Try these 10 clever ways to make your summer vacation more affordable—without sacrificing fun.
Save on gas - take a one tank trip Instead of hopping in the car to drive all day, plan out a one-tank mini-trip. You'll still feel like you're getting away, and there are probably some awesome nearby attractions that you've been meaning to get to for ages -- now's the time!
Rent lodging from the owner Score a deal by seeking out by-owner rentals when you need overnight digs -- and be ready to negotiate. "With people not traveling as much this summer it's a great time to call up the owners of vacation condos or mom-and-pop type hotels to ask for a deal," says Ellie Kay, mother of seven and the author of A Mom's Guide to Family Finances. "You'll speak directly with the owner, and because they're used to being full at this time of the year, they're more likely to offer you a discount."
Save when you fly With surcharges on everything from food to luggage, flying isn't cheap these days. Here's how to save where you can:* Bring along your snacks for the flight rather than buying munchies last-minute at the airport or onboard. Ditto on activities and books for the kids -- be organized and bring along diversions (preferably ones they haven't seen for a while) from home.
* Both kids and adults are each allowed one personal item and one bag as carry-ons -- so take advantage and bring on the full number that your group is allowed. You may be able to avoid checking luggage altogether.
* Maximize what you carry on (and avoid having to pay to check) by packing efficiently. "Remember there are laundry facilities everywhere you go," says Emily Kaufman, aka The Travel Mom, and author of The Travel Mom's Ultimate Book of Family Travel. "From camping to cruise ships, you be able to find a place to do laundry on the road if you need to."
Eat on the cheap You gotta eat, but going to a restaurant for every single meal adds up fast. Here's how to save:
* Book a studio (a room with a kitchen) so you can pick up some basic groceries and prepare simple meals and snacks in your own digs.
* There's no need to have a sit-down meal, every meal. While you're out and about, look for a deli or supermarket where you can grab some sandwiches and take them with you to a park for a picnic.
* When you do eat out, know how to make it cheap. "I've paid $25 for a $50 gift certificate to a steakhouse that I found at restaurant.com," says Kay.
* Look for Kids Eat Free programs -- something many restaurants and hotels offer on particular days of the week.
Have fun at home Plan a staycation -- a vacation where you stay at home and line up fun activities around the house or in your community. "'Vacation' to a 6-year-old doesn't really mean anything yet," says Annette Economides, mother of five and co-author of America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money. "They'll have just as much fun spending time with you doing things like going for hikes, visiting museums, and taking day trips as they would traveling."
Go backyard camping Once you add up the cost of gear, supplies, and the extra gas it takes to get your overloaded car to a faraway campsite, the outing can become pricey. Instead, have a backyard campout. Kids can help scope out the "campsite" and pitch the tent. You can cook your meals on the grill (don't forget s'mores), eat alfresco, tell spooky stories by flashlight, and sleep outside in the tent. Bonus: Home (with your bathroom and well-stocked medicine cabinet) is right there for potty breaks and bug bites.
Theme parks: Go local A trip to a theme park doesn't have to include long car rides, flights, and hotels -- chances are your kids (especially younger ones) will be just as thrilled with a great local park. Hit up your park's Web site before you go. Many offer discounts on tickets purchased online, have printable coupons for deals on food, and offer information about reduced fares for afternoon admission, season passes, and group ticket sales. Also check for modified hours of operation and safety mandates due to COVID-19.
Host or be hosted Host: Instead of spending your precious vacation days on planes or in the car en route to visit friends and family, why not ask them come to you this year? Plan some fun ways to spend your free days at home or nearby -- even if you're doing things you've done a thousand times, it will feel new to share them with visiting grandparents, cousins, or other families with kids you don't get to see often.
Be Hosted: Have a friend or relative with a house in the mountains? The beach? Anywhere but here? Hitting up friends and family for visits rather than staying in a hotel can be a huge cost saver. So don't be shy about (respectfully) inquiring about a visit. Just remember not to overstay your welcome -- especially if your hosts have kid-chaos of their own.
Take a multi-family trip Make your vacay a multifamily trip and save bucks by going in on a house (with a full kitchen!) together. Lots of popular beach and mountain destinations have houses that can sleep multiple families and you'll be able to take turns watching the kids at the beach or on hiking trails. Also switch off making meals -- you'll all save money by not eating out and you'll get a mini-break from cooking.
Take note: these trips do require a little extra planning in order for everything to run smoothly. "Work out what everybody's rules and expectations for the trip will be before you go," says Kaufman. "If you decide how you'll divide up food costs, take turns watching the kids, and all of the other details before you travel, nobody will be disappointed or surprised on the trip."
