Planning a Family Vacation on a BudgetFamily sunset

Family vacations are a very treasured and special time for parents and children to disconnect from the distractions of everyday life and to reconnect with one another. It is an opportunity to create memories that will be treasured for a lifetime.

It is no secret that today’s economy is quite different from that of years gone by. More and more families are finding themselves living on a very limited budget for even the necessities in life due to rising expenses, reduced wages, and many other reasons.

A family living on a budget shouldn’t be denied the special time that a family vacation brings. While it may be a struggle to plan a vacation because of the expense associated with even a mini vacation or a vacation without visiting the big tourist parks, there many things that a family can do to make a vacation more affordable and still full of special moments. Planning ahead is key in making the most of the dollars available to spend on a vacation. Here are some tips for planning a family vacation on a budget.

Choose a destination that is within driving distance. 

This distance can vary depending on the length of time you have for your vacation. If you only have 4 days for your vacation, you will not want to spend two days driving to your destination and 2 days driving back. Choose a location that allows you to drive rather that fly but still allows you time to spend once you arrive at your destination.

Determine how many miles it is to and from your destination and calculate how much gas you will use and approximately how much that gas will cost. Remember to add extra in for driving that will be done once you’ve reached your destination as well. Write this amount down.

Example: It is 400 miles each way to your destination. The car you’ll be traveling in gets 20 mpg. Gas is averaging $3.50 per gallon. The cost for gas for your trip will be approximately $140 plus what you might use while you are there. Be generous and plan to spend $200 in gas.

Pack your own food.

Depending on your final destination and the type of accommodations, you have many options for food while you are gone from home. Some hotels and resorts have full kitchens equipped with appliances and cookware while others may only have a microwave and small refrigerator, or a campground would have none of these but require a plan for cooking on site.
If it is possible, pack food for cooking or at minimum prepared food for consumption while you are gone. Lunch meat, bread, prepared fresh fruits and veggies, granola bars, cereal, and many more foods can be eaten in the car or at picnic areas along the way and can save a great deal of money over stopping for fast food along the way. Packing snack food for the road can save a significant amount of money over purchasing the same items at gas stations and convenience stores throughout the trip. If accommodations allow, take food for “home cooked” meals for once you arrive. Plan to hit a grocery store while you are there to stock up for your stay and to replenish the cooler for the trip home. The money spent on these groceries is money you would be spending anyway so they are technically not part of the vacation budget.

You are on vacation however, and part of vacation is experiencing some new things or enjoying things you normally would not. Make a plan for a meal or two “out” and set a reasonable amount of money to spend for these meals. Maybe there is a special type of food that your destination area is known for. Make it an experience to try it out! Determine a dollar amount for “eating out” and add this to the money you plan to spend on gas.

Plan an experience.

Vacations do not have to be about Disney or well known amusement parks. Many areas have very affordable yet fun things to do. Research the area you’ll be visiting and find out what things the area is known for. Plan a vacation of experiences rather than one filled with high dollar tourist traps or well known parks.

While kids love the idea of seeing the princess or other characters at a big park, you’ll be surprised at how much they enjoy a vacation that isn’t full of rushing around and packing so much into every day. Vacation is about relaxing and getting away from the rush of everyday life but we often forget that and instead try to pack the days so full that we need a vacation from our vacation. Kids feel this way too. Remember that having the time to spend days at the beach or beside a big pool will be great fun for the family! These things do not cost any money at all.

It is vacation though, so choose some things that you wouldn’t be able to do any other time or place. For example, when visiting Florida’s Gulf Coast, we planned a trip into the Gulf on a sponge boat. The cost was minimal but it was the best part of the trip. While on the boat, dolphins swam close by and the other wild life was abundant. The boat dropped our family off on a small island where we could spend an hour “shelling”. The kids found many treasures and natural souvenirs (which was an added bonus as it cut the costs associated with purchasing trinkets for souvenirs). Research ahead to find out costs associated. Add this estimate of cost to the list with gas and food costs.

Once you’ve thought these few things through, total up the costs you anticipate to spend. Maybe you’ve come up with a total for gas, food, and fun of $600. By planning ahead, you can now break that $600 into bite size pieces. If you’re vacation is 10 months away, you now know you need to save a minimum of $60 per month. That’s not so bad, right?

As a family, decide some things that you could do without or cut back on to save that money every month. $2 per day is not much at all! Maybe you grab a coffee every morning on the way to work or go for ice cream once a week. Drop that money into a jar instead of spending it on the coffee and in no time at all, you’ll have even more money set aside than you need. That “extra” can go towards special, unexpected splurges during the vacation.

Other tips and suggestions

  • Make the drive part of the vacation. Plan stops along the way that are fun and interesting that will become part of your vacation experience!
  • Many gas stations offer rewards cards that allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for gas and merchandise. Save your points for vacation. This can greatly reduce the money spent on gas!
  • Check the internet for deals, discounts, coupons, and more that can be used along the way or at your destination. You can score great deals this way!

Take the time to plan your vacation in advance and to plan a family vacation rather than a tourist or theme park vacation and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how affordable a vacation can be! Set money aside daily, weekly, or monthly and you won’t feel the impact of cost as greatly. Every family can plan a vacation that will be full of treasured moments!

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