5 ways to make a dream family vacation more affordable
For the last few years, my husband and I have spent 5 weeks of our summer in Costa Rica, Europe, or a combination of destinations. We’ve taken our 3 kids, who started travelling as early as age 2, to over 12 countries to date.
Extended travel has been amazing experience full of quality family time, living amongst the nature, experiencing life in a totally new way, immersed in local culture, being exposed to foreign languages, and making new friends.
There are ways to make amazing vacations happen, even when you haven’t saved up for years and are on a budget.
We use a lot of cost-saving strategies which make our multi-week trips as affordable as a typical family’s 1-week vacation.
Here are some ways you can make your next amazing vacation more affordable:
1. Stay off the beaten path
Why it’s easier than you think:
I am always amazed at how so many large hotels and popular tourist destinations are so expensive, while some of the most beautiful, exotic places I’ve stayed are half the cost! I much prefer the places off the beaten path. And guess, what, they are often much more affordable! The problem is for most people, the smaller hotels, and little towns are much less well-known, so we often fall into the trap of taking the more popular route simply because it can be hard to find out about places off the beaten path.
Luckily, there are some great resources to find them – and they are worth it!
There is something so charming about staying in a small secluded resort where the guests become friends over dinner conversations about the day’s adventures, or where you find yourself enjoying a unique sunset privately to yourself from a private balcony. It can’t be beat!
I like to find places to stay that are a little unique, rather than simply a hotel, such as:
- Jungle lodges
- Yurts, tent cabins
- Holiday parks in Europe
- Home rentals
The advantage of these unique types of lodging is that most of them are also much more affordable, especially for a family, than a typical big chain hotel room.
Here are a few great resources with tips on how to use them to find a unique, off-the-beaten-path stay anywhere on the planet:
- Glamping Hub – One of my favorite resources for finding lodging off the beaten path; search for a Yurt or Treehouse using their filters
- TripAdvisor – search hotels and use the filter called style: ’boutique’ or ‘quaint’; sort by traveler ranked
- VRBO – a nice trick is to sort by “most reviews” – if you don’t have a specific location determined, this can pull up some very well-liked after but mostly unknown lcoations!
- AirBnB – many of the AirBnB’s are, by nature, unique – highly recommended and often these are a lower price than other lodging options.
2. Share your home
It may seem like a monumental task to prepare your home for strangers to stay there – and if you only did it for one weekend, this may be true. But if you have an overall strategy to rent out your home for several weeks, or several weekends, throughout the year, the benefits far outweigh the cost.
We first approached the idea of sharing our home after we had already completed 2 5-week trips. The fact that we were renting a vacation home, while paying all our current bills and mortgage for the same 5 weeks, seemed a little wasteful. And costly!
We first looked into a home exchange – a concept that’s been around for years. When the choices seemed too restricting to do a home exchange, we switched strategies to simply renting our home on AirBnB which gave us much more flexibility in choosing our guests and our own vacation destination.
We found a family from San Diego who stayed in our home for a month that summer. Once we committed to that stay, we decided to open up our home for other weekends that we planned to travel that year, with the goal of paying for as much of our summer vacation as possible purely on profits from renting our home. (Which, in fact, we succeeded at – we paid for our entire 5-week trip to Europe from AirBnB payments that year).
- The beauty of a home exchange or AirBnB is that you can prequalify your guests by getting to know them prior to the visit and/or using rating systems.
- Have a locked area (a closet, garage or room) where you can simply put all your important financial/personal documents, and valuable when guests stay in your home
- A guest set of linens makes it easy to swap out bedding & bathrooms before & after a guest stay
- Visitors don’t expect all drawers and closets to be empty – simply making a little space for their items is enough (slide the clothes in the closet over to make room, etc.)
- Find a good cleaning service; I like to use this before stays and simply do my own cleaning after stays. Most guests are extremely polite about cleaning up and leaving the place as they found it
You can start by creating an account with one of these online services:
3. Share your car
Why it’s easier than you think:
If you’re planning to be away for a while, why not make a little extra money renting out your car while you’re gone?
