Seven Ways to Save Money on Your Summer Family Trip

June 9, 2009

When I was a kid, my family always had a particular spot that we vacationed for at least two weeks out of the year. We went to see my grandmother and grandfather for the first week, and then we went to their cottage on Lake Michigan just north of Muskegon, Michigan.

My family was pretty traditional, and we didn’t have a ton of money, so we usually drove the grueling 18 hour trip from Florida. Although back then, gas was about .89 cents a gallon, so it was always less expensive than flying up there. Summer family vacations are part of America’s heritage, and I have great memories of from those days.

Today, it’s much more expensive to travel as a family, so here are seven tips to help you save money on your family trip.

1) Drive instead of fly. Even though gas prices have crept back up to about $2.25 a gallon, it’s still much lower than last year. If you live within 12 hours of your destination, it’s probably more economical to gas up the minivan and take a road trip. Road trips can be good bonding moments for families, because it forces you to have conversations! If you must fly, here are some tips to help you save money on airline tickets.

2) Pack food on your road trip. Instead of stopping for all three meals, pack sandwiches and snacks for the trip so you can skip lunch and sometimes dinner.

3) Look for a vacation rental on Craigslist or VRBO. You can find vacation rentals at every vacationing spot on these websites. Typically, you’ll find weekly rentals that are cheaper than renting two hotel rooms. Plus, you can find nice condos and houses with full kitchens and multiple bathrooms.

4) Make sure your hotel or vacation rental has a full kitchen. You can blow so much money eating out while on vacation. Having a full kitchen allows you to buy food at the grocery store and make breakfast and lunch so you can save your dining out money for nice dinners. Here are some of the best travel websites to help you research hotels.

5) Plan out your trip ahead of time. If you plan out your itinerary ahead of time and know what you’re going to do and spend each day, you’ll avoid tourist trap attractions that prey on bored tourists. Sometimes, your plans don’t work out due to weather or something unexpected. Write down a list of three or four other activities as a back-up plan just in case you get a wrench thrown in your original plans.

6) Do Things together. You ARE going on a family vacation. Even if your teenagers are whining about having to spend time with you, make them do stuff together with you. If everyone is off doing a different activity, it will add up quickly. Choose activities that the whole family will enjoy, not just your youngest child.

7) Choose a destination just outside of the tourist hotspot. Every vacationing spot has a strip of hotels or entertaining areas that everyone is attracted to. If you stay just outside of that area, you’ll spend less on lodging and less on eating out.

Making family summer vacations enjoyable for the entire family is tough. Everyone has different interests and a different idea of having fun. If the parents keep a good attitude, the children will pick up on that and eventually start having a good time.

You’re on vacation, so don’t be afraid to spend money, as long as you aren’t going into debt to do it. Splurge a little on activities you don’t normally do. When my wife and I go on vacation, we’d rather spend the bulk of our money on experiencing new things, rather than blowing it all on food and nightlife. Maybe you are different, but hopefully these tips will help you plan out your trip this summer. If you have any more suggestions, feel free to post them in the comments suggestion.



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Erik Folgate is a husband and father living in Orlando who's been writing about money online for 6 years. Digging himself out of $20k of debt after college and his former experience in the insurance industry give him some useful insights into personal finance issues.

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3 Responses to Seven Ways to Save Money on Your Summer Family Trip

  • stephanie allen

    Going to your local Dream Dinners and assembling dinner for the amount of people you will be serving, freezing them and take with you to your condo or kitchenette to cook them. That way you don’t have to spend your vacation time, grocery shopping, chopping or clean up, no ingredients needed. Just cook and enjoy!


    I completely agree with tip #4 Make sure your hotel or vacation rental has a full kitchen.

    Fast food and sit down restaurants really add to the expense of a vacation, especially when a family eats three meals a day this way.

    When vacationing I always advise people to look into extended stay hotels.

    You save in two ways. These places have kitchenettes with good size refrigerators, microwaves, and cooking ranges allowing you to make your own meals.

    Second they can be much cheaper than a regular hotel. Inn Town Suites for example has rooms in Orlando Florida for as low as $190 a week.

  • Checking Accounts Girl

    I generally find that if I go anywhere – it’s best to go to where the locals hang out rather than the more touristy areas. For one, prices are definitely cheaper; and also because that’s where the best foods are. 🙂 So, if you can locate a place where the locals hang out, for sure you’ll enjoy your stay.