How to save on your next family trip
September 7, 2012 by Mark Dye
I love going on vacation with my family—going somewhere special, seeing the sights, relaxing a bit, and just generally having fun and creating wonderful memories. The problem is that, by the time we get home, unpack, and start adding up how much it costs … well, I'm ready to take a vacation to recover from the vacation.
Thankfully, my tendency toward thrift (read: cheapness) has taught me a few ways to save some money (and the remaining bits of my sanity) when we head out.
Staying close to home can save you cash and help you connect with your own city, or one close by. As a bonus, you can do it all without spending hours in a cramped car or at a hectic airport.
Going in the off season can save you significant dough. I love national parks in the spring or fall—when the weather is still nice, but prices are cheaper.
Searching smart for cheap airfare can be difficult, as one site might have a great deal today but not tomorrow, and another might require you to bid on tickets. And although it's usually good to book early, you can also get great last-minute deals.
My advice: It depends on how much risk you're willing to take and the nature of the trip. For example, if you're by yourself and in no hurry, flying stand-by is fine. If it's a family trip with impatient kids, it's not so fine. In the real world, sometimes having some certainty overrides frugality, so keep that in mind.
Regardless, always check the fine print for fees.
Research might take some time, but finding free stuff is worth it. Google and/or Bing is/are your friend/friends and can help you find coupons and discounts. Just make sure you have enough toner to print out anything you find (just…yeah…trust me on this one).
Take and/or make your own food, especially if you're driving, as there will most likely be a rest stop, or a town park (my personal fave) along the way. And if you're staying in a hotel with a kitchenette, you can make most of your own meals.
Skip the hotel, because most bed and breakfasts offer discounts to remain at capacity, while hostels are great if you only want a bed and don't mind a shared bathroom (some even offer private rooms for couples and families). Camping out is an alternative for some (such as myself), but it's certainly not for everyone (such as my wife). You can even try to convince non-camping types that renting an RV might be cheaper than a hotel, and it's like camping…but with a full bed and a bathroom.
Also skip the rental car and see if there's public transportation. If you have to rent, check places like www.rentawreck.com, where the cars might not be pretty, but they run well and cost less.
Military discounts are almost everywhere, from huge franchises to small stores, so don't forget to bring your military ID. And don't be shy, either; always ask about it.
Package discounts can get you airfare, hotel, car rental and even tickets to local attractions, all in one purchase.
The last piece of advice I have is this: Whatever you choose to do or where to go, enjoy getting there as much as the destination. After all, your best pictures might be of the sites, but your best memories will often be of the journey.
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