Frugal Family Vacations don’t have to be boring. And fun vacations don’t have to be expensive to be memorable.
We’ve compiled a list of ways for you to have fun and frugal family vacations. This list comes from friends and our own experience. We’ll share more than two dozen money-saving vacation tips for meals, lodging, and activities. You’ll make great memories on a budget.
27 Fun Ideas for Frugal Vacations
Our Facebook Friends asked, “Can you share one of your tips for saving money while on vacation?” Our first book, America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money, has an entire chapter devoted to Fun N Frugal Vacations.
Below are a bunch of great tips we received from our Facebook Friends. We also share more of our ideas on how to save while enjoying frugal vacations.
Vacation Research & Planning Ahead
One of the best ways to save money on vacation is to start early doing research and making plans. The more you plan, the more money you will save.
Shop Early & Get Discounts — Didi Garcia
Always shop around and plan early. Early booked plane tickets can save you a lot. Check the area you’re going to for discounts (my husband’s in the Army so we get a lot of discounts). Then cook your own meals or at least get the free breakfast. Also, timeshare places can be cheap if you look around!
Visit Towns Nearby — Olivia Rose
You don’t have to go far away to relax and have fun. Save gas money by picking a town in your own state. Each town has different little quirks about it. Several weeks before, call the Chamber of Commerce and ask for an info packet on that town. These packets contain what they have to offer vacation wise, upcoming events, things to do, places to stay.
Other tips include:
- Buy your snacks at the dollar store (take a cooler)
- Eat at the value meal at restaurants for lunch, then have a good supper.
- Haggle: I do know you can haggle with motel staff. Many times they want to sell the room, especially if its offseason. Hotels have a rock bottom price you don’t know about it. You gotta haggle. The room count is as important as the price so many times they will reduce it. We used this to get up to $30 off as the day of travel got closer. The hotel wanted to get the right numbers of rooms sold.
Frugal Vacations & Finances
Try these clever ways to build up your vacation budget.
Collect Pop Cans— Joanne Lehrke
I collect pop cans and was able to finance my two frugal vacations last year with all the money I earned from pop cans. And I hope I can earn enough money in pop cans to pay for a couple of vacations this year.
MoneySmartFamily.com: That’s being super resourceful! A great idea especially since aluminum prices are pretty high right now – around $.80 per pound in Phoenix.
Collect and Sell Discards – Steve & Annette Economides
For years we have funded our vacation budget by selling things we don’t need from around the house. Things like old toys, computers, furniture are pretty easy to sell on OfferUp, SwipSwap, Facebook Marketplace, and CraigsList.
We’ve even earned money by picking up curbside discards of other people in our area. We’ve sold electric ovens, spa steps, ice chests, toy chests and earned a bunch of money. We’re amazed at what people throw away rather than donate. But we’re grateful because our vacation budget account just keeps growing.
There’s even a growing side-hustle reselling garage sale and flea market finds. Read the related article below:
Frugal Vacations & Meals
This is something we always do, at least for a few meals during vacation. Mom’s need some time off, but there are simple meals you can prepare that will save you a ton of money.
Free Breakfast & Cook in Your Room — Brikko Hayashi
We stay in hotels that offer breakfast and also at least a mini-fridge and/or microwave in the room (or use the one in the breakfast area of the hotel). We bring back leftovers from eating out either lunch or dinner and eat them as one of our daily meals. This way, we only need to eat one meal out per day! We also take a jug or two of water with our thermal water bottles, so we don’t need to buy water or soda on the road.
Rent a Place with a Kitchen — Jennifer Leavitt
Rent a place where you can do most of your own cooking. You’ll save a ton of money. We usually eat out at a restaurant one time per day, but cook the rest of the meals at “home.”
Shop Local Costco to Save — Kat Hilbish
We find the local Costco, get a few provisions to eat in our room (with small fridge and microwave of course) and buy a restaurant discount card for that area. (Entertainment Books are good too), but need to be purchased in advance). During the spring and summer Entertainment books are steeply discounted and usually include free shipping.
Pack A Cooler — Nancy Griffin Burton
If we’re driving, we pack a cooler so we have food and drink on the road without having to go to a drive-thru. If we do stop to eat, we try to find a grocery store with a deli/restaurant/salad bar. If we stay in a hotel, we try to find one that has a kitchenette so we can eat some of our meals in our room.
MoneySmartFamily.com: We’ve gone the route of going to a grocery store too. We love rotisserie chicken, French bread and bagged salads—it’s a great way to save. One time we stopped at a grocery store for ice cream treats and soda. It was much less expensive than a gas station or ice cream shop.
Yolanda Esquer said: We always have an ice cooler filled with snacks and drinks to avoid stopping at the ” convenience stores”. It saves lots of money.
Joni White said: We pack a cooler and stop for a meal at the rest areas. Give the kids time to get energy out and saves us money.
Pack Gluten Free—Pam Carswell:
We pack all our own Gluten Free snacks and generally pack a picnic lunch for the first day of our car trips to eat at a rest stop or city park. Our kids (3 under7!) all have an insulated “sippy” cup in their favorite color so we know who’s is who’s! We always have a gallon of water on hand in our van and keep dish soap, an old baby bottle brush, and a small dishpan so we can quickly and easily wash out cups or other reusable items! We also often travel with cans of juice concentrate (juicy juice that comes in the pop can size) with a pitcher handy too. Then we can mix up juice for the kids and us cheaply and without refrigeration.
