6 Simple Ways to Stretch Your Vacation Dollar

By Pam Molnar

If you are planning a family vacation this year, you may want to start saving now. According to an American Express Spending and Saving Tracker survey conducted in 2014, the average family spends a little more than $1246 per person on their vacation. For a family of four, that comes to just short of $5000. As any family will tell you, there are many places to spend that money—braces, a down payment for a new car, savings for college, or a room makeover.
While $1246 may be the average cost, no one said you had to spend that much to have a memorable vacation. Nor will you need to spend the week sleeping in a tent and living off the land. By following the suggestions below, you can save hundreds of dollars on your trip. With such savings, you might be able to go on two vacations this year!

Getting there
Go on a road trip. According to the American Express survey, 44% of vacationers travel by car. If you have the extra time, it is often the cheaper way to travel. Compare the price of gas, distance you are traveling and possible overnight stay to the cost of round trip tickets for your family and a rental car when you land. You may be surprised at the savings and the sights you see along the way.

Save money on meals
If you are traveling by car, pack lunch and snacks. My family stops at rest areas and picnics. Most rest stops have a playground to run out some of the sillies before getting back in the car. Look for hotels that offer free meals. Many have deals where kids eat free, or breakfast is included with your stay. Hotels like Homewood Suites by Hilton offer free dinners during the week. During your trip, try to make lunch your big meal of the day. Not only is it cheaper, it is also healthier not to go to bed with such a large meal on your stomach.

Rent a home
Visit sites like Vacation Rental by Owner to find a house in the area you are visiting. The cost per night is less than a hotel and you have more room to spread out. Some homes allow dogs so you don’t have to leave your pets at home (and pay for a pet sitter). If you are vacationing with friends or family, rent a house big enough for everyone and share the cost. By having a full kitchen, you can prepare your own meals instead of eating in restaurants for every meal. If you don’t want to spend your vacation cooking, try crock pot meals and let dinner cook while you are away.

Souvenirs
Kids naturally want to take something home as a reminder of their vacation. In high tourist areas like New York City or Orlando, look for t-shirt vendors advertising $5 shirts or hats. Unless you have a collection, stay away from expensive key chains, mugs or backscratchers that will end up in the bottom of the closet. Consider making a souvenir out at home from things you have collected on the trip. When my family went to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., we bought a bag of shredded money that we later stuffed in a glass ornament for our Christmas tree.

Use coupons
Look for local coupon books, coupon codes or online deals in the area you are traveling to. The Entertainment Book, which can be purchased for $35 in most areas, is usually half price in the summer. Many large cities like Chicago, Boston and Atlanta offers CityPASS. These passes offer a discount to a combination of must see attractions over a nine day period. Not only do you save money, but you have the convenience of purchasing all your tickets at once.

Look for FREE things to do
No matter where you are traveling, you can find something to do that is free. A quick online search can bring up a variety of activities from zoos to factory tours to free admission museum days. Don’t limit yourself to your destination area only. If you have access to a car on vacation, consider driving off the beaten path of tourism. You may be surprised at the interesting attractions you will find for free.

The Parent’s Guide to Road Trip Survival 

Pack snacks that you wouldn’t normally buy at home, after all, you are on vacation. Take them out at the first sign of boredom. The kids will be a lot more content to sit for another hour in exchange for special treats.

Borrow DVDs from your local library and let the kids watch them on mini DVD players. Or, sign up to use Amazon Instant Video to download movies right to your mobile devices.

•Get new ear buds for everyone—and one to spare. Nothing ruins the purple mountain majesties faster than the sound of electronic games coming from the backseat.

Purchase new toys for the trip. Choose smaller items like new crayons and coloring books, Matchbox cars or craft supplies.

•Look for rest stops for a place to run off some energy. Most rest areas have a playground, but you can also pack a Frisbee, ball or sidewalk chalk to help everyone recharge.

•Check the dollar store for cheap dry erase boards and markers. These are great for games like tic-tac-toe or for simply doodling. My kids like to play a game where I tell them something to draw based on the sights around us—a semi-truck, a farmhouse or a big oak tree—and we vote on the best one.

Play audio books downloaded through Amazon’s Audible or free children’s stories from Storynory through iTunes. Purchase Soundscape or Soundscape Jr. CDs (available on Amazon) and test your skills at identifying things like the sound of rustling paper without the benefit of visual clues.

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