20 Ways to Downsize the Family Vacation Budget


Summer vacation is here and for many families that means a vacation budget crunch. Finances don’t have to put a damper on vacations—even ones you already have planned. Follow some simple, money-saving tips to provide your family with a memorable vacation without breaking the bank.

  1. Drive, don’t fly.
  2. Pack a cooler. Picnic every chance you get.
  3. Rent accommodations with a kitchen to avoid restaurants and fast food.
  4. Pack snacks for the road to keep food costs even lower.
  5. Stop at roadside parks for bathroom breaks instead of gas stations to eliminate impulse purchases.
  6. Buy mementos ahead of time. Scour eBay or even your destination’s online store to avoid gift shop markups.
  7. Avoid theme park food and drinks. Pack a picnic and leave the park for lunch if you can’t bring food in. Reminder: get your hand stamped for re-entry.
  8. Use Dave Ramsey’s envelope system to budget cash. If kids have a spending allowance, put it in an envelope marked with their name. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
  9. Drink water. Traveling is dehydrating, water is cheap, and water bottles can be refilled and carried in backpacks.
  10. If your family has a zoo or museum membership, use reciprocal agreements through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Association of Science and Technology Centers, and you could get in free or half-off regular admission. Call ahead to confirm reciprocal status.
  11. Use campsites en route to your destination on multi-day driving trips. A one night stay in a roadside motel could buy your family a nice tent to use at a KOA or a locally run campground.
  12. Communicate the plan clearly with your family. They can’t help stick to the budget if they don’t know about their limitations.
  13. Give cash incentives for money-saving efforts. Keep an envelope for “tips” in your envelope system. Every time a kid helps spot a roadside park, looks up directions for the nearest grocery store, or spots a local taco stand for an informal lunch, pay them for their money-saving efforts. More money saved equals more cash in hand.
  14. Plan visits to see family instead of high-cost destinations, but make sure it’s family you can stay with. If bunking with family will cause stress, camp nearby and ask them to show you the (budget-friendly) places only the locals know.
  15. Use public transportation when available, and plan for it. Most large cities offer metro cards that can be purchased in advance and loaded with bus or subway fares to last the duration of your stay.
  16. Plan fun, low-cost destinations. Sightseeing is usually free, and hotel lobby kiosks are a wealth of local information, coupons, and maps. If you’re camping, chat with the checker at the grocery store or the campground supervisor for local information.
  17. Share costs with another family. If renting a condo on the beach is what you really want to do, share the cost with another family yours enjoys spending time with. Vacations with friends can be memorable in and of themselves, and sharing cooking duties and babysitting can be an added bonus. Plus, the kids will entertain each other and keep bickering to a minimum.
  18. Plan to eat out locally, and at lunch time or a snack. Dinner menus are usually more expensive.
  19. Eat tip-free, at places without wait staff. Restaurants or delis with walk-up counters or buffets eliminate the need for tipping.
  20. Take home photo souvenirs. Themed photos—such as those with fake mustaches or a silly stuffed animal—can provide entertaining memories at the time they’re taken, and for years to come. Plus, it can be a game for children to find the next photo opportunity on the trip…and could even earn them a “tip” for their ingenuity.

About Author

Becky Dolgener

A seasoned writer and editor, Becky Dolgener is the Executive Editor and a contributing writer for Strategy Magazine. With a BS in Speech Communication, she has more than 12 years' experience in business, communications, and marketing, as well as special interests in wellness, DIY, budget-friendly living, and child wellness.

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