5 Tips for Saving Money on a Family Vacation

By: Kevin P. Allen

Don't want to spend a fortune on lodging? Renting a home, cabin or condominium for a few days or weeks could be cheaper than paying daily on a hotel.
Don't want to spend a fortune on lodging? Renting a home, cabin or condominium for a few days or weeks could be cheaper than paying daily on a hotel.
Steve Mason/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Call it what you want: a little R & R, a getaway, an opportunity to recharge the batteries. However you refer to a vacation, there's an implied understanding that it's meant to relieve stress, provide a period of refreshment and allow you a chance to have fun. But few things zap the joy from an experience more than financial woes.

If, while sitting at the beach, you're constantly hounded by a voice that says "I'm sinking in an ocean of debt," then you can actually return from a vacation with more anxiety than you left with. Wouldn't it be nice to unwind knowing it won't take you another year of working overtime to pay it all off?


Cutting expenses on a vacation is an art that has been perfected by countless budget-conscious people just like you. Each one has discovered a little trick or technique that spares the wallet while preserving the fun. In some cases those nuggets of hard-won wisdom can actually enhance the quality of your time away. You've undoubtedly heard it said that you don't always get what you pay for. That's true -- sometimes you get more. At least if you know how to go about it.

Don't think of these tips as ways of subtracting from your vacation experience but as methods of reordering how, when and where you bask in those memory-making moments. If you step on a conch shell it's painful; however, if you put it to your ear, you can hear beautiful crashing waves. On a similar note, let's put your wallet in the best position possible for your getaway so you don't let out a cry of astonishment when you return home and have a moment to review your bank statement.

5: Think Bigger and Better

A hotel or motel room is nothing like your own home. It's much smaller and doesn't often have all the amenities of your own abode -- like a washer and dryer, stove and multiple bathrooms. And yet, it accounts for one of the biggest expenses of your vacation. It's like paying a second mortgage ... on a studio apartment. So, why not stay in a house instead?

If you're planning to stay in the same general location for several days or even weeks, then it may be cheaper to rent a home, cabin or condominium than paying a daily rate at a hotel. This is especially true if your family or group is relatively large. All of you can split the expense and cut the rental costs even further. You can even stock up on food items to save cash on eating out. Plus, you can stretch out and maybe even have some space of your own. If your travel mates get on your nerves after a couple of days, it's nice to know you have a bedroom door you can lock and bury your head in a good book.


4: Consider Off-peak

If you could buy the same quality product at a cheaper price than all your friends and colleagues were paying, wouldn't you do it? You can when it comes to your vacation destination. Sure, you can visit Santorini, Greece in August when the streets are teeming with tourists, but the prices are high and the temperatures are hot. Or you can have the white-washed buildings beside the Mediterranean practically all to yourself by simply waiting until early fall when the weather is mild and the demand is low. It's a no-brainer.

Even if you're not headed to such a premier destination, you can apply the same principle. Purchasing plane tickets for flights that depart on a Tuesday or a Thursday -- regardless of destination -- will save you some dough [source: Sumner]. And really, Big Sur looks no different on Saturday than Thursday, and the Florida Keys will still be there whether you arrive Friday night or Tuesday morning. It's a supply and demand issue, not an issue of quality. Take advantage of it.


3: Change Your Eating Habits

Vacation is the perfect time to change your eating habits. No, we're not suggesting you go on an all-kale diet. We're not even talking about reducing calories. After all, it's your time to indulge. In this case, changing your eating habits has more to do with the where and when than with the what.

Going out for every meal will wreck a vacation budget like an inexperienced sailor on a coral reef. If you want to enjoy a meal at a restaurant, consider planning it for lunchtime when prices are more likely to be lower. Stock up on snacks and drinks so you don't have to pay $12 for a tuna sandwich. You can even keep it simple -- throw a few steaks on the vacation rental grill (if you've gone that route), crack open a few beverages from the local grocery store, and feast until your eyes bulge out. Frugality never tasted so good.


2: Bring Portable Entertainment

We've all been there. A day at a theme park or beach can really wear you and your family out. You decide to crash at the nearest motel and chill out for the evening with a movie: a very expensive movie offered through the automated system in your room. With the portability of DVD players or laptops and services like Netflix, Hulu and even YouTube, there's no need to fork over an extra $10 here and an extra $6 there. You can pack some of your kids' favorite DVDs before you leave home, get a rental online or drop by the neighborhood Redbox. Plus, if you pack a couple laptops, your children can watch the latest wacky animated comedy while you fade off to sleep. At least you can rest easy knowing there'll be money in your checking account when you wake up in the morning.


1: Travel Light

You're not the only one who's trying to earn a wage and save a dollar. The airlines have lowered ticket prices to attract more customers, but many of them have added hefty fees than can catch an unsuspecting traveler unaware. Don't be one of the poor saps who falls victim to the repercussions of packing 10 pairs of shoes, winter and summer outfits (just in case) and enough cosmetics to keep the Kardashian clan in pancake and rouge for the next decade.

Most airlines have a per-bag maximum weight limit in addition to a restriction on the number of bags you can carry without facing an upcharge. Be conscious of this when you pack. If you suspect you've gone a couple of pounds beyond the limit and you absolutely can't lighten the load, then distribute it more evenly. Put a couple pairs of shoes and that extra sweater in your teenage son's suitcase. Let's face it: He probably only packed two pairs of underwear and a pair of jeans, anyway.


Cutting expenses on a vacation doesn't have to eliminate one bit of fun. In fact, you can turn it into a game. See how much good-times bang you can get for your hard-earned buck.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Folgate, Erik. "Five Tips for Saving Money on Your Summer Vacation." Money Crashers. (Dec. 14, 2011) http://www.moneycrashers.com/five-tips-for-saving-money-on-your-summer-vacation/
  • Sumner, Cindy. "10 Tips for Vacation Savings." Mothers of Preschoolers. (Dec. 14, 2011) http://www.mops.org/page.php?pageid=1214
  • Sweating the Big Stuff. "Tips to Save Money on Your Summer Vacation." (Dec. 14, 2011) http://sweatingthebigstuff.com/tips-to-save-money-on-your-summer-vacation/
  • We Just Got Back. "Tip Sheet: Money Savers." (Dec. 14, 2011) http://www.wejustgotback.com/default.aspx?mod=tips_money#
  • U.S. News. "6 Ways to Save Money on Vacation." May 28, 2008. (Dec. 14, 2011) http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/alpha-consumer/2008/05/28/6-ways-to-save-money-on-vacation