5 Ways to Save on Family Vacations

Cut your travel costs without relinquishing comfort or fun with these money-saving tips from TravelSavvyMom.com.

Last week at the park, I overheard two well-off suburban mothers swapping money-saving tips. According to them, Kate Spade is out, Target is in, and date-night babysitters are now a once-a-month extravagance. And their summer plans? A multi-family camping trip to the mountains. While that may be appealing to some readers, not everyone looks forward to being that close to nature.

Thrift may be the new black, but with the economic news worsening almost daily, families need a change of scenery more than ever. Still want to get out of town? I don’t blame you. Here are a few ways to spend less on your family vacation this year without sleeping on the ground in a tent—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

1. Keep an Eye Out for Deals

One of the best ways to save money this year is to sit back, relax and let the deals come to you. Hotels, travel companies and top attractions are offering unprecedented savings. Browse travel-deal sites like TravelZoo.com and Kayak.com or pick up the Sunday travel section of your local paper and you’re bound to find an affordable deal.

Theme park fans should point their compasses straight for MouseSavers.com and subscribe to its free monthly newsletter (it covers late-breaking deals at Walt Disney World and Disney cruises). If you need only park tickets, a AAA membership entitles you to some of the lowest prices around.     

2. Hit the Road

I know, I know—driving vacations drive me crazy too, but this is the year to consider it. Pick up a copy of Frommer’s 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up (Wiley, 2006; new edition coming out August 2009) at your local library, choose an iconic U.S. destination close to home that has kid appeal, and pack up the family and the car.  

Those traveling with young children should pack a stack of coloring books, a portable DVD player and plenty of children’s audio books with some of the money you won’t be spending on airfare and a car rental. For families with teens, an iTunes gift card (presented the week before your trip) is an excellent investment. Remember: That which does not kill you makes you stronger.  

3. Break the Hotel Habit

Staying in a vacation rental instead of a hotel is a smart move, especially for families. Rentals are often cheaper than hotels, when booked for a week or more, and you’ll save a small fortune by preparing meals at your home away from home, especially if you have finicky eaters in the group. You’ll usually have to forgo room service, but you’ll have much more privacy and room to spread out. Ready to be tempted? Head on over to HomeAway.com.

Long for your college backpacking days—at least the budget part of them? If you haven’t stayed in a hostel for a decade or so, things have changed. They still offer clean, basic accommodations and excellent value, and now often have private bathrooms, free WiFi and include continental breakfast, too. Preparing dinner in communal kitchens saves you even more money, and this type of travel can be a fun adventure for children, if approached with the right spirit. Check out Hostels.com.

4. Do Lunch

If all this talk of cooking on vacation is getting you down, don’t despair. You can still take the family to a restaurant, open a menu and be served every now and then without trashing your vacation budget. One way to stretch your vacation food dollars is to eat lunch out instead of dinner. Not only are the prices generally lower, you’ll be less likely to order a marked-up bottle of wine with your meal.

Don’t over-order either. After years of paying $8.95 (and up) for our kids to eat 14 french fries each, plus trace amounts of Frisbee-sized hamburgers, my husband and I wised up to portion sizes. It turns out three entrées are more than enough for four people. We all drink tap water, too—it seemed kind of monastic at first, but now we’re used to it.

5. Be Pennywise

Once you’ve shelled out for ice cream sundaes, sunscreen and a waterproof disposable camera, what’s one more souvenir T-shirt, right? Wrong. It turns out spending has a proven numbing effect—the more times you pull out your wallet and empty its contents, the less painful it becomes. Really. Practice saving instead. Borrow books and DVDs for the kids from the library before your trip instead of buying them. Encourage your kids to collect postcards—or hone up on their photography skills—instead of pricey souvenirs. Bring your own snacks and refillable water bottles from home.  

On their own, these might not seem like much, but they all add up to great savings. 

Themes: Family Travel