20 Simple Tips to Make a Cheap Family Vacation Enjoyable and Fun

  1. Start a Vacation Account. Before you even begin your family vacation planning, consider opening a vacation savings account. This will allow you to save the money prior to booking your vacation instead of dipping into your regular savings account.
  2. Create a Budget. Start by writing down a detailed budget for the vacation, and stick to it! This includes food, accommodations, entertainment, and activities.
  3. Plan the Vacation Together. If you sit down together and figure out what destinations are not only fun, but can be realistically obtained within the budget constraints.
  4. Make lists. Often, planning a family trip generates more questions than answers. What will you need? What are the important must-do’s? Creating a list of packing items and desired activities is a great time-saver, and ensures non-replaceable essentials like medications aren’t left behind.
  5. ALWAYS ask for discounts. It never hurts to ask. If you are in a discount club, the military, college, or a senior age, you may save 10% or more on hotels, restaurants, attractions, or shopping.
  6. When traveling in the U.S., contact local tourism departments. Ask for free brochures and maps, and discounts. Consider the local Chambers of Commerce to see if they have any informational packets that might include valuable money-saving coupons and tips on where to visit.
  7. Search the Internet. Look for discount prices on everything from lodging to airfare to car rentals to entertainment. Wherever your dream destination, you can point and click your way into an affordable, enjoyable vacation without ever leaving home.
  8. Ask for Additonal Discounts. Always ask when you call for reservations if there are any other discount deals available-kids eat free, a room upgrade, a second room at half price, etc.
  9. Remember to be Flexible! You may have to travel during non-peak season or travel dates, or consider taking a room without the premium view to save a few dollars. Be able to change your plans if need be and “go with the flow”.
  10. Be prepared. Being on vacation doesn’t exempt you from emergencies. Pack needed medications, carry a copy of your insurance cards, list of illnesses, prescription drug and food allergies of which any family member suffers. This can save a lot of costs if you prepare ahead of time.
  11. Decide on the Ground Rules. How many times have you been on a family vacation and seen parents and their children arguing? Vacations are supposed to be fun, not a battleground.
  12. Get Out a Map. As a family, discuss where you want to go and what activities you want to do. Even the five-year-old will have an opinion. Make sure everyone gets at least some of their picks on the itinerary. If the kids are old enough, suggest each one plan a day’s activities.
  13. Buy the Children Journals. Having cheap notebooks and fun pens so they can record their thoughts and experiences will keep them busy. They’ll also appreciate having the recorded memories later.
  14. Maintain a Routine While on Vacation. It’s tempting to set aside bed times and other daily routines while on a family vacation. But sticking as closely as possible (with some flex time) to normal routines—like meal times, and bed times—will help your family to enjoy each day’s activities and return home less stressed.
  15. Schedule some Down Time. Having a bunch of activities planned cannot only get expensive, but exhausting—for parents and children. Planning some down time for relaxing, napping, or just hanging out at the pool can help with your cheap family vacation.
  16. Take a Credit Card for Emergencies. You may want to take a credit card along for safety and convenience. However, it is important to remember that credit should not be used to exceed your budget. No matter how much fun you had on a vacation, it’s never fun to still be paying it off years later.
  17. Consider Inviting a Babysitter. If you have someone you know available to watch the kids while you enjoy some of the adult activities, this can alleviate childcare costs and still make it an enjoyable evening.
  18. Alternate Paid Activities with Free Activities. A hike in the woods, the best playground in the area, a local walking tour or other free sightseeing activities can still be enjoyable.
  19. Set the Souvenir Budget. Do this before you leave home and stick to it. Suggest the kids start collections along the way-postcards, magnets, or other inexpensive items.
  20. Regroup When you Return. Take time to regroup and reconnect when you come home. After each trip, carve out a portion of the first day or two to unwind. Doing so will help everyone to gently return to your family’s routine.

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