It’s great when your family can all stop, take a little time off, and explore a new place together. But if you’ve got school-aged children, you’re hemmed in by school holidays (or summer vacation here in the US), which means you can really only travel properly during high season. It’s not exactly cheap to book flights, accommodation, and factor in spending money for food and activities while you’re away. So Bright Lights of America spoke to six travel bloggers to find out how they managed to whisk their families away on summer vacations without breaking the bank.
MONEY SAVING TIPS FOR FAMILY VACATIONS
These tips span the vacation-planning period, all the way through your family holiday. Because you shouldn’t only be thinking about how to save to afford that dream vacation. There are more vacations in your future that you should probably be budgeting for as well. No need to blow all your savings on the one holiday!
Be flexible with travel dates and destinations
Written by Francesca from Home Room Travel.
Airfare is almost always one of the most expensive parts of any vacation. In order to save some money, I try to be very open when looking for airfare. This is how I can score the best deals and save some of my budget for exciting activities while on a trip. I recommend being flexible on the location you want to visit, and also on the time and day, you can leave. These two tips have saved me thousands of dollars over the years on airfare.
When searching for airfare, I like to use Skyscanner and search “Everywhere,” so I can see what the cheapest airfare options are. This is how I ended up with $425 airfare to South Korea when I was thinking of visiting Austria and $500 airfare to China when I was thinking of visiting Washington, DC.
If I want to visit a particular continent I like to use Momondo. Momondo has a search-by-continent feature that comes in handy. This past summer, I ended up with a flight to London, Portugal, Morocco, and Rome that was cheaper than just a flight to Rome and I got the bonus of visiting two cities I had not originally planned on seeing that trip.
Since I am a teacher I can be flexible with my dates and times during my summer break. Google Flights is a great tool to use when playing with dates to figure out the best flight deals to your destination.
Buy groceries while you’re away
Written by Sara from Our Kind of Crazy.
Family travel during the summer can cost you lots of money. We’re always looking for great ideas to save money while traveling, especially with our large family, and one thing that has worked great for us is buying your groceries when you get to your destination.
You can save tons of money by heading to the local supermarket and shopping for food you an prepare in your hotel or rental. Instead of heading out to eat for three meals a day, you can cook at your accommodations and save up that money for other activities during your trip. Even if you just have breakfast at your hotel, and pack lunches, you’ll save money on two meals each day, and you can have dinner out.
You don’t even have to get fancy foods that take a while to cook. Just grab easy to make or put together foods that you can grab and go, and save your money for the special desserts and snacks out.
Find a place to stay away from the city center
Written by Margie from DQ Family Travel.
Since my husband and I are both teachers, traveling the summer is very important to us. We need to make sure to budget our money throughout the year to be able to afford a big trip in the summer. One of the ways we save on hotel stays is to make sure to find accommodations that are not in the city center, which are always more expensive. We usually try to use rewards points to get free hotel stays, but we make sure to maximize even that cost and choose hotels with lower point redemptions. A few months before our planned trip, I check my point balance at various hotel brands and begin finding lower cost options, even if it means staying away half an hour away. On two teacher salaries, summer travel budgeting is key.
When we visited Charleston two years ago, we stayed across the bridge in Mt. Pleasant which saved us $100 a night. Last summer when we were on a road trip around the Northeast. Our family stayed near the highways and chose hotel brands we had rewards points with or that offered a lower cost option. One of our biggest savings was in Boston, where we chose a hotel with only 5,000 points to redeem as opposed to 35,000 points near the historical area. This method of choosing a hotel outside the city center has worked very well for our family and has allowed us the opportunity to visit many cities for a fraction of the cost.
Plan an itinerary of free activities
Written by Jillian from Adventure Dragon.
One of the best ways to save money while vacationing in the US is to only do free activities when visiting a city or destination known to be costly. Las Vegas, for example, is known to be an incredibly expensive city to visit. It doesn’t have to be, however, if you research and plan accordingly. The city sells tickets to top shows and attractions, but there are over a dozen that you can watch completely for free.
There’s also free tours, free food, and countless other free attractions for kids as well as adults. You can plan a completely free itinerary and not spend a single penny while you’re there. I’ve compiled a list of 100 Free Things to do in Las Vegas, but this free itinerary technique isn’t just limited to Vegas. It works for just about any other major city you may be longing to visit but fear you can’t afford.
Try researching the city before your visit. Search for free tours. Search for free meals. Search for free activities. You’ll be surprised what you can find. Through this method of search, I often find so many unique attractions and hidden gems that I would never have found listed on top tourist sites. Many big cities also have free museum entries. Some have free parks and gardens. I especially love checking each city to see if there are any beautiful waterfalls nearby that I can visit for free.
Checking for Instagram-worthy street-art murals is another great tip. Many cities are known for their street art murals and beautifully painted buildings that provide stunning backdrops to your Instagram photos. Planning a free-itinerary will save you so much money on your next trip!
Take a family camping trip
Written by Kaisa from Glam Granola Travel.
Family camping trips to National Parks are the best. Connecting with nature, sleeping under the stars, and taking a break from busy daily life simply can’t be beat. Plus, for the most part, camping trips are excellent budget-friendly choices. However, as National Park popularity grows, so do the campground fees. Many National Park campsites can set you back at $25-$35 a night, depending on the time of year and park itself. That’s not too bad for a weekend, but if you’re planning a cross-country road trip through multiple parks, your accommodation budget gets shockingly high.
The secret solution to saving money on your National Park camping trips is closer than you’d think. Almost every National Park I’ve camped in is bordered by more public land, such as a National Forest or a National Grassland. Take Yellowstone National Park, for example. It has a ton of campgrounds, but some cost as much as $31 and it’s almost impossible to snag a perfect site (if you’re lucky to find one at all)!
Yellowstone is bordered by several National Forests with excellent campgrounds; Eagle Creek USFS campground in Custer Gallatin National Forest just to the north is particularly awesome. The fee at Eagle Creek? A cool $7 a night. That’s just one example, as there are literally dozens of National Park-adjacent campgrounds to choose from!
Skip the tourist-y, pricy NPS-run campgrounds and opt for a USFS or BLM campground. Their fees are easily half those in National Parks, they’re just as beautiful, and chances are you’ll have a lot more peace and quiet.
Use your credit card points
Written by Julie from More than Main Street.
One of the biggest ways our family saves money on traveling is by utilizing points from our credit cards. We put everything on our credit cards. And I mean everything! From everyday items like gas and groceries, to out of the ordinary items like classes and taxes, we accumulate a ton of points throughout the year. Just remember to be mindful with your spending, we pay off our credit cards every month. You never want to find yourself in debt because of your credit cards, try keeping track just like you would with a debit card or checking account.
By using points, we have been able to not only vacation in some amazing places, but even upgrade to suites or rooms with a view. We’ve been to Miami, Niagara Falls, San Francisco, and even on a cruise using our points.
Christmas vacation is always the most expensive time of year to travel. Costs for airline tickets and hotel rooms are sky high because demand is high. This past year we were able to take our family vacation to Aruba and even upgrade to an ocean view room! By covering the cost of our room with points, we had a little extra money to spend on some special excursions like riding in a submarine and snorkeling. Saving money on points has provided our family some incredible experiences and memories for a lifetime!