How to Plan a Family Vacation (On a Budget)


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
I may have mentioned it several times before in past posts – I prefer traveling solo. It doesn’t matter if it’s a long-haul trip or a short one. There’s just something about going alone on a journey that makes it a soul-searching one where you get so much self-realization. But since I get asked a lot of questions about how to plan a vacation for an entire family, I will gladly address this topic today.

As a disclaimer, I’ve done plenty (and will probably do more) of traveling with my family or a large group of friends. I am not knocking it as an inferior way to take a vacation at all. In fact, a lot of my happy childhood and even grown-up memories are made up of trips taken with beloved relatives and close pals. But I do have to confess that it takes some special skills when planning a vacation on a budget. It’s hard – but not impossible! Here are five hacks I’ve discovered to accomplish it without too much drama involved.

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Start Taking Advantage of Promos and Deals Today

Don’t wait until it’s nearly peak season to plan a cheap vacation! It’s never going to happen because you’re going to get a lot of competition. Plus, it’s frustrating to be in a crowded place all the time.

If you can, sign up for promos and discounted deals from your favorite vacation places, hotels, beach resorts, and even tourism boards so you can earmark future travels as soon as possible. The best times to go to certain places if you’re on a budget would be during the off-season or even shoulder season (which is my favorite sweet spot for vacationing). These travel-related periods usually fall on days when people are back to school or work, so not too many vacationers opt for them.

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Go On Self-Guided Tours

I learned that when planning a vacation on a budget, it’s best to take them off the beaten path. This means avoiding touristy places and theme parks, along with overpriced restaurants and souvenir stores. Instead, go for offbeat vacation alternatives, such as factory tours of your favorite brands or products, and even visits to national parks using an all-day pass. A lot of these quirky tours come free, or require just a token fee for upkeep and to pay the tour guide.

My personal favorites are tours during what I’ve come to call the “art month,” which is in February. A lot of places all over the USA, Asia, and Europe hold art biennales and fairs, and many tourism boards offer up affordable packages for entire families to go on a cultural and artsy trip spanning a couple of days. I brought my whole family to the Singapore Art Week a couple of years ago, and everyone enjoyed the interactive displays plus the gustatory adventures we had there!

You don’t need to be a wealthy art collector to be part of these exciting events. In fact, I realized many museums waive their entrance fees just for the occasion.

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Vacation Outdoors

One of the best hacks I learned how to plan a cheap vacation would be to spend it outdoors instead of in theme parks and expensive hotels. So many beautiful outdoorsy spots can be enjoyed for very reasonable, or even free! I already mentioned national parks a few paragraphs up. But these days, “glamping” (glamorous camping), eco-park hikes, family bike rides, and mini-mountain climbing expeditions have become all the rage among adventurous families seeking a different kind of vacation. One time, my family and I planned a road trip spanning several midwest states, and all we did was rent an RV and pack our own camping gear. It was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had.

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Sign Up For Workshops

I’ve actually tried my hand at pottery during one particularly memorable family vacation when I was still in college. I resented that we weren’t able to hit the beach as much as I wanted to (it was rainy at the time), but then saw an ad for pottery lessons at a nearby district. I signed up, and really enjoyed my first lesson there. When I told my family about it back at the hotel, they all got excited and signed up as well! Needless to say, it turned out to be quite the fun learning experience for all of us.

So the next time you feel that you are running out of fun vacation ideas, consider taking a workshop together. It can be artsy, craftsy, educational, scientific, or even athletic – as long as everyone’s game to do it together, it’s bound to be enjoyable.

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Keep An Eye Out For Flash Sales

This is hands-down the most impractical tip I have on this list, but what the hey. It’s fun and can still be adjusted to suit one’s vacation budget.

I have email and SMS notifications plus social media alerts about vacation flash sales. Others might find it a nuisance, but for my vacation-loving family and I, they are a godsend. Flash sales have made our travel plans a lot more affordable and convenient. And while it often necessitates last-minute planning and a lot of schedule adjustments (especially if school kids are involved), we always end up seeing these flash sales as a wake-up call to take a break from the daily grind.

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The Verdict?

It is highly possible to start planning a family vacation without blowing off your entire life’s savings on it. My family and I have done it over and over again, and we’ve managed to stick to our budgets (for the most part). We realized that it’s all a matter of thinking outside the typical touristy box, and actually seeing alternatives to the usual vacation places and activities. Sit down with your family and plan together, and you might just be surprised at all the possibilities you can come up with when you plan your next vacation. Then make a list of all the things you are willing to do (and those you aren’t) before coming up with a consensus of the wheres, whats, hows, whens, and whys of your family trip.


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