How to save on vacation, decide what is most important to you

Tips on how to save money while on vacation

There’s a joke that frequently goes around the Internet at the beginning of every summer. It goes like this:

A family is planning a vacation, and the first thing they have to do is pick their flights. The husband sends his wife a list of flights that are options, and she responds with “what kind of airline only has flights at 4 o’clock in the morning?!” His answer? “The one we can afford!”

Tips on how to save money while on vacation with kids.

Traveling the world has become a grounding value in our family. We spend our vacations encountering new cultures together. These new experiences have reconnected us. I don’t take family vacations lightly. I believe with all my soul that the time we have spent together on these trips has saved our family.

Helping us learn to rely on each other when things are new and scary. Even when money is tight, we have always scraped and saved pennies to spend the time together away. Here are some ways on how save money while on vacation.

All of that being said, I completely believe that vacations are a necessity in life. They are great for relieving stress, spending time with family, and experiencing parts of the country or world you have never seen. Studies show – overwhelmingly – that people who take regular vacations are happier, overall, and produce better in their day-to-day lives.

And yet… vacations have a way of always costing more than you expect.

The good news is that there are a variety of ways you can save money and even vacation on a budget. And you never know: some of these cost-saving tips double as ways to experience your vacations in ways you may have never thought of before, adding value to your overall travel experience.

Budget and vacation are like an oxymoron. If you have an exact budget, Great! You are one of the few. If you are like the rest of us you kind of have a budget in your mind and we’re going to help you save money along the way. I will share some of the best tips I’ve learned while I’m saving my family money.

How to start your vacation budget.

Once you have a few of your destinations picked out, I want you to write them down on a piece of paper or on your computer. Then write down the estimated cost for everyone traveling in your party for each destination. (If you are only covering your own expenses this would be 1. If you have a family of 5 total, this would be for all 5.)

A great way to decide where to go on your next trip while keeping your budget in mind.

Remember these are estimated costs in your mind or what you think things might cost. This is kind of a fun activity to see if you will be close to your budget or way off, but it gives you a gauge of how much you are willing to spend for each category and destination.

I will use the example of a family of 5 traveling with airfare for 7 days, 6 nights.
– Airfare- $1,250
– Accommodations: Hotel – $900 Airbnb $750
– Amusement park or excursion for 2 days: $750
– Food/Drinks: $800
– Entertainment: $200
– Rental Car: $315
Miscellaneous: $100

Now as you begin the planning process of your vacation, you can refer to this list. It doesn’t mean that you have to follow it. You will find out that somethings might be more expensive than you had first imagined, or maybe you find a great deal on a rental car and save $100! Have fun with your planning and schedule.

Creative ways to save money for your next vacation and while on vacation.
Use your tax returns to pay for your next vacation

If you’re looking for some different ideas to save money for your vacation, visit our post here for some creative ideas.

 Tips, tricks, and hacks for earning and saving money for your next vacation.

Let’s keep in mind the 3 “F”s for traveling on a budget:

Food, Fun, and Fine Print. Here are 3 tips that can save you money while on vacation!

Tip #1: Food (Because You Have To Eat)

Perhaps the biggest expense you will incur while on vacation is the cost of food and drinks. Eating is pricey, no matter where you are. Especially when you are traveling with your kids, food can run the bill up by hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

Eating crepes at a local festival.

The bad news is that there are some things you cannot control when it comes to the expense of food while you are on vacation. First, is the cost of the location where you are vacationing. Unfortunately, some places just have higher food prices, especially fresh produce, or seafood.

If you are staying at a resort, food always tends to be more expensive then going somewhere off the property. Keep that in mind if you decide to eat at your hotel/resort. Another example is when you are in big cities, the cost of food tends to be higher than if you are driving through the country. Food in New York, Tokyo, London, and Paris is more expensive than if you get out of the city.

Another thing you cannot control is your own personal eating preferences. Whether you are vegan, or deathly allergic to peanuts, situations may arise where the food you eat on your vacation is more expensive just because it is harder for you to find.

