So, you want to take a vacation with your family this year, but think you can't afford it? Don't be so quick to write off the possibility of some rest and relaxation with the family because with a few tips on saving money, you might discover you can afford that family vacation after all.
It's All About The TimingSaving money on a family vacation often comes down to timing, in more ways than one. First of all, you always want to try to book your vacation plans as early as possible to get the best deals. This is especially true of cruises, where you will actually want to try to book a year in advance. That sounds like a long time to plan ahead, but if you can commit to a family cruise a year in advance, you'll get some great deals and have plenty of time to pay for your vacation through a payment plan.
Most people are aware that booking early on flights allows you to find some the best deals, as well. You can really save big on flights right after the first of the year when airline bookings are down and people haven't started planning their vacations yet, or at least those people who aren't as savvy as you're going to be by jumping in there and planning early, right? If you're booking flights, you should also be aware that traveling during the week can produce significant savings as opposed to traveling on weekends when airlines are busier. Also, note that Mondays can be busy for airlines with business travel, so try to stick to departure and return days that run Tuesday through Thursday. For example, Money cited a particular case where booking a non-stop flight from Boston to Los Angeles with a return on Saturday instead of Thursday made a difference of $330 on the ticket price.
The last element of timing is what time of year you plan your vacation. While you certainly don't want to go to a beach in the dead of winter — unless it's a tropical climate we can actually go swimming in December — you want to try to keep your travel dates away from peak travel times. The time right before summer vacations get into full swing and right after is what the travel industry refers to as "shoulder season." This is typically traveling during May and September, as June through August are the busiest times. You should still have great weather, but the savings can be enormous.
There's No Place Like Home Away From HomeBooking during off-peak times will also help save on hotel costs, but if you really want to save on accommodations, think about some other options that will save you money. First of all, for travel during warmer months, you can consider camping if you don't mind roughing it a little bit. This can mean huge savings and offer you an opportunity to get back to nature. Pretty much every campground offers shower and restroom facilities and even laundry rooms, so you shouldn't have to rough it too bad.
Another great option is renting a house or cottage wherever you're staying, which is a fairly common practice in coastal towns and beach areas. While the nightly rates may make you cringe a little bit, when you consider that this is for a whole family and that you have access to a kitchen where you can cook and save money on eating out, this can be a very cost-effective way to vacation without having to stay in a hotel room. Depending on the size of the house or cottage you rent, consider inviting extended family along to share the expenses and the fun.
Deep DiscountsTo make sure you take advantage of potential travel discounts, sign up your kids for their own frequent flyer mile programs as soon as you're ready to take them anywhere on vacation. Even though children sometimes get discounted rates anyway, it's always a good thing to start accumulating those miles for future trips. Another great way to get discounts for your vacation is signing up for sites like Groupon or Living Social and subscribing to the city or cities you're going to be visiting for vacation. This way you can go ahead and buy some deep discounts on eating out or entertainment and save a bundle over what you'd pay without some savvy shopping.
Speaking of savvy shopping, you know all those shops on the boardwalks and beaches are nothing but pure tourist traps, right? Try to find souvenirs from local shops that don't cater to the tourist crowd to get something that's more authentic and much more reasonably priced. Visit Farmer or flea markets and try to find vendors of handmade goods, especially if you're in an area that has any kind of ethnic or cultural history, such as looking for handmade Native American crafts if you're visiting the American Southwest. And do make sure to check the bottom for a "Made in China" label, just to be sure you're really getting something crafted locally.
[Image courtesy of Shutterstock]