Family vacations are the stuff memories are made of. Maybe it’s a week spent at a beach an hour from your home, a long weekend at a theme park, or an amazing two-week jaunt around national parks or Europe: No matter what the details, the fact that you and your loved ones are together, amid new surroundings, and perhaps having an adventure can make it worth the time, energy, and money you spend ten times over.
That said, few people have unlimited funds for getaways. And no one wants to rack up a bunch of travel-triggered debt. So here’s a game plan to help you afford a family vacation, including:
• How to calculate the cost of a family vacation
• Ways to make a family vacation affordable
• Tips for avoiding debt from a family vacation
Calculating the Cost of Family Vacations
In one recent survey by the Family Travel Association and NYU’s School of Professional Studies, 85% of American parents said they were planning to take a trip with their kids in the year ahead.
If you’re among their ranks, you know that cost is a big consideration when planning this kind of trip. When calculating the total cost of your next family vacation, make sure to consider the following expenses:
• Airfare (roundtrip) plus transfers and any train or bus fare
• Car rental (and/or gas plus taxes and related expenses)
• Accommodations (including taxes and fees)
• Food and drinks (whether dining out or meal prepping)
• Activities, attractions, and entertainment
• Travel insurance
• Miscellaneous costs (parking fees, passport fees, currency exchange, etc.)
Additionally, you’ll want to account for expenses incurred at home, such as pet-sitting costs, and lost wages if you don’t have paid time-off available for some or all of your vacation days.
By having the total cost of your family vacation in mind, you can better plan ahead and ensure you budget appropriately to cover all of your costs. Another smart move can be to review the different credit card rewards you’ve accrued and see how those can bring down the price of your vacation (more about this below).
How to Take a Family Vacation on a Budget
Being a frugal traveler with your family in tow is, of course, an added challenge. No one wants to deny the kids that ice cream or souvenir T-shirt, for instance. But there are many ways to make your next vacation more affordable.
1. Have a Strict Budget
After tallying up your essential monthly expenses, such as your rent or mortgage payment, bills, and other household expenses, see how much of your discretionary income is left.
Using that number, break down how much you’re able or willing to allot toward the travel categories listed earlier. Although your budget in each subcategory can be somewhat fluid, make sure your total family travel costs don’t exceed your maximum budget.
2. Keep a Dedicated Vacation Savings Account
An important part of creating a travel fund is ensuring that your vacation savings isn’t accidentally tapped into for anything other than your trip goal. One way to avoid this is by opening a high-yield savings account that holds savings exclusively for your next trip.
Not only will you be stashing money far from your checking account so it doesn’t get spent, you’ll also be earning some interest to pump up your fund. Online banks often offer the best annual percentage yields (APYs).
3. Use Credit Card Bonuses and Miles
If you already use a cash back rewards credit card for many of your day-to-day purchases, applying your earned cash-back rewards and miles toward your trip is a must. This can help shave down your costs, especially if you stash your rewards earnings for a while in preparation for your trip.
As another bonus, your card may offer credit card travel insurance, which can help protect you against any unexpected financial losses when you’re away.
4. Be Flexible With Travel Dates
The travel dates you choose for your trip can greatly affect the total price of your family vacation. If you’re willing to be flexible about when you travel, you might be able to save a chunk of change.
Compare flight costs on weekends versus weekdays to find travel deals. Also consider traveling during the shoulder season or off season, if possible. An example: Heading to London (and the world of Harry Potter) not in the summer, but the spring. This can be more affordable than traveling during peak season when other families are arriving in high volumes. Also, if your kids aren’t yet school age, you can avoid the usual school holiday dates and travel when you please, potentially saving money.
5. Explore All-Inclusive Cruises
Exploring cheap cruises is another way to afford a family vacation. All-inclusive cruises offer families a package deal that generally includes food and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as activities that adults and children can enjoy on board.
Some cruises even offer “kids sail free” promotions that offer a complimentary pass for children under a certain age on specific booking dates. (Taxes and fees will still apply though.)
