Top Tips for Planning Affordable and Fun Family Vacations

When it comes to family vacations, having limited funds doesn’t mean your trip has to be limited fun. There are plenty of ways to cut costs and still have terrific time. It starts with understanding that the words “budget” and “bargain” doesn’t have to mean cheap, flimsy, or low-quality.

Travelers should do their research ahead of time, not while waiting to board your flight. Here are a few tips to give you that head start on a fantastic family getaway that won’t be a wallop to your wallet.

LOCATION: Instead of a very touristy spot – which can be pricey, think about picking a place near a major travel destination. You could save money on lodging and possibly air fare (more on that in a bit) just by being on the cusp of those popular vacation spots.

Consider the cost of the commute to get to the sites and attractions you want to visit. Weigh the financial benefit versus convenience. Do what makes sense to you as well as to your budget. For example, the commute could prompt a car rental, taxi or Uber of Lyft ride. Or, it could mean taking public transportation. Do your research about the public transportation in that area. Is it generally safe? How much does it cost? What are the hours of operation?

Another point to ponder about location is the distance from your home. If your vacation spot is a less than a day’s drive away from your home – and depending on the cost of gas at the time, driving may be more affordable than flying. Keep in mind the length of your trip in comparison to the time you spend traveling to your destination. A day’s drive one way takes a huge chunk of time out of a quick, three-day getaway.

TIMING: Traveling during the less-popular times for your destination is a great way to save some money. Figuring this out may take some research. But we all know that most people don’t want to go to the places with cold weather in the winter or to places with hot weather in the summer. Avoiding year-end holiday season travel is also a good idea. During this time, there’ll be a boost in travel costs and crowds.

Another thrifty tip: Be flexible with the days of the week you, and hour of the day (or night), during which you are willing to fly. Friends in the airline industry tell me that it is often cheaper to fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays – sometimes Saturdays. But don’t just take the word of my airline insiders. A similar recommendation was made in a USA Today article.

“Planning a week-long vacation? Make a habit of taking trips that span Wednesday to Tuesday rather than Monday to Sunday and you’ll find yourself with a much bigger budget to spend at your destination,” writer Josh Roberts wrote in that article.

SHOP AROUND: Rather than spending time logging onto multiple hotel sites and booking platforms, you can save time by using a hotel comparison platform which does the job for you. “Travelers want great deals on hotels, but planning for a business trip or vacation can be time-consuming,” said Chris Rivett, travel expert at hotel comparison platform HotelsCombined. “Comparing multiple top travel sites on a single platform, with a single search, gives you a much better chance at finding the best rate. Visitors to HotelsCombined also get a best-price guarantee, no booking fees, and no mark-up.”

Checking out some of the popular online websites that help you compare pricing and do the booking when you’re ready, is a great strategy. Some sites offer you price alerts for hotels and air fare.

Shopping around also involves looking into these things at least a month or so before your trip, especially if your trip involves air travel. Plane ticket pricing can fluctuate depending on the airline and how well tickets are selling for a particular flight. Start looking at pricing early, and regularly check back to see if prices have dropped. Another money saver, if you have the time, is using connecting flights with your air travel. Direct flights tend to cost more.

Also, keep in mind that roundtrip flights are usually less expensive than one-way flights.

AVOID FLIGHT FRIGHT: Pack lightly for your trip. Flight fright is what usually sets in to passengers when they are assessed extra fees either for extra baggage or having baggage over a certain weight.

VEHICLE RENTALS: If you choose to rent a vehicle while on vacation, see if you can make it with an economy car. When you are picking up your vehicle, it couldn’t hurt to ask if there are any deals to upgrade your car. If there is a worthwhile, cost-effective deal that isn’t a hassle to pursue (and if the upgrade does not mean paying more money in gas overall), then by all means take the upgrade.

Avoid picking up your rental at the company’s airport location. There are usually fees associated with the airport location, raising the overall cost of the rental. But no matter where you pick up the vehicle, returning it to the same rental office where you got it generally saves money on the cost of the rental – even if you got it at the airport.

MEAL DEALS: Dining out for two or three meals a day, per person, while on vacation can take a big bite out of your budget. If your lodging has a private refrigerator and microwave, you can save some dough by buying a few basic groceries to have a less expensive meal every now and then. You can even buy some small snack to put in a pocket or purse as you go along your day or evening.

If buying groceries, making sandwiches, etc. is the very thing you want to get away from, you can still have someone else prepare your food and save money. There is no shame in bringing coupons to family restaurants, diners or other eateries. Many coupons for national chain restaurants are usually accepted at all or most of the company’s locations across the country.

A fancy dining experience can still be had. But to save some cash, consider having it at lunch or breakfast. Those meals tend to be less expensive than dinner.

Hopefully, these tips have whetted your appetite for travel – and have shown you ways to make your family vacation awesome … and affordable!