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Monday, May 8, 2017

Vacation Budget Tips

While scrolling my facebook feed the other day, I read a post about vacationing with kids and it really struck a cord in my heart (here's the what I read on ScaryMommy.com).  The entire time I read I thought "YES!!! THIS!!!" Annie, author of ScaryMommy, does a great job of giving the top 5 reasons taking a vacation with your kids is important (head over to her post to read those 5 reasons).  This inspired me to share my thoughts on vacations, because I haven't always considered them essential (travel yes, but vacations were not on my list of essentials until very recently).


I'm an obsessive planner.  I need to have every detail of everything planned out.  I need predictability.  I need to know what's going to happen before it happens.  I need to have the security of knowing.  I don't like the unknown and I don't like not having planned for contingencies.  This means that I'm a miser.  Yes, I'm a miser.  A frugal, penny-pinching, second-hand buying, cheap-to-the-core, money saver.  I don't like to spend money.

Airfarewatchdog

This means that I am creative when it comes to travel.  It means that our travel is always within our budget.  But it also means that I meticulously plan our budgets and make sure to save enough money throughout the year to cover our vacations.  You see, we take multiple vacations a year.  Sounds crazy, right? Multiple vacations every year?!  How can we possibly afford that?!

We are a middle income family, but we haven't always been here, what we have always done is find ways to take family vacations.  It's important for our family's health and wellness to make those memories together.  It's also important for my husband and I to take vacations alone, without the kids, occasionally.  Date nights are great, but vacations together without children allows us to really remember who WE are as a couple, not just who we are as PARENTS.

Traveling is easy when it's just you.  One person is relatively easy to please and you can travel for cheap, eating is less expensive, hotels are cheaper for one, and air fare is much lower when your only paying for one person.  Traveling alone was easy when I was younger.  At first, traveling as a family was difficult for me to stomach because of the expenses.  Remember, I like to save money.  I'm a miser.  Traveling as a family is much more complicated and takes a great deal more planning, but over time I learned some tricks that have made me realize how important travel is and how easy it is to travel on a minimal budget.

Save On Airport Parking

 I would never recommend taking a vacation that you "can't afford".  Don't go into debt to go on a vacation!  That can just cause more stress and eventually will actually be more detrimental than good for your family's health.  So how do we budget so that we can afford these trips?

Budgeting Your Family Vacation...

1.  Make a plan to travel somewhere every 6-8 months.  Mark it on your calendar.  Now you know your time frame.  It's amazing how something as simple as blocking out a time to travel can push you into the motions of saving and planning.

2. Decide if this is a long vacation or a short vacation.  Longer vacations (5-7+ days) tend to be more expensive while vacations over long weekends or for shorter periods (3-4 days) tend to be less expensive.  Shorter vacations are also easier to manage with small children because they don't become as exhausted after being out of routine for only a few days.  Typically you'd want to travel somewhere close in a shorter vacation (easily driven in under 6 hours) and save the further destinations for longer trips (6+ hour drives or vacations that require a flight). Don't forget to ask for your time off work!

3. Decide who will be on the vacation with you.  Is this just a vacation for your family?  Or maybe you want your family to travel with another family (traveling with another family is a great way to get group rates and keep kids entertained!)?  Maybe you want to travel with extended family (having grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc on the trip with you can be very helpful when it comes to child watching and you can find great group deals).  Or maybe it'll just be your spouse and you on a romantic get away.  Make a decision so that you can start planning.

4.  Decide where to go.  Don't leave this as an open ended trip.  You need a destination (or at least a broad destination) so that you can start looking for deals.  If this is a short trip, look at cities or attractions near your home, or if you live in a destination city like I do think about if a stay-cation is right for you.  Check out large U.S. cities to see if they appeal to you and your family.   Maybe you want to try something tropical?  Decide that your destination will be in the Caribbean.  Whatever you do, pick a place or general geographic area and stick to it.  

5.  Save a little each month.  We set aside $20-$200 each month, depending on our destination and length of trip.  Our savings also depends on our other expenses.  After all, as a family some months are more expensive than others.  You probably wont save as much during the summer because expenses are higher.  December might not be a high-savings month because of Christmas. Maybe you can save a great deal in February because you get a tax return.  Whatever you do, make sure to save for your necessities FIRST and travel SECOND. Expect the amount you can save to be variable, but make sure to at least save SOMETHING specifically earmarked for Travel each month.  For shorter vacations we typically save $500-$800.  For longer vacations we tend to save right around $3000.  