Frugal Vacations & Activities
Spend Time in Nature for Free—Demetria Elms
Spend much of your vacation outside enjoying nature instead of paying for costly attractions. It’s more memorable and meaningful, especially if I’m traveling someplace that has a legacy of beauty to explore.
Find Free or Discounted Activities In Advance—Dawn M. Cooper
We bring breakfast items snacks etc. I find fun things for free or check Groupon.com weeks in advance and get those to take with us.
Bring the Bubbles & Toys—Pam Carswell
I usually bring some bubbles or inflatable balls to have a little fun afterward we eat a picnic lunch. If we’re traveling by plane, we take the colored sippy cups empty and fill up the cups at the drinking fountain after we get through security! We also make our kids wear their “crocs” to make shoe inspection quick and easy!!
Save with Groupon & LivingSocial—Eliza Dyar Koehler
I check out Groupon and Living Social deals for the area where we are going. That way I can pick stuff that I want to do for less. However, I don’t buy an item if a large number of people have already bought it because sometimes small businesses get overwhelmed and cannot respond to the demand.
Frugal Vacations & Lodging
Ask around / do your research. There are tons of options to find inexpensive places to stay.
Stay with Friends & Get referrals from Facebook & Yelp — Marie Ebbing
Thanks for the info on the college/university “hotel” option. I remember reading about that in your newsletters before your new website! Usually, when we are traveling on a major trip, it’s a place where we know someone (family/friends) and stay at someone’s home. I also use my network of friends on Facebook to ask around for suggestions on places to visit/eat/stay when planning a trip we’ve never visited before.
Yelp.com comes in handy too — Recently we did a day trip two hours from home, so beforehand I researched public parks in the city we were visiting to find a good spot to take our littles to play before getting in the car for the long ride back. The yelper reviews were useful: citing safety, cleanliness, parking, nearby stores & attractions, and even how much shade a park had!
Share a Time Share—Kris Eherholz
My mom owns a timeshare a state away…we’ve been going there since I was young and it has become my home away from home. There were some years where my mom offered to let us use her timeshare in her place! Another thing we did was drive (which can be expensive in and of itself with the price of gas lately) to Niagra Falls, Canada.
Watching and hearing the waterfall is breathtaking! We stayed in a hotel that was offering a deal, where if you stayed 3 or more nights, you get one free. And they had a cheaper rate than any of the other hotels.
MoneySmartFamily.com: We’ve shared timeshares with Annette’s parents too and love the facilities. We always try to make it equitable by paying for food, gas or their exchange/trade in fee to use it.
Rent a Suite with Kitchen—Beverly Keller-Lucero
We are planning a long weekend & purchasing a package plan for different events (museums, zoo, etc) and looking into a Suite with a kitchen so that we can cook and have snacks and only eat one meal out each day; along with a pool for the evening fun.
Try Couch Surfing—Tim Economides
Our nephew Tim Economides shared this idea. Probably a very workable solution for a careful single, but not that beneficial to a larger family. A number of my friends have couch-surfed (www.couchsurfing.org) but as Maria mentioned above, make sure you really know what you’re getting into.
Rent a Room our House on AirBnB
We’ve met several people who advocate staying in other people’s homes using AirBnB.com as the conduit for finding inexpensive lodging. One friend related how they stayed in California for several nights at different AirBnB locations: one was a sailboat moored in a bay.
And the other was a 1950’s self-contained travel trailer nestled on a family property in a canyon in the mountains outside of San Diego. Both rentals cost less than $70 per night. Check out the website and sign up using this link and you’ll receive a $20 travel voucher. There are rooms, couches, houses and apartments of every imaginable size, cost, and location all around the world.
Save Money Camping
Camping provides an inexpensive lodging option especially if you apply some of these amazing tips.
Senior Discount Camping— Janet Blanchard
As far as camping goes, try to go with someone that is a senior, or handicapped.
We go with a couple every year….they make the reservations (discounted 50% off!) and then we are just the ‘additional vehicle’ @ $8.00 a night…We all bring food & have a smorgasbord for every meal!
Camp Near the Beach for Cheap—Linda Henry
We camp in our tent. This year we are planning on going to South Carolina and camp near the beach for only 25 bucks a night.
Camping, Cleaning & Saving — Joanne Lehrke
The way that I saved money on my two camping trips last year was by being the “3rd wheel.” Because the campgrounds we stayed at based their rates on the first two people and charged $5.00 for an extra person. So I was able to pay $15.00 for a three-night stay, for each trip.
Also, the KOA Campground in Wisconsin Dells has a deal a couple of times a year if you help clean up two campsites. As a result, you get a Friday and Saturday night for free.
And when my birth-father, step-mom and I went camping in the Wisconsin Dells last year, we stayed at Al’s Fox Hill RV Park & Campground. We also got a coupon for 25 percent off of a local area attraction.
Camp Near Home — Christy McGee Blume:
We camp at one of the local campgrounds on the lake. Not too expensive for primitive camping and not much gas because we don’t have to drive far. Plus, all the groceries come from the house!!
Frugal Vacations Mean Fun
Inexpensive frugal vacation plans don’t mean skimping on the fun or family times. It simply means finding creative ways to do the things you truly enjoy, while only spending the money you have already accumulated for your vacation. Living within your means on vacation means that you’ll have wonderful memories to reflect upon for years to come. And no piles of credit card bills to pay for the months following.
We have a link to our Frugal Vacation Fact Sheet here (where you can read some of our crazy ideas for inexpensive lodging).
For our vacations, we prefer making memories to making payments—how ’bout you?