Saving money on food while on vacation and a diet can be hard! Tips on how to save on food no matter what diet you are on.

It isn’t impossible, though, to save money on food while on vacation. Let’s look at some tips on how we can help you save money!

Food Tip #1: Stay somewhere with a refrigerator. Book a hotel room that has a mini-fridge and microwave available.

You would be surprised with what you can do with a little imagination and a mini-fridge. Throw a microwave into the mix, and you have the potential to eat every meal in your room (though this isn’t recommended, you should explore the local cuisine)!

Mini-fridges are perfect for storing drinks, milk, and even small items such as yogurt and cheese. This little mini-fridge will save you tons on snacks for your kids!

While you are buying milk for your fridge, pick up a box or two of cereal. Especially. If the hotel doesn’t include breakfast. This is a cheap way to feed the entire family, and this will save you a lot of time in the morning so you can get busy enjoying your vacation!

Save on meals and buy local produce at a grocery store on your family vacation.

I would always recommend looking for a grocery store or local grocer to find your groceries. If you end up at a minimart or gas station, you will pay a little more than a bigger grocery store. If you don’t have a car or way to get to a grocery store, the minimart, like a 7-11 will still be cheaper than eating at the hotel, resort, or eating out.

You can easily restock your mini-fridge, and feed the family basics throughout your vacation. Some other great ideas are breakfast bars and microwavable snacks or some lunch items. This is an easy way to save hundreds of dollars.

Food Tip #2: About that grocery store…

Another benefit of stopping at the grocery store is to save money for not just snacks but also meals on your vacation. You can get your entire meal pre-made at most stores. Grocery stores, including Costco, have a variety of ready-to-eat options that are replenished frequently throughout the day.

Grocery store deli sandwiches will save you lots of money on your next vacation.
Shop for lunch at a local grocery deli and saves tons of money.

They usually have sandwiches, salads, or other items that are packaged an ready to pack with you for the day. These pre-made meals are a lot cheaper than buying everyone a meal even at a fast-food restaurant.

How to save on meals while on vacation.

You can get creative, as well. If you are tired of the old deli salads and fried chicken routine, grab a rotisserie chicken that is pre-cooked, and a bag of salad to make your family a chicken salad right in your room – no cooking required. And this will be a fraction of the cost of a restaurant salad.

If you are on the go and need something to take along; our goto option is PBJ (Peanutbutter and Jelly) sandwiches. We can pick up a loaf of bread, a jar of jelly, and peanut butter, and feed the family of 5 lunch for around $10. If you want something that is easy to grab and go, have Uncrustables Peanut butter & Jelly Sandwiches delivered from Amazon to your hotel before you arrive or pack them in your luggage. This has been a lifesaver for us because I swear our kids are always hungry!

If you have a peanut allergy, you can opt for a sunflower seed butter and jelly, or better yet, grab some string cheese and a couple of apples and bananas. Yum! If those don’t become lunch, they are great healthy snacks.

Food Tip #3: Save money on food by exploring locally.

There are so many ways that you can enrich your vacation, and save money, by exploring locally. Enjoying local food is such a great way to save money and experience the local culture.

Local farmer’s markets are a hot trend around the world, so ask your hotel desk concierge what hot spots there are around town for fresh items at the farm stand and hit the road!

Shop and enjoy local farmers markets while you are traveling. Tips on how to save money while on vacation.

Farmer’s markets are not only more cost-effective options for produce, that often can be stored in your hotel room, but they also often have food trucks and other items for sale by locals offering cultural cuisine.

Local farmer’s markets are great for kids too. A lot of times they will have music playing and activities for kids.

Finally, your local flavor will be especially quenched if all of your snacks are from local vendors, picked up at the farmer’s market or local shops. Grab a bulk amount of them to store in your hotel room, and keep them with you on all outings so you aren’t tempted to buy expensive appetizers or meals while out and about.

Food tip #4: consider what you drink.

Wine corks piling up. Always take local currency cash when you are drinking. This will help you stay in budget.

