With spring in the air, it’s time to think about those upcoming getaways and plan a vacation that doesn’t cut any corners on the experience while getting real bang for the buck. To start, take a good look at the destination options you have available and perhaps get a head start on planning next year’s trip too!
Check out your own backyard
No, we don’t necessarily mean a staycation, although there are super creative and smart ways to do that too. What many people overlook is a high-quality regional vacation that keeps your travel costs down while boosting the ability to enjoy more time off rather than spending too much of it on the road or in the air. One great solution is in your state’s own park system, which usually has a selection of sites on the beach or in the woods. Camping is affordable but it’s not for everyone, and state parks offer cabins and lodges to make accommodations more pleasant. This is a great way to access a lot of amenities and activities that are right on site, often while having your own money-saving kitchen and laundry facilities. Many states book at least a year in advance, but there may still be a few deals – or a new plan for 2019.
Finding friendlier skies
If you and your crew plan on flying, be sure to check out airports you may not have thought of at first. That’s especially true if you have to rent a car anyway, because you can save serious money on budget airline tickets to a less-obvious flight destination. If you have airport choices – in the New York City metro, or southwest Florida – be sure to check out all the possibilities. If you’re saving $1200 on air fare but adding just an hour’s drive to your family’s travel time, it may well be worth it. For example, flying into Chicago and driving to your Lake Michigan vacation rental costs less than a last-mile connection.
The idea isn’t just for places where you have a lot of options though, because it’s maybe more important when you don’t. Imagine a trip to Santa Fe, a magnet for outdoor adventure and arts and culture alike! Flying to Albuquerque will likely cost hundreds of dollars less than flying on to Santa Fe, and that may mean the difference between a dream vacation you actually take and one that sadly stays a dream.
Family vacations involve a lot of food decisions for a wide range of tastes, and pricey restaurant meals add up fast. There’s no reason why parents can’t set aside at least one night for fine dining, assuming appropriate child care is an option, and exposing kids to regional cuisine is a smart part of a travel experience, but most of the time you’ll want to keep food expenses down and quality of nutrition up.
That may mean cooking or at least preparing simple meals, so consider accommodations where that’s possible. Does the hotel have options for you? Is renting a house possible? Bringing your snacks and buying groceries means a little extra work, but it doesn’t all have to fall on one person to pull off either. If you are eating out, consider restaurants and main meals at midday rather than the dinner hour. It’s not just less expensive, but it’s also likely to be less crowded with lower wait times or none at all. Later in the day – or in the evening – a quick and lighter meal makes it easy to head back out for more fun.
Find a friend
If you’re a single parent, or the partner of someone who’s staying in the city and can’t make the trip because of work commitments, consider a vacation alongside friends or family. This sometimes means a little more diplomacy than just one family needs, but it can be worth sharing the driving tasks on a 14-hour ride or splitting the costs of a hotel when you get to where you’re going. It’s also worth checking out destinations where you have friends and family to help you make the most of your vacation, taking a day off from work to join you in a sightseeing mission or tipping you off to the cheap-eats local favorite. That insider knowledge can help save a few pennies even if you’re not crashing on their couch at night.
Pocket the difference?
Every traveler and family is different, but if you’ve saved some money on your travel costs it doesn’t have to stay in savings. Lower fares and meal costs, or close-to-home destinations, leave some space in the budget for splurging if you think you can swing it. That may mean a hotel upgrade because you drove to a destination that’s just a few hours away, or the decision to surprise the kids with all-day admission to the amusement park. If you’re saving money on meals by avoiding fast food expenses, promise the kids they can buy souvenirs with the difference. Or squirrel away some savings for next year’s expedition – but whatever you do, you’ll find the time spent on planning well worth the expense.