9 tips for a budget-friendly vacation

Sun, snow, saunas — what’s your idea of the perfect getaway? Unfortunately, no matter what your passion, that trip out of town isn’t going to happen if you can’t afford it. So here’s some good news: We know how you can get that vacation you need and still balance your budget! Read on…

1Include extended family

Family on vacation

Assuming you enjoy spending time with your family, traveling together can save you hundreds on the hotel room, gas, tolls, etc. Not only can you share rooms, but you can also trade off childcare, qualify for group discounts, split up based on interests to visit different places or attractions — but you’ll have fun, too!

To avoid arguments and disappointments, be sure to sit down with everyone beforehand and map out what you want to do, and include the wants and needs of each member of the group (including the kids).

>> Stress-free family travel guide

2Sign up for AAA

If you don’t already have a membership, AAA (The American Automobile Association) offers lots of discounts — see some here. For example, they might offer 10 percent off the bill at Hard Rock Café, discounts on Disney tickets and more. And of course, most hotels give discounts when you show your AAA card.

>> Big fun, small price: 10 Budget-friendly vacation ideas

3Pick the right hotel

Especially when traveling with a family, choose hotels based on whether they have value-added freebies, such as free breakfast, free local phone calls, free Internet access, free cribs/rollaway beds, etc.

>> 8 Budget-friendly family vacations

4Save those gift cards

Even with time being short, check your wallet and drawers for unused gift cards. Gift cards, especially ones for restaurants, will save you money and help you budget. If you belong to point programs and have enough points, you might cash them in for gift cards. In addition to programs offered by your credit card companies, two programs to check out: Mypoints.com and our own Points & Prizes.

>> 10 Ways to save for a family vacation

5Spare change adds up

I’ve found an easy way to do this is. For example, when your total at the local fast food place comes to $9.23, give them $10 and pocket the change. Store it in a jar, and then right before your trip, cash it in. Most grocery stores have Coinstar coin counting machines, or you can count and roll the cash yourself.

>> Start saving now for your summer vacation

6Pick up the Entertainment Book

The Entertainment Book — often sold by schools as part of a fundraiser, but which is also available online — is packed full of coupons for restaurants, hotels and much more. Buy a copy at their web site and have it delivered a few weeks before your trip. Take some time to go through it (it’s a thick book!) and rip out the coupons you want to use and store them in a folder or envelope — and be sure to take along the included membership card.

>> Tips for finding family travel deals

7Find more cash

Besides saving your change, you can find more cash for your trip by eating what’s in your pantry. A few months before your trip, cut down on going to the grocery store and eating out. For example, if you budget $300 a month for food, but you use just a third of that, you’ll have $200 toward your trip. Also, cut back on recreational shopping trips — only buy what you need.

To raise more money, consider selling books, old clothes and some of your family’s other unwanted items on eBay, craigslist.org and other similar sites.

>> How to turn your “stuff” into cash

8Pick the right restaurants & attractions

If you have young children, choose restaurants that offer free children’s meals and parks with free admission. (Student IDs might help kids qualify for reduced museum and other attraction ticket prices, too.) If older relatives are traveling with you, know that many restaurants and parks also offer senior discounts.

>> How to do Disney World cheap: SheKnows message boards

9BYO food & drinks

Beware the minibar! Hotels charge a fortune for cans of soda, bottled water, etc. Instead, fill a cooler with cans of soda, snacks, paper plates and cups and anything else you might need. If you can’t or don’t want to lug that much stuff from home, stop by a grocery store on the way to the hotel. (Also worth noting, especially if you have kids: Some hotels charge for the stuff in the minibar and the food displayed above even if you just lift an item up off the pressure-sensitive pad — so you might want to make a “hands off” rule as soon as you check in.) 

If your hotel/timeshare has a fridge, you can save even more by buying things like a loaf of bread, some mayo and one of those yummy deli-roasted chickens — maybe some peanut butter and jelly, too. This way, you can easily make sandwiches anytime!

With a little creativity and some planning, you’ll find that you really can take a vacation without breaking your budget.

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