Planning family summer vacations on a budget
Preparing well in advance of all your family summer events spares you the money and the stress usually associated with traveling (and ironically, vacations in general). Here are my favorite tips for saving a buck:
1. Find the best hotel deal
Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't stay at a nice hotel. I usually begin my search at Hotels.com, Priceline.com and eBay (yes, they offer hotel bargains too!). Try condo or house rentals, which can be great bang for your buck. When you've found where you want to stay, check the rates on the hotels' own websites to avoid any booking fees tagged on by deal agencies. Other hotel-finding tips:
Be flexible with your dates - If you're able to stay an extra day or a different day, you often get a better discount.
Make eating in easy - Check whether your room has a fridge and a microwave so you can opt to eat meals in your room instead of spending extra to eat out. On the same note, find out if the hotel includes free breakfast with your room.
Play where you stay - If you're looking to visit a water park, find a hotel with a lazy river and a waterslide instead. Everything is included with the stay, so you can avoid the expensive water park admission.
2. Be a coupon hound
If you're planning to visit a theme park, search special ticket deals online. I've even hunted down and bought a local entertainment guide just for its coupon book. For in-state destinations, find out if they offer discounts for residents. (They often do.) And don't forget to ask about any other available discounts (military, senior, student, AAA, etc.).
3. Pack your medicine cabinet
Avoid buying everyday items while you're away; instead, pack a separate bag with all of your family's personal care products in advance. Be sure to include "just in case" medicines too, like cold medicine, bandages, etc. I usually put my bag out about two weeks before I go, and I put everything I use from that day on in it. If there's something that can't be packed until you leave, write the name of the item on an index card and put that in the bag instead. On the night before the trip, replace the cards with the items.
4. Budget your meals in advance
Check online before you leave to see if any local restaurants offer coupons or other dining discounts on certain days of the week. Also pack up portable foods from home, like juices, canned soda and pretzels. Taking enough to last you throughout your vacation saves bundles of money.
Julie Smart is the mother of five wonderful children and a blogger at couponsavingfamily.com.
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