Alcohol is one of the biggest expenses when it comes to travel and dining out. So if you do wish to drink, set limits for how much of your vacation budget you are willing to spend.

Always pay in local currency. Take your drinking budget in cash so you don't over spend. Tips on how to save money on your vacation.

**Pro-tip~ It’s easy after a drink or two to overspend, so take your alcohol budget in cash or local currency, only. This way when you’re out of cash, you’re done.

If you’re a coffee drinker, the expenses can add up rapidly as well. Get creative with your coffee indulgences.

Bring along Keurig pods to use in your hotel room, or for a more eco-friendly option, consider investing in a cheap AeroPress (available on here Amazon), and grab a bag of local roast to enjoy what the locals drink, or pack your favorite coffee in your checked bag.

Take the AeroPress along with you on your next trip to save money on coffee.

(This is an affiliate link, we will receive a small commission if you make any purchases from this link. This comes at no extra cost for you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Tip # 2: Fun!!! (Because Isn’t That The Point?)

One of the easiest ways to save money on your trip is in the fun you have. And contrary to popular belief, you can have a fun, enriching, educational, or just relaxing without having to break the bank.

Fun Tip #1: While exploring your local foods, explore your local fun.

You’ve already decided to save money on food by exploring local options. While you’re doing that, check out local tourist attractions that are free, or for a low fee.

The smaller the town, the more free options you will have, so consider leaving the metropolitan area and checking out a smaller community just outside the city walls.

If you are staying in a large city, travel by foot as often as possible. Many cities offer rental bikes and motorized scooters to get around. If your kids are old enough, and you are able, these are great economic ways to explore a city.

Tips on how to save money while on vacation. Take bikes around the city to save money and enjoy the local culture.

Not only will this save your travel funds from being sucked up by Uber drivers and taxis, but it will also give you the opportunity to discover more of the local flavor (edible and cultural) than if you are just riding around, looking out the window as the city whirs by.

Opt to take the local public transportation system. In most cities, you can buy a day pass that is unlimited and can get you to many of the cites you are wanting to visit.

London Tube Map

**Pro-Tip – Try to study the city’s transportation map before you go. This way you are familiar with the line and some of the stops. We always try to find the location that we will be staying in, the closest stop, and then 2-3 places we want to visit.

Then we write them down or save them on our phone and the directions on how to get there. More importantly, how to get back to the place we are staying.

Fun Tip #2: Harness the power of the Internet for deals.

There are two excellent ways you can use the Internet to find local deals and upcoming festivals, or even free events. If you plan on visiting museums, aquariums, national monuments or national parks. Check for free days. Sometimes there is a free day once a month or week. Or also, some days may be cheaper. Even the famous Louvre museum in Paris offers free admission to all visitors one day a month. On the first Saturday of each month, the museum is also open from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. and admission is free for all visitors.

Did you know, if you have a child in the 4th grade, they can get a National Parks Pass for free? Meaning they can visit all US National Parks and some historical sites for free all year. Better yet, if you are with them the entire family gets in for free. Check here for the details on the National Parks pass and the places you can use it.

Free National Park Pass for all 4th grade students. Find your park. Save money on trips and support national parks.
Save money on your family vacation and support national parks.

The first great way to use the internet is by searching sites like Groupon’s Getaways: International Travel for travel deals and long-distance travel opportunities and packages, which include things such as museum visits, local tours, and sightseeing opportunities as a part of your travel and hotel package.

You can also get creative and pose as a local while scouring the web. Sign up for Groupon alerts in your destination city. Check out Groupon’s section on “Things to do,” or search specifically for some travel tours or sites you want to visit on your trip.

Let’s say you are going to Chicago and you want to take one of their fabulous riverboat cruises to see the city and some of the amazing architecture. Groupon could save you $10 -$50 a ticket, depending on how long your cruise might be. You can check other cities for hop on hop off bus tours, museums, by kids’ activities, you get the idea.

Groupon - Things to do on vacation and finding a great deal
Find a great deal with Groupon while on vacation- here’s how!

