Summer is here, and its time for vacation!
A little pre-planning can save you a bundle on vacationing with the family.
With gas prices lower now than in the past, and airline tickets on the rise (and charging for baggage!) driving vacations are more sensible than ever, and can easily be more fun.
Plan the Destination And the Route
This is the information age. Take advantage of all the tools the web has to offer. Determine where you want to go – to visit Grandma in Virginia, or drive to Disney?
Use Google Maps, and “peg” out the trip. Find spots of interest and fun along the way. A 12 hour drive in a car is not much fun for the youngins, but an hour or two hour drive may be bearable knowing that each day or each segment of the journey they are on to a new adventure.
Make it even more fun by creating and printing out maps for the kids, highlighting each stop along the way, like a scavenger hunt, or treasure map.
Get the kids involved where there are choices. Involve them in the process and it will be more fun for all.
Ask the Locals
Use all the information available. Local and regional Convention and Visitors Bureaus have literally tons of information. Call them and tell them your group situation and they can be very helpful with suggestions. They are the experts in their own locations. If you have time before your trip, order the brochures in advance, and let everyone start to anticipate how much fun they are going to have. Anticipation of an upcoming vacation is almost as important as being there.
If you are planning on going to any amusement parks, search the web for coupons and discounts. Most offer family packs, but be sure that pack is actually a savings based on your family size.
Plan your meals
On the road meals can be a real budget killer. Pre-packed picnics are so much less expensive than dining out. Pack a good cooler, and if necessary shop along the way to replenish your supplies. Forget about buying bagged ice when you start out . Fill some plastic bottles with water and stuff them in the freezer a day or so before you go. They’ll keep the cooler cool, with less mess than bagged ice, and not take up space like those big plastic chemical ice blocks. And you can drink them when they melt.
If you do need to buy ice along the way, remember – the larger the ice chunks, the longer they take to melt. The smaller, the faster they will cool down the contents of the cooler but they will melt faster. My choice would be blocks of ice if they fit into the cooler. Have an ice pick handy if you need to chips some off for beverages. (Wow, an ice pick! A functional relic of the pre-refrigerator past… how many readers have never even seen one!)
Again, if you are going to an amusement park, zoo, or other large attraction, be sure and eat before you go. Concessions are notoriously high priced junk food. If the kids are full when they get there, they won’t be quite so apt to clamor for all that cotton candy. (Note: When its time to leave, do you really want the kids all hyped up on sugar and junk food when they get to the car?) You might even call ahead to see if you can bring in a picnic lunch.
If you are staying in a hotel or motel, inquire to see if they have anything available with a kitchen and stove. You don’t really need to eat all three meals and snacks in restaurants and at snack bars. No kitchens? Well, what’s wrong with cereal for breakfast? Think of the cost savings between the whole family dining out for breakfast versus a box of your favorite cereal and a half gallon of milk? A loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and jelly can suffice on the road. Its summer – how much cooking do you really want to do anyway?
Mealtime can even be a mini-lesson in choices and budgeting for the kids. “Okay family, do we want to go out tonight for dinner at the Fancy Fisherman Fried Food Palace, or order a pizza here for dinner tonight and go to the Super Splash Water Fun Park tomorrow?
Keep in mind you don’t want to totally eliminate the “treats” and luxuries expected on a vacation, but cutting costs on food can leave budget available for more experiences.
Buying souvenirs is a part of vacationing, especially for kids. Rather than souvenirs, how about bringing along a digital camera, and getting the kids involved in a photo diary of their trip? Be sure and have extra batteries, perhaps a charger and extra memory cards. They may get a little crazy snapping everything they see, but that’s part of the fun. (Note: Be sure and pack all the appropriate “chargers” for phone, cameras, Ipods and all the gadgets. Nothing will ruin a teenager’s life faster than not being able to text while on vacation with the family. And the Ipods will keep the kids quieter – I guarantee – unless they sing along!)
You could even cut some post card sized pieces of white posterboard, and give the younger kids crayons to create and color their own post cards to send. (Be sure to abide by postal regulations for size, and mailing requirements if you intend to send them.). The maximum size is 6” long X 4 1/4” high and the minimum is 5” long X 3 1/2” high.
Even without the post cards, drawing pads and crayons are a must if you have younger children aboard.
With a big family, you might want to consider camping, or renting an RV versus the high cost of hotels and motels for your vacation. Camping is the cheapest way to go, but it is not for everyone. Consider how “outdoorsy” your family is before the trip. Camping is not something you just jump into. It’s more of a lifestyle thing. My family camped for around 12 years while us kids were growing up. And we had great sleepovers camping out in the back yard in the summer.
You can sometimes get some real savings by traveling in the fringe season, at the end of and the beginning of the summer, rather than smack dab in the middle of peak season. Check around at your destinations for off-season rates.
Traveling midweek is usually much easier than getting into the herd headed to the beach or mountains on Friday afternoon and coming back Sunday. By leaving a day early or late, you can breeze past where the traffic jams would be, lessening nerves and making the trip that much more enjoyable – and saving on gas! You get zero miles per gallon when stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. (Maybe less if you have the AC on.)
If you are a AAA member, you can also get some great discounts and coupons, and trip planning services.
Start your vacation planning before you start your car, and you can save money and have more fun.