Save money by taking a car over a plane. Unless you have airline miles or you’re going to a hub destination (like New York, Las Vegas or Los Angeles), it’s almost always cheaper to drive with a family of three or four than to fly. This is especially true if you’re going to have to rent a car when you get to your destination anyway. Road trips are particularly fun because you can stop along the way and take it at your own pace. Check out your route and plan some cool stops along the way. Explore interesting places to eat. Stop to take photos by signs and scenic outlooks. Take some snacks and entertainment for the car and make the journey part of the vacation!
2. Travel Off-Peak
Holidays might seem like great times to go on vacation—after all, you are probably off work and the kids are on a break from school, camp, and other obligations, right? Unfortunately, EVERYONE has the same idea and ticket prices skyrocket during these busy weekends. Book travel for off-peak times, like the middle of the week (it’s generally cheaper to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday). You can save money by opting to not travel direct and taking a layover as well but weigh the options. A four-hour layover might not be worth a $50 savings to you and your family.
3. Go Local
You don’t have to vacation right in town, although taking a staycation is always a great option if you can’t afford to go away. Vacationing in a local spot—less than a day’s drive away—will help you save on gas, mileage, and an extra night at a hotel. Going local can also be a lot of fun. Find a less-explored area of your state or a fun local attraction. What’s a strange museum in your town? What attraction do people come to see when they visit your state? You might be surprised at the treasures that are within just a day’s drive.
4. Go for Quirky
Rather than picking a traditional vacation spot like Florida or California, try something a little more off the beaten path. Nearly every state has at least one or two spots (probably more) that are perfect for vacationing but aren’t a destination spot like San Francisco or Maui. These spots can be great money savers and make for amazing budget family vacations. Look for unusual museums, roadside attractions, and fun activities like riding a tram, zip lining, or exploring caves. There are so many fun and interesting things to do outside of the traditional.
5. Try Camping
If you want to save money, camp. Camp spots can range from free to around $50 a night. Camping isn’t for everyone but renting a pop-up trailer and paying for a cheap campsite can still save you money over a hotel. Check out available sites on Reserve America where you can search by amenities, locations and more. If your family is new to camping, try a local test run for a night or two somewhere close to home. That way, if it’s an absolute “no,” you can always pack up and sleep in your own beds. Camping doesn’t have to be a full experience either—you don’t have to cook over the fire or shower in a solar shower. Many campgrounds offer nice, clean bathrooms and camp showers, plus, you can just pack sandwiches and cold items to eat.
6. Focus on Activities over Accommodations
Being choosy about accommodations can make your trip much more expensive. Most of us don’t go on vacation for the awesome hotel suite unless it’s an all-inclusive resort or a cruise. If you plan to spend most of your time outside of your hotel room, look for something that’s clean and simple. Opting for a hotel room with a kitchenette can save you money on meals outside of the hotel, so that’s always a consideration. Most basic hotel suits have everything you need for a night’s sleep—a bed, a shower, electrical outlets, and a TV. Fancy suites can be lovely and fun, but outside of honeymooning, there’s really no reason to splurge on accommodations.
7. Check for Discounts
If you’re a member of AAA, a service member or veteran, or even part of a business affinity group, you might be entitled to many travel discounts. AARP members receive discounts on travel and hotels, and some museums and historical sites offer educator discounts as well. Always ask about student discounts and lower fees for children under 12, under 18, or other options. You might be surprised at just how much you can save. Check out Groupon, Living Social and Kayak for any available discounts on travel and activities on your trip.
8. Explore Off the Beaten Path
Enjoying nature costs almost nothing in most cases. Beaches, lakes, hiking, and the desert are all beautiful places to explore and vacation, but they cost much less than a city or theme park. Help your kids explore and learn by creating a goal—find seashells or heart-shaped rocks or identify as many different birds as you can on your trip. Stop at the local diner or stay at the fun little hotel on the edge of town, rather than the hotspot. Think like a local rather than a tourist to find the attractions locals enjoy.
Wherever your travels take you this year, remember that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make great memories. You can have a fun vacation with your family just playing cards on the beach or chilling together around the pool. Make the most of your vacation by really making it a chance to get away and relax!