In our throws of working with families and their finances, one of the items that is often left out of the plan is a properly planned family summer vacation. We usually see this in families with limited means or ones that are so busy with other aspects of their own lives, that family time takes second place. It never should. Spending time together, bonding as a family away from all our life’s other pressures, is arguably one of the most important things for a family to do.
The family vacation is practically an Canadian institution. Whether it’s a trip to Grandma’s house or a long-anticipated vacation to Algonquin or Disney, vacations allow you to spend quality time with your family as you make lifelong memories. Of course, vacationing with a potentially large brood also means shelling out more for everything: food, lodging, entertainment, and attraction tickets, to name a few. What we tell people is that just because you’re on a tight budget doesn’t mean you need to skip the family vacation.
There are ways to plan a family vacation without going into debt or paying a fortune. Being smart about getting the most out of every dollar makes it possible to enjoy your trip without sacrificing fun. It’s the best of both worlds: making memories with your family and avoiding sticker shock when all is said and done.
Because my kids are grown with their own lives, I asked my staff a question. How many times did your family get away for a vacation last year? The answers varied what intrigued me was my Administrative Assistant, Elaine’s answer. She had taken her family on two vacations last year, neither of which were apparently exotic or expensive. Vacations aren’t about the destination so much as the experience, which means a cost-effective plan can be as enjoyable as a pricey vacation. Here are some of the best ways to score a memorable trip on the cheap:
Plan a staycation
Whether you visit a historical site, national forest, or a few local city hangouts, by booking lodging where you live and sticking close to home, you can get the vacation experience without the expense of travel. Look for cheap attractions and tours, and ask your hotel whether they offer a discount for local residents. One of the best places to find staycation deals is through group deal websites such as Groupon. Most of these sites offer deep discounts on everything from hotels to food and activities.
Doing something out of the ordinary, even if it’s close to home, can help create a vacation-like atmosphere without requiring an extravagant trip. Whether you choose to go camping at a nearby campsite, or you stay overnight in the city to check out the opening of a new museum, you donâ€™t need to drive or fly to find a vacation spot.
If you think about it, most of the attractions and events you pay for on vacation are passive activities. It costs a lot of money to catch a baseball game, go to the movies, see a play, or wander around a theme park, and yet, these activities don’t always lend themselves to family bonding. That’s why I favour active itineraries instead. Not only does a hike through a forest or a bike ride through town cost a lot less than show tickets, these types of activities give you a chance to talk and connect with your family.
Some active vacation ideas include hiking, rafting, rope courses, zip line courses, cycling, camping, and geocaching. Check for nearby ropes or leadership courses that take private participants. For a low admission fee, you can add an amazing element to your cost-effective vacation.
Book through owners
Hotels can be expensive, and some don’t even offer that many amenities. The trick to getting the most bang for your buck is to look for lodging that offers more than just a bed and a bathroom. I love the site Airbnb. It provides owners of condominiums, cottages, and vacation homes the ability to list their properties for a lot less than you would spend through a traditional hotel website. For example, a full-service condo, listed on Airbnb by its owner in Florida costs $135 per night, while a comparable hotel room in the same area can cost upwards of $265 per night.
You can specify the size and amenities of the lodging you’re looking for, and in most cases, you can score extra perks such as a working kitchen and on-site gym. I love being able to work with the property owner instead of a hotel. This type of flexibility makes it an excellent resource for bigger families or family reunions. Compare options and prices before you book to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Finally, read renter reviews before you book with a property owner. You want to make sure the property lives up to its hype.
While it may seem more cost-effective to search separately for the best deals on airfare, car rentals, and lodging, I’ve found that you can save big by booking a full package. Online travel sites, such as Travelocity and Expedia, offer many options but you might want to check with a travel agent for package deals too. Some travel agents can offer killer deals you can’t find online.
You may also want to look at booking a vacation package directly through your airline. A friend recently scored a great deal on plane tickets and a hotel when booking through the airlines. It was a full $200 cheaper than if they had booked the hotel and airfare separately, and still cheaper than the deals they found on travel websites. Find the best deal by pricing airfare, hotel, and car rentals separately, then compare the total to a variety of package deals.
