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Budget Family Vacations – 6 Ways to Plan

Budget Family Vacation

If your family is anything like mine, you love to travel, but find it almost impossible on such a small budget.  We’ve learned some life-changing tips and tricks over the years about budget family vacation that let us take several trips each month! 

I really hope that by using a few of these ideas, you find some wiggle room in the budget to take your family on a much needed trip!

Plan Ahead

Our number one secret to vacationing on a budget is Ebates.  Sign up for a FREE Ebates account ASAP and use it to look for travel sites like Priceline, Expedia, and Travelocity.  With Ebates, you get a percentage of your purchase back in check form, every three months.

I almost always choose the company that is currently offering the biggest percentage back on Ebates.

One of our favorite ways to book hotels is the Express Deals option on Priceline.  If you’re willing to take a little gamble, you can save BIG.

The way Express Deals work, is you’ll pay for a 3, 4, or 5 star hotel, but you are only given the name and location of the hotel AFTER you pay.

Sounds risky, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised each time.

Be Flexible!

Unless you’re trying to be in a certain place on a certain date, planning ahead can afford you the luxury of saving a ton of money!

For example, avoid travelling to a city that’s hosting a big sporting event or other such event like New Orleans during Mardi Gras.  Visiting a city during a less eventful week can save you HUNDREDS and I promise there will still be lots to do when you get there.

Just about any city has a ton of entertainment options if you just spend some time researching or talking to locals.

Look into Air BnB

With the exception of one stay in New Orleans, we have had the best luck with Air Bnbs.

Download the app on your phone, filter out anything except “entire place” and set your nightly budget.

You can also select amenities you want – like wifi, cable, air conditioning, etc.

Then, you just request to book and wait for confirmation.

We’ve stayed in boats, tiny houses, a family’s basement, and entire homes.

The perk to Air Bnb is it’s almost always cheaper than a hotel and you have a full kitchen, sometimes even laundry facilities, and privacy.

This has been absolutely instrumental in allowing us to travel on a budget.

If you’re taking a longer trip, you can even reach out to the host and request a discount on the rate.

Usually, hosts are so happy to have their place booked for an extended stay that it makes sense for them to knock a little off the price to make sure you choose their listing.

A word of caution – always watch out for extra fees!

VRBO is notorious for ridiculous fees, so we never ever use them. Air BnB is always better, but there are sometimes extravagant cleaning fees.

If I think the fees are too high, I immediately click out of the listing and pick a different one. 

You wouldn’t pay $350 to clean a hotel room, you shouldn’t have to pay that for an Air Bnb either.

Be respectful and leave the place cleaner than when you got there so the host is encouraged to keep their cleaning fees low.

Drive Instead of Fly

Renting a car can be a much more cost effective means of travel than flying – especially when you have a family!

We joke that we’d be dragged off of any airline if we ever dared to fly with our kids.

Unless you know someone in your destination city, chances are, you’ll have to pay for a rental when you get there or use public transportation anyway. 

Yes, travel by car can be boring at times, but my husband and I look forward to our long roadtrips!

We spend most of them talking and dreaming about our future together.  I really think we’ve had some of our most bonding experiences while roadtripping from one place to another.

The bonus is that our kids do absolutely awesome in the car!

I truly don’t think this is something that came naturally to them – they adapted to our crazy traveling lifestyle.

Now, they look forward to our roadtrips and love it.

We have the best talks with our kids in the car.

I’m usually in the front seat typing some of their questions into my phone that I don’t want to forget.

Low Budget Family Vacations

The number one secret to traveling on a budget with a family is to control your food expenses.

We can easily spend $100+ per day on food for our family of 5 if we’re not careful.

Think about it – $20 for breakfast, $35 for lunch, $35 for dinner, plus snacks.

Luckily, there is a better way.

Stay Somewhere with Free Breakfast

Unless a hotel with a continental breakfast is much more expensive, choosing a hotel with this option can save a lot over the course of a week.

When my husband and I traveled before our Nugget came along, we could easily spend $20 a day on breakfast after tip.  Free breakfast at a hotel might not be the gourmet you’re looking for, but its well worth that sacrifice if you’re on a budget.

Plus, taking a bagel or two for snacks later on in the day can help you save even more. On every trip that we take near a beach, I insist we go watch the sunrise at least once.  When we stayed in Wilmington, NC for our Babymoon, we were able to grab a quick breakfast before we headed out extra early.

Without that option, we almost definitely would have been swinging through a drive through for a fast (and very unhealthy) breakfast!

Stay Somewhere with a Kitchen

Even better than a hotel with a free breakfast is a hotel with a kitchen!

When we took our Babymoon when I was pregnant with our first baby, we stayed in a hotel room with it’s own fully equipped kitchen.  It was wonderful!

We were able to make chocolate covered strawberries and other goodies to make our trip extra romantic. 

A quick grocery shopping trip when you first get to town, and you can negate the need for eating out altogether! 

