17 Ways to Save Money When Planning a Family Vacation

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Even the best trip to Disneyland has to come to an end and when that time comes, parents will be left with one big souvenir that they can't return: the bill. Sadly those great memory-making trips to visit family in Texas, going skiing in the mountains, or take in the sights at the Grand Canyon often make a huge dent in our wallets. It's a challenge that many parents grapple with, how to make memories without breaking the bank. Don't feel pressure to put the entire trip on credit cards and deal with consequences later --  the perfect family trip is something that every parent can plan for and pay for, no matter what their budget is. All it really takes are some tips and tricks that can help parents budget the right way.

Our first tip: Start months ahead of the trip, putting money away and carefully comparing prices. Are there lower prices for booking early? Are there more savings to be had by booking last-minute? Is it possible to leave in the middle of the week? These are all important questions to think about when booking a trip, but there are even more ways to save when arriving at the destination. Luckily we have plenty of expertise when it comes to planning trips and have compiled some of our best tricks into one list that we're going to pass along to our readers. 

  • Be Flexible With Dates

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    Sure, things become trickier when adhering to a school schedule, but if at all possible there are two words that are getting a good deal on travel: wiggle room. Is it possible to leave a few days before vacation starts and come back after it ends? Or go away on off-peak dates, if possible.

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  • Book Early

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    Air travel is a fickle beast, but if there's one thing we've learned it's that booking early can have major benefits. This goes double when booking vacations around the major holidays: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day.

  • Or Book Really Late

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    Again, flight prices are fickle. It seems the exact right time to book can be a day or two before the trip. It's a risky move -- one could end up with no flight after all or it could end up costing a fortune, but airlines will often slash prices close to flights to fill seats.

  • Sign Up for Rewards Programs

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    Many hotels offer rewards programs for booking with them, and that can be a life saver for families. Chains like Marriott, Wyndham, Hyatt, and Best Western have well-regarded rewards programs that come with lots of perks.

  • Save on Food

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    Dining out can drain vacation money fast, so it's best to try to eat in while away as much as possible. This means that a vacation rental with a kitchen or refrigerator is a good bet. Stock up on groceries on arrival.

  • Stay Somewhere Central

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    No matter if it's Uber, Lyft, or plain old cabs, traveling around can cost big money. Which is why finding a place to stay that is in a central location and close to lots of public transit can help save money.

  • Use Points or Miles

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    Credit cards are a great way to earn savings all year. Points accrued through rewards programs can be exchanged for flights, hotels, or other forms of travel, which are areas where most vacation funds often go.

  • Worry Less About the Rooms

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    How much time do we really spend in our rooms anyway? Probably not too much. People who are willing to stay on lower floors or with less-than-stellar views are often cut a break on the price of their rooms.

  • Think Outside the Box

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    For parents who have to book two rooms -- their room and then an adjoining room for their kids -- it may pay to look into an AirBnB instead. Plus, renting an apartment or house gives the whole family room to spread out.

  • Look for Destinations With Good Exchange Rates

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    If the plan is for a trip abroad, it might be best to think about getting the most bang for the buck. Countries where the exchange rate weighs more heavily in favor of the US dollar are worth a look!

  • Use a Cash-Back Service When Booking

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    If parents are booking online, it just makes sense to use cash back websites like Ebates, which might net travelers anywhere from 5-7% back on their purchases. This can be a huge win on long, international flights.

  • Fly Midweek

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    It just makes sense that the busiest days to fly are over the weekend, but if one doesn't absolutely need to leave on a Friday or Saturday, a good way to save money on flights is to leave on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

  • Pack Snacks

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    Anyone who's spent the day at an amusement park knows that paying for snacks and water can really add up. So plan ahead and buy some snacks before heading out for the day.

  • Negotiate Room Rates Directly With the Hotel

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    We love a trip planning website as much as the next person, but the truth is that sometimes it can be way (wayyy) cheaper to go directly to the source. Just call the hotel and ask for a price reduction -- it's that simple.

  • Pack Light

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    It should go without saying, but packing light pays dividends. It's hard with kids, but trying to bring less luggage means less money spent checking baggage. It's one quick and easy way to save.

  • Look For Free Events

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    A good tip when traveling, say to visit family, is to look for free events or places to take the kids that won't break the bank. Think local parks, fairs, carnivals, or in some countries, things like museums or other cultural spaces are free.

  • Research & Book In Incognito Mode

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    Travel websites often use cookies to track consumers who are browsing flights and hotel rooms, so make sure the incognito mode is turned on in the web browser when shopping around. This will make sure these sites can't jack up the prices when it's time to buy.

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