Don’t Break the Bank: Tips for Planning Your Family Summer Vacation
May 1, 2023
Now is the time to plan and save for a family summer vacation. If you wait too much longer, you’ll be too late.
This is because Americans are still feeling the need for pent-up “revenge” travel following the pandemic – even with inflation.
According to Forbes, “The U.S. Travel Foundation is forecasting an increase in travel spending in 2023 compared to 2022 (or 2019, for that matter).”¹
Summer vacation prices shot up last summer (2022), but they haven’t come down.
NerdWallet found, “Overall trip prices remained 15% higher in January 2023 compared with January 2020, before travel plummeted because of the pandemic. It looks like prices could remain high through the summer.”²
Given this is the case, families won’t be able to hop in the car and drive on a whim.
To stay within budget, it’s important to plan and save for a family summer vacation.
Keep reading for tips covering all areas of travel to help you plan and save for a family summer vacation.
Budget, Budget, Budget
Unfortunately, many Americans go into debt over summer vacations.
Credit Karma reports, “About half of millennials (51%) and Gen Z (49%) have gone into debt for summer travel.”³
As much fun as vacations are, you don’t want to find yourself struggling to pay off vacation debt all year long, which will make it even more difficult to take a vacation the next summer.
So, before you start planning a family vacation, you need to know what you are willing and able to spend.
Look over your savings and income, and determine how much you can spend on a family vacation. Make sure you factor in all the vacation costs (hotel, transportation, excursions, food, etc.).
Here are some tips to plan and save for a family summer vacation without taking on debt.
- Be realistic. Be realistic about your budget. You may want to have a luxury vacation, but your budget is much leaner. Be honest with yourself and your family about what you can afford this summer. At the same time, don’t plan a cheap family vacation that won’t bring joy (such as taking your outdoor-hating spouse tent camping).
- Automate savings. Once you have determined how much you’d like to budget for your summer vacation, figure out how much you have to save between now and your vacation. Then, automate savings.
- Plan early rather than later. The sooner you book flights, hotels, and activities, the better deals you can get.
- Look for personal discounts. Before you pay the full cost for any travel-related expense, check to see what discounts are available. For example, many hotels and theme parks offer discounts for active military, veterans, senior citizens, educators, and/or AAA members.
- Pay with points. If you’ve been saving up your credit card points, vacation is the time to use them.
Where to Go
Where you go on vacation will make a huge difference in how much you spend.
Think carefully about where you want to go, keeping your budget in mind.
- Less popular destinations. Less popular destinations tend to be less expensive. Instead of traveling to Disney World, consider a different theme such as Carowinds or Six Flags.
- Parks. You can find great deals for visiting National Parks and state parks.
- Staycation. This summer may be the year your family enjoys a staycation. To make this enjoyable, treat it like an actual vacation. Don’t use it as a chore catch-up week. Use your allotted budget to enjoy activities and restaurants where you live.
- Day trips. Instead of trying to plan and save for a family summer vacation that lasts a week, consider taking a few different day trips throughout the summer. What destinations are within driving distance that your family would enjoy?
When to Go
A major part of the decision as you plan and save for a family summer vacation comes down to when you choose to go.
Holiday weekends, such as the 4th of July, will be much more expensive than other times.
- Avoid weekends. If possible, avoid traveling on the weekends. Flight and hotel prices tend to rise on weekends. You can save by traveling Tuesday to Tuesday rather than Saturday to Saturday.
- Aim for shoulder seasons. Shoulder seasons refer to travel times when busy destinations are less crowded, such as May or September. For instance, if your kids get out of school in mid-May, take your family vacation in May before all schools are out.
- Be flexible. Many online travel booking sites allow you to see prices for travel on different days. The more flexible you are about when you travel, the more likely you are to save money.
Where to Stay
There are many ways to save money on where you stay. Ultimately, it comes down to doing some research.