Look up events for locals at the libraries and museums. Join local Facebook groups and ask for advice on where to take your family for cheap. Delve into the travel bureau’s website for places or events that might pique your interest. The options are endless as to how you can search when you decide to get creative about your planning.

Fun Tip #3: Save on souvenirs by buying them before your trip.

The reality of souvenirs is that they are typically marked up becoming vastly overpriced. Obviously, this is because when people are on a vacation, in the moment of their ultimate travel destination, budgeting and saving is the last thing on their minds.

Big companies and vendors know this and completely take advantage of this opportunity. You look around and see everyone wearing the same hat or shirt, carrying the same bag, and your emotional response is, “I need that!” The reality is, you will probably never use or wear it again.

But I know you’re smarter than that and you are going to save money on your souvenirs by being smart about your purchases, and buying some things either ahead of time, or at alternative locations.

Easy ways to save money on family vacations. Buy your Disney souvenirs before your trip. This will save you a ton of money!
Always buy Disney souvenirs before you arrive at the parks.

We’ve done this multiple times on our trips to Disneyland and Disney World. We will buy our souvenirs on Amazon (here is a great example of some Minnie Mouse ears for $11.00) before our trip. These same ears cost over $30 in the parks.

Then I plan fun ways to give the souvenirs to the kids each day.

Save money on souvenirs for kids and buy them ahead of time. Before you even leave home.
Same ears as they sell in the Disney parks, but they are only $11 on Amazon.

What’s the best way to give your kids pre-bought souvenirs?

I typically hide these from our kids and put them in my checked bag. On the first morning in the hotel, we kick the trip off with a “present”. Next, I will either just give them the souvenir or sometimes I will have hidden it in the hotel room and make them hunt for it.

Then they can start their day in Disneyworld with the coveted Minnie Mouse ears and we saved ourselves over $20 per kid 🙂 #parentingwin

This has really kept our kids from asking and pining for things since they already feel like they have something special. It also opens up more time for enjoying the rides, shows, or parades and not having to shop.

Disney is such a good example of increased prices at certain locations. Disneyland goods are available for sale all over the world, and yet in the park, itself, they are marked up exponentially higher than any other place they are for sale. Many other destinations do the same thing, Lego Land, the Beach, ski gear, etc…

Another great example of this is beach toys and equipment. Make sure to pack your sunglasses, sunscreen, rash guards, etc because these items will be so much more once you are close to the ocean. You’ll even see markups at larger companies such as Walmart or Target.

Baby on the beach at sunset with sand bucket and shovel.

Wrap the gift, hide it under their pillow while they’re sleeping, surprise them in the middle of the day with it. Just have fun with the presents and make sure your kids feel special. You will be amazed at how much you save!

Tip #3 – Fine Print (Because This Is Where You’ll Cash In)

Sometimes, saving money on your vacation is as simple as exploring your options, and checking the fine print. It might be on your hotel fare, or your expenses once you have arrived, there are so many ways that simply avoiding fees and checking the fine print can save you money.

Remember, tourism is a huge business and vendors know our pockets are open once we are on vacation. Be smart, don’t let them take advantage of you!

Fine Print Tip #1: Choose your accommodations with fine print and perks in mind.

The first thing you should always do when planning a vacation is to check if there are any local AirBnbs or a house on Homeaway that will work for you. They could possibly b cheaper than the overall cost of a hotel room, especially when you are traveling with kids.

Always, check the fine print of your Airbnb and Homeaway, in detail, when evaluating your costs. You may be able to save a ton of money by booking a home with multiple bedrooms, cooking meals in the home, etc. But always pay attention to the service fees and cleaning fee.

Always check the fine print on vacation rentals.
Always pay attention to the fine print

We’ve found that if we are staying for more than 4 days, an Airbnb tends to be the cheaper option even with the cleaning fee. Usually, the cleaning fee is a one time charge at the end of your stay in an Airbnb.

Also, if you are a larger family or traveling with additional family members or friends, a vacation rental could be a great way to split the cost. Another reason a vacation rental is a great option is that it gives your family or group an intimate place to gather; cooking dinner together and hanging out late into the night is so much better in a cozy living room. Plus you can put the kids to bed at the house and really relax!

