7 Routes to a Cheaper Family Vacation

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A vacation doesn't have to be expensive. Try renting a place with a kitchen and tweeting your way to discounts, for a start.

With school ending for the year, families are thinking about how to plan a frugal vacation. We all know such tips as “check with AAA for discounts.” Here are seven more money-saving ideas for planning a vacation on a budget:

  1. Fly into and out of second-tier cities. If you’re flying, you can usually find cheaper fares outside the big cities. One family found round-trip tickets to Florida for $45 per person, just by choosing to use the airport farther from the nearest big city. I know that if I need to fly to Maine, I always choose to fly into Manchester, New Hampshire, rather than Portland, Maine. Sure, I have to drive a bit farther but I always save hundreds of dollars on my airfare.
  2. Use social media to your discounting advantage. Many hotels, resorts and chambers of commerce are using social media to attract customers – and rewarding Twitter and Facebook users with deep discounts. Just today a company told me that if I entered the code TWEET when I booked my stay, I’d save 15%!
  3. Think local. This isn’t just about staycations. This is about day trips to nearby places that other people plan entire vacations around. Draw a circle on a map within a 100-mile radius of your home and see what kinds of attractions fall within that circle. Your local convention and visitors’ bureau might be able to set you up with discounts to places you drive by daily and never thought of making part of your vacation plans.
  4. Take a volunteer vacation. According to Sheryl Kayne, author of Volunteer Vacations Across America, there are a handful of farms and good causes that will provide free room and board to you and your youngest volunteers in return for your sweat and elbow grease. For example, Kane says The Big Dipper Eco Farm in Michigan accepts families with children of all ages, including infants and toddlers, and will find age-appropriate organic gardening tasks for all the mobile members of your family. (Editor’s Note: For more information, check out this news story we did about Volunteer Vacations.)
  5. See if your memberships get you free or discounted admission to places where you’re traveling. If you’re a member of your local zoo or museum, find out if those institutions have reciprocal agreements with other zoos and museums. For example, National Aviary members receive discounted or free admission at a long list of zoos, with which it has reciprocal discounts or free admission. You might just find yourself with free entertainment during your time away.
  6. When you travel, stock your own minibar. Don’t be tempted to pay $5 for a candy bar in that hotel mini-fridge. Instead, visit your favorite warehouse club to stock up on goodies that your kids can treat themselves to during your trip and that won’t bust your budget.
  7. Rent a house, apartment or hotel room with a full or partial kitchen. This will help you avoid paying $6 for bagels in the hotel restaurant at breakfast. You can go through organizations that specialize in vacation home rentals or timeshare rentals, or even check places like Craigslist or the back of your college alumni magazine for ads for vacation rentals. (Editor’s Note: Also consider house-swapping. Here’s a recent story that explains how it works.)

What about you? What are your favorite money-saving tips for vacations?

Leah Ingram is the author of “Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier & Healthier for Less” and shares money-saving tips at Suddenly Frugal.

Stacy Johnson

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