5 simple steps to plan an affordable family vacation

Travel is back with a vengeance—the urge to take some time off, reconnect with out-of-town loved ones, or explore new destinations is stronger than ever. And since the “revenge travel” trend has led to inflation and rising costs, it may seem more difficult to plan a family trip, especially with tighter budgets and competing priorities. But there are some things you can do to make it a bit more affordable. Below, we talk about some of the steps you can take year-round to plan and save up for a fun yet budget-friendly adventure.

1. Identify the type of vacation you want and estimate costs

Like any short-term savings goal, building a budget and timeline is key. The cost of travel can fluctuate immensely depending on the type of traveler you (and your travel companions!) might be and when you’re traveling. You’ll want to start thinking about the type of vacation you want, when you’d like to go (or when has the best deals to go), and how much you want to spend. You can set your budget by either calculating costs based on your ideal vacation or selecting an amount and researching types of vacations that fit within that estimate. 

Lodging and transportation will likely be your two largest expenses and vary depending on whether you decide to go on a cruise, beach vacation, road trip, or flight to a new destination. According to hotels.com, the average rates for hotel rooms across the country have risen by 15% since 2019. And rates have more than doubled in major cities. If you’re choosing to fly to your destination, keep in mind that the average cost of a domestic flight for one person is $354 and when you plan to fly can impact the cost. Depending on your situation and destination, taking a road trip could be one of the best ways to cut costs. Consider fluctuating gas costs and research flight options to compare and contrast. Along with transportation and lodging, don’t forget to incorporate daily spending needs such as food, entertainment, and travel supply expenses into that overall budget. It’s safer to overestimate those costs than underestimate them. 

There are plenty of travel budget worksheets and calculators available to help identify and manage those costs. What if your ideal trip doesn’t quite line up with your budget? Keep refining your priorities and trip itinerary—look for more ways to save and supplement income. If your budget doesn't align with your goal, that’s okay—there’s always other options out there that’ll be fun and within your means.

2. Plan in advance for better prices and promotions

Seek out promotions on your search for hotels and other accommodations. Whether it’s a cruise, hotel, or national park, take some time to research ideal seasons and promotions where you’ll be able to find a better deal. 

One of our favorite deals is the National park annual pass that gives access to all national parks for a year. This pass is for one adult and allows children under 16 in for free. If you're planning to take a couple of mini-vacations to numerous parks, this may be a great way to explore within your budget.

Explore the perks of all-inclusive packages

For folks that want to stay at a hotel and find deals—explore some of the all-inclusive options domestically and abroad. All-inclusive options allow you to save on lodging, and food/beverage expenses. And is one of the best ways to save on international trips.

Travel during off-peak season to save big

Some of the best deals come around in the off-peak season. For example, some of the best months to travel are when kids go back to school from September through November. If possible, take your kids out of school for a few days and take their work on the road. Try and avoid the summer and holiday seasons unless you find a deal or plan your trip far in advance.

3. Create a monthly savings goal and start saving for your vacation

Once you have a vacation estimate and timeline in mind, set a monthly savings goal so that you can contribute to your trip over time. 

Think realistically about short-term contributions you're comfortable with, which you can adjust as needed. Start saving now and see your savings grow over time. If you want to boost your savings and increase your savings goals—consider adding extra gig work to supplement your income and make your ideal trip a reality.

4.  List, plan, and have fun

Make an itinerary before you pack to make sure you’ve got everything you need for your trip. Necessities like sunscreen, clothing, water, and hiking supplies usually cost more on the road.

You can also create an itinerary for all the sights you plan to see. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities for your trip. But by sticking to your plan, you’ll be more likely to stay within your means. Follow these steps to simplify the process:

  • Make a list of your top ten things to do
  • Circle the top 3 items—these 3 things are your primary focus
  • Make sure the choices you’ve circled will work for the whole family and find the best deals for them 

Remember to also set aside some downtime to relax. Back-to-back days of sightseeing can get tiring!

5. Stay within your budget on the go

Even with careful planning ahead of time, it’s important to continue staying within your budget once you have your trip planned. It’s easy to get sidelined by last-minute expenses, but go back to your list of priorities and remember that the important activities you’ve saved up should be your focus.  Think your budget could get even better? 

Simplify with this free budgeting tool

Track your spending and get personalized insights on where you might be able to save. CashFlow is free and built into your Branch Wallet. Unlock all the perks when you set up direct deposit—make the most of your budget today.

A little planning, organization, and dedication can make an affordable family vacation feel more in reach. Here’s to your next adventure—and feeling good about how much you can save along the way.

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