family vacations on a budget
Updated September 30, 2021

Family Vacations on a Budget: 11 Essential Tips

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There’s no better feeling than getting some much needed time off with your family.

We work hard all year long in the hope that we can get a week or so off to go on vacation with our loved ones.

It’s something we need rather than just want because if it isn’t for these couple of amazing days we wouldn’t be able to keep working and putting in the hours month after month.

While the entire purpose is to disconnect and have fun, we mustn’t forget about money and travel expenses.

Read through our guide in order to find the best ways to travel on a budget without compromising any of the fun.

#1 Family Vacations on a Budget Mean Setting a Limit

The only thing more exciting than planning a trip is actually going on a trip.

So it’s easy to understand why in all our excitement we can get a little carried away during the planning phase.

We can’t wait to sink our feet in the sand and listening to the ocean as it crashes against the shore with the sun shining on our skin.

With those happy feelings filling our chests we can completely forget about the idea of saving money on travel.

That’s why you need to set a budget before you even start looking at hotel prices, deals, and transportation.

Once that budget is in place you can start planning without worrying about spending too much.

Setting a budget isn’t as restraining as you might think.

Yes, you have a fixed amount of money, but you can allocate different portions of that money whatever way you like.

You could choose to spend a little more on hotels at the expense of going for cheaper transportation or even save money on every aspect of your trip in order to extend it a couple more days.

Budget family travel isn’t necessarily luxurious but having loads of fun isn’t exclusive to luxurious trips and fancy hotels.

# 2 Don’t Forget About Discounts

Don’t forget to check if you or your spouse qualify for any sort of discounts.

A lot of people are part of plans that include discounts that can come in handy when planning a family vacation on a budget.

Check your work contract or ask someone at your workplace because several companies and even the government can provide their employees with certain privileges.

If your children are students, they can get discounts on tickets at several venues and museums by showing their college IDs.

We know that family travel on a budget isn’t easy so we should always look for as much help and money savers as possible.

GetUpside is one of these apps that can provide you with some discounts on your gas and food expenses.

All you need to use the app is your phone and the receipt of your purchase.

Take a picture of the receipt and upload it to the app in order to receive some of your cash back.

GetUpside should be useful during short trips, long-term travel, as well as during your everyday life.

#3 Find Ways to Save on Transportation

Transportation often eats up the bulk of a family vacation budget.

The effects become even more dramatic when preparing a long-term travel budget where you’ll be going on vacation for a long time and looking to visit many different cities and countries.

For starters, you should do as much research as you can to find the cheapest plane tickets.

If you want to visit several cities, then try to make them as near each other as possible so that you can use the train, drive, or at least make sure plane tickets won’t be too expensive.

Another clever way of saving on transportation would be to book a hotel, motel, or rent as near as possible to as many tourist attractions as you can.

For example, if you’re visiting Rome, you should look for something in the City Center. This would make your family trip to Europe cost as little as possible.

That way you’ll be close to a lot of things including the main bus stops and metro stations which are the cheapest modes of transportation available.

When buying public transportation tickets, you’ll often find ones that will last you a couple of days or a certain number of trips.

These are cheaper than buying single tickets every time you need to take the bus or use the subway.

Walking and cycling are amazing ways of getting around too. They really let you take in everything as you pass by it and you can stop whenever you want.

If you don’t want to worry about transportation and getting places, you can always look up cheap family cruises.

All you have to do is arrive at the cruise’s location, get on board, and it’ll do the rest.

#4 Plan Activities Ahead

Organize what you’ll do on each day of your trip.

Take into account how far things are from each other.

If you want to visit a certain museum and then attend a show, make sure both are in proximity of each other.

Google Maps is super valuable when it comes to this. If you find the museum to be at a far location from where the show will be then you can postpone visiting the museum to another day and combine seeing it with something else.

#5 Carry-Ons Are Budget Savers

One issue that travelers hate is having to pay extra for having bags that are too heavy or having to buy space for additional bags over their allowed limit.

How much does it cost to travel the world with a family? We don’t know, but we know that airlines will make it as expensive as they possibly can.

You can overcome additional weight by taking out some of the clothes in your bag like a jacket for instance and wearing it, but that only works up to a certain limit.

The ideal way would be to take as much advantage of carry-on bags as you can.

If you have children with you and they are old enough to use their own seats on an airplane then don’t forget they’re allowed their own carry-on bags too.

We’re not saying you should have your child necessarily carry it. You can do the carrying, but when it’s time to board the plane the carry-on will be allowed on your kid’s ticket without issues.

Take advantage of everything an airline gives you, and don’t worry  about it: they’ll always come out as winners anyway.

#6 Pack Your Snacks and Water

A common mistake while preparing any budget, not just a vacation, is focusing on the major and neglecting the minor.

We spend so many hours trying to find the best hotel deals and the cheapest airlines, but we often forget about the little things.

Snacks and drinks are one of these little things that can slowly and quietly eat away at our budget without us realizing it.

You spent 2 euros at a vending machine in the morning followed by another 2 by noon and before you know it you go to bed at night having spent 20 euros at vending machines.