Give the kids a budget Prevent post-vacation credit card bill shock (and teach your kids a thing or two about budgeting) by thinking about how much each day will cost in advance -- and then giving your kids (over age 7) a reasonable amount of cash as their daily spending money. Let them know they can keep anything that's left over so they'll think about whether or not they really need both the cotton candy and the jumbo lollipop -- or if they can make do with one or the other and pocket the rest. Be clear and stick to you guns -- if the money runs out, that's it. No bailing out your spendthrift kid.
If your summer vacation plans include a few hours (or 10) in the car, you're gonna wanna pack these on-the-go essentials! Travel with these essentials for a whine-free ride. (Cute dog optional.)
Waze app No matter how well you may think you know the roads, it never hurts to have a little help. With the social traffic and navigation app Waze (available for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry), you'll be getting more than just directions. This free app allows other drivers in your network to report traffic jams or accidents, so you'll receive real-time updates at every turn.
Backpack When you're constantly tossing bags in and out of the car, they better be able to handle plenty of abuse. This durable North Face Hot Shot Backpack is water-resistant and has plenty of compartments for a portable speaker, games, and other road trip essentials.
Cooler With this Rubbermaid 50 Quart Cooler, you won't have to worry about your drinks and snacks getting warm. Packed with 25 pounds of ice, this split-top cooler will keep food cold for more than 12 hours. It also comes with large wheels, so you can easily cart it to a campsite or the beach.
Travel Mug If you rely on your morning coffee to get you through the day, take it on the road with this Oxo Good Grips LiquiSeal Travel Mug. And no need to fret about annoying bumps in the road — this beverage container won't leak or spill as long as the lid is closed.
Sneakers For all those times you're out and about instead of sitting in the car, slip into comfortable shoes with a minimal design like these Easy Spirit's Reinvent Walking Sneakers. The mesh upper and stretch lining of this lightweight shoe conforms to your foot, making it feel like you're wearing slippers instead of clunky tennis shoes.
Stain Remover Stick Throwing clothes in the washer at a moment's notice isn't an option on the road. Prepare yourself for any spills that come your way with Tide-To-Go Instant Stain Remover. This pocket-sized pen will completely remove soda, fruit juice, and coffee stains from fabrics. It even works on silk!
Car Vent Air Freshener Clips These will keep your car smelling fresh — no matter how many spills and crumbs you rack up on the road. Just add these easy-to-use clips to your car's vents, and voila.
Tissue Packs Better suited for the car than hard cardboard boxes, these tissues packs can be tucked in a glove compartment or in a door or seatback pouch without crushing. And, the water-resistant outer pack keeps the tissues clean and dry.
Snacks Look for healthy options like corn nuts. As long as they aren't fried, corn nuts are a secret superfood! Toss a bag in the car, or go for another pop-able driving snack like dry, roasted chickpeas or almonds. You'll find them at most rest stops, and with lots fiber and protein they'll stave off cravings between meals.
Lunch Bag Look for a lunch bag with built-in freezable gel, so you can pop the empty bag in the freezer the night before your outing to help your snacks stay cold throughout the morning.
Tablet Holder and Car Seat Organizer Keep kids occupied — while wrangling car games and snacks — with a pocket-packed headset hanger. Just slip a tablet into the pouch for an instant, on-the-go entertainment center.
Water Proof Phone Bag Protect your electronics and other important items from the elements with a Aquapac Small Case. Whether you're swinging by the pool or getting caught in a downpour, your gadgets will remain safe and functional through the clear, waterproof panel.
Roadside Emergency Kit Stay safe while road trippin' with Car and Driver's Roadside Emergency Kit, packed with essentials like jumper cables. ($25, shopcaranddriver.com)
Fresh Fruit If you've ever fished a crushed banana out of your bag, you'll appreciate how the innovative packaging on Chelan Fresh cherries, apples and pears makes fresh fruit easy to eat in no matter where you are. The company's Rockit Apple Tubes and Cup o'Cherries fit right into car cup holders, and the cherry cup even has a built-in place to put pits.
Mini Blow Dryer This Conair Minipro Tourmaline Ceramic Styler is user-friendly. It's an inexpensive, tiny champ that dries hair well and is super-light — at just 0.6 pounds. ($20, amazon.com)
Once it's safe to travel again are you wondering where to go for your next trip? If you're running out of ideas or looking for new ones, here are some places to add to your travel bucket list.