These days, a vacation can set you back a pretty penny in a hurry, especially once you have children. Flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, expensive cuisine, and entertainment add up quickly.
Once you have a child (or 2 or 7), it gets even pricier when you have to book larger hotel rooms and feed more people.
But don’t despair! No one, I repeat, no one says you have to book that all-inclusive, wallet-robbing Disney vacation for your little princes and princesses. Disney isn’t for everyone, it’s ridiculously expensive, and the whole idea sounds exhausting.
I don’t know about you, but my idea of a vacation is to relax, not to run from roller coaster to roller coaster to wait in line for an hour.
In other words, Mickey Mouse’s house isn’t exactly what I have in mind for rest and relaxation. I prefer a low-key, budget-friendly vacation.
If you’re on the same page, here are my best tips on how to plan a frugal vacation the whole family can enjoy.
Share a Vacation
Our go-to plan now that we have a toddler is to share our vacations with those we love. It saves money in the form of splitting the cost of a condo or house (you get bigger bang for your buck that way), and it provides extra sets of hands and eyes for the kiddos that come along.
For the last couple of years, my mother went on vacation with us (thankfully my husband loves my mom!), but this year we are vacationing with some neighbor friends of ours who also have 3 small children.
The kids get to play together, we split the cost of a spacious house that we rented via VRBO.com (and one that we couldn’t have afforded just on our own budget), and we can each opt for date nights away from the kids if we choose.
It’s a great situation for everyone involved, and it’s a great option if you have another family that you enjoy being around.
Go to the Beach
The beach is always a great place for families to visit because the main attraction — the beach itself — is free entertainment. As long as it’s not raining, you can be lounging, reading, playing, building sandcastles, or swimming. All for free.
There’s no fee to get into that amazing attraction.
If staying right on the beach isn’t an option for you, check places like VRBO.com or Airbnb for affordable accomodations across the street from the beach or within a short driving distance.
Rent a Place with a Kitchen
Eating out at restaurants is fun when you’re on vacation, but I always get tired of going out all the time, not to mention restaurant tabs for every meal are a huge budget buster.
While we do enjoy fancy meals out about half the time on our vacations, we also get a condo with a kitchen so we can eat in for the rest. Eat in for breakfast, especially if your hotel or condo offers a continental breakfast.
Otherwise, breakfast food is the cheapest and easiest meal to fix. Buy a couple of boxes of cereal for the kids (hey, it’s vacation!), and save yourself from time spent cooking and the expense of eating out in the morning.
For lunch and dinner, eat out one day and stay in the next. Or, if you want to eat out every night for dinner, eat breakfast in, make sandwiches for lunch on your beach days, and eat out for dinner.
Travel in Late Summer
After I had my baby, I realized that the best time to travel is in early September when school is back in session. Why? Cheaper fall hotel rates (even though it’s still summer!), the ocean water is warmer (because it was heating up all summer), and blissfully empty attractions and beaches.
September is also when the weather gets a little more tolerable (rather than travelling in the blazing heat of July and August), yet it’s still warm enough to enjoy the beaches at the end of summer.
Hands down, for more reasons than one, late summer is the best time to travel. If you have little ones that aren’t in school yet, take advantage, because this sweet spot won’t be here forever!
Visit Friends or Family
Do you have friends or family who live in an area you’d like to visit? If they can accommodate you, take them up on that lucky opportunity.
To show your appreciation for their hospitality, make sure to shop for and pay for your share of the groceries. Treat your hosts to a nice dinner out on your last night there. Your hosts can also be a wealth of knowledge on local attractions and free, family-friendly events.
No matter your destination, travelling doesn’t have to break the bank, and you don’t need to be a credit card churning expert to figure out how to vacation on the cheap. Now get to planning that awesome vacation so you can have something to daydream about at work!
How do you take a frugal family vacation? What’s your favorite place to visit with family (besides Disney)?