I’ve been a long-time proponent of traveling light because I hate carrying a lot of stuff. I’ve gotten to the point in my work life that I never carry paper, and it bothers me when someone hands me a piece of paper. (I even scan business cards with my phone and hand the card back to the owner.)
Minimalism is the key to travel, and I’d rather do without something not-so-important than lug it along “just in case.” That’s how I keep my business backpack so light.
My family has been bitten by the minimalist bug as well, and we’ve spent the last several years shedding unwanted stuff in our lives. So it’s only natural that we adopt this approach to our travel, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Here are a few things we’ve learned over the years.
1. Skip the Suitcases Sometimes
Whenever we’re staying in a house or an Airbnb home, we’ll skip suitcases entirely, and pack all our clothes in a Rubbermaid tub. Then, we just carry the tub into the house and unpack. There’s more room in the back of the car, and I can even see over our stuff when I look at the rearview mirror.
But if we ever stay at a hotel, we take the smallest suitcases we can (like an Atlantic Ultra Lite 3 21″ spinner). When my family travels with suitcases, we can pack for a 7 – 10 day trip in carry-ons and a backpack or two.
The other option is to pack everyone’s clothes into one large suitcase, and take turns lugging it around. I don’t recommend this if you’re flying though, because if that suitcase gets lost, you’ve got some big problems. I also don’t recommend it, because I’m the one who ends up lugging it.
It doesn’t matter how much we budget and plan our vacation, we almost always go over the amount we planned on spending.
I don’t just mean me and my family, I mean all of us. If you’ve planned and taken a vacation, I’m willing to bet your rainy day fund, that ultimately you spent more than you planned. It hardly ever fails.
To help you avoid overspending on your next vacation, here are two budget traps to watch out for. We’ll have two more next week for you.
1. Eating Three Restaurant Meals Every Day
Eating in a restaurant three times a day can be a real drain on your wallet, especially since most restaurant portions are oversized to begin with. But most Americans have been taught that we “need” to eat three meals a day. And if you’re staying in a hotel without a kitchen, chances are you’ll eat three restaurant meals.
But do you really need to?
Space out your meals so you eat two larger meals in a day — say, a late breakfast and a normal dinner. If you get hungry in the middle of the day, have a snack, not a full-blown lunch. I’ve started carrying peanut bars when we visit the amusement parks to get me through the day. It’s certainly cheaper than a $10 mediocre burger, and we save a little money so we can instead spend the GDP of a small country on dinner!
One vacation on my wish list is one of the all-inclusive resorts I keep hearing about. To stay at a place where everything is managed for you, from the food to the activities to the entertainment. The only thing missing from my dream vacation would be my own little golf cart that I could drive everywhere, including through the buffet line at breakfast.
All-inclusive resorts cover everything while you’re there. And there’s plenty to do at most, depending on which resort you choose. They’re also more budget friendly than you might imagine: you can save as much as 25 percent on an all-inclusive resort, compared to a pay-as-you-go vacation, which may often have a few surprise charges, like an expensive meal or impulsively chosen extra activity.
All-inclusive resorts also eliminate the need for a rental car. Generally, everything is on property, so you can always get a resort shuttle, or hire a cab. Plus, they usually have airport shuttles to pick you up and take you there.
If you are interested in an all-inclusive resorts vacation, you don’t have to leave the country to do so. There are several located within the United States that are also exceptionally family friendly.
If you like Vermont, you may like the Tyler Place Family Resort on Lake Champlain, featuring 165 acres and a mile of private shore on the lake. There are craft classes you can take, sail boarding, paddle boarding, bicycling, swimming, canoeing, and plenty of places to sit on Adirondack chairs and hammocks and just relax. They have activities for the kids throughout the day, and you can even turn them loose for a kids’ dinner, while you and your spouse relax in a quiet dining room.
If your family is like mine, everyone has specific roles. Someone does the dishes, someone mows the lawn, someone cooks dinner, and still others go to work at a 9-to-5 job.
And yet, when we go on vacation, it seems like the only person to get a break is the person who has the actual job. Everyone else is still in their same roles as at home. (Well, the person mowing the lawn gets a break too.)
When you’re a family traveling on a budget, one of the best ways to save money is to rent a house and cook meals in it, reducing the number of times you eat in a restaurant. In my family of five, we can spend $100 at a casual diner without putting much effort into it. But when we make our meals in a vacation house, we can stretch $100 over a week of dinners.
It can be hard when your family travel budget doesn’t allow you to take a vacation outside your neighborhood, let alone out of town. And while there is something to be said for spending two weeks with relatives, for me it just doesn’t 100% count as “a fun vacation.”
So if you have the travel bug, and want to take some family travel time, here are a few ways to stretch your family travel budget and get a little more out of your vacation. These are little tricks my family has used to be able to take a nice little vacation somewhere once or twice a year.
1. Go in the off-season
Prices are always lower when it’s not the high season. Disney World in January and February is wonderful, because most kids are back in school, and Spring Break is several weeks away. Heading up to Mackinac Island, Michigan (or anywhere in the northern Great Lakes states) in September is great, because the colors are already changing, but the official fall travel season hasn’t started yet.
Taking a vacation can always be a little on the pricey side for families, especially if you’re trying to hit the major vacation spots in the middle of tourist season. But there are a few ways you can travel and save money, while still seeing some enjoyable sights.We’re not recommending staycations or suggesting you “rediscover your hometown” for a week. We want you to get out and actually see the world. So here are a few budget travel ideas you can use to stretch your vacation dollars further.
- Go during off-season: A lot of tourist destinations see major slowdowns in January and February (after the holidays), in May (after Spring Break, before summer vacation), and in September and early October (post-summer, pre-fall break). If you can get away in the slow times, prices are lower, lines are shorter, and crowds are smaller.