Family Vacation Budget Helps You Make Memories

Don’t let a vacation budget stop you from creating treasured lifetime memories! For many people, their favorite memories are related to a childhood trip with their parents – camping on a lake, first airplane ride, a visit to Grandma’s house, an epic road trip cross country, seeing historic monuments in Washington D.C., or a visit with Mickey Mouse at Disney World. Are you picturing your favorite childhood vacation memory?

The vacation budget does not start right before the vacation. It needs to be on your radar at all times. Treat vacations like an annual or bi-annual expense, like car insurance or taxes. Treat vacations as a necessity not as a maybe. Vacations bring families together. They break up the routine and force you to stop and spend time together. Now more than ever, it is important for families to pull themselves away from computer screens, phones, and TVs so they can simply enjoy each other. As is so often pointed out to parents, we only get 18 summers with our kids so take advantage and make vacationing together, near or far, simple or extravagant, a priority.


Vacation Budget

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Key costs for vacations include transportation, lodging, food, experiences/sight-seeing and souvenirs. By planning ahead and prioritizing the most important part of a vacation for you and your family, you can save money. The first step of a vacation budget is prioritizing the key vacation costs. That will look different for each family. For some, vacation is all about the amenities at the resort, while for others it’s about the experiences. And, for others vacation is all about the food and shopping for souvenirs.

Read More:  15 Fun Road Trip Games To Keep You And The Kids Laughing

The following are tips for saving money when planning a vacation budget in each of the key vacation cost categories.

Vacation Budget for Transportation

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The joy is in the journey. Road tripping, typically, saves money over flying and renting a car. (However, it is a different and ever-changing world right now with flight prices, rental car prices, and gas prices. Be sure to diligently research your options.) But, no matter where you live in the United States, you can do a one-day road trip traveling about five to eight hours for a unique vacation. Staying relatively close to home decreases the transportation budget dramatically when traveling by car.

Pick a city or a town. The Internet, obviously, makes road tripping so easy. Pick a place you know you want to visit and then research historic sites, antique shops, museums and attractions near that town. Be sure to visit the Roadside America website to discover unique places. And, once you know the main interstate you will be traveling do a quick Internet search for “attractions along I-95,” for example.

Flying can be economical, especially right now as the airline industry tries to bring everyone back into the air. For those who fly for business regularly, racking up those frequent flier points or credit card points can land you free airline tickets for your whole family. Flying lets you go further much faster so you can enjoy every moment of your vacation time at your chosen destination.

Vacation Budget for Lodging

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Of course, reviews are mixed on owning timeshares, but those that love it, view it as an investment in vacation. Happy timeshare owners travel more because their lodging is already paid for and/or budgeted throughout the year. It becomes a home away from home. They become familiar with the coffee pot and amenities in the unit. It becomes their own.

Camping can be similar. Camping involves the investment in an RV, popup camper, or tent as well as the rest of the gear depending on needs: sleeping bags, a propane stove, a lantern, etc. Renting campsites can be nominal at state parks. A camping vacation can be as simple as hanging out at the campground enjoying the outdoors: hiking, fishing, swimming, and grilling. Beautiful memories can be made lounging at a campsite reading a book, fishing on a lake, or roasting marshmallows on a campfire.

But some campers use camp as merely a place to sleep and save money. They stay outside big cities like Washington D.C. and use the train to travel into the city to see the sites. These campers spend their vacation budget on adventures like zip-lining or river rafting. Camp is only a place to sleep and recharge for the next day.

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Another way to plan your vacation budget for lodging is through hotel reward programs where you earn free nights by staying at the same hotel brand. For those where amenities and lodging are the top joy of vacation by all means splurge on the best hotel, luxury cabin, or deluxe recreational vehicle and enjoy.

Read More:  5 Helpful Things To Know Before You Go Glamping

Vacation Budget for Food

One way to save money when planning a vacation budget is to not eat your money. This means: you eat whether on vacation or not. You can stick to the same food budget you have at home while on vacation. If you make your vacation budget for food the same as at home then food does not become a vacation expense.

Vacation Budget Food While Staying at a Hotel

If you are staying in a traditional hotel room sticking to your weekly food budget on vacation seems tricky, but, it can be done. Many hotels offer a simple breakfast included with your stay, which can hold you over until lunch. Many hotel rooms have small room refrigerators and microwaves. But plan to still bring a cooler. It can be a soft-sided collapsible cooler if you don’t have space while traveling, or it can be a traditional family-sized cooler that will keep ice cold for days.

