Vacations are fun, but they’re not cheap. With the help of Family Vacation Critic readers, we’ve unpacked some ways to save money–and stress–the next time you hit the road.
1. Find Hotel Freebies
While many hotels serve complimentary bagels, fruit and the like, the freebies don’t stop at the breakfast table. Stay somewhere that offers free Wi-Fi — you’ll probably want to read a restaurant review or check when the local waterpark opens. Plus, you’ll obviously want to post pictures of the kids on Facebook! Take advantage of free parking, offered at most hotels, and be aware of steep costs for cars at resorts and hotels located in cities.
Find extra perks, too. New York City’s Ink48 hotel, for example, caters to kids with special amenities and gifts, including goodie-filled backpacks and bathrobes. Many hotels, such as The Restoration on King in Charleston, S.C., offer nightly turndown services and evening receptions with refreshments for parents (wine and cheese) and treats for children (cookies and milk). Some hotel chains, such as Holiday Inn Hotels and Resorts, even offer stay-and-eat-free programs for children.
All-inclusive resorts, of course, are prime, as they charge a flat rate per person, per night, for everything from room accommodations to meals to activities, which often include children’s clubs. For the most bang for your vacation buck, consider an IBEROSTAR resort — the all-inclusive chain is known for its exceptional discounts and packages.
2. Dig Up Attraction Discounts
Get your hands on a local Entertainment Coupon Book, as suggested by Family Vacation Critic reader Debbie Heikens Swenson. “[There’s] lots of ‘buy-one-get-one’ deals in it, along with discounts for food and attractions.” Also, check LivingSocial and Groupon for family-friendly deals at the destinations you plan to visit.
Better yet, find attractions with free admission. Many museums, including The National Museum of History and The National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., are free of charge. Another piece of advice: Use reciprocal memberships. “My family often purchases an annual pass to a museum or zoo and not only are we able to visit that destination at no charge for that year, if they belong to a network of other destinations, we can extend our savings by visiting those other destinations free or at a reduced rate,” says Tonya of The Traveling Praters. “We’ve also found with teens (that pay adult prices), [that] sometimes it’s better to buy an annual pass than pay for everyone individually.”
3. Rent an Apartment or Suite
Family Vacation Critic reader Gone with the Family suggests renting an apartment or oversized suite for your next vacation. These units usually feature full kitchens for cooking meals and storing snacks, and they also provide much more space than a standard guest room. Most lodges, from low-budget motels to top-dollar resorts, offer suites, and though they cost more than standard rooms, you’ll likely save a few hundred dollars, especially if you’re traveling with a big group. Plus, going out to eat every day gets old, fast — you’ll appreciate a few home-cooked meals while you’re away!
4. Book Early
It’s never too early to start thinking about your next family adventure. Many hotels and all-inclusive resorts offer early-bird incentives. Book six months to a year in advance, and you could save hundreds. Keep an eye out for other great promotions on Family Vacation Critic’s Deals page, as well.
5. Save Your Pennies
It’s a tip as old as time, but it works. “The biggest way to save money to travel is to have a budget and stick to it! We set money aside every paycheck to save up,” says Easy Travel Mom. Additionally, JEG Travels suggests using cash for regular purchases, and putting any spare change in a bucket. “You would be surprised how much you save in a few months or a year.” Consider a cute travel fund jar like the one pictured.
Another great option is layaway programs for traveling. Believe it or not, Sears offers a travel layaway program, allowing customers to pay for their trips in monthly installments. Other travel agents, such as Layaway-Travel.com, and resorts provide similar services. Cruises can also be booked a year in advance, so travelers can submit their full payment just before leaving, or spread out smaller installments over several months.