Friday, July 6, 2012

How We: Save Money on Family Vacations

Vacation! Just the word conjures up feelings of excitement, images of frothy waves rushing ashore, mouth-watering cravings for crunchy-sweet funnel cakes, sounds of laughter and children's squeals, and the scent of 
sunscreen, salty ocean air, or fresh mountain breezes.  

Or maybe the word "vacation" brings feelings of stress, images of evaporating money, cravings for a fat wallet, sounds of the cash register's cha-ching!, and the scent of gasoline. Taking a family on a vacation can be pricey and nerve-wracking, to say the least. Today's economy certainly doesn't help. Does that mean we have to forego having a fun time away with our kiddos? Nope! But, it will take some planning, research, and string-pulling to make it happen. Here are a few tips that I've either used myself or about which I've heard positive reports. 

Gotta Get There First
I don't know about you, but the first concerns that come to mind at our house when we talk about going anywhere guessed it...gas and hotel/cabin prices. I've looked up a few sites that might help with finding cheap gas:
Also, don't forget about the gas perks offered by grocery chains. It's a great way to save money on gas! 

A Place to Land
In my opinion, the place you stay can make or break your vacation. But maybe that's just me. We've saved money on a motel before without doing it as cautiously as we should have...and we were miserable. The room was filthy. So, when trying to save a few bucks on a motel room or cabin, do it carefully and consider what's important to you! 

It takes hours of research to find a good deal on a great room. (Well, it does for me. Please don't laugh, and, if you have pointers on how to do it in just a few minutes, please don't tell me...yet.) I hope these tips will make that time frame a little shorter for you. 

You've heard of sites like, and I've used some of theses sites, but usually only to help me find motels and to read reviews. You can find good rates in this way, but I always recommend calling the hotel directly, just to be sure you have the best rate. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that, no matter what the site says, you do not have to separate your family into two rooms, unless, of course, you have so many children that they really won't fit into one room. We have four children and they can still sleep like puppies; piled any old place. We've been told by some hotels (when calling the main reservation number) that we would need to get two rooms, but we've never done it. We either called the hotel directly and found out that that wasn't, in fact, a requirement, or we've used a different hotel. 

Review the Reviews
As I mentioned before, the sites listed above are great for reviews. Don't trust photos of hotels or even the name of a well-known chain to ensure a nice, clean room or good service. Do trust the reviews of actual customers, if the majority agrees and if the review has been posted recently. It's a let down to arrive at your destination and discover that your room is dirty and the service is poor. 

Boarding Your Pet
Our Shorkie, Snickers :)
We have a tiny, four-pound Shorkie. We love that little dog, but it's a little difficult to figure out what we should do with him when we go on a trip. Do we take him, or board him near home? If we take him, do we board him near the hotel, or haul him around with us? The best choice, usually, seems to be to take him with us and board him, at least during the day, near where we're vacationing. That way we don't stress about him, but we don't have to deal with dragging the poor little thing around all day. Here are a few sites where you can find listings of Pet-Sitters/Boarders.
A Personal Plug, If I May
I'd like to put a plug in here for a hotel where we stayed once; Drury Inn. The room was one of the nicest we've seen, the service was amazing, the amenities were better than most, and the price was very reasonable. One of the biggest pluses for us was the fact that they were pet-friendly and didn't charge extra for our dog. We'd love to stay at these hotels wherever we go, but, I guess we just haven't gone to the right places. :)

Admission Fees
So, you're there, you've got a place to stay, now what? Admission prices can deplete a family budget in no time flat. There are ways to bring down the cost, however. 

Of course, being a member of a club like AAA makes it easy to get discounts at many places, but you can get some discounts without being a member of a club. 
  • Student discounts
  • Homeschool discounts
  • Group Discounts
  • Minister's Discounts
  • Military Discounts
If you are a college student, or have school-age children, you may be eligible for discounts at quite a few museums, parks, etc. Many are even free! The same goes for homeschoolers. It never hurts to ask! You just might be surprised who offers these discounts, and how deep those discounts are!

Case in point: We stopped by Gatlinburg on our way home from a campmeeting once. I knew that Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies offered a sizable discount to homeschoolers, but I knew they required paperwork before they'd give that discount. Since we hadn't planned on this little mini-vacation I didn't have the paperwork with me, but I thought I'd take my chances and ask. Couldn't hurt. I explained the situation to the man at the ticket counter and, after just a few moments of consideration, he said (rather apologetically, I thought) "How does half-off sound?" How does it SOUND? It sounded fantastic! Our family of five (I think we only had three children at the time) got in for around $35! Now beat that! I was very, very grateful. That was several years ago, but you can be sure that the next time we plan to visit Ripley's Aquarium, I'll have the necessary documents/cards in hand and I'll ask about getting that discount again!  
If you have several children and are traveling with other family members or friends, you may qualify for a group discount. I've never done this, but I don't know why it wouldn't work. It's worth checking into. 

If there is a member of the family who is in the ministry, you may get a discount at certain hotels and cabin rental agencies. These discounts aren't as plentiful as the others, but they're around. You just have to ask. 

If you're a member of the military, you should be aware of the many, well-deserved Military Discounts available to you. 

Tips on eating out frugally will be addressed on the blog at a later date, so I'll just add this: 

  • Decide if you want to cook while you're on vacation, eat out, or a combination of the two. Plan and buy accordingly.
  • If you're eating out, you may want to make sure that the prices don't skyrocket at dinnertime. Once, when we went to one of our favorite restaurants in Pigeon Forge, we arrived just a few minutes after the price change and the difference was ridiculous! We knew better the next time, I can assure you.
  • Don't forget the coupons! Retail Me Not is a great, safe site where you'll find coupons to meet your needs. 

Go Local
If you simply can't swing an "away" vacation, it might still be possible to have a staycation, or to spend one night at a local hotel. Take some snacks, movies, and games, and enjoy the togetherness of family.Plan visits to local museums, zoos, and historical landmarks. You might be surprised at the fun stuff located in your own backyard! 

Go Off-Season
One of our favorite traditions is to head to the beach in December or January. We load up with games, snacks, and movies, rent an ocean-front suite, and have a blast. The cost of a deluxe suite, in the off-season, can be as low as the cost of a regular hotel room. 

If at all possible, unless you particularly enjoy crowds and price-hikes, it's always best to visit tourist areas in the off-season. You'll be amazed at the difference in cost, and you'll find your vacation far quieter and more relaxing. Do be aware, however, that all of the attractions may not be open. 

Ready, Set, Go!
Well, this post got rather long-ish! But I do hope it's helpful to you as you plan your next vacation.
Have a fun, safe, and happy summer!


  1. We love Drury Hotels, especially the fact that you get a hot buffet supper and breakfast included as well as free popcorn and soda until 10 p.m. each night. Their suites are roomy enough to put kids in one room and adults in the other.

    1. I know, Jennifer! It's amazing, isn't it? We didn't get a suite, though. Just a room with two beds, but it was fine. We loved staying there.

  2. Another site that offers some advice from "ordinary" people is TripAdvisor. Of course, I've seen some reviews on there that I thought were probably planted by competitors, but if you read enough reviews about a particular place, or if you know someone who contributes their experience to that site, it can help you make a good decision. These are some great ideas, Jessica! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Thank you, Glenda! I'll have to check into TripAdvisor. :)

  4. Thank you for all of the links and information! With a family our size, we are always looking for ways to make a vacation a reality without breaking the bank. :-) Hope you are well! Many blessings, Lisa

  5. You're welcome, Lisa! I hope you and your family are well, too. :)