6. Start looking for Deals.  Deals pop up all the time.  Follow a variety of websites and check frequently for price changes.  When you see a deal that appears to be the lowest price, snatch it up.  Last minute travel can be cheaper for one person, but waiting until the last minute to book deals as a family can end up costing much more.  Typically you want to have your hotels, cruise, flights, etc booked about 2 months in advance for the best deals. Here is a list of the sites that I follow to stay updated on price:

7.  Not all Destinations are equal.  If your looking for a Caribbean vacation remember that each destination has it's own advantages and disadvantages.  Some countries are more expensive to travel to than others.  Likewise, not all U.S. cities will be equally priced, some cities are just more expensive than others.  *Read more about this in a future post*

8.  Try to find a resort that is all-inclusive or that has complimentary breakfasts.  This saves a small fortune for our family.  Not only does each member of our family typically get what they want, we also don't have to worry about nickle and dime-ing each meal.  All-Inclusive resorts normally have buffets that are more than worth their price and complimentary breakfasts will star your family off with a filling meal and last you hours into your day. *come back later for another post with tips on saving on your food expenses*


9.  Detail out a Daily Budget.  If your going to leave at 6am on a Monday and return at 8pm on a Sunday, plan out each day's meal budget (for our family of five if we aren't staying somewhere food is included we typically budget $25 for each breakfast assuming $5 in tax and each person spending about $4, $50 for lunch assuming about $10 in tax and each person spending about $8 on their meal, and $100 for dinner assuming about a $15 tax and each person spending roughly $16 on their meal... this makes our daily budget $175 for food).  Make sure to also include gas expense, parking expenses (at the airport, resort, or destination), travel expenses (flight, tolls, etc), tickets for attraction entry, etc...  Every little thing should be included in your budget.

10.  Plan for the Unexpected.  It's always better to over estimate your expense and come back having spent under your budget than to comeback and find out that you've spent way over.  Did you plan on spending $25 at a fast food place for breakfast and the line was sooooo long that you had to go to a sit down breakfast place and it came out to $50?  Ok, adjust your plan.  Since you spend $50 at breakfast, hit a fast food place for lunch and pick items from the value menu.  All the same, don't count your pennies the entire vacation!  That will just lead to added stress.



Other Tips...

11.  Put your trip on a Credit Card with travel points or reward points.  We get $25 for every $2500 we spend on our credit card.  It's not much, but the points do add up to extra savings.  If you do follow this advice, make sure to PAY OFF THE CARD as soon as you get back so that you don't end up paying interest.

12.  Hit up the Dollar Tree before you leave and get items like Ponchos, tooth brushes, travel size items, and snacks.  I learned this the hard way one year when an unexpected storm came while we were at Universal Studios.  In the park it cost $10 per poncho!  Likewise, if you forget to bring a tooth brush (because you planned on using it the morning that you left and then forgot to throw it into your bag) the price will be much higher in your resort gift shop.  Go ahead and buy everyone a new tooth brush before the trip and pack them in the bags right away.

13.  Take advantage of free stuff offered at your resort and in the surrounding area.  Lots of restaurants have free kids meals with the purchase of an adult.  Some destinations have free refills if you buy the big cup (just buy the big cup and let everyone share! then refill for free or cheaper than the cost of a new drink).  Some places even give you free entry for a child with an adult ticket.  Do your research and know your options before you arrive.

14.  Know the policies of the destinations your visiting.  It's all in the details.  Carnival Cruise lines charge for soda and juice (it's not included in your upfront costs) but they will allow you to bring juice boxes and soda cans on board (up to 12 per person).   Just remember that they wont let you bring bottles on board.  Some theme parks will not let you bring food or drink in, while others allow you to bring small items for children with special dietary restrictions.  Know the policies and use them to your advantage.

300x250 - National Park Lodging

15.  Do your research before the trip.  Not only can you do internet searches and read blogs like this one, but you can also join Facebook groups for local moms/parents at the destination you are going to.  Then you can ask those locals for advice on the best free and cheap things to do and places to stay.    You can also check out your destinations local government website and see the events in the area that are being advertised there.  Those events typically are for locals and typically have lower prices than touristy places.

