I love to travel. I know many other people love to get out and vacation as well. Often money is the largest travel-hurdle for a family with kids. Here are 17 ways to save thousands on family vacations.
1. Travel in the off-season.
One thing I do is try to plan trips in the off-season. We go to San Diego/Imperial Beach California area in October and the rates are half of what they are in the summer. When we traveled to Moab, Utah in the winter, not only were hotel rates half as expensive, but Canyonlands National Park had free admission as well.
I’ve found that traveling in the off-season is such a great way to save money and destinations are less crowded (sometimes near empty!). I am able to have a relaxing vacations with children by planning to travel when most other people are not there.
2. Go camping.
Camping is an inexpensive way to explore the world and have a fun vacation! Camping equipment is inexpensive and may be purchased second-hand or borrowed from friends or relatives. I’ve found a ton of camping equipment at garage sales. Check out my guide to efficiently garage sale-ing here. Plan your trip ahead and reserve your campsite online—try areas where you can camp for free first. Popular activities when camping include hiking, fishing, swimming, and biking—all inexpensive and fun family activities.
3. Book a last-minute cruise.
Cruises are usually pretty pricey. But if you book last minute you can often get a bargain. Plus, cruise operators always throw in some on-board amenities, free upgrades, and cash vouchers to sweeten the deal.
4. Check out some less crowded beaches.
When thinking of a summer vacation at the beach, the first places that come to mind are the beaches of Hawaii or Florida. There are a number of other great beaches in the U.S. that are less crowded and less expensive to travel to. One beach my family and I love is Imperial Beach south of San Diego, California.
5. Family staycation.
One of the least expensive options for budget family travel is to take a vacation at home. Research nearby amusement parks, museums, national parks and activities that are within an hour or two of your home. Use coupons or discount days to plan day trips. Pack a special picnic lunch to keep costs down. Check for free admission days at your closest national park.
Doing something out of the ordinary, even if it’s close to home, can help create a vacation-like atmosphere without requiring an extravagant trip.
6. Book at all-inclusive resorts.
If you have kids, often all-inclusive resorts will save you immensely. They offer food, drink, entertainment, and equipment for activities around the resort. My family growing up did a few of these, and it was fun for us teenagers!
7. Buy discount passes.
I travel to the national parks with my kids often. By buying a National Park pass it saves us money each time. If I lived near a park that offers discounts for a yearly pass and we would attend often, I would buy one. One such pass in Utah is called the Pass of all Passes. It varies from about $20-$40 a person and gives you a year of free entrance into multiple parks, events, and other activities. This is an inexpensive way to travel around the state.
8. Offer your services in exchange for a discount.
Are you a professional photographer, blogger, have a popular YouTube channel, or have ties to the media/press? Often you can reach out and kindly ask for a discount in exchange for a provided service to help the hotels or companies get more exposure.
9. After booking, continue looking for deals.
My family of 30+ booked an Alaskan Cruise. We were within our cancellation period when we saw the exact same cruise itinerary on a different cruise line get discounted over $500 a ticket. 30 of us had our travel agent switch us. We saved over $15,000 switching from one cruise line to the other.
10. Fly free.
This is my favorite tip! I usually fly free. I have a few different credit cards that I’ve signed up for that have bonus miles. Before the yearly fee renews, I’ll usually cancel and then sign up for another mileage bonus. I’ve flown free (as have my kids) for years now.
11. Book hotels with free breakfasts and/or kitchens. Pack lunches, and only eat out for dinner.
Growing up my dad would pack our cooler with us—even on the airplane. He’d duct tape it so it wouldn’t come open! Then we would stop at the nearest grocery store and stock up. We’d get free breakfast at the hotel, snack and eat lunch out of the cooler and grocery purchases my parents had made. Then we would go out to eat for dinner. When we go to amusement parks, we pack a nice lunch and then leave the park to eat it under trees. Often amusement parks have an eating area outside so that families can eat comfortably. Doing this on vacations has saved us hundreds on each vacation! Here is a post of travel snacks that are great for kids. They are always great to have on hand. Taking a Costco or Sam’s Club membership is often rewarded with less expensive food, souvenirs, and fuel.
12. Look for discount passes.
Often companies have discount passes. Do some Google searches to see if any exist.
13. Look for travel deals or use a travel agent.
A travel agent makes money on your bookings, typically you don’t have to pay them. Danielle is a great travel agent whom I use when I go on vacation. She has great money saving tips! Also, since she books travel for a living she informs me of deals that may pop up, and I don’t always have to be actively searching for them. Contact her for her free services here.
14. Participate in free activities.
I’m often amazed how many free and inexpensive activities there are at vacation destinations. I’d recommend searching online, asking a travel agent, etc., and plan to do a few free things. Going to a park near the ocean, checking out a free museum, and exploring some cool rock formations on the side of the road are all things that are fun and entertaining—and free!
15. If traveling in a group, assign meals.
When I travel with extended family or a big group of friends, we each are assigned a meal, say breakfast for X amount of people. This way we only have to pay for, prepare, and clean up after one meal. I highly recommend this type of organization to streamline the vacation and save money.
16. Buy vacation packages.
Sometimes you can find vacation packages that are tailored to the type of itinerary you like, a package deal is often more affordable. Flight, car, hotel, and major meals are all included in one payment. Personally, I only like this form of travel if the itinerary is flexible enough. When it is, the prices are hard to beat!
17. Prepare early for more extensive vacations.
Rushing passports, booking last minute, and not being able to do over booked activities are often the result of planning last minute, or not preparing to plan. Although I’m very spontaneous sometimes spontaneity has a price tag! So I’d recommend looking on trip advisor and other sites and booking the popular activities, flights, hotels, and main items early. Using a travel agent can help as well.
What tips do you use to save thousands on family vacations?