Family vacations are a great way to bond and create memories that will last a lifetime. Research shows that spending money on experiences is a more reliable route to long-term happiness. However, between hotel rooms, flights, and attraction tickets, prices add up quickly. With a little research, you can plan a fun, memorable trip that won’t break the bank.
Before you book:
Opt for low-key destinations
Even though a family vacation to Disney sounds magical, it’s important to remember that not every trip needs to be that level. Your kids will be happy if you’re happy and there are hundreds of cities and destinations that will bring the fun. If you’re looking to save money this time around, research kid-friendly cities that will help you all unwind. My favorite trips as a kid include Kansas City, MO (check out Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun), Minneapolis, MN (Mall of America, anyone?), and Chicago, IL (sports and hot dogs!).
Make Google Maps your new best friend
Before I book a hotel, I always check to see how far away it is from the airport or train station I’ll be arriving from. Ubers and taxis are often a forgotten expense but they should be accounted for when deciding on which hotel to book. Are you really saving money on that hotel room if it requires you to take taxis all the time? Research how much time it will take to travel as well because you could be sacrificing precious vacation time just to get to your cheaper hotel.
If you’re not on a tight schedule, being flexible will help keep costs down. If you (and the kids) are able to withstand a 3 hour layover, it may be worth considering if the price is significantly lower. The same idea goes for which day of the week to fly. If your family is able to leave on a week day (like Tuesday or Wednesday), your costs will be much more favorable than if you left Friday. Also, keep an open mind about hotel rooms. If the cheapest room is the standard double or queen room, go for it! You won’t be spending much time in there anyway and nicer rooms will only add more dollars.
Consider inviting family members or friends
If you want to find a way to cut the costs, splitting an AirBnB or hotel rooms with more people will do the trick. Invite more family members or even friends with children the same age as yours. Your kids will have constant entertainment and you’ll have like-minded adults to join you for happy hour.
Kids fly free (and stay free too)
Nearly every airline offers free airfare for children under 2 years old. Some all-inclusive resorts won’t charge for children under 12. Spend time and research different deals that will prevent you from spending a couple extra hundred dollars just to have your little one tag along.
Before you leave:
Make your own snack bag
Nothing gets me down quite like having to shell out $8 for a small bag of chips at an airport. Before you leave for your trip, make your own snack packs that will tide the kids over without putting a dent in your wallet. Check out our healthy on-the-go snack ideas for inspiration.
You definitely don’t want to go over the weight limit if you’re checking a bag on a flight and I find that adding things like toiletries and shoes will send me over. However, I do make a point to pack things that I know will be more expensive at my destination. For example, sunscreen is often more expensive at resorts than it would be at my local pharmacy. Don’t feel pressured to pack all of your shower essentials, but think wisely about the things that may be marked up when you arrive.
When you arrive:
Look for free activities
Ticket prices to attractions will add up quick. Scope out free events in the area by researching community calendars. Plus, some attractions like museums may have free admission on certain days of the month. You can also try doing a self-guided tour of your destination to get yourself familiar with the area.
Don't eat out every day
Eating in while on vacation may not seem like the most ideal meal, but it will help save some money. If your hotel room has a mini kitchen, you can head down to the local market and grab breakfast and lunch necessities (which can be eaten the next day and the day after that). Plus, if your little one gets a little fussy and hungry at night, you can whip up a quick snack right from your hotel room.
Avoid eating in the center of tourist attractions
If you ever visit a city like New York, I would tell you to avoid dining out in Times Square at all costs. This same rule applies to virtually every city. Restaurants will charge more if you’re eating in a tourist district. Sure, it may be convenient because you’re in the area anyway, but your wallet will suffer. I love checking websites like Yelp that offer suggestions outside of the mainstream.