Enjoy this guest post from a good friend of mine, Erin of Kidventurous.
Many of us like to travel with our kids. Personally I just like to get out of the house (see you soon, dirty laundry), but I also love to give my kids fun, new experiences, whether boogie boarding at the beach or snow tubing down a mountain.
Unfortunately, travel costs money, so the sooner you can start planning a trip, the sooner you can start saving for a trip. Take a look at these eight money-saving tips to get you well on your way toward a fun and frugal family vacation.
1) Set a Budget: As with anything else, like buying groceries or holiday shopping, you need to set a budget. Identify how much you have to spend, then work backwards to figure out how much you’ll need for airfare and accommodations, the two biggest chunks of your budget.
2) Track Airfares Early: If you plan to fly, start looking at fares early. It’s best to book your travel on Tuesdays (when the most cheap seats are available) and travel Tuesday-Thursday. Set up flight alerts on Airfare Watchdog to get low fare email alerts for travel to your destination, or to anywhere from your home airport if you’re not quite sure where you want to vacation.
3) Take to Twitter for Deals: Create lists on Twitter for hotels and airlines you may use, as well as tourism boards and travel agents specializing in your destination. Many times you’ll find hot deals tweeted out to followers, so get to know the search engine on Twitter too. Tweet with hashtags, like #Boston or #WaltDisneyWorld, and you may find travel deals tweeted directly to you.
4) Find What’s Free to Do: Many cities have free days to visit the zoo, museums, art galleries, and more. Once you know where you want to go, go online and search for something like “free activities in Boston.” I recently put together a post at Kidventurous called 10 Cities to Check out for Free Family Fun, with lots of freebies to check out in Chicago, London, San Diego and more.
5) Search for Hotels Online, But Book Through the Hotel Directly: I’m a big fan of online travel services, like Travelocity and Orbitz, but I don’t usually book through them because I don’t like to prepay for the room nights. Instead, I like to find the best rates, then call the hotel directly and book through them since I can reserve the room with my credit card alone. You can even find better rates this way. I saved $50 recently by searching for a room online, then calling the hotel to book for the night.
6) Fill a Suitcase with Food: Yes, if you’re planning to stay in a hotel, pack an entire suitcase with food. I’m talking about breakfast cereals, granola bars, juice boxes, cookies, anything that won’t break into a million pieces in transit. Also, pack Wet Ones, paper plates and plastic utensils. Even if you paid $50 in airline bag fees, you’d still probably spend much more if you went out for breakfast and snacks.
7) Buy Coupon Booklets: Every city has an Entertainment Book, and these are a great way to save money on local activities, restaurants and hotels. Order one online for the city you want to visit, and then look for more coupons online and using their mobile app. Another one to check out for coupons is Enjoy the City, which also has booklets for multiple destinations.
8) Hit Daily Deal Sites: If you know you’re going to Miami on vacation, for example, sign up with Groupon, LivingSocial and other daily deal sites that specialize in discounts on local activities and restaurants. When I went to Ft. Lauderdale last year, I bought a Groupon good for an Everglades boat tour for me and my kids at a big discount.
Of course, there are many more ways to save on family vacations. Please leave a few of your favorite tips in the comments below. I love saving money on travel, and would love to discover more new ways to do so!
Erin Gifford is a mother of four who looks up and down for ways to save money on travel for her big family. She has a family travel blog, Kidventurous, which was recently chosen as the Best Family Travel blog by Parents magazine. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for family travel advice and deals.