Tuesday, March 13, 2018

5 Tips For Saving Money On Family Vacations

We like our vacations in this house (okay, so I do and my kids are always thrilled to go along with me). Being a family of five can make traveling difficult and expensive, but I promised myself when we had kids that traveling and road trips would be a part of their lives. So, no matter how difficult it can be to go places with kids, we do it! The cost of activities, hotel stays, meals and snacks, etc. can add up REAL quick. Luckily, I'm savvy (or cheap, however you'd like to see it) with our vacations, which allow us to take some pretty amazing adventures. Here are five ways I've found to bring the cost down for family vacations no matter where you're headed:

1.) Bring your own snacks and easy meals. A small cooler filled with berries, carrots, snap peas, hummus, guacamole, pesto, yogurt, string cheese, and deli meats and bags filled with sandwich bread, crackers, applesauce, green bean cups (I find these in the canned veggie section at Walmart), granola bars, and protein bars goes a long way. We ate very little fast food on our Florida vacation because of smart food planning and prep. We ate on the go nearly every day, made use of our hotel's accommodations of refrigerators and microwaves in each room (fyi-even some Super 8's now have a mini fridge in each room) for oatmeal for breakfast each morning, and had mostly healthy snacks to keep us filled. 
After last summer's road trip adventure through South Dakota (the Badlands and Black Hills), Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and Big Sky, MT and living on a lot of fast food, we came home filling crummy and with tummy issues (big surprise there (sarcasm)). Our attempt to not do that again has worked by saving us money and gut trouble all trip long.

2.) Pre-pay for as many things as possible. By the time we leave for our vacations, we have hotels/Airbnb's paid for upfront, tickets to attractions/museums/entertainment paid for, rental car(s)/flights paid for, etc. That way the only thing we're paying for on the trip is our meals, souvenirs, and any other unforeseen purchases. This trip, I also pre-paid for gift cards to places (Starbucks, McDonald's, and Walmart/Target) so I had those ready to use. I used very little of our vacation funds on our last several vacations because I planned well in advance and pre-paid for most things months ago. By my logic, this just equates to more vacations, right???

3.) Price compare flying vs. driving. For a family of five, typically driving is cheaper, but there are times where flights are cheaper depending on your destination. We rent vehicles when we drive thanks to our awesome minivan breakdown during our Arkansas adventure (read about it here), but booking through our insurance company saves us quite a bit of money each time. Also, booking well in advance has saved us as well. If flying, price compare airlines too. I've booked a few flights through one airline carrier because I thought they were cheaper, only to be hit with quite a few fees at check out.

4.) Airbnb all the way. I'm a HUGE fan of Airbnb's after trying it out for the first time last summer in Big Sky (I know, I was late to the party). It's amazing how much money we can save by booking an entire house for just a few days. We have access to a kitchen, which can save a ton in the way food, plus we only stay at places that have a washer and dryer. I can pack lighter than I usually would because I'm able to wash all of our clothes. 
Other things I find helpful when booking: pay attention to location (is it near the activities you'd like to do? Or is it completely out of the way and secluded (and maybe that's what you want)?), free parking, free internet, cable/Netflix, etc.

5.) Find free activities, festivals, etc. to attend. Now, I'm all for museums (that are decently priced at least) and I'll be the first to admit, on our latest road trip through Florida, we didn't really set a spending limit, but I just happened to chose several free activities for us to do. Before we travel anywhere, I check that city's/state's travel site for recommendations on family friendly activities. Then I Google the local mom blogs in that area to get the real scoop. I usually compare the reviews, pictures, and any local insights I can get before going. That helps me/us to decide what we really should see to get a feel for the local way of living.
Some of our favorite things while traveling have been suggested by locals and nearly all have been something free and simple.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Our weekends have been pretty full with celebrations, family, work, and lately packing. It takes a lot of work to pack five people for a 12 day road trip in varying weather. We had to find a lot of our adventure vacation items (truth: our GoPro has been missing since we used it last summer in Badlands National Park) and make sure everyone had summer clothes that fit. Other than packing, this is what we've been up to:

Elizabeth's ear drum burst (apparently she had an ear infection, but failed to tell us her ear was hurting her) so she spent a Saturday morning at the pediatrician's office while the boys and I had a coffee date and held out the fort at the Des Moines Children's Museum. After, we met family for a late lunch (aka-margaritas for mom) and I spent the rest of the weekend

They got very creative with the forts and built a "kid only" fort that they ran around in all morning long.

And this one danced for the mall walkers.

The minis had a busy Saturday followed by a late night. I determined rest time/naps for all would be a good idea. While he was "resting" the middle one pulled a tooth out.

The main reason we wanted rest times was for good behavior for our video shoot. The minis shot their first audition tape in our living room. Things went surprisingly smooth for everyone!

Going over the script (that I wrote).

"Look mom, I made a wine glass for you. It's just your size too....or it could be a margarita glass if you wanted too." Points for creativity, but too bad I don't have a margarita glass this size!

Family Fun Night at school. The oldest mini was the big winner: he won a can of Fanta during the Pop Walk (a big deal to him because he got to drink it too!), special candies and treats for winning games, and he won a DQ treat at the silent auction. The silent auction was a favorite of the minis because we let them go around and bid on items they wanted (we oversaw the amounts they wrote in).

Family Fun Night is never complete until one of us cries over nothing.

Max started (loudly) playing with puppets at the Des Moines Children's Museum, which caught the attention of other kids. Soon he had a group of kids watching him and enjoying the show. This also caught the attention of his little sister, who walked behind him and made faces at him and gave him bunny ears. The group of gazers thought this was hilarious and Max was none the wiser.

 Play dough face.

 The middle mini was excited to spend time with dad. Mostly because he got to ride in the truck.

We got so much done on Sunday: packing (4 whole days early!!), hair cuts for the boys (finally), and an early birthday celebration for my dad (since we'll be gone for his actual birthday).

Poor kitty thinks he's going too.

And now the next weekend we have will be the weekend we've been waiting months for: our weekend at Disney World!