Over the past 5 years, my family has been blessed enough to take a vacation every year. And every year I am faced with the challenge of putting together a fun, memorable vacation that everyone will love and that is affordable.
When our family was smaller, this process was a little easier because it seems like the whole world is based on your family size not exceeding FOUR! Well, we are now a family of 6 and the standard hotel room with 2 double beds is just not an option; at least not for stays longer than 2 nights. Airfare would eat up more than 1/2 of our budget, food would take up the other ½, and I will not even start on the theme park tickets. So what is a family to do?
Step 1- Choose the theme of your vacation: adventure, relaxation, beaches and sun, theme parks, or history and culture. Adventure vacations and sandy beach vacations are by far the most cost-friendly vacation themes.
Adventure vacations include low-cost outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, bike riding, and camping. This vacation theme is perfect for older children.
Top Adventurous Destinations
Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
New Paltz, New York
Mount Hood, Oregon
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Park City, Utah
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Yosemite National Park, California
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California
Glacier National Park, Montana
Olympic National Park, Washington,
Hood River, Oregon
Acadia National Park, Maine
Sandy beach vacations are also extremely affordable and include surfable waves, sandcastle building, great dining, and mile long boardwalks. This vacation theme is great for all ages especially babies and toddlers.
Best Family Beaches in US
Coronado Beach, Calif.
Nantucket Island, Mass.
Newport Beach, Calif.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Panama City Beach, Fla.
Siesta Key, Fla.
Poipu Beach, Hawaii
Hilton Head, S.C.
Kiawah Island, S.C.
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
South Padre Island, Texas
Wailea Beach, Hawaii
* If you decide to take a theme park vacation, find out if your bank or employer offers discounted tickets. Avoid purchasing tickets on eBay or Craigslist, unless it is from a reliable seller or broker. Also, many theme parks now offer the convenience of child swap. With child swap, one parent can wait in line with the older children while the other parent goes up the handicap ramp with the smaller children. When the other parent gets off the ride, you swap and get right on the ride without waiting in line again. GENIUS!
Step 2 - Choose your means of transportation: fly, ride the train, or load up the car.
Your most affordable option would be to drive. Even if you find a great deal on air fare, chances are you will still need to rent a car once you land, so cut out the middle man and drive. However, if you do decide the fly and rent a car, go to www.priceline.com where you can 'Name your Price' on airfare and car rentals and save money, many times more than 1/2 the regular price.
Step 3 - Choose when to travel: peak or off peak
Of course you will get the best deals off peak. Orlando's busy season begins around May/June and ends August 10th. I use that as a guide to plan may vacations. Avoid holiday weekends; take the day off the following week and keep that extra money in your pocket.
Step 4 - Accommodations: vacation home, hotel, or condo
Vacation home are perfect when traveling with a large group. Not only do you get a huge home to hang out in for a week, but you also have the company of other adults and hopefully other children to keep your children busy. Vacation homes, generally, need to be book several months in advance and you have to clean up after yourselves daily. Standard hotel rooms are more readily available and perfect for smaller families. However, parents don't have any privacy and you have to eat out every night, which can quickly total up to over $500 just for food. If you are looking for a standard room, Hotwire or Priceline (Name your Price) are your best options. Some people are leery of using these sites because you don't know where you will stay until you have purchased the room. I have used Priceline many, many times and have never been disappointed. With a condo you have the best of both worlds. Parents have a room and the children have a room. Most condos have a full kitchen and you can prepare simple meals for breakfast and dinner saving you hundreds of dollars. Condos also have a washer and dryer in the unit, perfect for when little Katie or Kevin make and big mess. You can also use the washer and dryer to wash all your clothes before leaving making it much easier to unpack when you get home. Icing on the cake, housekeeping is available!
Another option is to take a time share tour; I know it sucks spending 2-3 hours of your day on the tour because it never only takes 90 minutes. But you can get a great 1 or 2 bedroom condo at an unbelievable rate.
Every family is different and must decide what is most important for them, location, transportation, entertainment or accommodations. Whatever you choose, spend the most money on what is most important and skimp on everything else. So if you want to go to Hawaii, you will spend the most money on airfare and you will have to skimp on entertainment and accommodations, but at least you made it to Hawaii. Happy Travels!
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