Hotel perks and fees

When trying to save money. Book a place that has onsite laundry.
Stay at a place that has onsite laundry

At your hotel, check to make sure you have perks that will result in ultimate savings on your vacation. Make sure you select a hotel that includes a free breakfast buffet and consider options such as hotels with a washer/dryer on the property, so you can pack lighter and wash your clothes while there.

When you are traveling to a beach, check if your hotel offers free water toys. A lot of hotels will have free sand toys, snorkel gear, and even pool floats. Cash in on these freebies and you’ll save a ton of money and whining from the kids!

When traveling with your kids, book a hotel with a kids club!

As I always say, book a hotel with a kids club! When traveling with young kids, this is the most important freebie out there. It’s a chance for your kids to be entertained so that we can relax, exercise, or enjoy a meal together. It’s free babysitting!

What about resort fees?

Don’t be afraid of “resort fees”. A lot of times all of these freebies are rolled into a daily “resort fee”. Although this is a fee, don’t be afraid of this fee, just make sure you get your money’s worth. So check what is included in your resort fee and make sure you will use the added amenities. This could include snorkeling equipment, kayaking, bikes, paddleboards, tennis, spa sessions, etc… You might not even need to leave the resort to enjoy your time.

Resort fees may cover a kids club which equals free babysitting.

If you aren’t going to use the added amenities, maybe you aren’t going to snorkel or your kids are too young to stay at the kids club alone, don’t pay the resort fee. Pick another hotel. It’s not worth the fees if you aren’t going to take advantage of the perks.

Fine Print Tip #2: Plan carefully to avoid fees and travel add ons.

Your flight will rack up the fees quicker than you can unpack your bags. They do this by charging you to check a bag. If you are not sure how much you are going to pack when you buy your airline tickets, it still might be a good idea to include a checked bag at the time of booking your ticket.

Always pre-pay for a checked bag. The airport charges more than you will pay online.

Always pay for a checked bag when you book your ticket! Airlines give you a discount for paying for your luggage early. If you wait till you are checking in they will charge you more, and sometimes it is almost double as to what it was at the time you booked your tickets.

Save on marked-up airport food and drinks

A great idea is to find free or inexpensive VIP airline lounge passes. This is usually pretty simple to find. It will save you on fees for food and drinks while you wait for your flight. If you get there early enough, you can probably get away with snacking enough before the flight to avoid having to eat at all until you arrive at your destination.

Check your credit card to see if it allows you access to the airport club/lounge. If your plane ticket or credit card doesn’t offer this type of a perk, just hop on eBay and purchase one for less than you would spend on a single bag of peanuts at the airport.

Save on hidden credit card fees

You should also always make sure to check ahead with all of the credit cards and other accounts you plan to use while on your vacation to avoid any international or over usage fees.

Be aware of hidden credit card fees. Try to pick a card with no international transaction fees.

Consider even opening a separate checking account specifically for the trip, so that you avoid any vacation savings fees for withdrawing more than your bank allows in a given period of time.

If you do not have any cards that don’t charge international fees, it’s time to get a new card. If you are traveling internationally, you need to have a card with zero international fees. Trust me, this will save you hundreds of dollars in fees.

My favorite cards to use are American Express Hilton rewards card and the Chase Marriott card. Neither one charges international fees and I rack up on hotel points from my regular day to day spending. This another tip on how to save money while on vacation.

Fine Print Tip #3: Plan your timing, and use your points.

Travel to Venice during the off season to save money and avoid crowds.
Venice during the offseason is perfectly quiet and serene.

Many destinations will even have more free, local events during their offseasons to attract tourists to keep their economy going in slow times. Remember tourism is their business and companies know travel trends. You will have so many advantages when you travel during the offseason.

One thing you will have to consider is your child’s school schedule. You will have to decide if you are willing to miss a few days of school to save money on your vacation. I always ask myself is this trip worth pulling my child out of school mid-year. If the answer is yes, then go for it and enjoy the savings!