How do you save for your family vacations?  Do you have any other great tips or tricks for saving some money while planning your trip?  Share your thoughts and comments below.

30 comments:

  1. Research is the most important one for me to stay in budget. It helps me avoid unexpected expenses, and stretch my dollar just a little further :)

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    1. Absolutely! Me too! Research and then actually sticking to the plan while we're on vacation. It's easy to be tempted by expensive breakfast places and random add-ons when your actually on vacation!

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  2. yes yes yes!! I'm not a mom personally, but these are some amazing tips no matter who you are. The dollar tree advice? So spot on! You're clearly a seasoned traveler ;) Amazing article!

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  3. yes yes yes!! I'm not a mom personally, but these are some amazing tips no matter who you are. The dollar tree advice? So spot on! You're clearly a seasoned traveler ;) Amazing article!

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    1. Thanks!! Yes, the Dollar Tree is absolutely essential for ALL of our trips. Car snacks, breakfasts, and random essentials are soooo much cheaper and totally bring-able on almost any trip!

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  4. All such great tips. The planning and research is what can turn it from a potential disaster to a great trip. And no matter how great a trip is if it wasn't budgeted correctly, things can start getting tense. Love these!

    Thank you.

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    1. Thanks!! Planning is so important, but it's also very important to not get too locked into a plan because you can easily get frustrated when things change.

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  5. We are headed out in a couple of weeks for Europe and we are already planning our next trip. Your tips came at a great time.

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    1. I'm glad! Have a great trip to Europe!!

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  6. What a nice, thorough article! Great tips on planning for a family vacation, and for how to save as well. We take several family vacations every year, from small 3 and 4-day long weekend trips to overseas trips, and savings is definitely a tricky game when you're traveling with 4 or more people. We also love saving money by visiting local farmers markets on vacation. This way, it's a great cultural experience because we see the true locals and learn more about local cuisine, and we save money buy cooking at our rental a few times versus always eating out at restaurants.

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    1. YES!!! I'm going to do another post specifically dedicated to saving money on FOOD while traveling. There are so many things you can do to save a few $ here and there that really add up!!

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  7. These are all great tips! Also, if it's a road trip--I always pack our own snacks so that I don't stop for snacks along the way. Usually I have much more healthy options that way too!

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    1. exactly!! We hit up our Dollar Tree before every trip (no matter how short) so that I can get random snacks. And we always bring an assortment of fruit :)

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  8. I really think that these are great tips. We are not too keen on all inclusives (or we have yet to find the right one) and we tend to like to eat local but I truly think having breakfast included is great.

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    1. I've found that All Inclusives are great for families, but not as much for adult only trips... just because of the ease of access to food for little ones and the speed at which food is serves in All Inclusives is great. But traveling as just adults it's nice to be able to go off-resort to find local food or touristy restaurants.

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  9. Great tips! I hadn't heard it recommended about scheduling trips every 6-8 months, but I sure like it!

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    1. Even if it's only a short weekend trip every 6-8 months it really helps with your family's mental and physical health. It's nice to get away even for a few days!! And it's relatively easy to keep shorter vacations cheaper. It doesn't have to be extravagant to be a vacation!! We typically do 2-3 short vacations each year and then 1 longer vacation.

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  10. These are great tips! I am definitely going to have to start saving for my next vacation!

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    1. every little bit of savings helps!!

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  11. This is a great list of tips. I haven't planned a vacation in a while but when I did, every detail was planned. I can't wait to go on another vacation!

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    1. start planning now!! There are so many great places you can take the little ones to that everyone will enjoy!

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  12. These are great tips. I'm horrible at saving up for big things, and we never get to go on vacations because of it.

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    1. Don't think of them as "big things"!! You can plan a small trip on just a few hundred $! A night or two in a neighboring city can really do wonders and it totally counts as a vacation!

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  13. Love these tips. Spot on... Thanks for sharing. You've just probed me to start planning my next vacation.

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  14. Great tips. I am terrible at planning trips so these are needed. Thanks.

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    1. Your welcome! Check back for more tips that will surely help you plan your trips :)

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