How to Cut Your Costs on Vacation?

Travel on the Cheap

Summer vacation: The words bring to mind long days at the beach, dips in the pool, amusement park visits and more. Of course, the fun and relaxation that is supposed to come with vacation always seem to be prefaced by the stress of planning the darned thing year after year. Perhaps the biggest stress of all on families today isn’t creating the ultimate summer getaway, but the price tag. Let’s face it, summer travel – or any travel, for that matter – often comes with a hefty “relaxation tax.”

But busy parents, fear not: There are bargains to be had and ways to travel without taking out a second mortgage on the house.

Plan Ahead

One of the most important steps in preparing for a vacation is planning ahead. “I would suggest that for the best family summer travel you want to buy well in advance,” says Amy Ziff, travel columnist and’s editor-at-large. “There are a lot of people going to the same spots, and you will save money by booking ahead.”

With that in mind, however, there are many great online resources for last-minute deals if your needs aren’t too specific. Most travel, resort and airline sites offer e-mail newsletters with new deals every month, week or even every day.

Also, don’t wait until the last minute to decide what you’ll do once you’re there – and that includes planning for the weather. You can waste almost an entire day of vacation driving around looking for raincoats and sunscreen.

Be sure to also consider what supplies you’ll need to bring and what can be left at home. Last-minute, unnecessary purchases duplicating what you already have at home can quickly up the price-tag of your trip.

Choose Your Destination Wisely

“The big cities make fun, cheap escapes for families with kids,” says Brian Ek, vice president of communications at “Usually, there’s lots of free stuff to do: museums and the like. In particular, you can wander Washington, D.C., for days without spending a dime to get into the attractions.” Even a usually expensive city such as New York can be done on the cheap with a little creative planning.

Families might also consider staying closer to home. “Most of our travel in the early days of our family was local travel, which gave us the opportunity to use public transportation,” says Lewis Lepene, a native New Yorker and the father of two grown daughters. “It sometimes was a train adventure to New York City or Montauk Point and back the same day. The Staten Island Ferry was one of the best bargains we did often, as well.”

Lepene found that even though they did not travel far, his family had lots of fun. “Traveling by train, we could all share the joy of people-watching and playing little games like ‘guess what she does for her occupation’ or ‘guess his name’ while we were traveling,” he says.

Outdoor travel can also be cost-saving as well as fun. For the adventurous family, campouts are a great way to encourage cooperation and commune with nature. But don’t dismiss a camping vacation just because your family isn’t “outdoorsy.” Camping vacations run the gamut from pitching tents in the wilderness to all-out resorts which offer swimming pools, cabins and even spa amenities. These allow you to still enjoy many of the relative comforts of vacation travel without being subjected to a resort price tag.

Expensive Destinations for Less

If your family is set on a trip to a more highly-priced locale, it can still be done for less, with a little planning.

Even if you’re dreaming of Disney World, you still have less expensive options. “Consider camping in Fort Wilderness,” says Teresa Plowright, Guide to Family Travel. “It’s lots of fun, has great on-property activities, the price is right and you get all the benefits of staying at a Disney resort. Also if it looks like you could visit Orlando next summer too, then buy a year pass – the cost is not that much more than a multi-day Park Hopper, and if you visit twice within 52 weeks, you’ve definitely saved bucks.”

If your family is set on a theme park adventure, but could do without The Mouse, there are wonderful local parks across the country. “Six Flags, for example, has more than 25 parks in North America which offer a lot of great thrill rides,” says Ziff. “Whenever going to a theme park, look for ways to get discounts on tickets at local businesses with your student ID or AAA membership or a season pass for locals.”

Of course, beach vacations are a great summer destination, but they don’t have to be at pricey resorts. To cut costs, arrange a house swap or split a large rental house with another family. Not only do you save on hotel rooms, but you can also cook at home.

Cruising, while once considered the domain of the elderly, is rapidly gaining popularity as a great family vacation. “Summertime cruising to Alaska is probably the most popular, but if you want to cruise someplace like the Caribbean, you may be able to get a better deal, as those cruises are less popular during the summer months,” says Ziff. “Cruises are a good option because they are all-inclusive so you can get a great savings.”

You should always check with the cruise line to be sure the ship and accommodations meet your family’s needs, however. Kids Clubs, children’s reduced fares, babysitting services and cribs are not available on all cruise lines.

And after all your planning, remember to enjoy your trip – don’t get overly hung up on money. “Planning in advance helps, but sometimes when you are actually there you should allow yourself to get caught up in the moment,” says Beth Freeberg, a mother of two in Rosyln, N.Y. “Parasailing, water-skiing and jet skiing are all expensive, but just think: When else are you going to do them?”

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