How to Plan a Family Trip on a Budget
You likely clicked on this post because you too are curious, as to how to plan a family trip on a budget. “Where do I start?”, “Where should we go?”, and “What am I not thinking of?”, are some of the questions you may have asked yourself so far. Although planning a trip, even on a budget may seem intimidating, it is absolutely doable. No matter what the budget, there is always adventuring your family can experience together.
We are here to share with you how to plan a family trip on a budget! It’s easier than you think!
- DETERMINE YOUR OVERALL BUDGET
- CHOOSING A DESTINATION
- CHEAP FLIGHTS
- MEAL PLAN
- ACTIVITIES AND EXCURSIONS
- MORE WAYS TO SAVE
- READY TO PLAN A FAMILY TRIP ON A BUDGET?
DETERMINE YOUR OVERALL BUDGET
This is probably the hardest part of the whole ordeal. But also the piece where you have to be honest with yourself. Figure out how much you can ideally put towards a vacation. Once you have that number, write it down. I recommend writing this whole process out in a notebook dedicated to travel planning or you can download our free travel planner.
If you don’t already have savings set aside for travel, you will need to consider how much money you’re going to set aside weekly or monthly to meet your overall travel budget. Use the following formula as a starting point to determine how long it will take you to reach your goal.
OVERALL BUDGET minus TRAVEL SAVINGS, divided by THE AMOUNT YOU ARE ABLE TO SET ASIDE EACH MONTH = HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE YOU TO SAVE
Overall budget: $2500, Travel Savings: $500, Monthly Savings amount: $300
$2000/$300= 6.67 months (I would round up to 7 months)
To bring this timeline down, you may want to jump ahead to the More Ways to Save section of this post. If you have options to bring down the overall cost, you may be able to get traveling sooner!
CHOOSING A DESTINATION
Unless you already have a place in mind, choosing a destination can prove challenging if you have differing opinions in your group. Consider the following tips when choosing a destination.
What are your family’s trip goals? Is everyone looking to relax? Is mom and dad craving some free time? History buffs gearing to learn all the things at the local museums? Get on the same page with everyone, so that your planning efforts are not wasted!
This is seriously one of our favorite trip planning tools! The top reasons why Google Maps is the ish, is because you can use maps “offline” (for those times you are without WiFi), you can research the local area of your destination, add points on a map to determine how much time it will take to get there (walking, driving, etc.) and savings certain places to a created list.
We highly recommend using Google maps as part of your planning process!
Another helpful Google tool is the Explore feature. As part of the research process, we are able to select a date or range of dates, and then Google will show us the cost of flights to a variety of destinations. How neat is that? If you have determined how much you want to spend on flights alone, this is a valuable tool in weeding out the places that don’t meet your criteria. Move the map around to the parts of the world that you want to visit!
We recommend using the date range versus specific dates to find the best deals on flights. You may want to skip ahead to the Cheap Flights section of this post for more tips!
Consider visiting a place during its low season. This is an excellent way to save money and explore a new area! Low or off-season benefits include fewer tourists, cheaper airfares, and budget-friendly accommodations. While these benefits are alluring there is usually a drawback that can be attributed to weather, such as hurricanes or rainy seasons.
CHOOSE A DESTINATION BASED ON WHERE THE GOOD DEALS ARE
The top way we pad our travel budget is by getting the most bang for our buck. This usually means picking destinations that have an excellent airfare deal. We have traveled to some must-see places at a fraction of the cost, by planning this way. Changing your frame of mind can open up your world, literally!
Airfare is likely the largest expense of the travel budget for families. With air travel being the preferred mode for most family travel at 54% (Expedia Group), it makes sense to book a great deal! We use a variety of resources to ensure we are getting the best deals on flights and have been known to book deals from Scott’s Cheap flights many a time.
