Spring is in the air! That means that spring break is right around the corner (or already here for some) with summer not far behind. If you’re planning a family vacation for one of these times it doesn’t have to be a budget buster. Here are a few tips for making memories without breaking the bank!
Your choice of vacation destination will probably have the biggest impact on the cost of the trip. Remember that kids don’t need a fancy cruise, Caribbean resort or whirlwind tour through Europe to have a good time. They might have even more fun camping out at a park 30 minutes from your house – think hiking, learning to fish, feasting on s’mores, and catching fireflies! If roughing it with the little ones isn’t your idea of a good time, check with hotels or resorts near you to see if they offer a local discount. Enjoy being a tourist in your home town and have a relaxing vacation without the stress and expense of travel.
When you do plan to travel some distance from home, price out several means of transportation. Factor in the cost of gas and wear and tear on the car and compare it to flying or taking a bus or train. The train can be particularly fun for kids and it gives you a chance to spend more time together playing games, reading books or just being silly – and less time behind the wheel.
Seek out low-cost and free activities near your vacation destination. Call the Tourism Office, Visitors Bureau or Chamber of Commerce for ideas and do a search online. Also ask about coupons for discounts to popular attractions and suggestions for kid-friendly activities unique to the area.
Seek out parks and playgrounds, hiking trails, free outdoor concerts, fireworks and festivals. Is there a local college or semi-pro sports team with free or very cheap tickets to games? How about a museum with free admission on certain days?
Constantly eating out while traveling can put a serious dent in your budget and the food will most likely be higher in fat, calories, sugar and sodium than what you serve at home. Bring a stash of healthy snacks, drinks and even meals that can be eaten on the go. Granola bars, trail mix, fruit, cereal, applesauce and nuts all tend to travel well. If you’ve got room for a cooler (and aren’t flying) throw in some yogurt, cut veggies, hummus and other perishables. Just replace the ice as it melts to keep everything cool. Bring reusable bottles to refill with water.
Look for a hotel room with a kitchenette or even just a mini fridge and microwave so you can eat some meals in the room. Cook and freeze dinners ahead of time so that you can simply reheat and serve while on vacation or plan some simple meals that won’t require a lot of time or space to prep (counter space is generally very limited in small hotel kitchens.)
When you do want to eat out, look online for coupons, specials, and “kids eat free” deals.
Avoid shelling out for treats, souvenirs and gifts at every turn by coming up with a game plan ahead of time. For older kids, consider giving them a set amount of spending money at the start of the trip. With little ones, steer clear of souvenir shops altogether and surprise them at the end of the trip with one special thing to remember the vacation by.
Anna Platz writes for the popular personal finance blog, Good Cents Savings, which focuses on helping you save money, stick to a budget, and live well on less. She is also the mother of a four year old daughter who is worth every penny!