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Taking your family on vacation is a great way to take a break from your routine, relax, and spend some quality time together.
However, traveling with your family can quickly get expensive. The key to a successful vacation on a budget is to make plans in advance and figure out exactly how much you can afford to spend on the trip. It’s possible to plan a great family vacation for $3,000 and even less.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”– Gustave Flaubert
Choosing Your Destination
Different factors influence the average cost of a family vacation. Sticking to your budget is easier if you understand what can cause the price of your vacation to go up. To save money and plan an affordable vacation, avoid these common destination mistakes:
- Traveling to a popular tourist destination. Taking a trip to Miami Beach or another high demand tourist destination will make the price of your vacation go up. Food, lodging, and even transportation to these areas are higher than in lesser-known destinations.
- Arriving during a major event. Festivals, sports games, concerts, and other events draw crowds. Unless you want to attend a specific activity with your family, taking a trip to a city during a yearly festival or another significant event will make the cost of your vacation go up.
- Planning to go to an urban area or the beach. The cost of living tends to be higher in urban areas and at the seaside. Consider planning a trip to the countryside or a town that is more off the beaten track.
There are many exciting destinations away from busy tourist areas where the costs of living and accommodations are reasonable. Traveling to one of the many national parks, visiting Washington D.C. or another city with many free activities, or choosing a more secluded vacation spot are good options. If you want to be near a beach, consider choosing a small coastal town or a vacation spot with a lake.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine
- Flying to your destination is going to make the cost of your vacation go up. Flying might make sense if you’re traveling by yourself or as a couple, but having to purchase plane tickets for an entire family is likely to cause you to go over budget.
- Flying can be more affordable if you can take advantage of a promotion offered by an airline. Some airlines offer low prices on select routes, and you might be able to book airfare from one large city to another for under $100 for each ticket. However, you might be limited when it comes to choosing your destination and the dates of your vacation.
- The most affordable way to take your family on vacation is to drive to your destination. Let’s assume that you can spend $300 of your budget on gas for the round trip. Look at the current price of gas and at how fuel-efficient your vehicle is to figure out how far you can go on this budget. This will help you select the perfect destination.
- Prepare your vehicle ahead of time. It’s best to spend more to get your car ready for a road trip, even if this means that you have to choose a closer destination.
- Renting a vehicle makes sense if your car isn’t in good shape or if you’d prefer not put more miles on your vehicle. You can rent a vehicle in your hometown and return it to a different location of the car rental chain you selected.
- Turning the car in when you reach your destination and renting another one to drive home may save you some money.
- Traveling by train. It’s possible to travel by train for a very affordable price, but you’ll be limited to a few destinations that can be easily reached from the nearest large city.
If you would rather spend money on other aspects of your trip or don’t want to be too far from home for one reason or another, keep in mind that you can easily plan a fun trip to a nearby city or go on a camping trip to the nearest park or campground.
The Best Time to Travel
If you have children who are too young to go to school, you can save a lot on your family vacation by traveling during the off-season. This is a great experience since you’ll get much lower prices on accommodations and even on airfare. Popular tourist spots and landmarks shouldn’t be crowded, either.
Typically, traveling is more expensive around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the months of June, July, and August.
Avoid traveling around national holidays, if possible. Some destinations, however, are more affordable in the warmer months.
For instance, there are many vacation spots in the Rockies that draw tourists for the winter skiing season. These same resorts are a lot more affordable during the summer, and you’ll find many other fun activities.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
You can find affordable lodging for your family regardless of where you want to go. Doing some research online and booking your stay ahead of time will help you save money. Use these strategies to find accommodations at the right price:
- Take advantage of the internet. Use vacation booking sites to compare prices between different hotels or other types of accommodations. You can use filters to find lodging with specific amenities.
- Consider renting a place to stay in a nearby city. You’ll still be close to all the things you want to see, but might be able to get a lower price by not staying in a popular tourist area.
- Learn about the neighborhood. Always do some research about the area you’re interested in to ensure you’re renting accommodation in a safe community and that you’ll quickly have access to public transit if you need it.
- Make reservations early. Book your accommodation ahead of time since prices tend to go up as the tourist season approaches.
There are different types of accommodations to choose from, including hotels, inns, rooms rented by owners, and even campgrounds. The ideal accommodation depends on the kind of experience you want, your budget, and the age of your children.
Planning a Camping Trip
The most affordable way to go on a family vacation is to go camping. Camping isn’t ideal if you have young children, but this is the perfect way to spend some quality time with your family once your children are old enough to take part in some outdoor activities. Nearby national parks, lakes, and campgrounds could be interesting destinations.