Additionally, we will only fly to places where there is a significant deal. If the destination is somewhere like Europe, we will book the cheap flight to the major hub and then opt for cheaper flights to other countries. In 2017, we booked round trip tickets for two from Portland, OR to London for about $900. From there, we took a domestic flight to Venice, Italy. Booking it this way saved us hundreds of dollars! If you are flexible on location, this is an excellent way to save money and explore new places.
PRO TIP: Google flights is another tool we use to ensure that we aren’t missing any carriers during our research. (Southwest does not show up in this search engine though)
Whichever you decide, finding a place to call your temporary home will be the next largest expense for your budget. In some cases, this may be more than airfare, depending on how awesome of a deal you snagged! Using Google Maps or Expedia is helpful in searching for accommodations, as it allows you to enter your dates and preferences (i.e. kid-friendly, free breakfast, etc.) We have had some experiences where it was more affordable to book directly with the hotel or resort, and received perks for doing so. For example, we booked a vacation rental on the Big Island and received 15% off our 10-day stay. If you have loyalty points from frequent traveling, you might be able to score extra perks or discounts as well!
Pro Tip: Book accommodations with a kitchen or grills, so you can cook some of your own meals.
Another great way to keep your budget in check is to cook some of your own meals! A rule of thumb that we like to follow is to eat out once per day if that. Depending on where we are staying, we will research highly recommended restaurants in the area to see what we can’t miss. If cooking is not on your to-do list, sharing dishes or catching happy hour can add to your savings.
For families with younger children, we’ve found it helpful to start our morning routines off fairly similar to when we’re at home. This sets the tone for the day in our experience so far. Having some familiar food and eating “at home” has helped our little one in acclimating to new surroundings.
This planning tip also goes for airplane or road trip snacks. Pre-make baggies with everyone’s favorite snack or stash easy-to-open goodies in your travel packs. Coolers are amazing for road trips as well. You can chill drinks and make sandwiches when you take a break from the road.
ACTIVITIES AND EXCURSIONS
Spending time learning about the culture is always on our agenda wherever we journey to. We have also found this to fall in the budget-friendly category. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Visit the free local sites
- Download a free walking tour app
- Visit local farmer’s markets to soak in a little bit of everyday life
Travel-related apps like Airbnb and Viator also host local experiences, sometimes for a fraction of the price that mainstream resorts will charge. Plan ahead and discover all things to do. An example of an experience we booked through Viator was during a trip to Vatican City. We booked a Skip-the-Line tour with a small group. It was a much more intimate experience overall and was more cost-effective for our time. If we had waited in line (which was insane!) and then made our way in, we would have been at the mercy of something self-guided.
MORE WAYS TO SAVE
USING CASH BACK APPS TO PLAN A FAMILY TRIP ON A BUDGET
Yes, you can absolutely offset some of the cost of travel by booking with cash-back apps or through cash-back sites. One of our favorites is through Rakuten. Making money back from doing something we love just sits well with us.
Aside from Rakuten, we also like to use the Capital One Offers feature with our Venture card.
Above you’ll see an example email of how we earned cash back from a travel-related purchase (Orbitz) through Capital One offers for booking a hotel. Capital One applies it directly to the balance to cover the cost of the travel-related purchase.
REDEEMING CREDIT CARD POINTS
The quickest way that we earn points is by using our credit cards for EVERYTHING. Each month we have all of our expenses charged to our credit card. Then we just pay that off with the money in our checking accounts. Signing up for rewards credit cards with bonuses also helps build up mileage quickly.
A valuable resource that helped us get on this part of our journey was The Points Guy. This website has a number of blog posts and recommendations to help you get on your next trip, for cheaper.
The image above showcases an example of where we secured airline tickets to French Polynesia using points to get a significantly cheaper flight total.
READY TO PLAN A FAMILY TRIP ON A BUDGET?
We hope that this information has inspired you to plan your next family trip!
Please leave us a comment below if there are other travel planning questions you may have.
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