Looking for money saving tips to take that family vacation you’ve been dreaming of? Here’s everything you need to know to get the best deals without sacrificing the amazing family vacation memories! Here’s 8 Ways to Create an Awesome Budget Vacation!

Some of the greatest memories I have of my childhood are of the family vacations we took. I can remember our family going to the zoo and Six Flags in St. Louis when we were young.

As we grew, my parents took us to see the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, Disney World, Colonial Williamsburg, and many other amazing places.

8 Ways to Create A Budget Vacation  (Child playing at the beach is shown)

Now that I have children of my own, my husband and I eagerly plan a family vacation each year.

Sometimes the cost can deter families from planning a trip, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make those amazing memories.

I’ve put together a list of some money saving ideas to help you plan a family vacation for less!

It’s fun to “go big” some years, but if your family is like mine, you can’t afford to do it every year.

Here are some great budget vacation ideas to help you save money on those “lean” years.

8 Ways to Create a Budget Vacation:

  1. Location Matters
  2. How to Save on Hotels
  3. Finding Low Cost Entertainment and Activities
  4. Pack a Cooler and Snacks
  5. How to Save Money on Eating Out
  6. Planned Spontaneity
  7. Skip the Souvenirs
  8. Stick to Your Vacation Budget

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1) Location Matters

If you are looking to save on a family vacation, location is going to be a huge factor. I recommend picking a location you can drive to and back again within the allotted vacation time frame.

You will save a ton of money by driving, instead of paying for flights. If you don’t have an idea of where you’d like to go, consider locations within 12 hours of your home.

Think about what your family enjoys doing. Are you are family who enjoys the beach? Are you into camping? Do you gravitate towards museums or do you prefer zoos?

Decide on a vacation destination early so that you can have plenty of time to look for the best deals on hotels and tickets.

8 Tips to Take an Affordable Vacation ( mountains shown in pic)

2) How to Save On Hotels – Budget Vacation

When you are looking to book a hotel, be sure to look online at multiple sites.

You can often find amazing deals for great hotels if you are willing to do a little research and put a little time into planning ahead.

When you are doing your research, be sure to use an incognito window. This will help you secure the lowest possible prices as travel sites won’t be able to track your movements with “cookies” on their sites and won’t raise prices accordingly when you keep researching a certain date or hotel.

Also, when you book online, be sure to use a cash back website when you book. You can often get 5% or more back by using sites like Ebates (Rakuten).

3) Finding Low Cost Entertainment and Activities

You can save money on entertainment and activities if you find a hotel that has fun for free.

We found a low cost hotel that had a couple of small water slides and a splash pad when we went to Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was perfect for our kids and we didn’t have to pay for a water park or any other fun activity for that day!

We have found beaches that had cool playgrounds, which was ideal for our group of 4 kids ages 2-9. The kids enjoyed some active playtime while my husband and I enjoyed relaxing with a great view of the water.

You might find free museums, festivals, zoos, or low cost “pay by the car” state parks to enjoy.

Some museums have free admission on certain days of the week or after certain times in the day.

We’ve found old fashioned amusement parks that were pay 25 cents per ride. Do some research ahead of time and you will surely find all kinds of low cost activities!

4) Save Money on Food: Pack a Cooler and Snacks

Our family always packs a cooler every time we go on a trip. We are able to save quite a bit of money packing our own sodas and water bottles.

You can find free ice at most hotels to keep your cooler well supplied. We also bring along extra drinks to go into the cooler for later in the week.

On the same note, pack snacks to bring along as well. We like to bring big bags of chips/crackers and distribute them to our kids in small sandwich bags.

Microwave popcorn makes a great night time snack for the hotel. We also like to pack cookies, fruit snacks, and a little candy. If you bring a variety of items, you are less likely to splurge in a gas station.

How to Take a Family Vacation for Less  (ocean waves and coast shown in pic)

5) How to Save Money on Eating Out

Ordering water at restaurants can save quite a bit of money. My husband and I always find that if we have a cold soda waiting in the cooler in the car, it’s much easier to order water.

You can save money on breakfast by booking hotels that have a complimentary breakfast.

If you hotel does not have breakfast, just bring along some bowls/cups/spoons and your child’s favorite cereal, granola bar, or breakfast item.

If you love having a big breakfast, consider cutting back at a different meal to avoid paying for 3 meals in a restaurant.

In the past, we have packed sack lunches for our first travel day to save both money and time.

On other trips, we stopped at a grocery store along the way to get supplies for a couple of picnic meals.

Eating sandwiches, fruit, and chips either at the hotel or in a park can save quite a bit of money as you can feed your family for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant.

If you don’t want to eat sandwiches, you can save money by getting pizza or take-out from a restaurant.

By drinking your own drinks and not having to pay a tip, you can still save a significant amount.

One more note on food: be sure to only order the portion size you need. When you are traveling, you don’t really want leftovers.

We have 4 young kids, so if we were to order them each a meal, they would waste SO much food (and money!) When we eat out, we have them share a couple of meals or order ร  la carte. We find that there is always plenty to go around.

6) Planned Spontaneity

Spontaneity can be a real budget buster in general. However, if you love being spontaneous, choose several possible activities ahead of time and do a little bit of research ahead of time.

Once your vacation begins, you can “spontaneously” decide which of the activities you will be doing.

A little bit of footwork ahead of time can save quite a bit of money and you won’t be caught off guard by the cost of an activity or restaurant.

If you aren’t sure how far you will travel in a day, research a few different stopping points. That way, you can still travel as long as you want, but you have some idea of the hotels available along the way.

If you read reviews online, you won’t get stuck paying a lot of money at the last minute for a low quality hotel.

How to Save Money On Vacations (palm trees and ocean with white sand beach is shown in pic)

7) Skip the Souvenirs

Our family does not generally buy souvenirs. You can save a lot of money if you skip the trinket stores.

If your family must do souvenirs, you should have a budget and limitations such as one item (or dollar amount) per person put in place.

Sometimes, if I feel the trip warrants a souvenir, I will buy an appropriate item for much less money ahead of time and pack it along.

Other times, I’ve seen a great souvenir on vacation and was able to buy it later for a 1/3 of the cost off of Amazon.

On a similar note, think ahead about items you may need and buy them ahead of time.

Items like ponchos, hats, sunscreen, batteries, and sunglasses are much more expensive in souvenir shops than anywhere else.

8) Stick to Your Vacation Budget

Lastly, I would encourage you to set a budget and stick to it.

No, budgets aren’t fun. However, if you plan ahead with a budget you can set realistic expectations as a family.

For our family, we make a plan of where we plan to be each day and we even work out where we will eat ahead of time (mostly due to food allergies).

Planning ahead helps us know what costs are coming and allows everyone to have sensible expectations about the trip.

This helps us both save money and avoid disagreements in the process.

I hope these tips help you plan a budget vacation get-away! You and your family are bound to make memories they will fondly look back on for years to come!

8 Ways to Create a Budget Vacation - (island scene with blue skies shown)

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