When I was a kid, family travel meant four kids crammed in the back seat of a sedan poking and elbowing one another while counting the miles between rest stops.
Things have changed dramatically since then. But even with onboard DVDs, spacious minivans, air travel, cruises and theme parks, family vacations can be either delightful or disastrous. It all depends on the care you devote to research and planning.
TIME AND MONEY
When it comes to family vacations, quality is more important than quantity. Instead of trying to stretch your available cash over the time you can be away, first consider the money you have to spend. Divide the money by a reasonable daily budget to determine how many days you can be gone.
INVOLVE THE KIDS
Talk about how much you have to spend, then show the kids what it costs to eat in a restaurant, spend the night in a hotel or buy tickets for an amusement park.
Reader Dawn R. from California allowed her teenage daughter to plan their vacation with the money they had to spend over and above the cost of overnight accommodations. “Our spendthrift daughter became Ms. Frugality because she wanted to parasail,” she recalls. “She had us fix meals in our room, and watched the expenses like a hawk. And we parasailed.” Dawn says it was the best vacation ever. “As a bonus we went home with cash in our pockets and the priceless accomplishment of teaching our child the value of money.”
There’s nothing like a good visual to keep a vacation based in reality. Large colorful envelopes are ideal — one for each day to hold that day’s allotted cash.
THEME PARK STRATEGY
Set on a visit to an amusement park? You can find deals and discounts on the internet, says Robert Niles, editor and founder of ThemeParkInsider.com.
Leah, blogger at TheBudgetMouse.com is wild for Disney World. “I’m a veteran Disney World visitor and have been on Disney vacations with my family over 30 times!” Check out Leah’s tips and sign up for her very informative and money-saving emails.
GAS UP THE CAR
Road trips are an American tradition and a wonderful way to see the country. Before you take off visit www.GasBuddy.com or www.GasPriceWatch.com for insider tips on where to find the cheapest gasoline price. These sites are updated daily by local volunteers in every locale across the U.S., who watch for the cheapest prices.
If you’re careful, camping can be nearly as affordable as staying at home provided you have the equipment or can borrow it. Visit the National Park Service website (NPS.gov) to search affordable destinations within the National Park Service. Many campgrounds now require reservations (rec.gov), so don’t wait until the last minute. Recreation Use fee prices vary by location and activity.
LIVING HISTORY MUSEUMS
There are at least 2,000 living history museums around the country where the past seems as real as the present. Start with a virtual visit where you can “tour” many of these wonderful attractions online. Go to ALHFAM.org, the site of The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums. Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation (historyisfun.com), Henry Ford Museum (hfmgv.org) and Conner Prairie (connerprairie.org) are just a few of the living history museums that make learning fun for visitors of any age.
A little short on cash? No problem. Clever parents can turn a tent in the backyard into an amazing camping experience. Change all the rules for your stay-at-home vacation. Sleep in, unplug the phone, stay up really late. During the day, visit the tourist attractions right in your own town. Check your city’s website or search using your city/region plus the word “tourism.”
Vacationing with another family can cut the costs on rentals, food and transportation. This is an especially good choice for single-parent families who agree to pool their energy and resources. Just make sure you discuss expectations and budgets ahead of time. Tip: All-inclusive resorts are a good choice for group travel because it’s a fixed cost and you know exactly what it is before you leave.
To this day, my favorite childhood memories revolve around family vacations. Just being together made all the poking and elbowing that went on in the back seat worth it. All these years later, I’m more convinced than ever: There’s just nothing quite like a family vacation!