Having gone from a two-salary household to one, we definitely have to be a bit more money-conscious than we used to be.
So when we decided to book a family vacation, we made a few decisions to make sure we would have a fun and relaxing time together without breaking the bank.
Fortunately for us, gone are the days of having to choose between a hotel at one end of the financial spectrum, or a campground at the other. With options like AirBnB and VRBO, it’s so much easier to find great accommodation that fits your price range.
If you’re not familiar with these kinds of vacation rental sites, they provide you with listings of houses, apartments and condominiums that are available to rent in a whole host of popular locations.
They are appealing to all sorts of travelers for different reasons, but they’re a great option for families in particular as a much more cost-effective option than staying at a hotel.
So without further ado, let me review with you the money-saving choices we made to make this a vacation to remember, without making an unforgettable dent in our checking account.
Drive Rather Than Fly
Oh how I look back with fondness on the days when my kids could fly for free, even if it did mean having them on my lap for several hours.
I admit, I’m trying to forget the time my daughter vomited all over me halfway through a flight. But ASIDE from that.
Now that we have to pay for a seat for all four of us, flying is a much more expensive proposition than it used to be. Sometimes it can’t be avoided (if you need to get to the other side of the Atlantic for example). For this vacation, though, we decided on a few specific criteria, one of which was that it would be drive-able.
Two of the other criteria were that we be by the ocean, and that it would be warm.
So we looked at the map, and pinpointed the destinations that fit all three of these criteria. From there we got to work on the main vacation rental sites to see what we could find.
Aside from saving at least $1,000 in travel costs by driving rather than flying, having a car opens up many other money-saving possibilities that we’ll look at next.
On top of that we didn’t have to pay for any other transportation once we got to our destination, AND we had all that lovely bonding time in the car…
Pack Food For The Journey
With a 12-hour drive ahead of us, we planned ahead with plenty of sandwiches, snacks and water.
We packed a cooler in the middle of the car that could be reached by kids and adults full of sandwiches, fruit, veggies and drinks, and another bag of mostly unhealthy snacks.
We didn’t spend money on any food on our 12-hour journey, which is a definite money-saver. (Plus gas station food is usually not great anyway…)
Find A Rental That Accepts Pets
Although this isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly, bringing your pet on vacation could save you hundreds of dollars in boarding fees. You do need to consider how well your pet will deal with travel, and if they will be comfortable and safe at your destination.
We had no idea how our dog would cope on a 12-hour car journey. I spoke to the vet beforehand and they suggested buying some Dramamine (available over the counter) in case he suffered from any car-sickness, and told us the appropriate dosage for his weight.
Happily, he was a perfect travel-companion. We made sure to make frequent stops so he could stretch his legs and do his business. One great tip I read was to stop at Rest Areas and not just gas stations. Rest Areas tend to have more green space and it provides some nice walking options for a dog.
Take Home & Vacation Essentials With You
The great thing about vacation rentals is that they tend to be equipped with many of the things you need for a home away from home. That said, they can vary in how well-equipped the kitchen might be as well as any extras they might make available.
Think about all the things you might need for your stay, then check the rental description for all the amenities that are included. If needed, get in contact with the owner to ask them any specific questions you might have.
Some of the random things we brought with us included:
For The Home
- Paper towel
- Salt & Pepper
- Ketchup (replace with favorite condiments of your choice!)
- Laundry detergent
For the Beach
- Beach Towels
- Life Vests for the kids
- Sun-tan lotion
- Bug repellent
- Beach bag with toys
Yes you’re bound to forget something. Starting a list a week or so before you leave can be a good way to note down things that pop into your mind, that you can then check off when you’re packing.
I forgot toe-nail clippers, but we survived…
Plan Meals In & Meals Out
For me, part of the fun of vacation is getting to eat out at some new places (especially fresh seafood!) At the same time it can also get a little tiring (as well as expensive) eating out for every meal, every day.
Make a plan of some easy-to-make breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Then head to a grocery store at the first opportunity. We did something equivalent to our ‘weekly big-shop’ our first morning and had several easy meals to make at our rental.
We definitely got to enjoy some delicious meals out, but made the majority of our meals ‘at home’, and enjoyed them just as much. It’s always so much more appealing when you can go for a walk along the ocean once you’ve set the dishwasher running.
Research Activities Beforehand
At most places that are targeted towards tourists, there will be a multitude of fun but pricey activities that will appeal to those looking for family fun. With a family of four, you can easily spend upwards of $80 a day on entertainment.
To keep things under control, review what’s in the area beforehand, and pick out the two or three ‘must-have’ activities. We find that things always go much better with our kids when we set the expectation in advance. That way there’s not too much complaining when they know they can’t go to the water park, but they will get to go on a Pirate Cruise during the stay.
Check State Parks Nearby
State Parks may not always have the glossy advertising and fancy websites that other businesses have. But they can provide a beautiful day out at a much more reasonable price than other more commercial activities.
Look them up online beforehand and plan a day or two in a local area of natural beauty.
Allocate a Kid Budget
To combat this, I told the kids they each had $10 to spend during our vacation. They could choose to spend it on whatever they wanted (even when my inner voice was pleading ‘nooooo, don’t spend it on that plastic crap!)
This soon had them being a lot more thoughtful on what they might spend their money on, and put an end to any shop-whining. WIN!
Plan Rainy Day Activities
If it rains while you’re away, it can be tricky to keep everyone entertained when you’re not in your own home. Even going out to the movies can be expensive for a family of four these days. Whether it rains or not, it’s good to have some indoor activities to keep everyone entertained for time back at base.
While I admit my kids bought along their trusted Kindle Fires (thanks Grandma!) for some downtime, we also packed some good old-fashioned fun.
Bringing a notepad along is also handy for writing shopping lists and keeping track of who’s winning at Go Fish.
If you’re planning a summer vacation, I hope this list provided you with some handy suggestions. Do you have any money-saving tips for when you go on vacation? If so, share them in the comments below!