Does your family have Cabin Fever but your budget is slim? With little money left over for fun, it makes sense to maximize your travel dollars. From experience, I’ve learned how to create family field trips on a small budget even if every family member has drastically different interests.
Here are some tips to help you put together a trip that they will all enjoy…on a tight budget:
- Simplify your lodgings. Either join a rewards club or, if you can, plan to visit areas of the country where you can stay with friends or relatives. Another option- vacation homes and campgrounds – using a grill or fully equipped kitchen and washer/dryer facility saves money. If you’re going to a theme or water park – stay in condo rooms on the property – most have a minimum of a mini micro/frig unit to keep/reheat leftovers or frozen entrees. Of course, the best way to save on hotels is to not use them. Plan day trips to sights and attractions within driving distance instead.
- Attractions. Buying tickets in advance online can save not only money, but time as well. Go in a group for shows and fee-paid attractions at a group discount. Either invite another large family along or ask to be part of another group tour.
- Babysitting. When planning a road trip with young children, ask grandparents or another close relative to come along to watch the kids. This allows you and your spouse some time alone without paying for resort babysitting services.
- Discount or Membership Card. Buy a discount attractions pass for large cities – especially if you know you’re going to visit four or more sites around town. You can also save with free discount cards provided by local CVBs. Some supermarket chains offer great discount tickets to major attractions in the area by just signing up for their Customer Card. If you already have family memberships to your local Children’s Museum, Science Center, Zoo or Aquarium, find out which places offer Free or Discounted Reciprocal Admission.
- Economize on meals. Plan to splurge on one meal, but make the other meals less expensive. Staying at a hotel with a complimentary continental breakfast is our favorite option. Pack lunches in coolers that will stay fresh for a few hours while you catch an attraction. Pay attention to three magic words, “Kids Eat Free,” especially at hotel and chain restaurants. Try sharing meals between small eaters. Beverages are expensive add-ons, so order only water. Look for Extra Value Meals or Early Bird specials, too. Often, historic taverns offer better value deals for lunch vs. dinner menus.
- Freebies. (Yes, they still exist.) Keep the little ones entertained without opening the wallet at upscale mall stores like a Lego Store or Discovery Stores. Another freebie – free admission special events or festivals. Best of all, though, some attractions are still FREE admission. (note: one-quarter to one-third of all Kids Love Travel series guidebooks offer reviews on attractions that never, or hardly ever, charge to get in!
- Getting Around. Most every tourist town has a trolley service and most every trolley has on/off privileges. That means your family pays one price for all day travel around a congested historic city without the hassles of parking and tolls. Many operators are natives and can give you the “inside scoop” about the sites they pass by. Walking is free, too. Some historic towns are very walkable (ex. Alexandria, St. Augustine, Fredericksburg, Lexington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, etc.)
- Giving In. Moms say “yes” to kids more often and to more requests on vacation. So, give in moms, but cheaply. Most “treats” like ice cream cones are little cost compared to sit-down meals so splurge on that cone or candy and save on dinner because the kids won’t be that hungry!
- Go off-season. Not only will the crowds be reduced but hotels offer deep discounts and gift shops run clearance sales during off-peak times of year.
- Pack to Save. A last minute purchase or rental of certain items out of necessity can add up quickly. If you like to theme park or bike/hike, here’s what we suggest you pack: Medium, sturdy Backpack with band-aids, pain reliever, hand sanitizer, bottled water, towel or rain poncho, small flashlight, apples, nuts, gum or candy, small deck of cards, tissue or napkins, small box of colored pencils and a coloring book. Take turns carrying the backpack with the strongest backs first (packs are always heaviest at the beginning of the day). You’ll save lots of money bringing odds n’ ends from home vs. convenience store prices.