Now for me, going out to eat is one of my favorite things in a new area.  I’ve been very open about my addiction to going out to eat.

I think it is such a fun experience to go out to restaurants and I really don’t think I could go on vacation and not go out to eat even once.  However, a kitchen saves you a ton of money on needless trips for snacks and small meals.

If you can’t stay somewhere with a whole kitchen or kitchenette because it’s too expensive, bring one of these along instead.  Sounds crazy, but we’ve done it many times and make our own healthy food in hotel rooms.

Use Rewards Points

This one is easy for us because we travel so much for my husband’s job, but anyone with a credit card can easily do this.

Decide from now on to use any credit card or debit card points toward your next vacation.

Sign up for rewards with hotels you stay at frequently. 

Some even offer double points when you turn down housekeeping for the day.

We were loyal to Country Inn and Suites for a year and saved up 6 days of free stays.

If you use your credit card for all of your purchases and pay it off each month, you can easily pay for your rental car with points or even your entire hotel stay!

Research Free or Cheap Things to Do in Your Destination City

A quick Google search of any major city will give you lists upon lists of free or inexpensive things to do on your trip. 

We’re planning a trip to New Orleans for my husband’s 30th birthday, and I’ve already looked at tons of blogs and review sites trying to plan the most inexpensive things for us to do.

You can even find blogs that list the cheapest oysters and crawfish! 

A little time spent now will save you a ton of time, frustration, and expense later on when you should be focusing on enjoying your trip. 

Have little ones? 

Pay special attention to mommy bloggers who have taken the same trip with their little ones.

Buy Memberships

This doesn’t sound cheaper on the surface, but hear me out.

When we took a recent trip to Wilmington, NC, we went to the aquarium at Fort Fisher.

They have an AZA membership program with awesome reciprocal benefits at other locations.

We bought a membership for around $85 for the year about 2 months ago and have already used it to go to the aquarium twice and the zoo once.

When we go to other towns, I’m always looking for a zoo or aquarium nearby that we can get into for free.

I’ve used our science center membership to get into an awesome museum in Georgia and science centers in other states.

We’ve saved a TON of money on entertainment.

Actually, we’ve probably saved ourselves a ton of time from sitting in hotel rooms on rainy days because we couldn’t have afforded to pay to go to those places otherwise.

We’ve purchased a membership to the aquarium in Charleston and it paid for itself in one trip when our first visit ended in just 20 minutes due to a meltdown.

We probably used that membership 10+ times in the year we had it.

Check out Groupon before you go anywhere!

We go to Magnolia Plantation each time we’re in Charleston – which is a LOT.

Two weeks ago, we realized our membership was up and were about to buy another one when I decided to check Groupon first.

A one time trip for our family would’ve cost $40. The Groupon deal was for $32 – plus they had a 20% off coupon.

I ended up paying $27 for our family to get into the plantation and saved $200 on the membership I was about to buy.

With just a little research (I think this took me all of 5 minutes) you can save TONS on each visit and those savings will drastically cut down the costs of your trip.


Our little family loves to camp!

It’s by far the cheapest way to stay anywhere you go.

A few things to look for to make sure your trip is as enjoyable as possible…

Get a tent that’s the right size for your family.

This one is almost identical to the one we have for our family of five.

Make sure the campground has restroom and shower facilities if this is important to you. 

Some people like to “rough it”…I am not one of those people.  I need a hot shower every day or I’m one grumpy mama.

Plan your meals ahead to make sure you aren’t eating out for every meal. 

A cheap cooler like this one that we love can save you hundreds in food costs over the course of a week.

If your campground has electric hookups, you can even bring a small fridge with you like this one. 

Sounds crazy, but think of the money you can save by grocery shopping and cooking on a campfire instead of eating out at a restaurant!

Some campgrounds offer their own entertainment which can be a life and money saver! 

Our favorite campground has its own water park, and the fee to camp in a tent is $25 a night.  You really can’t beat that.

Lots of campgrounds also offer classes and activities on weekends and holidays.  

You’d be amazed at the offerings at many campgrounds. 

Some even have miniature golf and most offer swimming pools. 

Luckily, campgrounds are often in competition with another nearby campground and are always looking to up the ante to attract travelers to their location.  

Campgrounds are generally aware that their patrons are foregoing modern conveniences in order to gain the environment that camping provides, and are priced accordingly.

Frugal Family Vacations Recap

  • The next time you sit down to plan your family vacation, consider skipping the flight arrangements and opting for a roadtrip in a cheap rental car instead.  
  • Look for campgrounds instead of hotels (even for a night or two to cut costs) and don’t forget to look for free or cheap entertainment in the area.  A little research will save you BIG when you roll into town!
  • Check out Groupon before you book any excursions or buy any tickets – then search for a coupon code to cut your costs even further
  • Use Ebates as often as possible to get money back – then put that money away for your next cheap family vacation!

What secrets do you and your family use in order to afford to take vacations without breaking your budget?  Let me know in the comments!



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