How to Get Your Money’s Worth on Vacation

vacation budgeting

Let’s face it –  vacations are expensive! They’re time-consuming to plan, stressful at times, and they take you out of your comfort zone, yet we long to take one each and every year. It seems the thrill of getting away from it all far outweighs any and all possible downsides.

So many hard-working families spend all year saving to have enough money for a week long family vacation.  So why not make it as perfect as possible?! Here are five of my best tips to get the most of out each and every dollar saved for this special trip.

1. Decide what type of lodging for your family is best for EACH vacation

Every vacation will have different lodging options and different prices, but people’s needs also change each year we travel. Just remember that not every vacation will merit the same accommodations, nor will all the same options exist at each destination. For example, just because you usually stay in an Airbnb, that doesn’t mean that an Airbnb is the best option for this year’s trip. Maybe the Airbnb prices are higher at your destination or the number of rental options are fewer. Perhaps this year, you don’t need to have a kitchen in your rental and a mid-range hotel fits the bill.

If you have a larger family, is it worth it to cram into a standard sized hotel room? Would it be cheaper to get two rooms or a vacation rental? If you’re headed into the countryside or visiting national parks, there are more opportunities for lodging alternatives like camping, sleeping in a cabin, or renting an RV. (In my opinion, family camping is usually best when you are DRIVING to your destination and have room in your car to pack your tent, sleeping bags, and camping gear with you.)

Do you use the services and amenities that a hotel provides? If you’re not using them, you’re still paying for them!  When traveling with small children, my family and I did much better in hotels; between the swimming pool, the ‘child-proof’ room, and the free breakfast, hotels were our favorite choice. Now, as a family with teens, we’ve found Airbnb’s work better for us.

So between all of the various accommodations available and their amenities, roominess, pricing, and availability, choose the lodging that’s right for your family.

2. Learn how to earn and use reward points

The credit card market today is flooded with cards that offer travel points and rewards. Most of these cards are offered by major airline carriers and hotel chains. However, before you sign up for them, be sure to read the fine print. Most cards will offer you rewards when you use the card, but some give you a large amount of bonus points when you spend a certain amount of money. This is important! If you’re going to open the credit card to receive the bonus points, be sure to reach that spending limit within the time allotted to receive those bonus points. (For more information, see

When you acquire enough points, you can reward yourself with discounted travel, but you have to book through the credit card rewards site. It’s imperative that you read all the instructions carefully to ensure that you’re booking your travel correctly and not racking up additional fees.

vacation budgeting

Keep in mind that some of the top-reviewed travel credit cards have high annual fees; these fees, however, are often offset by the many perks offered. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card has an annual fee of $450, but offers a $300 travel credit annually, in addition to a $100 application credit for Global Entry ($85 for TSA Precheck), and entry into thousands of priority airport lounges worldwide. If you want to travel a lot and have time to juggle the points while keeping track of your spending, the travel rewards credit cards are definitely worth getting. I’ve booked flights, rental cars, and hotels through the Chase rewards programs and have been incredibly happy with our FREE travel!

3. Plan your meals!

For this, I’m not suggesting you have each meal planned out with what and where you’re going to eat. With this tip, I’m simply recommending that you plan when and how often you will eat out. Why? Because dining out is expensive!

Are you staying at a hotel that serves a free breakfast? Will your family be okay with skipping lunch and having an earlier dinner? Let’s face it – restaurants aren’t cheap, especially in high tourist areas. If you have a family of six, you can easily spend $100 at dinner. If you can tackle spending $200 a day in food, more power to you, but most of us can’t. So decide how you’ll budget food and meals.

Use your kitchen if you’re in an Airbnb or condo rental and make dinner there. If you want to eat out every night for dinner, pack a pb & j and some fruit for a quick and cheap lunch. Affordable vacationing CAN be done. You just have to plan ahead and spend your money where it matters.

Ways to save: 

  • Stay at a hotel with a free breakfast
  • Skip breakfast or lunch
  • Try for only two meals a day (have BRUNCH and dinner!)
  • Pack sack lunches for the family 
  • Choose lodging with a kitchen and prepare your own meals
  • Budget your nicer meals out (can you afford appetizers, alcohol, and/or desserts?)
vacation budgeting

4. Travel during the off-season

It’s never ideal to take your kids out of school for too long. The older your kids are, the more learning they’ll miss by being away. That being said, sometimes the best rates you can find are for off-season travel. For example, Disney World prices are cheapest in January and in early autumn (except around holidays). If you can pull your kids out of school then AND stay on a Sunday through Thursday, you can save a LOT of money – both by avoiding a weekend and by traveling during the low season. Yes, sometimes the weather is less than ideal (ex: it may not be hot enough to go on water rides), but the upsides are usually more substantial. Also, many times large vacation resorts or attractions will offer incentives and deals during the low season to increase visitor traffic.

My family and I save money by visiting ski towns in the summers, when crowds are light and luxury ski hotels are much more affordable. Instead of flying to the beach for spring break, we’ll hit the beach during summer when prices aren’t at their peak.

Everything is pricey during peak touring seasons. You not only pay more in travel costs, but also hotels and rental cars  hike their rates. Shops often hold off on sales and sell souvenir items at regular cost when tourist traffic is high. Flight rates soar around the holidays and peak travel times. And of course, traveling when it’s peak season means bigger crowds and longer lines. So, it’s beneficial to at least consider traveling in the off-season.


5. Plan ahead!

I am meticulous when it comes to planning trips. However, not everyone is. Most people are simply too busy with work and family obligations to spend more than a few hours planning. Totally understandable!

Sometimes though, it pays to put in a few extra hours to try to save some money. For example, if you plan ahead, you can find great rates and deals on tourist destinations. In popular big cities, you can affordably tour the sights with CityPass. CityPass is a package deal where you pay one price and receive admission to many top attractions. You can not only skip the ticket line, but you pay one fee which covers admission for numerous places. Keep in mind, CityPass is an affordable option if you plan on doing several main attractions or are touring for many days. If you only have time for a couple of sights, it’s cheaper to pay for each one separately. Do the math and see if CityPass is an affordable option.

In addition, you can often find coupons and deals for hotels and entertainment online. If you’re booking an attraction online, you can often get a slight discount (discounts are usually only offered when you buy your tickets online ahead of time) but you avoid standing in a long ticket line when you finally arrive AND you get a discount. Don’t pay the highest prices at the door! Also, don’t book a vacation without booking your lodging ahead of time. Not only will you pay full price, but you might get turned away due to no vacancies.

If you plan ahead far enough, you can get spectacular flight costs if you know where and when you want to travel. Set up alerts on Google Flights to receive updates whenever flight prices to your destination reach your affordable limits.

Ways to save:

  • Sign up for emails (and deals!) at tourism websites for your destination
  • Check the websites of attractions ahead of time for discounts on tickets
  • Pick up tourist brochures and magazines for free at airports and train stations. They often have coupons and deals for visitors.
  • Book your lodging, rental car, and flights ahead of time. Don’t wait until the last minute!
  • Ask! Don’t hesitate to ask if any unknown discounts/upgrades are available. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Vacations are special times that are meant to be cherished. Try and take a little time to save some money, ensuring that these trips can become a regular occurrence.

What are your best travel budgeting tips? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Travels!


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