Ten Ways to Enjoy an Affordable Family Vacation

family picnicking at the beach

Looking for a perfect family getaway at a budget-friendly price? You do have options beyond the staycation or the grandparents’ house for a getaway. With a little creativity and planning, you can cut vacation costs without missing out on any of the fun. Here’s some ideas for planning a family vacation on a budget.

1. Signup for online fare alerts

Begin planning your vacation with a long view and you can really develop an eye for good deals. Sign up for fare alerts at websites like Kayak, TravelZoo or DealBase to get a feel for your price range. Sometimes airlines offer promotional details that you will not find on comparison travel sites.

Airline prices typically go up as the holidays near and other travelers snatch up the best deals. Early birds are also more likely to find seats on nonstop flights.

2. Look for discounted vacation packages

Look at family vacation packages being offered on discount sites like Groupon and Living Social, which can result in real savings if you have some flexibility in your schedule. Here are some more places you can look for an affordable vacation package.

3. Search on a weekday

Travel insiders say there is a single best time to find a travel deal: Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET, which is apparently when airlines put flights on sale. This may not always be the case when looking for flights around the holidays, but the point is that rates and availability change throughout the week. It helps to compare prices at different times to find the best airfare deals.

4. Take advantage of off-peak pricing

Ever been to a mountain ski resort in the summertime? Or to a beach resort very early or very late in the season? Some vacation destinations can be even more charming, more relaxing and definitely less expensive during times when fewer fellow tourists are around.

5. Book mid-week flights

If you have some flexibility in your plans, see what a change in date will do to the bottom line. Even changing the day of the week you fly can cut costs—fly mid-week instead of on Friday or Saturday for better rates. Around the holidays, however, your best bet is to fly on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day.

6. Double-check online travel sites

When you do use travel websites like those mentioned above, check their sources. Aggregator sites are great at helping you find general prices for flights, hotels and rental cars. But before you book a family vacation with one of these sites, check first with the airline, hotel or car rental company directly to make sure you are getting the lowest rate.

7. Cut back on little extras

Often, just trimming some extra expenses will lighten your vacation budget. Stay at a hotel with a substantial free breakfast to eliminate the cost of one meal per day. Or save even more money on meals by scouting hotels or resorts where kids eat or stay free, or booking a room with a kitchen and cooking a few of your own meals.

Fliers can sign up for a frequent flier program to get waived baggage fees. Drivers can cut gas costs by using Gas Buddy, an app that finds the cheapest gas near you. Wherever you travel, remember to exploit any potential discounts—including senior, student, military and, of course, AAA.

If you’re traveling internationally, make sure you check passport requirements so you have enough time to apply or renew without having to pay a fee to expedite the process. And skip the taxi or ride-share service to the airport in favor of less expensive public transportation. Your  budget will thank you

8. Think outside the traditional hotel room

Adventurous families can find plenty of comfortable, low-cost travel alternatives that make for a more interesting vacation. Large families might consider renting a vacation home, which can accommodate big groups at a much lower cost, especially for long stays.

Check out HomeAway.com or Airbnb for a list of nearly a half-million rental lodgings all over the world. If you live in an interesting spot, look into HomeExchange.com, where homeowners in 154 countries list homes available for short-term exchange if they are interested in yours. If you’d prefer a room but don’t need a lot of frills, there are some surprisingly nice hostels to be found if you know where to look. Start at Hostelz.com, where travelers review thousands of spots.

And really nothing says family vacation like a campsite. If you love the outdoors, you can find some amazing campsites (including spots with beaches/water activities, fishing, golf, horseback riding and more) on ReserveAmerica.com. It always helps to keep an eye out for free activities at your hotel or around your destination.

9. Avoid checked bag fees

Many airlines charge you anywhere from $25 to $75 per checked bag, and a whole family’s worth of luggage can add up. Try to pack light and efficiently to avoid fees and reduce the risk of something being lost or stolen. If you plan to arrive at your destination bearing gifts, consider the cost savings of shipping them in advance or shipping directly for free using online vendors.

10. Plan ahead with food

Traditional restaurants can put a big dent in your travel budget, and gas-station mini-marts and fast-food restaurants aren’t exactly known for nutritious fare. Visit a grocery store when you reach your destination and stock up on items for easy breakfasts and quick lunches, like cereal, fruit, bread, and peanut butter. If there are nice restaurants you’d like to visit, consider going for lunch rather than dinner. You can often order the same meal at a lower price.