By Sharon Nolfi, M.A. for Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine, www.tbparenting.com

Your family loves to travel, but the price of vacations seems out of reach. Don’t stay home. Instead, learn the secrets of budget travel and go!  Start by following these tips.

  •  Research And Plan Ahead of Time.  Snag the best bargains either by booking far ahead, or by waiting until the last minute. Use the Internet to book flights and hotels to avoid booking fees. Order free brochures from tourist board and visitor center websites; they often contain coupons offering discounts for local establishments.
  • Involve Children In Budgeting For Trip.   Children are most likely to follow a spending plan that they helped to create. Listen and learn their actual priorities before planning expensive activities.  Decide together what each person will be allowed for souvenirs and extras.
  • Pick The Slow Season.  This is possible even with school age children. Expensive resorts in Florida and Arizona are often 50% cheaper during the summer. Yes, it will be hot, but the elaborate pools and other water features make up for it.
  • Start With A Picnic. The first meal of any family vacation should be one you bring from home. Whether shared on an airplane or a shady spot by the highway, a simple picnic is the first step to a thrifty holiday.
  • Carry Food and Drinks.  Avoid high airport prices and bring food from home. Bring empty water bottles and fill after passing through security. Road trips offer even more opportunity to save on food costs. Carry shelf-stable snacks and drinks. Use an ice chest for perishables, with ice packs you can refreeze in hotel refrigerators. Visit grocery stores instead of restaurants.
  • Rent A Kitchen. Instead of a traditional hotel room, consider a suite that includes a refrigerator and microwave. You can store food and prepare some meals yourself, perhaps eating out only once a day. A condo is the best alternative for longer stays, as you get lots of space along with a full kitchen. Search “vacation rentals” on the Internet.
  • Stay Where Breakfast And Happy Hour Are Free.  Many hotels offer the first meal of the day at no cost, and complimentary drinks and snacks are served in the early evening. Some places even serve a free buffet dinner, usually with kid-pleasing fare like chili or pasta.
  • Dine Where Kids Eat Free or Cheaply.  Look for specials offering free meals to kids accompanied by paying adults. Visit restaurants that have “children’s menus” and have your kids order from it. This strategy saves both money and wasted food. Consider ordering adult appetizers as entrees for children.
  • Try Camping. Lodging is the most expensive portion of many trips, so a family that learns to sleep under the stars can save real money.
  •  Vacation with Another Family. This strategy offers several benefits. You can split costs on a large condo or house, and organize a babysitting exchange so each couple can spend time together without their kids. Cooking chores  can be shared as well.
  •   Reduce or Eliminate “Shopping” as an Activity.  “Browsing” in the quaint and elegant stores found in many vacation spots can blow a travel budget in minutes. Find more interesting things to do where you won’t be tempted to spend money.
  •  Look For Free Activities and Souvenirs.  The great outdoors offer hiking, beach going and sightseeing at little or no cost. In cities, look for “free admission” days at museums and other attractions. Search local newspapers for deals and coupons. Souvenirs can be natural objects like shiny stones or delicate shells (collected where permitted), or freebies such as coloring books given away by park rangers.

You and your family can enjoy great travel experiences for a lot less money than you might imagine. The keys are advance planning, the right lodging choices, and using available discounts. You don’t have to stay home

Budget Travel Resources

  1. Type “tourist board” along with your destination in any search engine to find websites offering free information and local discounts.
  2. Check the website of any museum that interests you; most offer free admission on at least some days. Plan accordingly.
  3. www.citypass.com For large cities, visit several attractions at nearly half the price you’d pay for individual admissions to each one. Buy ahead or at first attraction you visit.
  4. www.entertainment.com Available for over 120 cities in North America. Coupons offer discounts, 2 for 1 deals and freebies for food, entertainment, shopping and transportation.
  5. www.hilton.com The Hilton brand includes Embassy Suites that offer free full breakfast and happy hour and Hilton Garden Inns offering all that, plus a simple dinner.