Save by attending local festivities

During the summer months, many destinations will have local festivals. These festivals are usually free and give you a chance to experience the local flavor, culture, and possibly a free concert.

If you are traveling internationally, look for local celebrations. They are great places to visit with kids so the can experience the local culture. We’ve experienced this in the US and abroad. One of the most memorable festivals happened while we were traveling in the south of France.  

We were staying in an Airbnb enjoying the local lifestyle. We had plans to visit some of the local tourist sites for the last day we were in town. That morning, we asked our host if they had any recommendations for us.

They said the village of Blauzac, was just a few minutes away and would be having their Running of the Bulls festival. We had never heard of this place. It was small, sat on the top of a little hill that you could see from the distance. Only one main street ran down the middle with just a couple other small streets coming off of it. I swear this is one of those towns out of a book, quaint, charming, and all the people knew each other.

It wasn’t on our radar or even a place we would have visited.  We showed up after breakfast and the old roman city was buzzing with locals and people from around the region. The streets were lined everyone waiting for the running.

It was awesome to see when the runners finally turned the corner and ran down the main street of the town. I never imagined that I would ever be part of such a festival or a tradition that dated back hundreds of years, and besides the experience and memories, it cost us nothing. 

Cashing in points

Lastly, you may consider cashing in your airline miles, hotel points, or credit card points from your credit cards or previous travel accounts. One of the easiest ways to reduce your travel costs is to go when your destination is in their “off” travel season, or just about to go into the offseason. Not only will your plane tickets be cheaper, but your hotel rate and the entire trip will come in at an overall, lower cost.

Pay with points

Pay with miles to save on you next vacation.
Pay with miles to save on your next vacation

You might be thinking that you don’t have enough points to cover for a free flight. Well, most airlines have what they call “pay with points.” This an option that you can use some or all of your points/miles to pay for part of your plane ticket.

For example; Flying from LAX (Los Angeles, California) to HNL (Honolulu, Hawaii) The flight ticket was around $400USD, and you have 24,500 points/miles, this could be used to pay for $200 towards your ticket.  This way your credit card is only charged, in this case, $191.20usd for your flight to Hawaii, and you saved $200 that you can now use for other travel expenses. A good rule of thumb when using miles. For about every 10,000 miles, it will save you approximately $100usd. Still, there are exceptions and it depends on the destinations. This is a great way on how to save money while on vacation, and this is a big-ticket item.

Other options to use your points, save money, and enhance your travel experience.

Using your points can also be advantageous to do during certain times of the year. Maybe you are looking to upgrade your trip experience. It could be your honeymoon, anniversary, or you just want to do something special for your significant other but don’t want to pay the Business or first-class prices. Maybe you’ve always wanted to stay in the executive suite or presidential suite. Points are a great way to make it happen.

Some credit cards or airlines offer free upgrades for cashing in your miles or points. These can be used for that business class or upgraded seat without having to pay more. 

The same can be said for hotels. Maybe you have already booked your room but would like to upgrade to suite or executive lounge floor.  You can contact the hotel or even online and see if you can use some of your points for an upgraded room.

Wrap up on savings

What are your must-haves?

The bottom line about vacationing is if you want to travel, you’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to put in the work and preparation. You’ve got to decide what are the “must-haves, must do’s, and must-sees.”

Put these into your budget first! Make sure you enjoy your time. Budgeting ahead of time will help you relax during your vacation because you already know where to spend your money and where to save.

If you are smart and organized during your planning process, your trip can be fun and relaxing, and you stand to save money while traveling and still have a great time.

Bon voyage friends!


February 24, 2020 at 1:37 pm

Great tips! Love the local festivities idea!

February 24, 2020 at 1:55 pm

Some very useful tips given. I am sure I will be able to have mote
Fun and not worried to
Blow the bank!

February 24, 2020 at 4:02 pm

This is such a fantastic, and thorough post. Thank you! I’m going to bookmark this page for my wife and I while we start planning for our honeymoon, some of these tips will be must uses!

Comments are closed.