5 Ways To Make Summer Vacation Affordable

by Jan Roland

DIY Landscaping for Less photo

You don’t need to go into debt to treat your family to a summer vacation. Use these 5 tips to plan a fun-filled summer trip that fits into your family’s budget.

Americans spend a lot on vacations. Estimates vary between $500 and $1200 per person! Regardless of which number you think is closer to the truth, it’s a lot of money for your family!

We justify it by saying that we work hard and deserve a break. That it’s a family vacation that will provide memories for our kids to remember. It’s especially easy to justify if we haven’t had a vacation for more than a year.

So how can you control your vacation spending without ruining your family’s good time?

Well, you could eliminate anything that’s costly. Or you could do some planning and reduce the cost of many of your vacation’s expense items.

Reduce the cost of lodging.

Can you think beyond the hotel? Camping and travel trailers can be very affordable. You’ll find national parks and campgrounds everywhere. You can choose to pitch a tent, pull a pop-up, park your RV or even rent a cabin. Costs will vary, but you will save.

You’ll also find that many campgrounds, especially the national parks, have camping-related activities like campfires, biking, hiking, swimming and star-gazing. One other cost cutter is that cookout in the campground which could reduce your food costs. (See Affordable Ways To Enjoy National Parks.)

Campgrounds aren’t the only alternative strategy. Some colleges offer dorm or other accommodations. Then there’s the traditional bed and breakfast or the internet-enabled Airbnb or their competitors. You might also want to consider a vacation home swap with another family living in your destination.

If you prefer a hotel, have a hotel strategy. Sure you can use one of the hotel comparison sites to find the cheapest rate. At least the cheapest rate that they have. But, if you’re not traveling in peak season and hotels aren’t fully booked, you’ll likely find the real cheapest rate by calling various hotels that are in your destination area. They’re easy to find with a simple search.

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Feed your family on the road for less.

Your next big vacation expense hurtle is feeding your family. Eating three meals a day at a restaurant will add up quickly.

The best way to reduce food costs is to avoid restaurants. When you choose your vacation accommodations, look for something that has a kitchenette or microwave. No one wants to spend their vacation in the kitchen, but it doesn’t take much to fry up a couple of eggs in the morning or microwave some oatmeal. Even prepared microwavable meals are cheaper than restaurants!

Weeks before you leave home, sign up for Groupon or other online discount offers in your destination city. Many feature restaurant deals. They’ll help take the sting out of that dinner check. When you reach your destination look for local coupon books. Most include various restaurants and tourist attractions.

And if you’re really looking to cut corners, check the local community calendar. Often churches or other non-profits hold fundraising breakfasts or dinners. Prices are usually very reasonable.

Search for attraction discounts.

The next big financial challenge for vacationing families are the sights you want to see and the attractions you want to visit. Prices at some range to $100 per person per day or more! Tickets for Disney’s Magic Kingdom start at $109 per day. Ouch!

Again, begin your search for deals weeks before you leave home. Include the entire family. It’ll increase their anticipation. Start with the Chamber of Commerce and the site featuring local news. Do searches for your destination and the surrounding communities. Search YouTube for your destination city. There are a number of video bloggers hunting for interesting places to visit.

Often you’ll discover a variety of historical sites and districts, parks, museums and even factory tours. Many of these attractions are free or very low cost. And some are quite unusual or provide insight into local traditions and lifestyle.

Search for discount codes. If you have cookies turned on in your internet browser, you’ll begin to see all kinds of ads for related offers as you visit your favorite sites. Normally we all hate ads, but this might be the exception! Oh, and watch for deals on Groupon and other online sources for special offers.

Save on souvenirs.

Family vacations are all about making memories. And souvenirs can be a wonderful way to capture those treasured moments. But a trip to the theme park gift shop can hit your wallet pretty hard.

Instead, buy your souvenirs at the local drug or grocery store for a fraction of the cost. Or, better still, create your own souvenirs by saving tickets, receipts, brochures and anything else that is a reminder of the place or attraction.

An inexpensive notebook could become a daily trip diary with thoughts about the things you see and experience.

Avoid vacation financial surprises.

Finally, have a vacation budget. Begin with a reasonable estimate of what each attraction, meal, etc., will cost. Know in advance how much you’re willing to spend each day and stick to it. You’ll be tempted by add-ons and attractions you didn’t anticipate. They’ll look like so much fun. But if you go for too many, you’ll return home with a debt hangover.

You should also know how much the total trip will cost. Including the unexpected expenses. If you can’t afford it, now is the time to scale back and revise your plans.

You can have a wonderfully memorable family vacation without causing yourself financial problems. It will take a little effort and some discipline. But the rewards are well worth the effort!

Reviewed May 2023

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