10 Tips for Planning a Family Vacation on a Budget

Emily enjoys a s’more while on vacation in a Virginia cabin.
It’s the start of a new year, and for many people it is a great time to evaluate your vacation plans.  Family vacations can eat up a large portion of your budget, so here are some tips to help you find the best deals and get more for your vacation dollars!

  1. Know When to Book –The best time to book your airfare is Wednesday from midnight to 1a.m. in the time zone of the airline’s headquarters. For example, United is headquartered in Chicago, and Delta is headquartered in Atlanta. This happens to be the time when the computer systems of most airlines purge the records of the reserved but unbooked lower fare reservations. Take advantage of these low rates immediately after this occurs and you will save big bucks.
  2. Research Early —  The more time you have to gather information, the better your savings will be.  The trick to finding the best deals is to plan ahead, so start your vacation search early.
  3. Consider Camping —  Camping is usually quite affordable, and promotes quality family time.  Turn off your cell phone and re-connect with nature (and your kids) in the outdoors.  If “roughing it” isn’t for you, consider renting a cabin.  Many cabins are fully furnished and some even have cable, high speed internet access, and more.
  4. Plan a Series of Day Trips —  This can be a good way to maximize your vacation time by spreading it out over several long weekends at a time.  Staying close to home means you will save money on lodging, gas, and eating out.  Explore local attractions and get to know your area.  One year, we challenged ourselves to visit areas that we could travel to on half a tank of gas or less!
  5. Pack Lightly —  Several airlines have hiked up fees for checked-in luggage.  Instead, pack lightly and try using only carry-on luggage instead.  For more tips on this, see How to Pack Lightly.
  6. Save When Eating Out —  Rather than eating out for every meal, if you stay in a cabin or beach house you may have access to a kitchen to use to prepare a meal or two a day.  Camping is a great time to enjoyed grilled food.  If you do go out to eat, try a large brunch, skip lunch or have a light snack, and then a reasonable dinner.
  7. AAA Discount —  Join AAA for tons of travel discounts on motels and other accommodations.  AAA also offers roadside assistance, which is ideal for long road trips.
  8. Entertainment Book —  The Entertainment Book offers discounts on rental cars, hotels, restaurants, area attractions and more.  Frequently, these can be purchased for half-price during the summer months.  Order through uPromise for added college savings.
  9. Cruises —  Cruises offer an all inclusive advantage.  Most cruises offer plenty of activities for kids and adults.  All meals and lodging are included.  Research early to find the best deals.
  10. Disney Vacation — For 2009, Disney is offering free park admission on your birthday!  Proof of date of birth is required.  Offer applies to guests ages 3 and up and is open to all.  For more information, click here. Disney vacation packages can be most affordable during the off-peak seasons of fall (late Sept – Nov.) and winter (after the holidays, January).
Are you planning a family vacation on a budget for 2009?  Have a tip I forgot to mention?  Leave a comment and tell us about it!