By Candyce H. Stapen
The only thing nearly as sweet as a satisfying family vacation is knowing that your trip came in on budget. With thoughtful planning, you can stretch your vacation dollars and still have a great time. Here are some tips.
Book a vacation rental. With a rental condo or home, you get more space for your money. Rental properties typically include fully-equipped kitchens with dishes, utensils and pots and pans. That adds convenience and saves money on meals. Your six-year-old, who awakens with the birds, can get herself cold cereal; your always-hungry teen can grab handy and healthy snacks; and your family can enjoy cost-effective home-cooked dinners together right at your rental’s dining table.
Share a condo or villa with another family. Sharing a three- or four-bedroom condo or home with another family can cost less than booking a two- or three-bedroom unit for just your own family. Before making the reservation, talk honestly about how expenses, cooking and other tasks will be shared and come to an agreement on rules for kids’ bedtimes and television.
Pack lunches for picnics. Use your rental home’s kitchen to prepare sandwiches-to-go for lunch while sight-seeing, which saves big-time over stopping for restaurant meals. Buy the tuna fish, turkey or peanut butter that your kids want and let them help prepare the lunch and pick the picnic spots. Your children will enjoy taking an active part in planning these activities.
Eat local. It’s fun to eat out sometimes, especially at less-costly locally favorite spots. Find out ahead of time about the best pizza and pasta places, inexpensive cafes and burger places. At the destination, ask newfound friends about the restaurants where the locals go.
Establish a souvenir budget. It’s a given that children crave souvenirs. Before your trip, establish the amount of money you will either give your children or allow them to spend from their allowance or savings on souvenirs. Then stand back and let them enjoy their purchases.
Consider discounted-attraction cards. In many popular vacation areas, attractions group together to offer cards that provide discounted admission. If the card covers the attractions and activities on your must-do list, gets you in for less and gives you enough days to see what you want, then it’s a good deal. Otherwise, don’t buy the cards.
Look for coupons. Before you leave home and when you arrive at your destination, search online sites such as LivingSocial.com and Groupon.com for discounts on restaurants and attractions. The coupon could help make that fishing, jet skiing, or museum outing more affordable.
Do free or inexpensive activities. Take advantage of your destination’s free and inexpensive activities. Go hiking in the national park, pedal down the ski area’s mountain bike trail, build sandcastles at the beach and bike to the local ice cream store for after-dinner treats. Being together is what your kids will remember.
Long-time family travel guru Candyce H. Stapen writes for many publications and outlets. She has written 30 travel guidebooks, including two for National Geographic. See gfvac.com for more information.