||Large Family Vacations|
As the warm weather approaches, it's time for many to start thinking about family vacations. Many average families have a hard time saving for a yearly excursion. For a large family, it can be near impossible. Take heart, there are ways for even a family of 10 to take an enjoyable vacation without breaking the bank. Whether your family is planning a camping trip, excursion to a local historical spot, or a trip to Disneyworld, here are some tips that can help.|
Okay, this is pretty much a given for any family, but for a large family it can mean the difference between little savings and big savings. For a simple excursion, give yourself a 2-3 month head start. For a big trip, say to Disney or another popular destination, plan a year or more in advance. Many hot spots have deals for early bookings, allowing you to save big. Also, when you book early you increase the chance of being "bumped up", meaning if there is an overbooking the early-birds have first chance to be moved to more luxurious accommodations at the same price of their initial reservation.
Picking the right time to travel.
Hotels and Alternatives.
- If you have the luxury of taking your vacation anytime throughout the year, you can save big by going to popular vacation spots during "off" seasons. Now, this might entail a bit of research on your part, since different areas of the country consider different times on and off season. While most people think that Christmas is an off time of the year, it actually is one of the busiest for Disney. For Florida, off-season is considered between Oct-Nov and Jan-Feb of every year. But, you have to be careful and check, since early February is considered off-season in Florida, but late February gets into the spring break time and you can see costs jump 50%.
- Booking during an off season has another benefit, especially for large families. Since hotels and attractions are motivated to fill their empty spaces, many offer deep discounts for multiple room bookings or group purchases.
Find those Bargains.
- Hotels can be the biggest expense for a large family. Since most chains limit how many people can stay in a room, this usually means that 2 or more rooms will be needed.
- Look at alternatives. Camping is one of the most popular ways to travel and stay cheaply. Pop-up campers are relatively cheap, especially if you purchase at the beginning or end of the season. Campgrounds charge far less than hotels, and many have nice emenities, including hot showers, gamerooms, and water/electric hookups.
- Renting a Winnebago may be a bit more costly, but can still be far less than hotel accommodations. Choosing an older model can save you even more, but still provide you with comfy quarters for your trip.
- Of course, there is also the option of simply roughing-it. Standard camping is just as good an option as a whole vacation, or an alternative to hotels when visiting a tourist hotspot. You might want to invest in some inflatable mattresses and such if you are going to locations where you'll be doing a lot of walking during the day, such as Disney. It will provide you with a more comfortable sleep. Note that even campgrounds have limits on how many people can occupy a space, so be sure to double-check before booking.
If you decide a hotel is the best way to go, there are ways to do it inexpensively:
- Ask if they have a group discount package. Not all hotels do this, but some smaller chains that are competing for business might offer you nice savings for a group of people and multiple rooms.
- When booking hotel accommodations, don't just look at the cheapest options. Oftentimes the "next step up" might be worthwhile in the long run. With many hotels offering packages that include continental breakfast, in-room coffee makers, etc., sometimes the small extra cost will save you more overall. Be sure to check with the hotel and make sure exactly what is included in the room. If breakfast is included, make sure to ask if it is simply pastries and coffee, or does the hotel offer a wider variety of fare, like dry cereal, milk, fruit, toast.
- Many hotels will offer the option to allow you to rent a refrigerator and/or microwave for your room. There is usually a small additional cost for this, but it can save you a bundle in meals out. Cold sandwiches, hot dogs and other quick fare may not be the best meal at home, but in a hotel room it can feel like a picnic and be even more enjoyable for everyone.
- Consider booking a day or two extra for increased savings. Some hotels will offer "free" days or deep discounts if you book rooms for a certain number of days (can range from 3 to 7 days). Sometimes staying longer can actually costs less. See if the hotel has a nice pool, fitness or recreation area where you can enjoy a "cheap" day of entertainment.
- Unless you are booking a trip with little lead time and might risk losing an accommodation, don't hastily jump into everything. Shop around. While this may seem like a no-brainer, it's worth mentioning anyway. Many companies offer packages that change monthly, even weekly. With a little planning ahead, you can get a good idea of what deals are available and use that knowledge when planning. While many discount sites will give you great prices, don't forget to check the actual website of the place you are visiting. Many offer specials that are not available elsewhere, and you could end up saving even more money.
- Pick up the phone and ask. Call up a resort destination and ask if they have any unadvertised specials or deals. One family learned that if they booked through a special page on the website, they could receive a 2 for 1 room deal that was not known to the general public. Even though they needed to rent 2 rooms for their large families, because the second night was free, they essentially paid for one room for 2 nights, which was well within their budget.
