Want to go on a family vacation but have a tight budget? Don’t settle for a cheap vacation even on a tight budget. I’m giving you the budget friendly scoop for affordable family vacations!
Our family loves to road trip! From our epic 2 week road trip to and from Arizona last fall to our shorter Chicago trip this summer and the short trip to New England and medium length trip to Florida later this year, we log a lot of miles. We love our Chevy. I promise. We do!
What we don’t love is destroying our budget because of our love for seeing new places and doing new things. I’m going to let you in on some of our secrets for exploring the world with affordable family vacations. We’re even sharing a sample itinerary from our trip to Chicago. The total we spent for a city staying five day road tripping family vacation is at the bottom of the post.
Oh, and all these tips are definitely doable, so where are you going on your next family vacation?
Book a Stay
- Camping – Also known as roughing it, there are now myriads of camping options. From packing a tent to booking a fully serviced cabin, camping is a great option to save money. If you really need to tighten that budget, we recommend packing a tent and camping every other night or so. When you alternate camping and a hotel stay, you save some money but have that comfy bed and bathroom every other night.
- When camping, look for state parks as they are inexpensive but usually offer fun experiences – hiking, swimming, boating, etc. for a great rate, especially if you stay in state. Residents generally stay cheaper!
- Sign up for a hotel loyalty program and earn points when you book a room. You can then turn the points in for gift cards or a free night’s stay.
- Book a hotel with a pool and/or free breakfast!
Save on Activities
- Have a membership to your local museum or zoo? Check out their reciprocal program. You can often get in to other areas’ attractions for free or at a heavily discounted rate.
- Check out deal sites like Groupon and Living Social. Read the fine print to make sure you can use any deals you find when you will be in that place.
- Remember I said to book a room at a hotel with a pool? This is a great way for kids to burn off energy without spending extra money.
- Do a web search for ‘free things to do in ________’. Mix age appropriate history and nature things with more ‘kid fun’ things.
- Don’t over fill your time. Instead of booking every moment, leave room for down time. It’s cheaper and you will feel less frazzled.
Save on Food
- Skip the drive thru and hit the grocery.
- Pack a cooler and buy ice along the way to keep water and food cold.
- You can save so much and eat healthier by packing snacks and lunches.
- Book hotels that serve breakfast so you can enjoy dinner without counting pennies.
- Travel later in the day. When you get some of those miles in after dinner, the kids will often sleep instead of needing to stop or snack out of boredom.
- Go out for one or two really nice dinners, but also utilize non-chain restaurants that locals like. Usually they have the best food.
Sample Itinerary from Chicago
- Pack van – cooler with ice and easy foods (prepped salad, yogurt, milk in ice, prepped vegetables and fruit, cheese, salad dressing), activity bags for kids (art supplies, books, stuffed animal), clothes, and snacks. We also pack a ‘go bag’ that has a change of clothes, medicine, and everything we need for a one night hotel stay. Less to haul in!
- Pick up CSA – drop off what won’t be useable on the trip and take rest with us.
- Hit the road early afternoon.
- Travel through afternoon, grab subs and use chips and veggies we packed to supplement
- Late start means we got in to the hotel very early in the morning, but we made sure to get as close to our destination as possible so we could sleep later and enjoy the day more.
- Late breakfast at hotel then 45 minute drive to Chicago
- Chicago Museum of Science and Industry – paid parking and used a local museum membership for entrance. Spent 4 hours over lunch hour at museum.
- Snack in car as we headed to hotel
- Check in and take ‘go bag’ and cooler in
- Pack cooler with new ice
- Relax with TV for an hour
- Head out to eat. Inexpensive meal at a local hot dog chain (Chicago hot dogs – check!)
- Run to the grocery store for a few things, including baguette for a yummy hotel treat – easy bruschetta
- Chill in hotel and watch a couple food shows. Yes, we all love food.
- Breakfast at hotel
- Headed into city so the family could drop me off at the conference site
- Family went to Best Buy to find something we needed
- Made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch with pretzels and fruit
- Family visited Historic Water Tower
- Family picked me up, checked into hotel, relaxed, then took me back to conference
- Family dinner – salad, leftover bruschetta
- Family went swimming at hotel
- Cereal for breakfast
- Family dropped me off at conference
- Family walked 20 blocks from hotel to Lincoln Park Zoo (free) (chose not to ride the bus)
- Spent morning at the zoo then grabbed lunch at a farmer’s market in the park
- Went to the Chicago History Museum ($14 – kids 12 and under free)
- Stopped at Dave and Buster’s on walk back to hotel to play (I guess they chose to do this instead of take the bus. Bus was a little cheaper – $17 round trip versus $25 – but they had more fun. Haha)
- Made up salad with rest of produce for dinner and tortilla strip salad toppers and had yogurt
- Made blueberry maple parfaits for breakfast in the hotel
- Family dropped me off at conference
- Family packed and checked out of hotel
- Took peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and veggies for lunch
- Family went to Chicago Botanical Gardens – flat rate parking entry (around $30)
- Family picked me up in the evening
- Stopped at Mariano’s Market for gelato ($1.25 for a small!)
- Went to Lou Malnati’s for deep dish pizza – ordered to go and ate in the car (Chicago Deep Dish Pizza – check!)
- Stayed overnight in Toledo
- Light breakfast at hotel
- Tim Horton’s – because you have to try them at least once in your life
- Headed home with a slight (long) detour
- Late lunch at Whitefire Grille (You must go!)
- Dessert – chocolate covered pretzels from Gorant
- Stopped to see Salinesville Battlefield and place Morgan surrendered during Civil War – difficult to find. I am sharing detailed directions in a blog post soon.
- Starbucks stop near Pittsburgh
- Blueberry Maple Parfaits for dinner since lunch was huge and filling
Total spent for FIVE people, FIVE days in CHICAGO? $1600