We used FlightCar regularly for 2 years, before the company sold their business model to Mercedes-Benze and shut down facilities in 2016. This saved us money, as the cost of parking at an airport was free through their service. It also brought in money, between a hundred dollars and up to $800 when leaving our cars for the summer.
There’s a fundamental philosophy to the car-sharing and home-sharing strategy that I’ve truly learned to like. We all have accumulated so much *stuff* — that the more that we can learn to share our resources, the more efficient we can be as a society. Less waste, less unused luxuries just sitting around unused. I believe it is not only economical, it is responsible, to think about how we can share our resources like this.
You can start by listing your car with one of these online services:
4. Go luxury, then go rustic
Why it’s easier than you think
Sometimes it may seem like a certain resort, location or activity is too expensive. But what if you balanced an expensive portion of your trip with a very affordable offset?
We’ve made many a luxury lodging option affordable by combining 2-3 nights at the expensive resort with 3-4 nights of camping or staying at a basic hotel.
We also have relied on a very simple tactic for eating: every 5 week trip we’ve taken, we eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches almost every day! It may seem extreme, but the tradeoff is worth it, as it allows us to buy a meal out only once a day.
- Prioritize hotel choices with free breakfasts
- Oatmeal packets make a great cheap breakfast you can bring anywhere with a microwave or coffee maker (hot water).
- Peanut butter & jelly can be brought anywhere, and only require buying bread at your location to make lunches for the entire trip.
5. Use Mileage Points
Why it’s easier than you think
Before we started travelling regularly, I’d heard friends talking about using mileage points, and always thought, “That sounds like a lot of work.” Just to save a little money.
But the truth is, it’s not a lot of work. And it’s saved us a lot of money — about $1500-$2000 per trip!
It was Chris Guillebeau promise that “it only takes 1 hour a week” that led me to go ahead and try it out. When you think about it, an hour a week can allow you to get your entire family’s flights for free for vacation, it starts to sounds worth it.
We’ve used mileage programs to pay for round trip tickets for 3 of our 5 tickets to Costa Rica two summers in a row, and 2 round trip tickets to Europe. In all cases, I started earning the miles over the previous 9 months.
There are certain tricks with mileage programs worth noting:
- Shop for your flight first. It’s likely you’ll need to plan your vacation dates around the dates that the best mileage deals are available.
- Open a credit card with a large bonus of miles. This is the best way to accrue plenty of miles for a big trip. In my experience, I could get 30k-50k miles from one credit card, which is enough to get almost 2 round trips to Costa Rica alone. You’ll need to do this several months (about 4) before your trip, because there usually a minimum spend and processing time involved in getting some of the introductory miles. Worried about credit card debt? You can use the card to pay regular bills, pay it off right away, and simply close the card after receiving your benefits – this is all perfectly on the up and up.
- Choose the right airline. Make sure you pick a mileage program that works for where you want to fly. I like United.
- You can buy some flights with miles and others with cash. You can do this either by simply purchasing the same flight – once you pick the one that works with your miles. Or, you can also buy miles so that you have enough miles to purchase all your flights through the mileage program. There are even ways you can buy miles from friends and family for cheaper than if you’d used that same money to buy tickets, saving you further.
There are some great bloggers who go to all the work to seek out the best credit card deals and share them, so you don’t have to start with a Google search. I recommend starting with Chris Guillebeau’s resource website called Cards for Travel – it’s free and informative.
Make your amazing travel happen!
Every day on our dream vacations has felt like we were living life to the fullest, and the travel has inspired me to live the same way, fueled with the belief in constant possibility, opportunity and inspiration, while at home. For the kids, it’s opened a world of cultural learning and awareness that could only be appreciated firsthand.
But it doesn’t have to be something that only a few of us can do. With enough planning and intentionality, the trip of your dreams can be made possible!
In the comments, I’d love to hear where your dream trip would take you!