Vacations are a wonderful opportunity to reconnect as a family, relax, and reenergize. And if you can do it on a budget? So much the better!
Vacation season is upon us! I know this because we went to Disneyland this week, thinking we would beat the summer rush. No can do. The park was teaming with people by 10 am, a sign that vacations have already begun.
We don’t have too many true vacations under our belt. In past years we were too broke to make them a reality. Now that we are debt free, we have a little more wiggle room to allow for real live vacations (read: those you take just for fun, not to visit family or for work purposes).
Currently, we’ve got one staycation planned as well as scoping out the right time to head back to Mammoth Lakes, a locale that we are slowly getting to know and claim as our own.
While we can finally take vacations, we still like to do it on a budget. Else, we won’t be going on very many. Travel for a family of eight is more expensive than it used to be.
Here are 12 ways to save on vacation:
1. Plan a staycation.
Who says you have to go anywhere? Depending on where you live, planning vacation days at home can be just as fun and a little less expensive than getting out of Dodge.
Check out Amy’s tips for planning a great staycation, including planning for meals out and unplugging. If you live in San Diego (or plan to visit), you’ll definitely want to review all the San Diego fun available. Want to enjoy another city, check out this list of nationwide staycation locations.
2. Buy, rent, or borrow a GPS or download an app.
On our last trip to Mammoth, we missed our turn which took us a couple hours and a million miles out of our way. It cost us both time and money in gas. So, be sure you know where you’re going and have a great map, or better, a great GPS to guide you on your way.
Our GPS was recently stolen, so we’re in the market for something new. Leave your suggestions in the comments, please!
3. Consider the cheapest mode of transportation.
But, your situation may be different. Maybe you live right by the train station or airport. Maybe you’re a party of two or three. Airfare might just be cheaper than gas, so count the cost before you hit the road.
4. Pack your own food and drinks.
Whether we’re taking a trip to Disneyland or heading for a week at the lake, bringing our own food allows us a number of perks: money savings, healthier eating, and convenience.
At Disneyland this week, we packed plenty of snacks as well as a full lunch for the crowd and bottled water, juices, and chocolate milk. (The security guards saw it all at the checkpoint, so I assume it was cool to bring it in.)
We bought a few treats throughout the park, including a pretzel, onion rings, cotton candy, and a pop. We kinda shared, but those items totaled about $20 and I waited in a horrendously long line for food. Packing our own easily saved us $100 in food as well as allowed us to eat when we wanted.
The same goes for longer trips. I usually pack a number of freezer meals to take on vacation as well as some pantry stable items that come together for quick meals. Not only does this save me time on meal prep, but it saves us a ton of money. This savings allows us to enjoy a meal or two out or to upgrade our accommodations.
5. Take an emergency bag of OTC meds and be sure to pack toiletries.
It wouldn’t be a vacation without someone getting sick or forgetting their toothbrush. A few too many times we’ve paid through the nose for OTC meds or replacement toiletries. Now, I pack extras as well as an emergency kit so that we are prepared for the unexpected.
6. Check for online deals.
If you plan to do site seeing on your trip or visiting a local attraction, be sure to check their website before you go. Often you can find good deals directly through the attraction’s website. For instance, Colonial Williamsburg gives a discount on their 3-day pass if you buy it online. Legoland California offers you 5 days for the price of one!
7. Buy group coupon deals.
If you’re heading out of town or just staying home, consider buying group coupon deals that reflect your family’s interests and tastes in food. I’ve since lost track of how many of these sites are out there. I’ve purchased some Groupons (head’s up! referral link there) with mixed experiences as well as one from Google Offers. There are even more that I’m not even tracking with, like AmazonLocal and Living Social.
Keep your eyes open for something that you were already planning on doing or buying. Do not buy it unless you’re sure you will use it. If it’s not your town, you may be stuck with something you can’t use once you go home.
8. Book your hotel online.
We’ve always made online reservations for hotels and been quite pleased. Many times we’ve found out about deals. While we still need to call the hotel about the fine details (connecting rooms, no feathers, etc), we’ve had great success.
Life as MOM contributor, Amy recently shared some great tips for saving money by booking your hotel online. Be sure to read through those. She is an expert globe trotter.
9. Go in the off season.
Even though summer just beckons you to go someplace else, often the off-season is a better time to go to get the best deals. Hotels will dramatically reduce their rates if the alternative is to have a host of empty rooms.
Think outside the box. Visit a ski area or the desert in the summer time; head to the beach in winter. If you’re flexible about your travel times, you can save a boatload of money.
10. Rent a condo instead of a hotel room.
Since we are such a large party, we have a choice between renting two rooms or finding a condo. We’ve found the condo to be more beneficial in many ways. We save money – a condo is typically less money per night than two rooms. We have more space – condos include living space and kitchen areas. We eat better – we can more easily cook our own meals in a condo.
Many time share resorts will rent empty units to regular folk. You can get great deals this way with all the amenities.
11. Rethink your souvenir purchases.
On a recent trip to an historical site, I came across all kinds of cool things that perfectly suited the time period. They were also cool things that I could buy online for less.
You know you can buy that Disneyland sweatshirt for much cheaper online; why buy it at the park? Princess tshirts (above) on clearance at Walmart for three bucks, bought the day before we went to the Happiest Place on Earth. My girls are happy to have Princess shirts, they don’t care where they were purchased.
We tend to confuse souvenirs with experiences. You don’t have to buy the thing while you’re having the experience. Buy it before or after and pocket the change!
If your kids really want something from the trip, consider those flattened pennies. For $0.51 that’s the cheapest souvenir money can buy.
12. Pay cash.
I know, you don’t like to hear that. But paying cash is a better way. We feel so good on our vacations knowing that we really are enjoying the fruit of our labor — and not money we don’t have.
Research shows that you spend less if you hand over real money as opposed to swiping a card. You’re also more careful to track your purchases if you will eventually run out.
Granted, this does mean you need to be more careful about loss or theft. Using a travel money pouch can help you store your cash, cards, or traveler’s checks more securely.
Vacationing can be a wonderful family adventure. And if you don’t bite off more than you can chew — or pay for, you will all have a wonderful time!
Other related vacation ideas:
- Preparing the House Before Vacation
- Using the Internet to Book a Hotel and Save Money
- Take Food with You
- Vacation: A Favorite Fall Tradition
- Don’t Be Afraid to Travel with Children
- Making Road Trips More Enjoyable
- Be Ready for that Next Road Trip
- An Amusement Park Survival Guide
- Taking Freezer Meals on the Road
- How to Vacation with Children without Losing Your Mind
- Tips for Traveling with Kids
- Traveling with a Baby
- Keeping the Joy in Family Travel
Today’s Frugal Friday!
Time to swap ideas and inspiration for saving money.
How do YOU save money?
Please remember to follow the Frugal Friday Guidelines or be deleted.
- Post a money saving idea and explain how it is helpful in your post.
- No giveaways or deals posts.
- Recipes are allowed, but you must explain how it saves people money.
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