- Consider package deals. I had always been against the whole package deal thing, since I presumed that companies offered a lot of bells and whistle that I wouldn't want or need. However, this past year I decided to give it a try, and ended up saving a bundle. The scary thing with a package is that it often means payment in advance, with stiff penalties if you need to cancel or change the reservation. There is insurance you can purchase to help defer the penalties in the case of medical or similar emergencies. However, if you can swing it, it really can make a big difference.
- Coupons. Most popular tourist destinations offer coupons. Call and ask. Check their website. Check out online discount coupon/discussion boards.
Truth is, sometimes doing the theme park thing is what you and your family want to do. With a little bit of planning, it is possible to bring a whole group to Disneyworld, or Six Flags, or another destination!
- Consider the competition. You will find that some lesser attractions in popular hotspots have teamed up in an attempt to compete against their larger counterparts. While you may dream of visiting Disneyworld, you may save big by instead going to Universal Studios and Sea World.
- Many retail and grocery stores near a tourist attraction will offer money-off coupons. Check their websites for details, or plan to stop at one of the local stores when you arrive in the area. Also, you may find that if you purchase the tickets at the actual store, you can save $10 or more per person.
- Multi-day passes. It may be your dream to go to a destination and hit several different attractions. However, it may be more economical to pick the place you want to see most and stay there the majority of the time. A multi-day pass can save you a lot of money over individual passes. Plus, if you do that, you can plan to stay closer geographically to the location, thus spending less in gas and travel.
- Pack a lunch. While it may be a bit much hauling food for your large group, it can save you big. Theme park food is not cheap, and it could seriously dent your budget. Most parks will allow you to bring in food; make sure to pack a few extra backpacks for this purpose. Another way to do lunch with less hassel is to pack a cooler and keep it in the car. At lunch time, simply get your hand stamped, return to your vehicle and eat, and re-enter the park when you are done. If you must eat inside the park, consider splitting meals, or doing light snacks since most of the kids will be too excited to eat much anyway!
- Even if you plan to eat at your destination, bring snacks. Especially when doing a lot of physical activities, it's easy to get peckish and want something to eat. Unplanned costs like drinks and snacks can really derail a vacation budget.
- Pack bottles of water. Bottled water can be very expensive for a large family. Instead, bring your own water. If you want it cold, consider freezing the bottles the night before (leave a bit of space at the top for expansion). They should thaw throughout the day, giving you cold water. Another tip is to bring a small pack of plastic cups to fill up at the park's water fountains.
Sometimes there is just not enough money to do a big vacation, or perhaps you want to do something small so you can save for that dream vacation next year. Remember, you can still have fun and take a relaxing break.
Last, but not least...
- Don't forget your own backyard! Okay, not literally, but many people are very surprised to find out there is a ton to do in the area they live in. Living in Chicago, we joke that most residents have never been to the skydeck of the Sears Tower, a popular stop for outside visitors. Even if you don't live in a big city, you can usually find there is a lot to do within a reasonable driving distance. Contact your local vacation bureau and request a packet of information; most places will send this to you free of charge. Many low-key destinations are eager for the vacation business and you can find great prices on everything. You'll also find they are more flexible with hosting large groups. Another plus to travelling near home is that some attractions have special discounts for residents, particularly during slower seasons.
- Weekend getaway. As much as many of us would like to get away from it all for a week or more, sometimes finances will just not allow that. Instead, consider a weekend getaway. My mom was a single mom of 4 kids. We used to have a blast going to a local hotel for an overnight stay. The particular hotel had a pool, game room, mini-golf course, and more inside. It was relatively cheap to do and we all had a blast...not to mention fond memories.
- School tickets and vouchers. Many theme parks and tourist spots will offer coupons and/or free ticket to kids with good grades. You can get these through your child's school, as well as many homeschool group organizations. Even if a few of your children earn these tickets, it will lower the overall cost of a trip, and it may save you enough that you can rent a hotel room in the area for a night!
- Here are some other local places to consider:
- Water Parks
- Carnivals, Festivals, State Fairs
- State Parks
- Don't overdo it. While a vacation packed non-stop with with action, truth is that kind of vacation can be very hard on a family. Take sufficient time to rest and simply relax.
- Remember, the point of a vacation is to have fun and make memories. Be sure to bring a camera, have the kids write a vacation journal, pick up momentos and souveniers. Long after the big trip is over, the fond thoughts of the trip will last forever.
- For tips on car trips with kids, be sure to check out this LOK article.
Article by: Michelle Lehmann
2005 - Lotsofkids.com