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.