Planning a family vacation is fun. Budgeting for one can be pure agony. With the price of airfare, hotels, and food shooting through the roof, it’s tempting to turn on the sprinkler, send the kids outside, and call it a summer (and believe me, we’ve done plenty of that!)
Here are our tried and tested tips to help get you and the kids out of the backyard.
1 Rent an apartment or a house. Even if you don’t want to cook every meal on your vacation, you’ll save tons of money and aggravation with your own fridge to store snacks and drinks in, and a stove to boil water for pasta if your kids are too cranky to hit yet another restaurant. Plus, you’ll get a feel for what living there might be like. We’ve rented houses and apartments from Maine to France and have loved them all. HomeAway and VRBO are our favorite vacation rental sites.
2 Book early. So this one may be just as important on a psychological level as on a financial one. We always book either our airfare or rental at least six months out. This way we’ve paid off a good chunk of it long before the actual trip. See, don’t you feel better already?
3 Use an airfare consolidator with a good fare tracker. You’ll only need to put in your dates and destination once and they will send you regular updates so you can track airfare. We like Airfare Watchdog and Kayak. Before you book, try Bing, which predicts whether fares are dropping or rising and whether you should book now or wait.
4 Stay flexible on your destinations. Once you’ve pinned down your dates, pick three or four destinations you’d like to visit and start tracking airfare. That scheme helped us score some great fares to Costa Rica, when we’d initially been considering California. Lesson: don’t assume domestic flights will be cheaper.
5 Try to eat out only once a day. This won’t only save you money but aggravation. Eating out with kids gets very old very fast. We generally prefer to eat out for lunch. The lunch menu is usually less expensive and the setting more casual, so it lets us try “nice” restaurants we couldn’t afford or brave in the evening.
6 Play where your kids don’t pay. Many of the museums we’ve visited in Europe do not charge for kids. Even those who do usually have a monthly free museum day or evening. Do a little research and take advantage of those if they coincide with your trip. Another favorite thing to do on vacation with kids, especially in the summer, is to attend free concerts. In DC, for example, the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage offers free shows every night of the year.
7 Sign up for local coupon sites. Before you leave, sign up for a local coupon site such as Groupon or Living Social. It usually takes a few days to activate the deals so make sure you do it early. My favorite site for finding theater and music deals is Goldstar, which currently offers deals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Boston, and New York.
8 Buy a travel app that is fully offline. Travel apps are great but your roaming costs will add up quickly unless you opt for one that is completely offline once you it’s downloaded. Try Spotted by Locals or DigiGuide.