You can easily move from one campground to another, which means you can transform your camping trip on a road trip so you can visit different parks and see the country. You can also find campgrounds within a reasonable distance of most tourist landmarks, beaches, and major cities. The cost of staying at a campsite is usually less than $150 for an entire week.
Some campgrounds give you the possibility to rent a trailer or a mobile home, which can be a good option if you don’t wish to sleep in a tent. The downside of planning a camping trip is that you’re going to need to purchase camping equipment. This includes tents, awnings, outdoor furniture, a portable grill, or another appliance you can use to cook outdoors, some shoes and clothes for your entire family, and some items you can use for outdoor activities such as hiking or fishing.
Camping gear might seem expensive when you first purchase it, but you’ll be able to use this gear again for your future camping trips. Borrowing camping gear from friends or relatives can be a good option if you want to save money.
Finding an Affordable Rental
If camping isn’t an option, the best place to find affordable accommodation is to look for a vacation rental. You can usually find less expensive prices if you choose a rental that is offered directly by the owner. There are several websites and agencies that act as third-parties for vacation rentals. Finding the perfect rental is easier and faster if you use one of these sites, but keep in mind that the price is going to be slightly higher because a fee will go to these third parties.
Using Airbnb, Craigslist, and other sites where owners can list their rentals is a great way to find inexpensive lodging. You can narrow down your search to rentals in a specific area, look for apartments of a certain size, or look for rentals with any amenities you like.
Follow these tips when renting a house or apartment from the owner:
- Do some research on the destination you’re interested in. Put together a list of potential cities or towns where you would like to stay based on how close they are to the things you want to see.
- Ask yourself how much room you need. Your family vacation will be more pleasant if there’s enough room to accommodate everyone and for your children to play.
- Consider spending a little more for additional amenities that would make your vacation more fun. For example, a rental with a pool would make for an unforgettable vacation if your children are old enough to enjoy the pool.
- Check reviews and ratings before booking a rental. Sites like Airbnb publish reviews written by their users.
- Look at photographs and videos, and don’t hesitate to contact the owner to get more. This is an excellent way to ensure the rental corresponds to your needs and to get an idea of the kind of shape it’s in.
- Communicate with the owner as much as possible. Try to get to know them better by asking questions about their rental. Find out how often they maintain the rental, ask for a list of amenities, and ensure you can get in touch with them if you need to.
- Discuss important details. Ask how the owner wants to receive payment and when. Is there is a rental contract? What would happen if you weren’t satisfied with the rental or if you accidentally caused damages to the rental during your stay?
Take the time to read the rental contract before deciding to book a rental. (communicate with the owner as much as possible)
Avoid booking a rental unless you’re confident that you will have a great experience and that the owner is offering a quality rental. It’s possible to find an excellent rental for roughly $500 a week (but the price can go up or down depending on the location, size, and amenities offered.)
The time of the year can also influence the cost of a rental, since a busy tourist season, a festival, or another event that attracts people to your destination could make rental prices go up.
Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts
Staying at a hotel or inn might not be an ideal option for your family vacation because these accommodations tend to be more expensive. Also, it might be challenging to find a family-friendly hotel for your destination. Staying at a hotel makes sense when you’re traveling alone or as a couple, but traveling with children means that you’ll most likely want to book a suite or a couple of connected rooms. You might also want to book a hotel room that includes a kitchenette so you can prepare meals.
Depending on your destination, a suite large enough for your family will likely cost at least $150 a night. This price will go up if you book a suite in a five-star hotel or choose a hotel in an expensive tourist city. Less costly accommodations, such as motels, are usually less desirable because of their location or level of comfort.
Booking a bed and breakfast can often be your best option.
These accommodations tend to be more affordable than hotels, and it’s easier to find a bed and breakfast that is family-friendly. You’ll save money on food since these accommodations usually provide you with at least a free breakfast. Some of them also offer other meals, drinks, or snacks. These tips will help you find an affordable bed and breakfast for the destination you’re interested in:
- Look for a smaller bed and breakfasts. Smaller businesses tend to offer lower prices, and it might be easier to find something available.
- If you want to visit a city, look for bed and breakfasts located in nearby areas. Establishments located in less popular tourist spots should have lower prices, and you’ll still be able to drive to see the tourist attractions you’re interested in.
- Check ratings and reviews before booking a bed and breakfast. Look for accommodation that’s affordable and has received excellent reviews from travelers who stayed there with their family.
- Ensure you’ll have enough room for your family to be comfortable. Consider booking another type of accommodation if you’re traveling with more than two children.
