My family makes it a point to take at least one, if not several family vacations a year. We love the bonding that is created by spending several hours in a car together, exploring a new city and staying up late chatting in a hotel room. Now, with that being said, it is not easy, nor cheap, to travel. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of saving and a lot of budgeting to make it happen. Here are some tips when it comes to traveling on a tight budget.
Whenever possible, try to drive. If you are taking more than one person with you, this is usually the most economical way to travel. We drive the speed limit or less and do our best to avoid hitting rush hour through major cities, this helps conserve gas. You can use apps like AAA gas fuel calculator and trip advisor to help estimate how much on gas you will spend before you go.
There are tricks and tips for getting cheaper plane tickets (buy on certain days of the week, a certain amount of time in advance, on certain websites), but unless you can be flexible about the day you fly (Tuesday verses a Saturday for example), there is not a huge difference in the price of the ticket. The cheapest way to fly is by using airline vouchers as you will only pay the tax of the actual ticket. Airline employees get a certain amount of vouchers a year to give away and you have to fly standby, but if you know someone in the business, it can save you a lot of money. If that is not an option for you, I suggest getting a credit card that can earn points toward airline tickets. While it may take a while to earn the points, it will save some money.
Obviously the cheapest place to stay is with a friend or family. If you do not have that option, there are other ways to save money. I have spent many hours researching hotels and hostels. I have found that hostels are cheaper of course, but definitely a little riskier of an option. I have stayed in a private room hostel and a shared room hostel. They were fine, but I would probably not stay there with my kids.
As for hotels there are tons of options. My favorite is the secret hotels that a site such as priceline.com offers. As long as you are not picky about your specific location, this is a great option. The site will tell you comparable hotels to what the mystery hotel is and as long as you are OK with those standards, yours will be similar for a much cheaper price. If I need a specific hotel or location, I usually search for those hotels on sites such as Travelocity or Expedia and then call the hotel directly to see if they will beat the price the third party website listed. Many times they will because they want 100 percent of the profit as opposed to giving a portion to the third party.
Activities can be the most expensive part of your trip. I am a sucker for the traditional tourist activities like riding a gondola in Venice, going up the Eiffel Tower and going to Disney parks! Some ways to save on these activities is finding coupons. Groupon and Travelzoo are two websites where you can find discounts on travel and activities.
A lot of the time, the hotel where you are staying will offer theme park tickets for a cheaper price. I never thought this was true, but this past June the Disney tickets my hotel offered were cheaper than at the gate. Also keep in mind there are usually military discounts, AAA member discounts and even discounts available through your work. Several companies offer discount travel programs that save on car rentals, hotels and activities (check with your HR department).
Eating out every meal for a week can add up fast. I recommend making a stop at a grocery store on your first day to get the majority of your food. Even if your hotel only has a fridge, you can buy sandwich makings, milk, fruit, cheese and even store any left overs you get while eating out. Taking food with you, wherever you are going, is the best way to save money.
I always make it a point to book a hotel that offers a free breakfast and we eat as much as we can there to help keep us full throughout the day. I also budget to eat out a few times during our trip. I do this because I know it is going to happen, no matter how hard I try to pack yummy food, the food at restaurants always sounds better! I also love to eat out, so it is a treat for me while on vacation. It is better to plan it into the budget than tell yourself you won't do it and then the budget gets thrown off when you do.
Souvenirs are tricky. You can budget for them, but when you arrive you may find something you just love that is way out of your price range, or find nothing at all. When my husband and I traveled through Europe we kept saying our souvenirs were the pictures we were taking. While that was true, there are some things I regret NOT buying; I mean how many times will we travel to Europe? Probably not many. I don't recommend buying something just because you budgeted for it, but I do recommend buying something that you keep thinking about after you've left the store. If it is over what you budgeted than take money from your food or activities budget to help offset the difference. Don't go overboard, but also don't have regrets.
I hope these tips have been helpful and have given you some ideas to plan your next vacation!