Post by Contributing Author, Vanessa from Bible Beer and Babies
My husband and I have always been avid travelers. In our first years of dating and marriage we enjoyed a major vacation every three to four months — and thankfully had the income to do so. Even after our son was born, we still managed to get away as often as we could — taking him to Hawaii when he was six months old and on an Alaskan cruise when he was 18 months old. We had to slow down a bit, though, when it was more than just two plane tickets.
Hint, flying isn’t cheap! Once the kids hit that magical age of two, air travel expenses can become too great for most families. They certainly did for us.
And so we’ve had to get a bit creative and smart about our travels. Now with school winding down and summer approaching (even though my winter coat is still being used here in Wyoming), we are looking to squeeze a family vacation into both our calendar and our budget.
I’m betting we’re not the only ones. So here are six of our secrets about keeping your family vacations affordable — and still fun!
1. Drive It
Air travel — as I said — gets pretty spendy, pretty quick as you start welcoming kids to the family and those kids get older. While you may be able to snag some sweet deals on tickets, sometimes the most affordable way to get to your destination is to drive it. Plan your trip with fun stops along the way. Enjoy the freedom of packing your own food and drinks and stopping as often as you like to stretch your legs (especially nice if you’re pregnant while traveling).
One note about budgeting for a road trip, though — you’ll want to take into account more than just the cost of gas. All those miles on your vehicle mean future maintenance down the road, but you can estimate this cost using these standard mileage rates. It will still likely be cheaper than three or more airline tickets.
2. Pitch It
The next biggest expense on vacations is likely lodging. More power to you if you like to visit family — and more so if you actually enjoy staying with family. Now, I love my family, but despite my talkative nature, I am an introvert and prefer to have my own space, especially when trying to relax on vacation. So while it may be cost effective to stay with folks, I’d rather book that expensive hotel room than crash on a couch. This isn’t always an option, budget-wise, though, so this is when we’ve opted to pitch our tent, instead.
We got a family-size tent for a good deal. That was several years ago, and it’s still going strong. Camping can range in costs depending on the location, with national and state parks usually costing a bit more than other areas; however, it’s still a bit more cost-effective than a hotel… and you can use your own linens. Plus, for those who aren’t necessarily the outdoors-y type, many campsites are equipped with showers and bathrooms.
Just don’t forget your flip-flops.
3. Pack It
Eating out on vacation can run the travel budget down faster than bacon disappears at our house. We combat this by packing meals, snacks and drinks. Pack your road trip cooler with sandwiches, fresh fruit, crackers and cheese. Stuff the nooks and crannies of your checked luggage with granola bars, crackers and tupperware containers of favorite non-perishable snacks. Once at your destination, take advantage of grocery stores rather than hitting the drive thrus. Opt for picnics at local parks rather than stopping at the restaurants. Bonus — kids love picnics! Who doesn’t, really?
Side-note, though, if you plan to pick up some canned goods or you’re packing them in your car — don’t forget you’ll need to open them, so ensure they have a pop top, or pack the can opener as well. Packing a few utensils and such isn’t a bad idea, either.
And if you heed #2 above and plan to camp — remember, a gas stove is portable. Don’t think you can’t take it with you when out and about sight-seeing.
4. Hike It
Vacations don’t have to include expensive excursions and activities. Some of the best travel adventures and memories can be enjoyed by simply getting outside and experiencing nature. Hiking doesn’t have to mean strenuous, up-hill, workouts — unless that’s your thing. Check your destination for good hiking trails or nature walks that suit your family’s abilities. If hiking isn’t really your thing, there’s always just playing at local parks, hanging out at the beach, or simply finding somewhere outside to relax and enjoy the time with your family.
This secret helped us afford vacations where most of the budget went toward air travel — such as our trips to Kauai, where we spent most days enjoying various hikes.
5. Tour and Taste It
Now, maybe outdoor adventures aren’t your cup of tea. Don’t worry, though. There are plenty of affordable — and even free — activities for you. Check the area you’re visiting for factories, breweries, wineries, and the like that offer free tours — and possibly tastings. As a home brewing family, we love to tour breweries, but beer isn’t on everyone’s list of loves, and that’s cool. Note there may be chocolate factory tours, winery tours, coffee plantation tours. But it’s not all about food. I mean, it can be, but it doesn’t have to be — museums and attractions may be free or at least more affordable than you might think!
Again, in Kauai we used this secret, alternating between free hikes around the island with free rum tours and tastings at the distillery and free coffee tours and tastings at the plantation. Sure, I didn’t like coffee back then, but it was free. And I like free.
6. Budget and Enjoy It!
Don’t forget to let yourself have a little fun when you’re traveling. I recommend picking one must-see or must-do and building your budget and your plans around that. This may mean deciding to spend the majority of the budget on tickets for a family cruise — and then not spending money on any extras (still, totally worth it and fun, by the way — I love cruises). Or perhaps you spend a bit extra to fly across country to escape your land-locked state and hit the beach. Maybe your family is dying to visit Disney World, or you want to check out the zoo, the ballet or the museum. Maybe there’s a resort you have your eye on or a spa treatment. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but allow yourself one travel splurge… even if it’s just one trip to a coffee shop for an overpriced latte.
Get it in the budget and don’t guilt yourself over it.
It is vacation, after all! Enjoy it!