If your summer “to do” list didn’t include a vacation because of budget constraints, it’s not too late. Here are ten tips to help you say “Bon Voyage,” without breaking the bank.
- Before you go, decide how much you have to spend on a vacation and stick to it. Set a daily budget for things like lodging and meals. This makes it easier to keep track of what you’ve spent, and how much extra you have left over for side trips and souvenirs.
- You can save a lot of money by being flexible on your travel dates. Hotels and resorts often offer last-minute deals to fill empty rooms – this is one time when procrastination can pay off. Flying on off-peak days, like Tuesdays and Thursdays, often yields lower fares.
- Money spent eating out can really add up. To cut costs, stay in hotels that have refrigerators and microwaves in the room and offer free continental breakfasts. Always bring along a cooler so you can stop for picnics on travel days.
- When making hotel reservations, always ask the service agent if they are running any specials. Also, be sure to mention any memberships you may have – a Sam’s Club or AAA membership may get you a better rate. Let the agent know that you’re traveling with children. Many hotel chains allow children to stay free.
- If your family is large enough that two rooms are needed, ask if the hotel has a family suite available. These have more bed space than a single room at less than the cost of two rooms. Another option is to consider renting a weekly apartment or condo for the length of your stay.
- Bring your own travel crib for baby. Hotels often charge extra to put a crib in your room, and you may arrive to find that all available cribs are already in use. If you are traveling with one older preschooler, consider getting a room with one king-size bed (instead of two beds) and packing a small pop-up tent and sleeping bag for your child. Best case: you and your spouse can comfortably sleep all night. Worst case: you’ll have to share some of your king-size space with a small visitor.
- When traveling, make lunch your big meal out. Restaurants usually offer the same food as on the dinner menu, but at lower prices. If you’re traveling with two preschoolers who are light eaters, just order one kids’ meal and have them split it. Also, look for restaurants that offer a free kid’s meal with the purchase of an adult entrée.
- Fountain drinks and desserts are the biggest unnecessary expenses when eating out. Carry along a good supply of special drinks and small sweets to dole out as treats during the day. At the restaurant, have everyone drink water and pass on dessert. (If the kids really complain, squeeze lemon into the water, add a little sweetener, and you have instant lemonade.)
- To save on laundry, pack gallon-size zip-lock bags along with a small plastic bottle filled with detergent. When you have some small things that need washing, put them in the bag with a few drops of detergent and some water. You provide the agitation action by shaking the bag. Rinse in the sink and hang to dry. Don’t forget to bring a stain stick to rub over spills on clothing if you can’t wash right away.
- Audio books are a great and inexpensive way to pass the time when traveling by car. Visit your local library before you go and stock up on a selection of stories. Younger preschoolers just like to listen, while pre-readers enjoy flipping through the book as the story is read aloud.
Cindy Sumner is an author and a former contributing editor for MOMSense magazine. Her book, Dollars & Sense, is a practical, easy-to-understand guide that will help moms discuss and handle finances more effectively. She has written several other books including – Planes, Trains, and Automobiles… for Kids; Time Out for Mom… Aaahh Moments; Mommy’s Locked in the Bathroom: Surviving Your Child’s Early Years with Your Sanity and Salvation Intact; Family Vacations Made Simple; and Mommy’s Trapped in the Minivan: Surviving Your Child’s Middle Years with Your Sanity and Salvation Intact. Cindy lives in Sheldon, Illinois, with her husband John and their three children.