6. Find Ways to Budget on the Trip
Once your family arrives at your destination, cut costs on variable expenses, like food and beverages, as well as activities. Instead of dining out for every meal, you might assemble sandwiches for lunch while on vacation, or focus on shareable meals, like pizza, that can be split with the family. Packing granola bars or fruit from the supermarket can help you avoid pricey snack stops, too.
Additionally, research free or low-fee activities to do ahead of time. For instance, you could take a free walking tour of the city, visit tourist attractions that offer free children’s or elderly admission, and more.
7. Travel in Groups With Other Families
Coordinating a vacation with other families (or relatives) can be an effective budget travel option. For example, as a group, you might rent a large Airbnb with a pool or one that’s near a theme park. You could then split the cost of food, gas, and accommodations for the trip. If your group is large enough, certain attractions might also offer group discounts for admission.
8. Be Flexible With Your Destination
Perhaps your dream is to spend a week in New York City or at a seaside Maldives resort, but the cost is a real budget-buster. Think about alternatives that give you some of the same vibe (a dynamic city or a chic place by the sea) for a lower price.
Family beach options in Mexico, for example, might be more affordable than a beach trip to the Maldives. And a trip to Philadelphia or Boston (both of which have plenty of history, museums, great food, and more) could help you shave down the price of a big-city getaway.
9. Work a Side Gig for Extra Income
Bringing in supplemental income is another way to afford a family vacation, if you plan ahead of time. Consider your own skills and expertise, such as tutoring, crafting, or freelancing. There are plenty of low-cost side hustles you might pursue.
Offer your services through platforms, like UpWork, or within your local community for a fee. Use the extra money you earn toward your family trip.
10. Leverage the Sharing Economy
Innovative sharing communities are another way that families afford to travel. For example, to save money on hotels, there are also domestic and international house-sitting opportunities that your family can participate in through sites like Nomador and Mind My House.
Are Timeshares Worth it in 2023?
One option that some families consider for future travel is a timeshare. A timeshare is a vacation property wherein you — and other people — purchase the right to use it at a specific time. Generally, when it comes to budget family travel, timeshares are not the best option.
Although a timeshare simplifies certain aspects of your travel planning, such as deciding on a destination or finding accommodations, it can be restrictive in other ways. For example, your timeshare dates might not align with your available days off or children’s school vacations (when many people want to travel). In addition, timeshares can be difficult to sell when the time comes.
Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card
Tips to Avoid Debt While Going on a Family Vacation
Although you can pay for your family vacation on a rewards credit card and earn credit card points in the process, proceed with caution. Like any large expense put on a credit card, your total debt can balloon if you don’t have the savings or income to pay it back quickly. In that case, you start to rack up interest charges.
As much as possible, avoid putting your next family vacation on your credit card. Instead, give yourself ample time to save up toward your trip. Also, don’t forget to apply any credit card miles or cash back that you’ve earned toward your travel bookings to immediately cut your out-of-pocket travel expenses toward flights, accommodations, or car rentals.
Creating amazing memories with your family through travel doesn’t mean you have to spend a bundle. By crafting a solid budget and using smart, strategic tips to cut travel costs, like using credit card rewards to travel for less, you can plan a vacation that fits your needs and your financial situation.
How do people afford to travel every year?
You can dedicate a portion of your budget each year toward travel. Calculate how much discretionary income is left after you’ve allocated funds toward non-negotiable expenses, like monthly rent and bills. Once you have an approximate number, explore your options based on your budget.
How much does it cost to travel the world with a family?
The cost to travel the world with your loved ones varies greatly. Factors like the number of adults and children in your party, your destination, the duration of your trip, when you travel during the year, and your travel activities will all determine how much you’ll spend.
How much does the average family spend on travel per year?
The average one-week vacation for two people in the U.S.costs about $3,156. Bringing along more family members will of course add to that cost, but how much will depend on variables such as whether the kids stay in the same hotel room as the parents, if you upgrade to a suite, and if many activities and attractions are on your schedule.
How do I get enough money to travel?
Taking on extra shifts at work, selling things you no longer use, earning extra income through a side hustle, and cutting your existing non-essential expenses are all popular ways to save money for travel. However, you’ll need to find a tactic that works for your financial situation and lifestyle.
Photo credit: iStock/Nutthaseth Vanchaichana
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