Breakfast can be cereal, oatmeal, fruit, bagels and cream cheese, etc.  Just bring or buy paper plates and bowls. Breakfast can even be frozen breakfast sandwiches warmed up in the microwave. They can be in the cooler or refrigerator thawed and ready to go. Traditional sack lunch sandwiches or salads can be taken in your cooler for a picnic while out for a day of sight-seeing or playing at the beach. You can plan for dinner out or to save money, dine out for lunch and have the traditional sack lunch picnic for dinner.

Read More: Top 7 Kid-Friendly Restaurants In The USA

Vacation Budget Food While Staying at a Condo or Camping

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It is fairly simple to stick to your regular food budget when staying at a timeshare or condo rental, or camping because you can cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner at both. You can be gourmet or keep it simple with paper plates. It’s your vacation. You can splurge for a meal or two. The choice is yours. It’s like being home away from home when staying where you can cook.

Just like a holiday, memories and traditions are created by making special dishes while camping or staying at a timeshare or rental property with a kitchen. Campfire chili and friendship fruit salad are great for campers who want to invite neighboring campers over to their campsite. Homemade chocolate chip banana pancakes are an awesome tradition at a rental property.

But for those, where food is at the top of the vacation joys, then by all means dress up, dine out and enjoy the cuisine.  

Vacation Budget for Experiences and Sight-Seeing

It is amazing how much there is to see and do that does not cost a lot. With a little bit of Internet research, you can find unique places to visit, that do not cost a lot, almost everywhere.

National parks are perfect example. An annual national parks pass is $80. National parks include the Grand Canyon and Acadia in Maine, but also less-known ones like the Everglades in Florida and the Badlands in South Dakota. Each national park is preserved by the federal government so everyone can enjoy their wonders for years to come.

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Just because you go to a national park, does not mean you have to be an avid hiker. The No. 1 visited national park is the Great Smoky Mountains, which stretches between Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s a beautiful drive through the park with scenic pull-offs and the visitor’s centers at each end sell maps of waterfall hikes ranging from easy to difficult. Of course, for the avid hiker, the Appalachian Trail crosses through the mountains.

State Parks

Many states like Tennessee and Illinois have free state parks. Tennessee boasts beautiful waterfalls at some of its state parks. Illinois state parks are often along beautiful lakes with fishing and camping. Others like Florida, charge a nominal fee by the carload. But you can see ruins of Old Sugar Mills or hundreds of manatees during cold weather when they swim into the springs for warmth at Blue Springs.

Small Towns

A small town can be a hidden adventure. Find out where the locals eat. Find the hidden gems and the best festivals. Small towns are full of unique shops and more. Some of the best museums, theaters, and history are waiting to be discovered in small-town America. Each community is proud of its history. It is amazing the people, places, and history you can learn about hidden in the tiniest museums, historic homes, and more.

Zoos, Aquariums and Museums

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Animals are not just for children. Almost everyone enjoys seeing and learning about animals. If you buy a pass to your local zoo, aquarium, or museum, it typically is reciprocal, letting you visit for free or 50 percent off many zoos, aquariums, and museums across your state and country. It’s a great way to plan your vacation budget for sightseeing by investing in an annual pass. You can plan the rest of your vacation around the museum or zoo that you can go to for free.

Vacation Budget for Shopping and Souvenirs

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For those who enjoy hitting the boutiques or outlet malls on vacation, you know your budget. Shopping is your priority. Have fun. But, for those who want to keep spending at a minimum be sure to have a vacation budget plan for shopping and souvenirs. Decide ahead of time if everyone needs a T-shirt or stuffed animal souvenir. Decide if you are giving the kids and yourself a budget amount or an item amount.

Read More:  Penny Press Souvenirs: A Simple and Low-Cost Travel Hobby for Families

For those who want to be very frugal. An ornament or key chain keeps vacation memories alive in December. Don’t forget the smoosh pennies. You can visit Penny Collector. Many gift shops sell cute souvenir penny books for your collection.


Vacations make wonderful memories. Be in the moment. Plan your vacation budget long in advance so that you can vacation in a manner that best fits your lifestyle. Happy Planning!

WANT TO READ MORE?
Once you’ve created your vacation budget, it’s time To Plan Your Next Family Vacation In Pittsburgh.

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Carla J. Eskew
Carla J. Eskew is a freelance writer, wife, and mom of two children who are nine years apart. She is a Scout leader with 15 years of experience in Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. She serves as a volunteer at school, church, and with the homeless population. She loves road trips, sightseeing, camping, and pilates. But, her new love is her 1-year-old black standard poodle puppy, Midnight Shadow.

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