Summer is synonymous with unwinding at the beach, relaxing by the campfire with family, and traveling. Make your next vacation one that’s as easy on the wallet as it is on the nerves with these 10 tips.
1. Make the commitment
Booking reservations in advance offers the best selections and the best prices. Look for early-bird incentives. Travel insurance is always a gamble, but if the trip includes connecting flights and time-sensitive departures, it will be worth the price just for peace of mind. Spontaneous trekkers can get rock-bottom prices for certain destination vacations, such as cruise ships days away from departure, which depend on maximum occupancy to pay for expenses. Name-your-price websites can offer great deals for those who don’t mind unstructured adventures.
2. Aim for off-season
Avoid peak seasons, especially during school breaks. This includes holidays. Prices are less expensive during off-season times because merchants want steady business. Dead set on a summer trip? Try for midweek reservations as opposed to a weekend.
3. Find the hidden gems
The internet holds surprises with discounts and package deals. Groupon, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco Wholesale and AAA Travel are a few sources of bargains.
4. How will you pay?
If it’s unrealistic to pay off the trip completely before leaving, try using a credit card that offers cash back on purchases. Redeem airline points. For those who don’t want to max out plastic, don’t forget layaway! Nowadays it’s possible to pay for vacation with monthly installments, even to Disney.
5. Fly or drive?
If you take a plane, fly at night. A friend of mine saved $600 when her family took a night flight. In the United States, standard practices allow children under age 2 to fly free if they are held by a parent, but they are safest in a car seat approved for use in aircraft. Contact the airline for particulars on bringing your own or checking a stroller. Car rental companies offer car seats, but beware: They charge by the day. Compare weekly car rates to daily rates. Save more by reserving the least expensive category. If that category is gone, most places will upgrade for free.
6. Avoid pricey snack attacks
Stopping at rest areas or just off major highways for food and drinks will cost more. Avoid impulsive cave-ins by bringing your own. My family stocks a cooler with lunch meat, small containers of condiments, and a loaf of bread.
I pack finger-friendly goodies in sealable snack-sized baggies. This way I’m able to be sure of allergy issues, and each package is portioned and labeled with carbs for my diabetic daughter. We try to limit foods that should be refrigerated, such as grapes and baby carrots, so we don’t lose car space to a huge cooler. I have a picnic basket I load with protein bars, beef jerky and fruit cups. We stock bottles of water and ginger ale, too.
Remember paper plates, napkins, plastic utensils and plastic bags for trash and recyclables. Bring twist-ties, rubber bands and chip clips just in case. Don’t forget baby wipes for accidents or messy hands!
7. Take advantage of the room
For those taking vacations with extended families, consider renting a house or cabin together. These shared costs are usually less than hotel rooms and offer more freedom and living space. Sites like Airnb.com and HomeAway.com have listings in 190 countries. Hotels, however, have their advantages. For many tourist destinations, a hotel’s amenities set it apart. Beachfront hotels especially compete with the places near them. This is can work out well for the traveler.
Find a hotel that offers the most for your needs. We found a high-quality hotel that offered a full breakfast every day, free Wi-Fi, and a heated pool. It even offered light meals and snacks; three of the days we were there, those became our dinners. Our hotel also offered free parking with valet service. If washers and dryers are available, consider packing less to reduce checked bag fees.
8. Feed the family
It made sense for our family of six, with various health concerns, to have our own kitchen. We opted for a suite so we could shop for our own groceries. We were then able to prepare “safe” food a few days and avoid restaurant stress.
When we did go out, we chose places that offered familiar over fancy. Having children try new food, or visiting a dress-up setting, is a great experience but it’s unrealistic for every dinner, especially if kids are already on sensory overload from a jam-packed agenda in a strange place. Actually, the same goes for adults. Be open to eating pizza or burgers and fries at least once or twice. Avoid evening pressure and meltdowns altogether by making lunch the big meal of the day. The food is the same but usually costs less.
9. Set a limit
Everyone plans on splurging while on vacation, so have a discussion beforehand to manage expectations. Giving kids a budget is a good way to incorporate a real-life experience into the trip. Our brood knew we’d pay for only $20 of souvenirs. Additionally, they could spend up to $20 of their own money. We’ve had enough scares with our kids misplacing their wallets, so we parents now carry them. This way we can gently guide the kids to better deals or talk them out of horrendous purchasing mistakes, such as hermit crabs. Keeping a package count might be helpful as well. Amid the flurry of spending and carrying, we lost a $10 shark tooth necklace that my son and I paid for. Lesson learned.
10. Have an agenda
Weather forecasts today are pretty accurate, but being prepared to change gears with backup activities is smart vacationing. Research the theme parks or museums where you might go. For us, an annual family pass at a botanical garden cost less than a one-time visit, and it offered discounts at the gift shops and other attractions. We hit the beach on the nicest days and did an indoor activity we booked online for the day it rained, saving 10 percent that we wouldn’t have gotten at the door. Taking in an afternoon movie or chilling at the hotel pool is a great way for parents to catch their breath while the kids are still entertained.
My fondest memories growing up were of our family vacations. They were great because I was with those I loved exploring new places and having fun. With planning they can also be affordable.