Guest Post: Frugal Vacations

by GettingFreedom on July 3, 2009

Today is my 27th Birthday and my husband is off work, so we’re out of here and off to the lake for some frugal family fun! The following is the first part in a two part Frugal Vacation Series. Stay tuned next Friday for a post on Staycations. Thank you for your post, Tiffany!

Tiffany is a Homeschool mom of 4 kids, ranging in age from 17 to 6 years old. On her blog, Eat at Home she shares recipes and tips to help families put dinner on the table quickly and economically.

Frugal versus Affordable – I want to share with you some ideas that will help you save money on your vacations but that does not mean that the vacation will necessarily be affordable for your family. For instance, it is frugal to shop around for cheap flights, however flying to a destination will rarely, if ever be affordable for my family of six. For the first twelve years my husband and I were married, we did not take “real” vacations because we couldn’t afford them. Two or three times we were able to take long weekend trips with our kids, but it has only been in recent years that we could afford to go on week-long trips together. That is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just the way it is sometimes. Hopefully, these ideas will get you closer to being able to take an affordable vacation.

Start with a Budget – Figure out how much your family can afford to spend on a vacation. It’s okay to do some dreaming about the type of vacation you’d like and if you have a budget already in place before the dreaming starts, you’ll be able to come back to reality quicker. You might even find that by making a few adjustments you can afford the vacation you really want.

Saving on the Big Ticket Items:

Transportation – Generally, there are two options here – flying or driving. In some cases, flying may actually be cheaper. If you’ll need to break up a long drive with a hotel stay, then it might make more sense to fly. Or if you have a smaller family it could be cheaper to fly. Remember to factor in transportation to and from the airport as well as airport parking.

Lodging – If at all possible, you do not want to pay “rack” rate at hotels. Finding discounts at some destinations is easier than others. You can research discounts on Disney hotels at MouseSavers. At all hotels, ask about any discounts they may have available. There have been times when I saved money by buying a AAA membership just so I could get the hotel discount. You do have to be careful with the math, but it pays to look into the possibilities.

Another way to save on lodging is to rent a vacation home or condo instead of staying in a hotel. Again, some destinations have more to choose from in vacation rentals than others. Many beach areas have places available, as do Gatlinburg, TN and Disney World. A great place to start your search is Vacation Rental By Owner. They list places all over the United States as well as many other countries.

Food – Feeding the family on vacation can be a real budget buster if you’re not careful. We usually pack foods for breakfast. It’s easier if you have a refrigerator in the room, but still possible if you only have a cooler. On one trip we needed to keep the costs down and I “cooked” in the hotel room using a hot pot like college students use. I made canned soups, canned ravioli with bagged salad that I packed in the cooler etc. It was not the best food we’ve ever eaten but it was affordable for us at the time.

If you’re staying in a vacation home or condo and have access to a kitchen you can save lots of money by packing your food and cooking at the house. Our family has done this on two vacations now. Read my post on Vacation Food to find out how my mom prepped food and packed it on dry ice, then it was “assembly only” cooking at the house.

When eating in restaurants you can save money by only drinking water and by sharing food when possible. Many table service restaurants have meals that are plenty big enough to be shared by two people. When we do this, we leave an extra big tip to cover the extra people, but it is still cheaper than ordering more food. In some destinations it’s possible to find a menu online. This is especially helpful in budgeting food costs.

Tickets and Admissions – Beach vacations require nothing in the way of tickets or admissions, making them very frugal as long as you spend your time on the beach and not the mini-golf course. Vacation spots like Disney will eat up a large chunk of your budget for tickets. If you’re planning on going to several museums or zoos, check into the possibility of a family pass at your local zoo or museum. Often, these will get you in free or at a discount to many other museums or zoos across the country. We saved quite a bit of money this way on a trip to Chicago.

What kinds of things do you do to save money on vacations?

This post is linked to Frugal Friday.

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