Book through club stores
It’s an unusual way to book a vacation, but club stores such as Costco offer vacation planning services with great deals on attraction tickets. For instance, a Disneyland vacation package booked for November that includes park passes and lodging costs the same whether you book through Disney or through Costco. However, Costco members get more for their money receiving benefits. Even if you don’t have a Costco club membership, you can browse options on the Costco website. If you find a great deal through Costco or another club store, it might be worth the cost of membership to score discounts on travel, even if it’s just for one trip.
Visit beaches less travelled
Beach vacations are one of the most popular family vacations. Sand, sun, relaxation, and family time all add up to a stress-reducing, memory-making experience. However, staying on premium beach real estate is going to cost you, particularly if you set your sights on popular vacation destinations. That doesn’t mean you must skip the beach altogether.
In addition to less expensive lodging, less-frequented beaches feature lower-cost food and activities. If you really want an insider’s opinion, ask friends, family, and acquaintances who live near the water about their favourite spots. Getting a local opinion helps you avoid some of the pricey tourist traps while providing you with an authentic local experience.
Work for the weekend
Unbelievably, you can find cheap vacations at working farms and dude ranches all over the country. While it’s definitely a seasonal activity, think about how much your kids would love learning about farm life, collecting eggs, taking care of animals, and even horseback riding. And, since you earn your keep while staying on a working farm, it’s usually cost-effective. These hands-on experiences feature rustic lodgings – usually a cabin or a room with bunks – and provide meals you share with other families visiting the farm, giving you the chance to enjoy camaraderie with other suburban families.
Food and accommodations are included, along with attractions like a guest rodeo, fishing, a shooting range, cattle drives, and campfires for four. It’s an excellent way to expose your kids to new experiences without breaking the bank. Keep in mind that not all dude ranches are cheap vacation options. Boutique-style ranches can be seriously expensive, so make sure you add up the costs of food, lodging, and activities before you commit.
Hit the road
If you can at least entertain the thought of spending hours in a car with your spouse and children, you can plan a road trip that will maximize family harmony, keep costs down and minimize the temptation to escape by stowing away in someone’s RV at a rest stop. When I was a kid, starting from just outside Toronto and towing a trusty tent trailer (later upgraded to a larger trailer) my aunts, uncles and cousins successfully road-tripped over much of Ontario and North America.
The first decision to make is where to go. Start by researching interesting places near your route to stop at to break up the drive. Consider returning by a different route for a change of scenery. Make sure to include something on the road trip for everyone such as historic sites, natural spaces, and theme parks. Maybe even outlet malls. Don’t assume everyone thinks your way. Make it a family activity to help plan the trip and the route.
Once you know where you want to go, you need to consider where to stay. This can be the expensive part of a road trip but does not have to be. Look for motel rooms with fridges and microwaves, or include a light breakfast buffet. You can also consider city no-wilderness campsites with full hook-ups, a pool, playground, and games room. For me this approaches glamping. Don’t just travel and hope to find a place to stay at the end of the day. People will be tired, cranky and you may find no vacancies. Make sure you book your accommodations ahead so you know you have a place for them (and you) to sleep.
The next expensive travel cost is feeding your brood. Pack your lunch the night before you leave home. It’s a smart idea to keep food and drinks fresh in a cooler (ice or plug-in). Make sure to pack enough for dinner too and save even more money and time. Instead of fast food, check the internet for inexpensive restaurants on or near your route. You’ll find that restaurant portions can be huge, so try sharing meals and make sure to ask for a doggy bag.
No family vacation is ever 100% hitch-free, but with some careful planning, a family vacation, properly planned is affordable, can save you money and create some of the best memories you’ll ever have. A list word of advice, be prepared for unexpected medical costs by buying travel insurance for your family if you do not have group coverage through your employer. You may even want to top up your group coverage dependent on the length of the trip and where you are going. It’s an absolute must if you’re visiting the U.S., but it’s also useful if you’re just visiting another province, since all provincial health insurance is not equal, and what you have at home may not cover you completely elsewhere in the country.
Making family memories is what family vacations are all about. Not of all us have access to a family cottage or vacation home or an get away for prolonged periods. There are many ways to enjoy family time together without breaking the bank. In Financial Life Planning, living life is the primary ingredient. Family vacations are one component of living a quality life and is important in Keeping Life Current.