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Hi friends, today we have a guest post by my good friend and fellow blogger Tanya Raedeke from Rad Family Travel. Check out her amazing site and tips!! I'm so excited to share this with you!
If you’re anything like our family, you’ve lived through times of plenty and through times of say, not-so-plenty.
We’ve taken luxe vacations (in our minds anyway), and budget vacations. We know how to stretch the American dollar.
And we never skip out on vacation.
We agree with travel guru Rick Steves who declares, “Travel is recess, and we need it.”
But let’s face it, getting out of town with the fam can add up quick if we’re not careful.
We need to think creatively and plan ahead, especially when we need a vacation and our savings account isn’t sitting pretty.
If you’re looking for help in budgeting for a family vacation, go here for a free family travel budget worksheet.
Right now, let’s dish on tips for your family to travel on the cheap.
Think creatively when it comes to lodging choices.
Let’s face it… lodging is often one of the biggest expenses of a family getaway.
But saving money on lodging doesn’t automatically equate to sleeping in cheap, run-down, cockroach-ridden motels or popping up a tent along the side of the road (relax non-camping lovers!). Sleeping well is an important part of a good vacation.
Here are ways we’ve saved money on lodging while taking unforgettable vacations:
Crash with family or friends
Who’s someone you love that’s invited you hundreds of times and lives somewhere you’ve not visited before? Over this summer’s California road we’ll be crashing with friends for four nights in a suburb of San Francisco. We’ve also stayed over with distant cousins in Germany and the Czech Republic (Europeans love to host family).
The caveat: be ready and willing to return the favor! What goes around, comes around, right?
Do you know close friends or family who own a second home?
Our niece picked Sedona, Arizona for her destination wedding. Sedona is beautiful, but not budget-friendly for families.
Thankfully, we have friends who own a second home in nearby Flagstaff, so we asked them about renting their vacation home for three families for $200/night. They gladly said yes! It was a win-win for everybody.
Stay in a timeshare without owning one.
We don’t own a timeshare, but we love staying in one when we can find a good deal from an owner on eBay. Once, we stayed in a luxe 2 bedroom cabin for $625 for a 5 night stay. Our current all-time favorite place to stay in a timeshare is Wilderness Club at Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozark– check out all of the amenities there and you’ll see why!
Be flexible and willing to try new things.
If you’re flexible with where your family lands, last minute bookings equal adventurous money-saving options. We booked a vacation home through Airbnb in Marathon, Florida just a few weeks before our kids’ school spring break. We asked the owner via if they would rent us the house at a reduced rate and ended up saving 25% off the listed nightly rate. It never hurts to ask.
Travel with friends and share a bigger vacation rental home.
We’ve shared a beach home many times in Cape San Blas, Florida with another family of six. The kids had more play buddies, adults took turns cooking yummy meals, and both families saved significant money on lodging. You could even take turns babysitting and taking date nights.
Tent camp in our breath-taking national or state parks.
Camping is actually one of our family’s favorite ways to experience a cheap and wonder-filled vacation. Just buy the right sleeping pad and you’re golden.
Yes, initially, you have to invest in tents, quality sleeping bags and pads, and cooking gear. But, when chosen well, those investments can last 2 decades or more! Here are a few of our favorite things that keep tent camping at the top of our list.
If you don’t own your own gear, borrow from trusted friends and see how your family likes camping. Or check out sleeping in KOA campground cabins.
Do a combo of camping, hotel stays, and crashing with friends. Our 2-week road trip through Utah National Parks and the Grand Canyon was a combination of nights spent tent camping or staying in a Hampton Inn or national park lodge. It was fun to mix it up. Roughing it or hot showers with a free breakfast are both well-liked in our family. (link to Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Zion, Grand Canyon posts: use any or none!
Driving over flying, almost every time.
The good ole swagger wagon. Our trusty Toyota Sienna has taken us on some beautiful road trips.
Since we are a family of six, driving wins out over flying 90% of the time.
But, we’ve been known to score cheap flights with Southwest Airlines. We’ve also been known to sign up for a new credit card in exchange for a promised free flight. Several times. Ahem.
Got frequent flyer miles? Save them up and use them for a family vacation if you can. Those babies can significantly decrease flight costs for your family. I’ve known families who have flown to Hawaii or Europe round trip FOR FREE.
Think public transportation.
Flying into visit a big city? There’s a strong chance you won’t even need a rental car.
Rely on public transportation to get around, and research any free or cheap shuttles to and from the airport, your hotel, amusement parks, etc. During our multi-generational trip to San Antonio, all 13 of us used public transportation and a couple of taxis to get around between the airport, downtown, Sea World, and the Alamo.
Just gotta fly? Know the ins and outs of booking the cheapest flights possible. Here’s a helpful article from the Thrifty Nomads.
Are your travel dates flexible?
Plan your travel during the off-season or shoulder season. (For example, April, May, September or October for Europe). When looking at rates for the same vacation home in Marathon, Florida, we saw that we could have booked that sweet abode for half the price if we could have gone in April. If your kids aren’t school-age yet, this is the way to go!
Feeling spontaneous, wild, and free? Once we were blessed with an unexpected generous Christmas cash gift. Ten days later, the hubs and I were on a plane to Cancun.
We scoured travel websites like LastMinuteTravel.com, CheapCaribbean.com, or TravelZoo.com to look for last minute deals on beach-filled, sunny destinations and scored great deals for couples only trips. I know you can find great deals on these websites for your family too.
Grub and Fun on the cheap:
When it comes to feeding the fam, lodging with access to a full kitchen, or camping with your full cooking gear will save you money on feeding the fam, that’s for sure.
Travel with a cooler for picnic lunches too. When staying at hotels, always double check they provide a free, hot breakfast.
Eating in makes eating out that much more special. Eat some meals in, so you can splurge on eating out at top notch, heavily recommended local dining establishments. We always ask the locals where to eat, and we’re rarely steered wrong.
First things first with any hotel stay with kids. MUST. INCLUDE. POOL. Check out at this swanky roof top pool at the Hotel we stayed at in San Antonio. Insert fun for hours.
Bring your own bikes, Frisbees, snorkel gear, sports equipment, take a hike, or find a park. Sniff out the nearest indoor or outdoor aquatic center, or natural spots to splash around in (ie. Slide Rock Canyon in Sedona, Arizona.)
Simply search “Free things to do in _________”. For example, KidVenturous.com offers many ideas for free things to do in many different places. Check it out here.
Look up city self- guided walking tours online. Or, if you’re visiting friends, chances are they’ll be more than happy to show you around. Just ask them ahead of time, so they can plan accordingly. Check out CityPass.com for great ideas and ways to save on city visits with kids.
When it comes down to it, there are many ways to travel with your family on the cheap.
What have you found helpful in saving money so you can still get away on a tight budget?
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