If we didn't carefully plan and budget a vacation, it would simply never happen. Lodging is costly and there appears to be no end to the rise of gas prices. These two are the biggest hits to our vacation budget.
There simply isn't much we can do about gas prices. I estimate the miles we will put on a vehicle while we are away and the average number of miles per gallon we can expect from our tank. Using that data, I create a spreadsheet that will give me the various possible costs for gas. And by various, I mean a spreadsheet that gives me totals with gas prices fluctuating by 50 cents per gallon. When you travel out of state, gas prices will vary greatly!
Now on to savings! We have been able to save on lodging costs by vacationing during non-peak times of year. If you are wanting to visit an area that is most popular during the Summer - trying visiting some time before Memorial Day weekend.
If we stay at a hotel that offers breakfast in the morning, we take advantage of this. The fee for that services has already been paid when you pay for your room - why not use it!
If we stay at a hotel that does not offer complimentary breakfast - I try to make sure there is a mini-fridge in our room for milk. This way, I can provide our cereal in the mornings and bring along our own bowls and spoons. Breakfast bars, donuts and danishes and juice boxes are also great if you would like to save money on breakfast.
Some hotels are evening providing a microwave along with a mini-fridge. If your kids are fans of instant oatmeal, this is a great to have in your room.
If you stay in a condo, cabin or timeshare... bringing food for breakfast is a given. You will have more options on what you are able to fix!
I always pack bread, peanut butter and side items to have on hand for lunch. If you have a mini-fridge in your room - you may want to add locally purchased fruits, etc... for lunch and snacks.
Though we may not eat every lunch at our hotel, it is an option there waiting for use.
We usually eat dinner at a local restaurant while on vacation. It's fun to find an eatery that is not available to us in our home area and is authentic to the location.
Example: No chain restaurants. By not eating breakfast and lunch out - we are able to save money for whatever the price may be to cover dinner in a restaurant.
It's always fun to grab an ice cream or another type of special treat while on vacation - especially if you have children! A lot of touristy places will have local and unique candy or ice cream places. Make sure to budget in any extra food like this!
As we have already packed food and snacks to bring with us, we have food available in the vehicle if we need to eat. This may require making sandwiches at a rest stop or when we've stopped to fill up the tank. Depending on the length of the trip - this may be an added option to the convenience of a fast food restaurant. Most fast food restaurants will have a Dollar Menu of some sort. The size of your family and their appetites will determine if that menu works best for you. It is rare that we purchase food from a gas-station. Especially any prepackaged foods, as they are very overpriced.
I am so glad that during my motherhood - I have the internet! I do not need to rely on travel agents to tell me what I can find in my destination. If you are going to a very 'touristy' location - most likely the city itself has a website that will list the local attractions. You can also run a Google search on the city/destination. You are likely to have pages and pages of results to browse.
Now that you've found a list of attractions - you can plan your time. What will you have time to do while on vacation? Are you going to the beach? Are you headed to the desert, mountains or an attraction only - say Disney World or Disney Land.
What is free in the area? Are you visiting an area with a national park? If you do,this is a great free day! Pack a lunch and spend your day there. Make sure to check out the park online before you leave for your trip. You will need to know which area of the park will be the best for your family to visit. Or you could end up spending an hour or two looking for something to do. That is never fun!
Other than pictures, I'm not the type that needs or wants souvenirs. Perhaps you or your children are. Our children love getting souvenirs.
If you've planned your vacation by day and attractions you are going to visit, you may be able to estimate the amount you'll spend on souvenirs. Some attractions will have a website with an online shop where you can purchase items. The attractions with an online shop will be the easiest to estimate souvenir prices.
Hand the camera over to the kids - or bring along their heavy duty kid's camera. The pictures they take can be memorable and tell a story.