Have an Awesome Family Vacation for Under $1,000

On a tight budget? No problem. Pack up and hit the road with these affordable approaches to family vacations.

If you can come up with $1,000, you can definitely treat your family to a nice vacation this year.

We’ve pulled together a list of five ways to have fun on a tight budget. Of course, how far you travel is a major factor, and one of your biggest expenses may be the cost of getting to your destination. That’s one reason Hawaii will likely never be an affordable vacation destination, unless you already live there of course.

So look for a travel spot that has cheap flights or is within driving distance and then try one of these options.

1. Camp (or glamp) across the country

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Camping seems to stir mixed feelings. For some people, camping makes them think of dirt, sunburns and awkward summer camp experiences. Others equate camping with adventure, tranquility and an opportunity to unplug.

If you fall into the first category, don’t rule out camping all together. Today you can stay in modern cabins at national parks or rent RVs at private parks in areas that are outfitted more like resorts than campgrounds. This form of luxury camping, aka “glamping,” will cost more than pitching a tent, but it’s usually still an affordable way to vacation.

Some places to try:

2. Midwest cities offer affordable fun

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If you want a big city vacation, skip the coasts and look to the Midwest instead. Chicago, of course, is the biggest city in the region, and it’s also the most expensive. Instead of following the crowd, look for a midsized city that combines a vibrant downtown scene along with a mix of arts and cultural events.

Midwest towns may have the reputation of being a bit vanilla, but don’t let the stereotype fool you. Depending on what state and city you visit, the region has award-winning chefs, countless craft breweries, art museums, zoos, long sandy beaches and more. Plus, the cost of living is typically lower so your money will go further than it would in New York, Chicago or LA.

Some places to try:

3. Do a house swap to keep costs down

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After getting there, your next biggest expense while vacationing is likely staying there … wherever there may be. You can save money by finding a place to stay for free. You could try mooching some free accommodations from a friend, but a house swap may be a better way to keep both your finances and friendships intact.

You could arrange a house swap on your own through Craigslist or a travel message board, but a house swapping website or club may offer you additional protection. These sites may vet users and provide reviews of potential swap partners. Using a website or club is more expensive than arranging a swap on your own, but the peace of mind is likely worth the annual or monthly fee. Still, do your research before deciding on a home swap vacation and tuck away your valuables if strangers will be staying in your house.

Some websites to try:

4. Low-cost cruises

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Just because some cruises are expensive doesn’t mean all cruises are expensive. If you’re flexible and don’t mind booking at the last minute, you can get some deep, deep discounts. On the flip side, if you want to be able to get your choice of cabin at a decent price, booking seven to eight months in advance might be advisable.

Once you find a cheap cruise, you need to keep your vacation affordable by understanding what you will have to pay for on-ship amenities. Limit your paid beverages, skip high-priced excursion options and focus on the free or low-cost entertainment found on the boat or on the shore. For more tips, check out: “Secrets the Cruise Lines Don’t Want You to Know.”

Some websites to try:

5. Go almost anywhere in the off-season or “shoulder season”

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Finally, you can get a deal at countless destinations if you’re willing to travel in the off-season. However, the off-season might not be ideal for you. Maybe the weather at your destination is more likely to be unpleasant or maybe the off-season conflicts with your kids’ school schedule. In that case, look to book a vacation during a “shoulder season.”

Shoulder season travel involves booking a vacation in the month before or after the peak travel season for that destination. The discounts won’t be as deep as what you’d get in the off-season, but you’ll pay less for lodging, have fewer crowds to fight and probably still get decent weather.

Some places to try:

Where do you go for a cheap vacation? Leave a comment below or head to our Facebook page to share your favorite affordable destination.

Maryalene LaPonsie
Maryalene LaPonsie
After 13 years as a staffer for a Michigan legislator, I decided it was time to quit the commute and work from home instead. For the past three years, I’ve been penning ... More


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