This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. For more information, please read my disclaimer here.
Being frugal or thrifty doesn’t have to mean missing out on fun vacations or amazing travel experiences. In fact, a frugal lifestyle may mean that you now have extra money to allocate toward family vacations and world travel. Frugal, to me, means being wise with your money and planning exactly where every dollar goes. Once you reduce costs in certain areas of your budget, like meal planning instead of getting take out, you can now choose where you want your extra dollars to go.
This year, we put some of ours into an amazing Miami trip and Caribbean Cruise! We kept our usual habits during our trip and with these tips for a family vacation on a budget, we spent an amazing vacation without emptying our pockets!
5 Tips for a Family Vacation on a Budget
1. Book your vacation at just the right time
Family vacation on a budget tip #1 starts way before the actual trip. Book your vacation online using a reputable website such as Expedia or Trivago. Reduce costs by eliminating a third-party travel agency and book for yourself. These sites make booking vacations super simple and you can complete your transaction and be ready to go within minutes! Bundle your flight, hotel, and car rental to get an amazing combo deal.
Most times, the earlier you book, the cheaper it is. Also, filter your results so they are displayed from lowest price to highest. From here, you can choose hotels based on reviews and location.
Cruises can be booked directly from the official website. We traveled with Royal Caribbean and had an amazing experience! Interior state rooms are the cheapest and made more sense to us since we spent very little time in the room during our cruise. For us, paying extra for an exterior room with a sea-view was not worth the price. Nothing could beat the view of the ocean from the top-deck anyway!
The best time to book a cruise is:
(a) Early – at least one year in advance
(b) During ‘wave season’ (January-March)
(c) Very late – One month before the cruise when there are cancellations and the rooms need to be filled again
(d) While On Board – Book another cruise DURING your current cruise. You get INCREDIBLE deals on board.
(e) During a promotion or deal – Through Black Friday deals, you can score an affordable cruise package.
2. Book breakfast only & leave out extra add-ons
When booking your hotel, choose reasonable packages. For example, choose a breakfast only option rather than all-inclusive. Chances are you’ll be touring and sightseeing throughout the day so it will be cheaper and easier to grab lunch and dinner on-the-go. You can also save by staying in hotels further from the main city or airport. Ten minutes away from the city hub is worth the savings to me, especially if you’re renting a car anyway!
Similarly, when booking your cruise, leave out extra add-ons such as Shore Excursions (SEE FRUGAL TIP #4).
3. Monitor Spending
Don’t leave your frugal habits at home whilst on vacation. The real way to have a family vacation on a budget is to save on both preparation and while you’re actually on vacation. Every evening does not have to entail fancy dinners and don’t go too overboard with the extra shopping. Remember there is life after a vacation and don’t fall prey to the ‘Buy now, Pay Later’ world that we live in.
Tip: Most hotels have a self-service, coin operated laundry machine that is available for guests to use. Use this late at night or early mornings (when it is less busy) instead of paying exorbitant costs for the hotel’s laundry service.
4. Practice Cruise Smarts
On most cruises, you are allowed to take two bottles of wine onboard. Utilize this offer to reduce alcohol costs which can add up in the end. If you know you will drink a lot, consider if the beverage package is one that will be worth it.
Cruises are well-known for all-you-can-eat buffets and remarkable dining experiences. This is included in the price you paid when booking. Many restaurants onboard are open ALL day and you can eat ANYTIME you wish (this was the BEST part – I LOVE food). The menu options are also extremely varied; there are literally hundreds of foods and desserts to choose from! Alternatively, there are other restaurants on the ship that are open but not included in the price that you paid. It means that you have to pay a separate bill to eat there.
The most important tip for a family vacation on a budget I have is to bypass the restaurants that will cost you extra. Why not just choose from the restaurants that are actually included in the cruise package? It’s not like they don’t already have really wonderful, delicious food!
Cruise ships also offer extra services such as spa treatments, professional studio portraits etc. Be wise when making decisions on what extras you want to pay for. All these services are charged to your room and will be deducted from your credit card at the end of the cruise. We did not take any of these extra services and I took my DSLR camera along with me to capture the memories for free.
Related to family vacation on a budget tip #2, do not pay for shore excursions. Shore excursions are basically tours of the countries which are visited. They are organized and hosted by the cruise line and cost hundreds per person in most cases. Instead of booking shore excursions through the cruise liner, we organized our own tour. As soon as you step out into the port, there are many reputable taxis and independent tour companies that offer the same tours for half the price.
In Costa Maya, Mexico, for example, we visited the Mayan Temples, a scenic beach in Mahahual and toured a little Tequila Museum for less than half the cost of the shore excursion! We even paired up with another family from Puerto Rico to share a bigger taxi to score an even better price! When choosing taxis and tour guides, please be smart, safe and cautious!
5. Have Fun & Relax
Have fun and relax; you’re on vacation! Frugal lifestyle doesn’t have to be frustrating or boring. It just means being smart. You just spent money on an awesome vacay. Take advantage of every bit of it! Enjoy the yummy foods, check out the inclusive events and kick back along-side the pool. Parents, take advantage of the kids programs and activities onboard and they even have a day-care for babies.
Take lots of pictures and make wonderful lifetime memories with your loved ones!
Happy travels guys! Enjoy.
Meet Guest Blogger Amanda
Amanda is an oilfield wife, mom of two and high school teacher. She blogs over at The Frugal Mom Guide where she shares parenting tips and money-saving ideas. When she’s not blogging, she enjoys spending time with her family, drinking coffee, and changing the world, one student at a time.