in advance. That’s a huge span of time, but it’s one you can take advantage of if you shop early. The same idea applies to hotels. Starting your search for deals early will allow you to strike while the iron is hot.

Tip #9: Choose Hotels that Don’t Charge for Kids

When you’re traveling with a family, it’s important to choose a property that will actually have room for your family. If you opt for a hotel instead of a vacation condo, that usually means checking with the resort to make sure they will offer enough beds – and enough room – to accommodate your kids.

For most properties, this is no problem at all. Certain properties, like Holiday Inns, even allow kids to stay and eat for free. Many others are happy to accommodate your family with a rollaway cot or bed, although certain hotel chains charge a fee for that. Either way, knowing ahead of time never hurts.

Tip #10: Plan a Credit Card Rewards Strategy Now to Pay for Next Year

Although it’s probably too late to pay for this summer’s travel with credit card rewards, it’s never too late to start planning a comprehensive strategy for the future. Depending on where you want to go, it can be fairly simple to get your hotel stays and/or airfare almost free or at an extremely low cost.

Most of the time, you only need to sign up for a rewards credit card and meet a minimum spending requirement to earn points that are redeemable for free airfare or hotel stays. The only caveat is obvious – in order to travel for free, you must never carry a balance on your card or pay interest. If you can pull that off, free travel for next year could be yours for the taking.

Traveling with kids can be incredibly expensive, but it’s one of those expenses that is easy to justify. Nothing is as magical as the time you spend exploring the world with your family. Being away from home, and all the responsibilities that come with it, has a way of letting you to connect in a way that isn’t normally possible.

With that being said, that doesn’t mean you should throw your budget out the window. With a little bit of planning, you should be able to dream up something fun that won’t hurt your long-term financial goals. And, as always, find out where you stand financially today, and start planning now.

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Holly Johnson

Holly Johnson is a financial expert and award-winning writer whose obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel plays a central role in her work. In addition to serving as Contributing Editor for The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for inspiring publications such as U.S. News and World Report Travel, Personal Capital, Lending Tree, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns two websites of her own - Club Thrifty and Travel Blue Book. You can follow her on Twitter or Pinterest @ClubThrifty.

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