Planning a vacation for your family on a budget, especially during spring break, can feel like an exercise in futility. The expense is a real fear factor, as well as the nagging doubt that if you pay less, you might encounter unpleasant surprises along the way. You know the ones - less than clean or comfortable accommodations, transportation glitches, dining choices not what you envisioned…the list goes on.
Luckily, we have some travel-tested hacks to help make your trip more affordable and enjoyable!
Make A Budget And Plan Ahead
Outline your budget ahead of time, with a bit of padding for unexpected scenarios. Include accommodations, transportation, food, activities, and miscellaneous (like souvenirs, spontaneous side jaunts, etc).
Once you have your manageable number in place - get going on your research ASAP!
Vacation Planning During Peak Dates
Flights and hotels can be more expensive during school holidays, but often there are deals to entice you to a particular destination spot rather than do a stay-cay. Or, if you can, consider allowing the kids to miss a day or two of school—it can make a big difference. Flying Tuesday to Tuesday or Wednesday to Wednesday can save a family of four hundreds of dollars in airfare.
Don’t Leave Discounts Unused
There are many sites offering inexpensive travel, yet it’s important to use those that have a reputable track record, the least restrictions, and work with trusted companies. Visit Promocodes.com and search their travel partners for legitimate discounts.
There’s also perks you may not even realize you qualify for. Do you or your spouse have membership deals through AARP, Auto Club, Costco, or are you a military or government employee? If so, you will likely be entitled to significant savings on everything from hotels, flights, car rentals, tickets, meals, and activities. Don’t forget to research your credit card program online and see what their travel discounts/points are - as well as your banking institution.
Earn Miles for Free Seats and Hotels
If you don’t already have a travel rewards credit card, apply and you can earn 20,000 – 40,000 points just for signing up and making a purchase, whether it’s coffee or breath mints! That alone could net you a free airline ticket. (Some cards do have a minimum amount to earn the enrollment points.)
Every major airline has its own rewards credit card, as do many hotels. If you frequent one airline it makes sense to use their card. Generic credit cards are good for those who want more options – earn miles on one card for airfare on multiple airlines, hotels, car rentals and other items.
Start Earning Miles Early
Sign your children up for the airline loyalty programs so they can begin earning points toward future flights.
If you’re a fan of Groupon, remember to check deals from your vacation location for local discounts on meals and attractions. Try LivingSocial.com or yipit.com if you haven’t already, which also offer discounts in the same manner.
The same bundling idea works in many major cities. You can purchase ticket bundles where one price gets you into 5 or 6 popular attractions. You will need to plan ahead to decide what things you want to do and if those activities are offered together.
Take note that if you are booking multiple seats, sometimes you get better rates by splitting them up. Airfares are priced differently, depending how many seats are left on the plane and where they are located.
Be Flexible With Transportation Options
Do a little homework before you get to your destination to learn what the cheapest form of local transportation is. There are often surprises here - a rental car could be so expensive to park it makes more sense to take a taxi or other hired car. The same can be true for a flight rather than a train, or a bus rather than the subway. Chatting with your hotel staff can also give you all kinds of insider information on the safety, price, and efficiency of transport.
Save With Carry-On Luggage
Rather than paying top dollar to check a hefty bag, each family member can use a carry-on suitcase. If your kids have their own seat on the plane, they get the same free carry-on adults are entitled to. To make it easier for little ones, a small rolling suitcase or backpack fits the bill.
If it’s simply impossible to fit everything in a carry-on for a long journey, try checking one large suitcase with everyone’s heavy or bulky items: shoes, coats, chargers, toiletries, etc.
Frugal Food Tips
You’ll save a significant amount of time and money by choosing hotels that offer free breakfast in their rate or a “kids eat free” promotion. Most will allow you to take a sack lunch to go (fruit, granola, muffin). The bigger your family, the more you save.
Carry reusable water bottles in your luggage/backpack. Buying multiple drinks that are marked up at tourist venues can seriously dip into your cash reserves. The same goes for snacks - visit a grocery store instead. If your hotel room has a microwave, get popcorn for movie night. For day tripping, items like protein bars, apples, carrots, cheese crackers, juice boxes, pretzels, nuts, or fruit snacks all travel well.
The Earbud Bonanza
Bring your own earbuds! You can take your own personal tours of destination spots by downloading free podcasts rather than renting tour recordings/devices. You can also use your own earbuds for music or movies in-flight rather than purchasing them.
Remember, your vacation is also an investment of emotion. It’s well worth all the planning because there are few things more valuable than creating memories with your kids. So go forth and conquer - and save a little time and money while you’re at it.