Memories made on family vacations may be priceless, but the getaways themselves can cost an arm and a leg. The average tab for a family of four to spend six nights away from home amounts to $3,000 -- and that doesn't even include food and fun [source: Lee]. Thankfully, trimming travel costs isn't rocket science; selecting destinations close to home, bringing along snacks and setting out during off-peak seasons are all quick and simple ways to save.
But to free up significant spending room in recession-strained family budgets, a little more planning can take you and yours the extra mile -- or more. While it's handy to know how to slim down traveling expenses, knowing where to sniff out family vacation deals is equally useful for the bottom line. The following five family vacation deal-hunting tips will help you plot a budget-friendly path to the nearest beach or the farthest hilltop.
Budget Family Vacation Tip 5: Time Is of the Essence
Flying by the seat of your pants might've worked for a couple's weekend getaway; not so for the family vacation. If there's a dream destination your family is itching to see, figure out the off-season dates first to find the top deals for transportation and lodging. Or, if you don't have a must-see attraction in mind, pin down when your family is free to skip town and let the bargain hunt begin. Either way, let the calendar guide you toward the maximum savings. Time is also of the essence when scouring vacation deals, since offers are often valid for a limited window or might include black-out dates.
Also, if travel bargains seem too good to be true, you can bet that they won't be around forever. Hot deals rarely last long, which means you need to be prepared to pull the trigger when you run across the right one. Otherwise, that once-in-a-lifetime family package to Panama City, Portland, the Pyrenees or elsewhere might evaporate -- or sell out -- before you get your travel ducks in a row.
Budget Family Vacation Tip 4: Locate the Local Deals
Once you've selected your dream family vacation destination, it's time to get local. Don't rely solely on national deal Web sites and travel agencies to serve up all of the potential savings; local businesses and attractions are also wise resources for balancing your travel budget. For instance, if you're setting out to a city and aren't sure about all of its offerings, contact its Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) [source: Bailey]. CVBs promote area tourism and can connect you not only to local attractions but also any deals and discounts associated with them. Also, keep your eye out for combination deals among local lodgings and nearby restaurants, amusement parks, museums and outdoor activities. It isn't uncommon for neighboring businesses to team up to provide clustered savings packages centered around hotels, resorts and other lodgings.
Budget Family Vacation Tip 3: Know Where to Save Online
Planning a family vacation on the cheap is just a WiFi connection away. The Internet swarms with specialized budget travel sites that can cater to your travel needs and interests, but don't just stick with Google searches and site links. When you find a savvy savings site, subscribe to its RSS feed for up-to-date info and e-mail alerts tailored to your dream destination.
Have a favorite travel guru or bargain trip expert? Become his or her friend -- on social media, that is. Consider Twitter your personal portal to budget family vacation tips [source: Bailey]. Even a simple "budget travel" query will call up countless travel thrifty tweeps to peruse. And if you're searching around for ways to save once you and your family reach your destination, don't forget to check out local coupon and deal sites, as well as their complementary social media outlets, to discover even more discounts.
Budget Family Vacation Tip 2: Dig In for Discounts
Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., is one of the most popular family vacation destination spots in the United States [source: U.S. News]. A visit to the Magic Kingdom doesn't cost a king's ransom, but it's a pretty penny nevertheless: an average of roughly $500 per day for a four-person family [source: Wiley]. That figure includes hotel, theme park admission and food.
Is it possible to pal around with Mickey and friends for less? Of course! Disney parks are a prime example of the smorgasbord of destination discounts that await intrepid bargain hunters. Is anyone in your family a teacher, college student, current or former member of the U.S. armed forces, or a corporate employee? If so, discounts can apply at Disney or anywhere else you'd like to visit. Also, consider child or senior status; alumni memberships; professional, auto and leisure club memberships; religious affiliations and any other associations that might come with pricing perks. Joining forces with extended family members and friends can also help you qualify for thriftier group rates. Just be sure to verify any discount policies before you set your plans in stone.
Budget Family Vacation Tip 1: Travel Off-Road on the Cheap
One common budget travel tip suggests picking a vacation spot within a reasonable drive, rather than flying somewhere [source: Massie]. For instance, a family of four heading from Atlanta to Washington D.C. could potentially save around $700 by hitting the open road [source: The Associated Press].
But don't rule out off-road options, either. Many airlines allow children under 2 years old to sit in a parent's lap free of charge [source: Huddleston]. Discount airfare sites also offer family flight and hotel deals; going during off-peak travel times, referred to as "dead weeks," can lower prices even more. By preparing for a vacation well in advance, you can also take advantage of airline reward programs and regular e-mail alerts about on-sale fares and travel packages.
Or, if your family wishes to test out its sea legs, airlines often partner with cruise lines for travel deals and discounts. Since cruises commonly come with all-inclusive rates, you may be able find a ship that fits your family budget. Don't impulse purchase, though. Shop around online to compare destinations and cabin rates, and also read the fine print to understand what amenities the cruise fare covers -- and what's out of pocket [source: Stapen].
Dollar stores — where most items cost just a buck — always seem to make money. HowStuffWorks finds out how they do it.
- Bailey, Christine K. "How to Save on Family Vacations." SheKnows. Dec. 3, 2010. (Oct. 18, 2011) http://www.sheknows.com/videos/articles/820998/Tips-for-finding-family-travel-deals
- Business Week. "Do Us a Favor, Take a Vacation." May 21, 2007. (Oct. 28, 2011) http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_21/b4035088.htm
- Huddleston, Cameron. "10 Tips for an Affordable Family Vacation." Kiplinger. April 27, 2007. (Oct. 18, 2011) http://www.kiplinger.com/features/archives/2007/04/traveltips.html
- Lee, Anne C. "Value Vacations for the Whole Family. CNN. Jan. 27, 2011. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://money.cnn.com/2011/01/27/pf/saving/family_vacations.moneymag/index.htm
- Massie, Meg. "Top 5 Tips for Cheap Family Vacation Ideas." AOL Travel. Dec. 2, 2010. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://news.travel.aol.com/2010/12/02/top-5-tips-for-cheap-family-vacation-ideas/
- Stapen, Candyce H. "How to Plan the Perfect Family Cruise." Nov. 27, 2004. (Oct. 19, 2011) Budget Travel. http://www.budgettravel.com/feature/how-to-plan-the-perfect-family-cruise,3800/?page=1
- The Associated Press. "To fly or drive: Which is cheaper?" MSN Money. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/TravelForLess/to-fly-or-drive-which-is-cheaper.aspx
- U.S. News. "15 Best Family Vacations in the USA." (Oct. 19, 2011) http://travel.usnews.com/Rankings/Best_Family_Vacations_in_the_USA/
- Wiley, Kim Wright. "Conquering Disney." Fodor's. Jan. 31, 2008. (Oct. 19, 2011) http://www.fodors.com/news/story_1379.html