How to Enjoy a Vacation on a Budget

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How to Enjoy a Vacation on a Budget

Nothing builds more memories for a family than a great vacation together. Of course, truly enjoying the journey requires that the grownups are just as relaxed as the kids. That means planning ahead, packing adequately, and allowing for the unexpected. It also means making sure that your little family excursion won’t break the bank.

Holiday savings

Keeping the cost of a family vacation in check and on budget is the best thing you can do to be sure that you’ll be able to relax and enjoy yourself. It’s no fun to watch your stash of cash diminish or your credit card balance rise.

Fortunately, there are some common sense things you can do, both as you plan the vacation and as you head out to live it. In addition to your usual bargain-hunting strategies, though, there are other ways to conquer the vacation money binge.

Editor’s Note: While I’m by no means an expert on family vacations, I’ve taken a big family trip to Mooloolaba pretty recently that put a lot of what follows into practice.

Take Your Vacation in Pieces

Most of us get the idea of a 7- or 10-day jaunt around the country or to a specific destination. But it can be cheaper, easier, and more practical to break up your family time into several different segments. This is especially true for families with difficult work schedules, who struggle to assemble a long stretch off work. It’s also less tiring for younger kids.

For example, imagine that you live in Kansas and you’re planning some summer fun. You can travel east a couple hours to hit some Branson shows, then go home for a week or two. After that, maybe you can roll south for some fishing fun in Oklahoma, then later west to the foothills of the Rockies. You’re never gone more than a couple of days, and you have some financial recovery time to reload your travel account. And imagine how excited your kids will be to mark out three out of six weekends for a trip!

Editor’s Note: This is certainly how I travel when I am living abroad long term. I have fond memories of taking weekend trips to places like Changzhou, Lianyungang, and Shanghai while calling Nanjing home between 2012 and 2014.

Keep It Local

What feels like the biggest waste of money on some trips? Most people would say the travel itself. You can relish the destinations, savor the meals, and treasure the souvenirs, but all you get from your gasoline dollar is fleeting glimpses of some new territory and an accumulation of mileage on your car.

So nix the odometer burden and look a little closer to home. We all hear things about attractions right in our own backyards, but somehow we tune them out because they’re just part of our permanent scenery.

Step away from that for a minute. What about your local zoo? Have you ever been to that state park that has road signs along your daily commute? Keep in mind that the things in your daily background constitute a real destination for people from other places, just as your out-of-town destinations just represent home to the people who there.

Editor’s Note: I put this into practice recently, with day trips to local landmarks such as Bellingen, the Dorrigo National Park, and even the sleepy little village of Glencoe featuring in Colourful Movement’s recent visit to my hometown.

gopro selfie new england australia
Jacky from Colourful Movement and I on our 15k walk between Ben Lomond and Glencoe last week.

Don’t Give Up On A Staycation!

What kids treasure with their families isn’t always ornate trips. Sometimes it’s just time with the rest of the family, without the burdens of work and school–and maybe without a few chores.


Call a family meeting. Offer the kids an opportunity to live high on the hog at home for a few days. Every meal can be at a restaurant. No bed-making, no yard mowing, no dishwashing. Live just like you’re on vacation.

Of course, that will go for the grownups too. Get all the bills paid before the staycation starts. Catch up on laundry. Mow the yard. Reschedule doctor’s appointments. Don’t even go get the mail. Devote 100% of your day to having fun with your family.

Then explain to the kids what you can do with the money that you save. It will make a great consumer lesson, too!

Never lose sight of the fact that a vacation should produce more fun than worry. You can do lots of amazing, memorable things with your kids without endangering their college funds. Just be smart and plan ahead!

This post was written by Jane Brown.

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