Five Ways to Save Money on Vacation

   By divinecaroline  Feb 28, 2011

A fun family vacation need not break the bank. I just returned from a five-day trip with my family where we did a lot for very little. Having saved money on my vacation, I was inspired to share some of my tips for how you can save money on your vacation, too.

Leverage work retreats. This really helps save money on your vacation. My company recently scheduled a weekend at a wilderness retreat for the entire company. I brought along my family at no extra cost (since I already had a hotel room?paid for by my company) and turned it into a mini-escape. As resort guests, my family was entitled to use of the pools, parks, sauna, restaurants, etc.

Travel in the “shoulder” season. I love the shoulder season. It’s the time in between the high and low season (think September for summer vacations; March for winter vacations). Many places have already lowered their prices to low season rates and the weather, while not as reliable as during the high season, is often just as good. Plus, the crowds have usually tapered, so popular attractions will be easier (and cheaper) to visit.

Stay in a home, not a hotel. If you’re looking to save money on your vacation, cross hotels off your list. Many people rent out their homes for vacation use. Staying in a home is often much nicer than a hotel, especially if you have kids. Who wants to be cramped in a single room when you could have an entire house (for less money, too!)? (We recently stayed in a beautifully appointed converted barn from the 1800s for half of what a hotel would have cost.) There are many websites that list vacation homes for rent and make it easy?and secure?to find a vacation rental. My favorite is

Cook some of your meals. The first thing we do when we arrive at our destination is to stop at the local market. We pick up coffee, milk, cereal, juice, ingredients for sandwiches, and ingredients to make an easy dinner. If you’re worried about not having spices on hand (like I am), pick up salt, pepper, and garlic. Those three will go a long way. Skipping the restaurants for every meal will help you save a lot on vacation. Because we save so much by eating in for some of our meals, we always treat ourselves to a nice dinner out one night. We also grab lunch out if we feel like it?the key is to not be too strict or feel like you’re depriving yourself.

Don’t pay for recreation. There are so many great ways to have fun on vacation that cost little to nothing. On our recent vacation, my favorite activity was going on a hike with my four-year-old son (or, as he called it, “an exploration”). Total cost? $0. We also went swimming in the lake (for free) and built a campfire for dinner (free, except food). If you’re driving to your destination, pack your bicycles, fishing poles, kayak, you name it. While you can rent these items at most places, they’re going to charge you an arm and a leg. Save money and bring your own!

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musicmomma by musicmomma | LONG VALLEY, NJ
Apr 10, 2011

I've gone onto when we travel too. it's a great way to save a few $$. I also cruise the web for coupons of the area we plan to travel. Using credit card rewards for restaurant gift cards has also helped save the excessive spending when on vacation.

kswms2003 by kswms2003 | W BLOOMFIELD, MI
Mar 23, 2011

Great vacation tips although I would caution about work retreats unless the company solely authorizes the family can come with all expenses paid for the family. As being a part of an HR team, a company I used to work for terminated some employees for this same behavior. How HR found out was another employee reported it to his supervisor. The Supervisor reported to HR to find out the company policies in reference to family staying on company's time and money. The right way would have been for the employee to pay for his families hotel stay if it was a personal family outting. Not only that but a former Mayor of Detroit, MI did the same thing and the News reporters followed him and got information regarding his hotel stays, bills, and they took pictures of his family staying while the City of Detroit paid the bill. So just be careful people that you think are not watching are.

friendsofstcorn by friendsofstcorn | CHADDS FORD, PA
Mar 12, 2011 has gift certificates for places all over the country and they are often 80% off.....whenever we go away I always check what's available in the area we are visiting.

Snookiebill by Snookiebill | BLACKSHEAR, GA
Mar 07, 2011

We have used VRBO several times for beach condos. We often carry cereal, styrofoam bowls, etc. to hotel rooms/condos with refrig. so breakfast is taken care of and we don't have to get dressed and leave. Sometimes we carry bread & sand. meat for lunch. But.....our dinner meal is usually eaten out. I work full-time and it is not a vacation for me to COOK!!!! :) Luckily, my husband LOVES to explore new & different restaurants!! I really like shopping2scale's idea about restaurant gift cards and not having to carry as much cash! Thanks for the tip!!

shopping2scale by shopping2scale | Old fort, TN
Mar 06, 2011

When we start planning for a vacation we go by walmart, bp, mcdonalds,wendys, taco bell and pick up gift cards, then each pay period we put $20.00 on each one. up until we go on vacation, then when we start traveling we use the cards and don't have to carry as much cash and don't use credit cards except where we have to.. This works out wonderful. This year with the gas going up as it is we have already started putting more $ against the gas card from walmart and bp, than we usually do. If we need to pick up drinks at the gas stations we use the cards for that too.

joy9281 by joy9281 | TOLEDO, OH
Mar 02, 2011

We do not spend a lot on vacations but when we go on vacation it is important to us to relax and enjoy ourselves no matter what we are doing. Any money saving tips like this that do not require us to give our relaxation or prevent us from having a good time are always helpful. Thank you for these ideas!

mammamoy by mammamoy | Bronx, NY
Mar 01, 2011

We prefer staying at hotels that are equipped with small kitchens. It gives us the option of preparing easy breakfasts and lunches since we travel with young children. I agree this definitely helps to stay within budget. Also look for hotels that have pools, thats a free activity. Lots of hotel chains also include free breakfast for guests. Does anyone know where the beautiful beach photo on this page was taken?

jlindseyc by jlindseyc | LEXINGTON, KY
Mar 01, 2011

i agree with these ideas! I am a big fan of and have booked many vacations this way. I also enjoy eating breakfast and most lunches in my vacation condo/house as a great way to save money. Another plus about renting a home or a condo is you may get to know the owners in the process and they can be a great source of local attractions!