How to Plan a Cheap Family Vacation

Posted by Shaun Morgan in FamilyMarch 7, 2022(Last Updated July 28, 2022)5 min read
Key Takeaways
  • When planning a budget-friendly family vacation, the most important thing is to have a budget.
  • The biggest areas to save money in are transportation and lodging.
  • Focusing more on having good experiences with your family makes for the best, and cheapest vacations.
Are you ready to make some real money moves?

Planning a vacation with a family can be incredibly stressful, not to mention that every human you add to the family increases the cost of traveling. So, I’ve created seven helpful tips to plan a budget-friendly family vacation.


Before following the tips to have a budget-friendly family vacation, you need to have a budget.


Plan How Much You Can Spend and Save


Going on a vacation with a family should not be a last-minute decision if you can help it. First, keep in mind that everything is more expensive at the last minute. But more importantly, you can’t save and prepare properly if you plan a last-minute trip. Plus, last-minute trips can cause significant stress to you and your family. 


The best way to save and prepare for a vacation is to have a vacation category in your budget. Then, in the months you don’t go on vacation, you can save that money for future holidays. This allows you to replenish your vacation fund throughout the year.


If you have a specific vacation in mind, you can be more specific with your budget. First, it’s a must to plan out how much your lodging and transportation will cost, estimate food costs, and add more to your estimate just in case something pops up, then plan to save money for activities. Finally, add a little more money on the side if an emergency comes up or you need to buy something that you didn’t plan on buying initially.


Once you have the set amount you need to save each month (or bi-weekly, depending on your paycheck), you’re ready to start saving for your budget-friendly vacation.


But what if you look at the amount you need to save and get discouraged? That’s where these budget-friendly tips come into play. 


1. Vacation Nearby


We’ve all heard of the “staycation,” but let’s be honest, most of us scoff at it on the inside. We typically want to go somewhere exotic, different, and new for vacation. You may see a video or a photo of the Maldives on social media, and you may start to feel major FOMO (fear of missing out). 


However, don’t count out a budget-friendly staycation for a quick getaway. The Maldives will always be there for a later date. 


A staycation isn’t about taking time off from work to sit around and watch Netflix all day (and by that, I mean shush your kids while you try to watch Netflix). Instead, it’s about exploring the world close to home.


What are the things you've always meant to visit within a day's drive but never have? If tourists come to see something unique near your hometown, why don't you? You might be impressed. Staycations allow you to be a tourist in your own city or state.


Image Credit: Stas Tolstnev /


This cuts out lodging expenses since you can drive back home to rest. However, lodging is usually one of the most expensive parts of traveling. Additionally, staycations help support your local economy, reduce travel expenses (i.e., lodging, food, travel time), and pet owners can take their pet buddies.


2. Buy Flights in Advance


There are two ways to get discount flights, buy them in advance or buy them at the last minute. But, of course, last-minute isn’t the best idea for a family vacation, which leaves you with purchasing in advance.


Buying your flights in advance can save you hundreds of dollars. There are several apps that help you monitor airfare, like SkyScanner or Expedia. These apps can help you figure out the most cost-effective time to fly. 


You can also join rewards programs that airlines offer for free to their flyers. By accumulating points or rewards, you can eventually redeem them for free or low-cost travel.


Since transportation is often the most expensive part of traveling, saving money here is super important. The rule of thumb is to book your flight at least three months in advance to save money. However, buying your flights more than six to nine months in advance is proven to save you money too. 


3. Fly Mid-Week


Like any commodity, the prices of flights depend on the supply (how many flights are available) and demand (how many people want to get on the flight that you want). Flights on weekends are more sought after than flights in the middle of the week. This is because the working class (and college students apply in this case) generally works from Monday through Friday and has the weekends as a break.


So, if you can be flexible and fly on a Tuesday, for example, you could save money on your flights.


Image Credit: Monkey Business Images /


Being flexible around the holidays is also helpful. For example, flying on a slightly less convenient day (like the day of Christmas or Thanksgiving) around a holiday can save you hundreds of dollars. Once again, using a flight comparison app can be very helpful here.


4. Pay Off Travel Rewards Credit Card Monthly


If you have a large family, you probably have a lot of expenses too. To turn these expenses into cheap travel, find a good travel rewards credit card, use it for everything, and pay off the balance in full and on time every month.


Using your travel credit cards (also known as travel rewards cards) for everything and paying it off monthly will accrue points but not interest. This will turn into free or cheap travel in flights and hotels. In addition, the rewards earned will help you and your family significantly to save money.


Recommended Read: Need Extra Income? Your Car May Be Your Money Maker 


5. Save on All Expenses


It is easy to think of vacations as all-inclusive resort experiences, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, you will have more fun splurging on experiences and spending less on accommodations.


But there are other ways to save too. You don’t have to eat out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on vacation. Although it sounds less appealing, making your own meals while on vacation can save you money. 


You can also save on fun and memorable experiences by using websites like Groupon or other discount sites to get money off your activity purchases. 


6. Find Flexible Flights


It might surprise you that flights can be at different prices depending on what website you research on. The most expensive flights will be on the websites of the airlines.


Then there are aggregator websites like Google Flights, which are usually the same price as the airline site. These sites just help you compare prices and times all in one place.


Lastly, there are discount flight sites that are too numerous to name. Looking at all these websites, you will notice that the prices can differ quite dramatically. Always read their terms of use because you will have less flexibility to change or refund your flights in most cases.


Recommended Read: Budgeting for a Family Reunion


7. Compare Lodging Costs


Depending on where you are going to stay and how long you will stay there, the difference between hotel and Airbnb costs can be quite significant.


For example, you might find that the cost for one night is cheaper in a hotel than renting a house. But since you only get charged cleaning costs once for an Airbnb rental, the longer you stay, the cheaper it is. Also, you will appreciate the extra space of a house with a family instead of a cramped hotel room.


Remember that the point of vacation is to make memories with your family. Planning a trip for your family in advance will save you the financial headaches of last-minute planning. Using the tips above makes it possible to plan a budget-friendly family vacation.

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