Sep 28, 2011

WFMW: How To Plan Inexpensive Family Vacations

Last week I wrote about how I plan fun family activities, and as promised, this week I am tackling Family Vacations.

Vacations are one of my VERY favorite things to plan!

I have a very good method, too, for planning and it never fails me!

Here we go:

First, decide where you're going!  For me, this is the toughest job.  There are so many things that factor into it, and the biggest one is what my family will enjoy most.

You kind of have to decide what you want in your vaca.  Beach time?  Amusement Parks?  Shopping and City Life?  Lots of choices to be made.  Once you decide that, you have to decide the details of exactly where/when you're going.

The way I scout these out is by starting early and spending time on the Internet.  I belong to a bunch of online sites that email me updates for vacation specials.  So I make sure to read those every week as well as hop around to different sites now and then.  You never know when an amazing deal will pop up.

One of my favorite sites are TRAVELZOO.  I use it all.  the.  time.  It sends me weekly updates about the best specials from just about every site.  Basically, they do the work for me.

Another tip is that I use Hotwire a lot.  It is kind of like Priceline, in that you don't see the name of the hotel before you purchase.  But you can see the star rating and the neighborhood.  It has never failed us.  In fact, I just made a purchase for around the Holidays and paid $77 per night for a room that cost $139 on Travelocity.  It's at a NICE hotel in a city that is hard to find inexpensive rooms.  (I would give more details, but it's a surprise for my family.  So you'll hear more about it later!)

As far as when to book, here are a couple more tips: 
-travel is usually cheaper in the fall and winter months.  Sometimes this isn't an option for families because of school etc., but if you *can* make it work, it will save you a lot of money! 

-Also, if you have to fly, try waiting to book your flight until about 3 1/2-3 months before your travel date.  The airlines will start decreasing their prices to fill up their flights, so you can grab an awesome deal!  But don't wait too long.  Last minute flights are often the most expensive.

Once your reservations are made, you can start thinking about the fun stuff!  For me, I sit down and write a complete itinerary for the trip.  I include activities, down time, meals, everything!  You can do this by going on the Internet and checking out the local scene.  Some great sites for this are TripAdvisor and Fodors.  They give reviews and tips for the places to see, eat, stay and shop. 

After that, I make a budget based on the cost for all of those things.  This way, I will know exactly what the cost of our vacation should be. I keep a list while we are there of what we have budgeted vs. what we spend.  If we save money at a few areas, we plan an extra activity or a nicer meal out with the money we saved.

(Note:  Be sure to include Hotel cost, Gas/Airfare, Parking, Gratuity, and spending money in your budget.  Those things add up and can be a BIG cost to your trip!)

And finally, here are some other random tips I have for planning family vacations:

-Buy tickets for attractions/activities online before you go if possible.  Often, this saves you money as well as time.

-Make sure to check out the websites or call of ALL the places you plan to visit during your stay to make sure they are open to the public during your time.  Nothing worse than getting the kids all excited for a fun day out and you get there only to find out they are hosting a private event or closed for construction that day :(

-Don't Be Afraid to Ask!  Often, you can get a discount for having a AAA or Entertainment card.  Sometimes, the hotel offers a discount for being a guest there.  Or maybe there is a place, (like a local grocery store), that has discounted tickets.  Be sure to ask the hotel staff as well as calling to ask the activity location to see if there is a way to save money.  Every dollar counts!

-Buy The Goodies at Home!  Kids ALWAYS want extras when they are on vacation, but somehow they always end up costing an arm and leg.  What we usually do is plan to let the girls each get one thing, (and we set a budget for them...usually around $20).  Other than that, I buy some items from the dollar store or wal-mart that and give them there "gifts" throughout the trip.  That way, they feel like they got some cool vacation toys and I know we saved a bunch of money!

-Plan, Plan, Plan...and then be flexible!  I literally plan every moment of our trips, but then I allow for flexibility.  If we wake up and decide we'd rather go to a movie instead of visiting the museum, then that's what we do.  Vacation is all about spending time together and being happy.  Decide before you go that your going to enjoy yourself and go with the flow.  It will be a much happier vacation for everyone!

Hope this helps you as you plan your next family vacation!

I will be linking up with WeAre THAT Family for Works For Me Wednesday!  Skip over and check out all the other great ideas!

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