This is easily avoidable by preparing your own snacks and taking them with you.

Prepare healthy snacks for you and your family to eat while exploring a city or staying at a beach for several hours.

Don’t claim you won’t get hungry and that you’ll wait until you get back to the hotel for dinner or lunch because we know that won’t happen.

Even if you have so much self-control that you really won’t eat fast food or buy snacks, you’re on vacation and there’s absolutely no reason for you to starve yourself.

Plus, if you’re hungry you’ll be too tired to do most of what you have planned and too exhausted to enjoy any of it.

Water is something travelers spend a lot on too especially if you’re going to a city known for its tourism where groceries add to the prices to take advantage of tourists.

Pack a reusable plastic water bottle for each member of your family and fill them with tap water whenever possible (provided the tap water is clean of course).

These few simple ideas will end up saving you a lot of money each day.

#7 Save on Your Internet

Try to stay off the Internet for the duration of your trip.

You could be getting work emails or worrying texts from distressed closed ones and these aren’t things you need on your time off.

Going offline will also help you save money since using your mobile data abroad will cost extra and paying for Internet through a local router isn’t the most financially wise idea.

If you really can’t get your hands off your phone and need to know what’s happening all over the world then seek free WiFi.

When booking a place to stay always prioritize those that provide free WiFi for their guests.

You can also do a quick Google search on restaurants, cafes, and anywhere else with free WiFi at the location you’ll be visiting.

In Europe I found that most McDonald’s restaurants have free WiFi and that came in handy more times than I care to admit.

You often find free WiFi at bus stops and public transportation venues too as that’s where governments can place routers.

Of course there are a few countries in the world such as Estonia where there’s free WiFi everywhere you go and if that’s the case then go nuts and use the Internet as much as you want.

#8 Find Rewards and the Best Deals

This may not apply for you’re traveling abroad for the first time, but it will from the first time onwards.

You can apply for rewards programs provided by hotel chains and airlines and sometimes they’ll sign you up automatically using the email you provide when booking.

The rewards program will give you points every time you visit that hotel chain or book a trip on the same airline.

You can then exchange these points for discounts.

Some hotel chains will automatically send you emails about their best offers and deals because you’re part of their rewards program.

Don’t rush to booking a hotel that offers rewards and occasional discounts though.

Take your time and find something that suits your needs perfectly.

It would be counterproductive to book a hotel too expensive for your budget for the prospect of getting discounts later on.

Also, don’t forget to keep meals in mind.

Try to find reservations that at least include breakfast so you don’t spend the first couple of hours of your day hungry.

Your best bet would be to book a reservation that includes dinner and lunch. That way you get meals at the start and at the end of each day.

This work bests if it’ll be cheaper to eat at the hotel than at a restaurant or fast food chain and if you’re going to a resort where all other options are more expensive.

#9 Use the Best Airbnb Deals

I don’t know how we lived all those years without Airbnb.

Booking a place to stay using Airbnb will save you lots of money and make your trip a lot more fun.

By using the service you’ll be able to find so many different options and you can choose according to your personal preferences.

If you want to vacation in New York you’ll find hundreds of postings on Airbnb that you can book.

You’ll find places close to major attractions and ones a little further.

You’ll also find postings with different amenities.

If you care about being able to wash your clothes then look for someone who has a washer in his or her apartment.

You could also search using your budget and you’ll always find something reasonable.

All of these factors make it suitable for long term travel.

Instead of spending 200$ for 5 days at a hotel, you can spend 200$ and extend your trip to 2 weeks with Airbnb.

#10 Try to Find Free Activities

We like to convince ourselves that we need to spend money in order to have fun, but that’s simply untrue.

If you’re at a coastal city then you will undoubtedly find several beaches that don’t require you to pay for a ticket to use.

You’ll also find parks that are open to the public.

For those visiting major cities like Paris and Rome, you don’t need money to visit two of the most popular attractions in the entire world: Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum.

You need a ticket to enter and see the inside of the Colosseum, but you don’t need one to observe and enjoy its magic from the outside.

Take all the pictures you need while outside too, no one’s paying attention to the inside anyway.

#11 Save on Souvenirs

Souvenirs, just like snacks, can gnaw on our travel budget without us realizing it.

You think of everyone you ever said “hi” to and how you want to get them a souvenir.

We’d like to assure you that that’s not really necessary.

When trying to decide who to get souvenirs for think “if X traveled, would they get ME a souvenir?”

You can also classify people according to how close they are to you; the closer you are to a person the more expensive the souvenir.

Either way, you shouldn’t spend too much on gifts and souvenirs because at the end of the day they’re just that: souvenirs.

You’re not on vacation to get your cousin a new phone — a keychain resembling something iconic from the city you’re visiting will do.

Family vacations on a budget aren’t easy to achieve without cutting back on fun things to do, but it’s doable.

Take your time while planning, stick to a budget, and allocate portions of that budget to different things as you see fit so you and your family can enjoy a vacation that you’ll never forget.

Have any other tips for how to best organize family vacations on a budget? Feel free to share them in a comment below!


Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a practicing CPA and founder of Choice Tax Relief and Money Done Right. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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