Traveling with a family on a budget is not always easy, but can be simple as long as you make a plan and stick with it.
Make a few choices.
The first step to planning a family vacation on a budget is deciding where you’ll go, how many days you’ll travel, where you’ll stay, and which form of transportation you’ll be taking. Generally speaking, traveling by car is cheapest. There are exceptions to this rule but for the purposes of this post we will stick with a road trip being ideal.
How far will you travel? If you live in Missouri, for example, you are centrally located to many great states but it’s going to take at least a day or two to drive far enough to see the ocean. What type of vacations do you and your family usually take? If you want something out of the ordinary and you haven’t seen the ocean in a while, go for it!
If you live in San Diego, you could travel to Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, or anywhere in between for a weekend trip. If you live in Texas and you want to travel to New York, it’s going to take a little longer. The longer your trip is, the more expensive it will be because of food, lodging, and gas. You can definitely take a longer trip on a budget, just keep shopping stops to a minimum so you don’t go over your budget each day!
Get an oil change and any other necessary maintenance (tire rotation, etc) completed before you take off. Use apps like GasBuddy to save on gas, and make sure you pack lots of snacks and drinks so you don’t have to spend $4 on a Gatorade at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. If you have room for a cooler, you can also pack sandwich supplies and have a picnic at a rest stop. It really just depends on how limited your budget is and where you’re willing to cut back (on food) to spend elsewhere (on a hotel or souvenirs).
Speaking of hotels, check online sites like Travelocity and TripAdvisor to score the best deals. Sometimes you can save big when you book at the last minute, but I don’t like living on the edge like that so I book ahead of time if possible. The problem with booking ahead of time on a road trip is, things come up. Stuff happens. You might not end up at your hotel until 2AM, so you would’ve been better off stopping a few hours back at, say 11PM, to get a decent night’s sleep. If you hit traffic, or get a flat tire, or take longer at rest stops, your hotel plans could be thrown off track.
G Adventures and Intrepid Travel offer budget-friendly family adventure tours and whilst it’s not the cheapest way to travel, they are a lot more affordable than other similar companies. It’s a great way for families to try out adventure travel for the first time as a family unit.
When you’re traveling with a family, especially when you have little ones, being flexible is extremely important. You might take the wrong route, or have to take a detour due to construction. You might get stuck in traffic or get a flat tire. Things happen, but the important part is how you react to those things. Show your kids that this vacation is about making memories, not about everything being perfect.
Don’t be afraid to splurge.
I know it seems silly to say something like “don’t be afraid to splurge” when I’m writing a post about traveling on a budget, but some things are worth splurging for! Some families like to splurge on trinkets and souvenirs while others prefer to splurge on hotel stays. Some would rather rent a car and spend a little extra than put the miles on their own car. No matter which items you’d like to splurge on, as long as you stay on track with the rest of your budget, you’ll be fine! Sometimes splurging on a little somethin’ for yourself (like a mud bath at the spa!) is nice, too.