- Save money by choosing a bed and breakfast with shared bathrooms. This is not as inconvenient as it sounds if you choose a small bed and breakfast.
Also, consider booking a room in a bed and breakfast if you want to drive to a destination that is far away and need a place to sleep for a night. This should be a more affordable option than staying at a hotel for a night.
“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
If reaching your destination or booking your accommodations is going to stretch your budget to the limit, look for free activities to reduce your other expenses. This way, you can still stay within your budget.
The most affordable way to go back and forth between your accommodation, the beach, or the various tourist landmarks you want to see depends on where you are. If you decide to visit a rural area, driving there so you can use your vehicle to drive around and visit different nearby villages, lakes, and beaches is usually worth the cost savings. If you’d rather not take your vehicle to go on a family vacation, consider renting a car for an entire week. Weekly rates are generally less per day than daily rates.
If you’re traveling to a large city, using the local public transit system is the most affordable option. In fact, it’s smart to look for accommodation that is conveniently located near a central public transit hub. Most public transit systems give you the possibility to buy a week-long pass, and passes for children are usually offered at a discounted price.
Find out more about the public transit system of the city you plan on visiting and ensure you can easily reach the different landmarks and areas you want to see. Public transit is affordable, but it’s safer to take a cab if you wish to stay out late, if you’re in a city you’re not familiar with, or if you would have to ride a train or subway through some areas that could be dangerous.
You can save money by using ride services like Uber or Lyft instead of a traditional taxi company.
Feeding your family during your vacation can quickly get expensive if you don’t have food-making amenities in your accommodation. Being able to prepare your own meals will help you stay on budget. Look for a rental with a small kitchen or purchase a mini-fridge and a camping stove if you’re going on a camping trip. You may be able to stick to the same budget you use to plan meals at home but might have to choose simpler meals because of space, time, or food storage requirements.
Do some research in advance to find an affordable grocery store. Plan on going grocery shopping shortly after reaching your destination and set a budget for each trip to the grocery store. Plan to spend a little extra so you can try some of the local specialties during your trip. You can use TripAdvisor and Yelp to see which cafes, bakeries, and restaurants are the most popular in the area you plan on visiting and can also get an idea of the price range for different establishments.
Buying some food in bulk in advance makes sense if you want to go on a camping trip and won’t be near a large grocery store. Purchase snacks in advance, so you don’t have to stop and buy food while driving to your destination.
Take the time to make a list of the places you want to visit and the things you want to do during your vacation. There is no need to plan every day of your trip in detail, but having a list of activities and things to see as well as pricing information will help you stay busy without going over budget. If you’re going to a city with some historical landmarks, plan on visiting some of them. This should be reasonably affordable and is a great way to get your children interested in history.
Going for a walk in a neighborhood with historic houses is free and should be very interesting, especially if you can download an audio tour! There are many things you can do for free, regardless of where you go. Most museums have free days. You can also spend an afternoon at the beach, go hiking in the woods, or go for a walk to discover the city you’re visiting. Some cities have free festivals and other outdoor events such as concerts or fairs.
Check Groupon and other similar sites before your trip.
This could be a good way to find some activities at discounted prices. You could, for instance, get discounted tickets for a show, book a tour at a low cost, or get a discount coupon for a local restaurant.
There are always some unplanned expenses during a vacation. It’s a good idea to have an emergency fund in case your car breaks down during your trip or in case you need to find a different accommodation at the last minute. If you’re going on a camping trip, you might have to use this emergency fund to purchase the additional gear you didn’t think you would need. It’s best to invest in quality gear in the first place so, you don’t have to replace anything during your trip.
Find out if your health insurance will cover you while you’re out of state. You might have to take one of your children to a doctor that is outside of the network covered by your insurance and might also have to buy prescriptions. Put aside $200 in your emergency fund in case you need to cover such medical expenses.
Remember to include shopping in your budget.
Buying souvenirs is fun, and you’ll treasure the items you bring back from your trip, so plan for these purchases in advance. You might find it easier to stick to your budget if you use cash. Avoid carrying more cash than your budget allows for shopping.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous
It’s easier to find ways to save money and stay within your budget if you do plenty of research, book your trip in advance, and plan for different types of expenses.
You can take your family on a fun vacation for under $3,000 if you can reach your destination and go home for roughly $500, can find suitable accommodation for $500, and budget the rest of your money to cover additional expenses such as food, transportation, activities, and souvenirs.
Start looking at different destinations to find the perfect place for your family vacation. Look for a spot that is affordable, not too crowded, and that will provide you with plenty of opportunities to spend quality time together as a family. Don’t be afraid to venture into new lands and non-typical tourist destinations.
The world is your oyster.