Taking a Family Vacation on a Budget
For a majority of families, what stops them from the family vacation of their dreams is their wallets. They think they can’t afford a vacation.
I think they’re wrong.
Even as a family on a tight budget, we’ve found that there are many ways to make a vacation happen.
Travel brings so much joy, adventure and memories to families. I can safely say that most of our happiest family memories are from our vacations. I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment.
So why aren’t you taking a vacation? What is truly stopping you from planning and going on that dream vacation? And if your answer is “money”, here are a few ideas to consider.
Think You Can’t Afford a Trip?
According to a recent survey on Spring Break Family Travel, conducted by Vacatia, TravelingMom and TravelingDad, agreeing on a budget and coordinating payment is a concern for 36% of respondents. If you’re on a tight budget than you might fall in that 36% range.
I’ll be frank though – My family is on a tight budget and we still find a way to take several vacations a year. I think family travel is way more important than having the newest gadgets. That little sacrifice can go a long way! Here are 7 ways we make those all-important vacations happen:
1. Day to Day Savings
Naturally your day-to-day spending can make or break whether you have extra vacation money or not (those lattes add up!) By cutting back on little things (generic instead of name brand, packing a lunch instead of purchasing), you can always seem to “find money” that can be used for your vacation.
Yeah, it can be a downer to eat pb&j from home when you’d rather get a sandwich at the deli but the $5+ savings means more money for you to take that trip. But there are little ways to cut back without it feeling like a major sacrifice. Consider a month of no extra expenses. Take a hard look at all the money going out and choose a few easy ways you can save on expenses.
2. What Can You Do Without?
I’d rather plan another vacation than have cable television. That’s just me, but traveling is just more fun than watching TV. I make the choice to do without. What do you have that you could cut back, freeing up more money for a trip?
It can be hard to tell the kids “no” when it comes to spending on things. When my older kids ask why they can’t have a cell phone or my preschooler wants a toy at the store, I use a distraction technique. I remind them about an impending trip and how we’re using extra money towards our vacation. Then I’ll bring up a certain part of the trip I know they’ll want to talk about and soon enough they’re excited, talking about the vacation instead.
3. Buy Less Stuff
A recent article suggested that parents should spend less on toys and take more vacations. I’m all for that. We save toy purchases only at Christmas and even then, we try to choose high-quality classic items that work for a wide age group.
We take this concept of limiting stuff even further by branching out into other parts of our home. All the money saved by not buying “stuff” (Dollar Spot, I’m looking at you!) goes into our vacation fund.
4. Use Points for Your Trips
I’m not a huge credit card hacker but I do have a few practical and very easy tips for earmarking points towards travel. Since we do a lot of Disney travel, I have a Disney Visa that I use to pay household bills. The Disney Dollars earned go towards our meals at each trip and we have very little out-of-pocket expenses there.
Our Costco Visa is used solely for groceries and gas and we earned about $250 in Costco cash last year. I took the check we received to Costco, they cashed it out for me and I’m using that money on our road trip. I’ve also plotted out on a map where all the Costco gas stations are on our route so we can get our gasoline at a great price! We purchased 2 new cell phones at Costco last year and received a $450 Costco gift card rebate so this is our gas money for the road trip.
I also use and love Ebates and book all my travel through the links. I get paid in a “Big Fat Check” and naturally, that’s money to go right towards the vacation.
5. Realize that Separate Vacations Are Okay
According to the responses in the survey, 38% say that coordinating everyone’s schedules is the worst part of planning a vacation. And once you do choose a date that works for everyone there’s also the challenge of making everyone happy. 32 percent say the ickiest part of planning is finding a destination that makes everyone happy and 24 percent say it’s choosing accommodations that will make everyone happy.
Here’s a solution to this issue – Plan separate vacations. Don’t wait until you can get things “just right” because that day might never come. When trying to work out a trip between my husband’s work and school schedule, the kid’s school year and allotted vacation time, finding that week when everyone is available is the equivalent to a needle in a haystack.
We compromise with separate vacations. My husband likes going to Disneyland as a family once a year for a few days but traveling cross-country to Walt Disney World for a week is not his idea of fun. He’d rather be riding the ocean waves in his kayak, fishing for tuna (definitely not my style!) while the kids play in the sand.
Our kids get the best of both experiences and nobody is gritting their teeth through a week of something they’re not happy with. And on the budget-side of this, a vacation with fewer family members is going to cost less.
6. Find Ways to Budget on the Trip
Once you nail down the itinerary, decide what features of the trip are the most important to you. If spending time at a fancy hotel suite is a must-do, place the majority of your budget there. If you don’t care where you lay your head, then scrimp on the hotel costs and drop your money where it matters most, like on activities or meals. Survey respondents note that they spend about half of their travel budget on accommodations, which tells me that maybe the call of the upscale hotel pool is high!
7. Take the Time Off (and Save More)
If you’re white-knuckling those sick leave hours, you might need a vacation! Here’s a hint: Your coworkers can survive without you. Take the vacation time!
If you wait until summer vacation when the kids are out of school, the costs of a trip during peak travel season will be higher. Consider pulling the kids out so you can plan your vacation when the travel prices are best. I’m taking my kids out this spring for 5 days so we can take a road trip. I was able to contact their schools about independent study. The kids will be able to get their school work done on the road and not get “dinged” with unexcused absences while they’re gone.
Research tells us that family vacations have long-lasting impact on your child’s happiness. I know that seeing my children soaking in new experiences is going to have a greater impact on their lives than any gadget ever will!
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