- Stay with family or friends. If possible, try to travel to a destination near friends and family who are willing to let you use their home as a base for your travels.
- Hotel versus Airbnb. While Airbnb seemed to be overtaking the hotel industry, people have started complaining about the high fees. When you know your destination, be sure to check both hotels and Airbnb to find the best price option.
- All-inclusive options. People are often shocked to discover international all-inclusive hotels or cruises tend to be cheaper than domestic stays. This is because all food, drinks, and activities are included, whereas these costs add up on traditional vacations.
- Camping. You can find great camping spots in most vacation locations for low prices.
- Stay outside the city center. One way to save money on a family vacation is to avoid staying in the center of the action. If you book a beach vacation, save money by staying at a beach house, condo, or hotel not located directly on the beach. If you travel to D.C., for example, stay outside the center but close enough to drive in and park at a metro station.
How to Travel
Decide how you plan to get to your destination according to your budget.
- Drive. Is driving possible? Is it the cheaper option? Make sure you factor in rising gas prices.
- Fly. If you need to fly, sign up for price drop alerts from Skyscanner to get the best flight deals.
You’ll also need to decide how you’ll get around your destination.
- Rent a car. Will you need to rent a car? Factor these costs into your budget.
- Uber or Lyft. Do you plan to stay mostly on-site? If so, can you get by using Uber and Lyft for the few times you leave where you are staying?
- Public transportation. Is there public transportation available? Look into the costs and plan ahead.
What to Eat
Food is one of the fastest ways to blow your vacation budget. Here are some tips to help you stay on track.
- Stay somewhere with a kitchen. Book a vacation stay with a kitchen so you can cook meals instead of eating out constantly.
- Look for free or discounted meals. There is no shame in looking for meal discounts. For example, some dinner entertainment shows offer discounted shows and meals for lunch rather than dinner.
- Kids eat free. Use the app Kids Eat Free to locate restaurants nearby that offer free or discounted meals for children.
- Pack snacks. You may be able to avoid paying for expensive theme park foods and snacks by packing your kids’ favorite snacks to take with you.
What to Do
Another area where families tend to overspend on vacation is entertainment.
Vacations are an ideal time to splurge and have some fun, but you shouldn’t go into debt to do so.
- Free entertainment. In the weeks leading up to your vacation, be on the lookout for free entertainment, such as free museums, free concerts, or free festivals.
- Discounted tickets in advance. Many entertainment venues offer a significant discount for booking online ahead of time.
- Groupon. Spend time looking through Groupon for discounted activities offered at your destination.
- Reciprocal memberships. Consider visiting destinations that offer reciprocal memberships. For example, many zoos, children’s museums, and science museums offer reciprocal memberships, which means they offer free or discounted admission to museums and zoos across the country.
What to Buy
If your kids are like every other kid on vacation, they want to buy all the souvenirs. Here are some tips for dealing with overspending on souvenirs.
- Budget for souvenirs. When you plan and save for a family summer vacation, make sure you include souvenirs in your planning. Determine the amount each family member is allowed to spend on souvenirs ahead of time and let them know!
- Use cash. Use cash for souvenirs. For example, if you budget $50 for each child to spend on souvenirs, give them $50 in cash. Once the cash is gone, they can’t buy anything else.
- Pack fidget toys ahead of time. Avoid having to buy toys during road trip stops by packing a few new, cheap toys ahead of time.
How to Pack
Luggage fees continue to increase, and you can find yourself paying a good bit extra just for luggage on a family vacation.
Avoid paying for extra luggage with these tips.
- Carry-on. Whenever possible, try to pack in a carry-on only. Give each family member a carry-on to pack in. Using packing cubes will make this easier.
- Ship items. Depending on where you are traveling, consider shipping luggage. It may be cheaper than paying airline fees!
- Purchase later. Instead of packing disposable items, such as packs of diapers, order them from Amazon to arrive at your destination.
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