Family Vacations on a Shoestring Budget

May 18th, 2011 by Pachango Leave a reply »

The headline on Yahoo caught my eye. “How family will save $12,975 this summer,” it read. The teaser said the family was still planning to take a vacation, as well. Of course I wanted to know how.

The writer, Tal Boldo, said that to save on airfare and gas prices, they were going to take a local vacation. OK, that’s to be expected. I’ve already written about sticking close to home this summer. The family’s solution will be to go camping in an area 30 minutes from home where for a week they will hike, fish and listen to audio books. The writer says they will spend $400 instead of the $5,000 they typically spend each summer.

I was a little disappointed by this. I was looking for some great insight as to how a family can take a vacation for $400 or less without having to give up visiting attractions, hitting a theme park, heading to a beach, and all of the other fun things families love to do in the summer.

Don’t get me wrong, camping can be quite fun. My dad was an avid outdoorsman and every year our family of five (and our dog) would go camping at least twice. We’d head about 30 miles away to a lake area and spend our days hiking and our evenings reading books around the fire, and they were great times I remember well. But we also managed, during the recession of the 70s and the long lines for gas, to take an annual family vacation to Florida. We’d pile into the car and drive there from Illinois and have some time on Daytona Beach and visit Disney World.

We never stayed in luxury hotels during our trips, always a motel chain that typically let us drive up to the door, with all five of us sharing two doubles and a rollaway bed. If my parents could find a hotel with a kitchenette, even better; then we could have meals in the room. We didn’t spend an entire week at Disney either. Just a couple of days, sometimes just one. But we’d sample area attractions like Gatorland or the now-defunct Circus World, or even the two-ride water parks and mini golf places in neighboring Kissimmee. We’d leave the park for meal times, eating at Kissimmee’s cheap buffets. Any time spent at the beach was free, and we couldn’t get enough. (You can see the joy in my own kids without even seeing their faces in this photo!)

My parents had to be very stingy and creative to travel to Florida every summer, but my brother, sister and I never cared that we stayed in a motel instead of a resort property. We didn’t care that the hotel pool had a small water slide instead of multiple pools with splash areas and various water slides. We didn’t like how long we had to be in the car to get to Florida, but my parents made it fun by stopping to see weird things. (Think World’s Largest Ball of Twine and the like.)

I’m not saying Boldo’s camping vacation won’t be fun for his family. But I am pointing out that there are ways to vacation on a shoestring budget. There are free museum days; kids stay, play and eat free programs; discounted days at theme parks; and a variety of interesting places to visit that may not be the biggest tourist draw, say Gatorland versus Epcot, but still appeal to kids.

Be creative when making plans for your summer vacations. We don’t need to spend $5,000 on a summer vacation, but we don’t have to stay home, either.

I’d love your ideas on how to save money on a summer vacation. Send me your money-saving tips so we can share them with others.

–Lissa Poirot



  1. Wendy Irvine says:

    Not that I’m going to do this, but I’m thinking about it. . . instead of using our comfy minivan to go places this summer, I’m thinking of tucking the four of us into the Toyota Corolla.

    The Toyota gets amazing gas prices compare to the minivan. The trick will be to pack light so the trunk isn’t groaning w/ weight.

    Wendy Irvine

  2. Anna Moffat says:

    I’m a big fan of staying in self catering properties. That way we can eat out sometimes but also cook for ourselves on occasion – a great way of saving cash!