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9 Money-Saving Vacation Tips

money-saving vacation tips

Guest post from Jackie of Mom on a Mission

Months ago, my daughter had a field trip to Charleston, SC, and the carriage ride was a part of her package cost. My teacher husband was one of the chaperones and after the carriage ride, he told the driver how much he enjoyed the tour and shared that our family was returning for a vacation.

The driver gave him a business card signed with admission for 4 adults. Wow, that was a $100 gift! It pays to compliment the driver.

When we arrived back in Charleston a month later, our two oldest kids served as the adult price and we decided to hold our 4-year-old for no charge and pay one child admission for our 6-year-old at $14.95. We could have paid $155, but only had to pay $14.95 thanks to my complimentary husband and a blessing from the driver.

We enjoy almost all our vacations in this fashion — knowing we are using our resources wisely and saving money while enjoying ourselves. If you’re planning an upcoming vacation, here are 9 ways we like to save that might work for you, too:

1. Plan Ahead With Freezer Meals.

When I’m on vacation I like to be in the kitchen as little as possible. By planning ahead with freezer meals, we not only save time and energy by having our meals prepped, we also save money for extra entertainment.

I pack a cooler full of frozen food of homemade versions of waffles, pizza bagel bites, lasagna, marinated meat or chicken, muffins and/or desserts or snacks. Once the cooler is packed to the brim, it doesn’t thaw. I’ve had frozen food last overnight when tightly packed with solid casseroles and such.

If hotel/motel space is an issue for freezer cooking, a plug-in griddle, hot pot or sandwich maker could provide some quick inexpensive meals to offset dining costs.

2. Check Groupon & Living Social.

We scan our destination to look for entertainment or restaurant coupons. This year on Groupon, we saw the Children’s museum with half-price tickets. We opted out since we’ve done it several years in a row, but I’ve seen specials on everything from spas, plantation tours, riverboat cruises, and Aquariums.

It’s worth checking out.

3. Find Deals or Local Specials.

We typically eat out at least once during our vacation week, and it’s often using a coupon from or eat during the lunch hours. Another option is sharing a meal at night.

This year we splurged and took advantage of Sonic half-priced shakes after 8 p.m. for a family walk on the pier. We visit the water park on Tuesdays when admission is half-price and pack our own lunch. Visiting the restaurant or calling ahead about specials can save a great deal of money. Our theme park cost us $60, but it would have cost us $120 on a different day.

Another treat our older kids enjoyed was a reusable Kangaroo cup. The cup was $7 upfront and they enjoyed a bike ride to the gas station for a 25 cent slushy refill, which would have cost $5 each. I ended up giving in to the daily unhealthy splurge since it was a vacation and thankfully, there are no Kangaroo stations in NC.

4. Look for Free Movies/Music on the Beach.

We check out the local website to see what’s happening. An outdoor movie was showing and we popped our own popcorn and brought water. It was a frugal movie night for the whole family.

State parks offer fun activities for the whole family. The state park nearby cost $1 per person and there is a free water splash play area and playground. They also offered family and kid’s activities centered on nature, some which were free. It pays to do research before traveling.

5. Visit Chick-Fil-A on Cow Appreciation Day.

Chick-Fil-A Cow Appreciation Day only happens once a year. Dress like a cow for free chicken. You bet we jumped on the opportunity to wear spots on our black and white attire and sport a mask for any meal on the menu.

Our family of six saved over $45 for dinner. This is a franchise celebration so our cow attire traveled!

6. Pack Picnics with Frozen Water Bottles.

One of our favorite activities to do is go on picnics and rather than picking up lunch, we go for our own healthy options consisting of deli meat, cheese, and whole grain bread. I often pack grilled chicken pitas with leftover grilled chicken and shredded mozzarella cheese. I wrap them in foil and place them near a frozen water bottle to stay cool for hours.

A recycled juice bottle filled with water and frozen water stays cooler longer and you have fresh cold water when thawed.

7. Bring Your Own Bikes.

Bike rentals cost up to $30 a day. We purchased our own and take them with us. My husband found an inexpensive bike rack on Craigslist and we’ve picked up a bike or two from garage sales for less than $10. Our bikes go with is so our older kids and at least one parent can enjoy riding, saving us at least $100 per person for the week.

8. Make Breakfast To-Go and Snacks To-Go.

A fast food breakfast is not always the healthiest or most frugal. I plan ahead for an early morning departure and boil eggs, pack cheese sticks, unsalted almonds, mini-whole wheat bagels with light cream cheese or homemade muffins and reusable water bottles.

Snack ideas include homemade trail mix with low-sugar cereals, pretzels, nuts and dried fruit. I make no-bake granola bars and spread peanut butter crackers on whole wheat crackers to avoid vending machines.

If we want ice cream, we stop by the grocery store and for a box verses the vendor. Large families can benefit from a box of treats verses paying $5 each. I found a half-price box of sorbet pops and the kids enjoyed two treats.

9. Rent a Vacation Home With a Clean-it-Yourself Option.

We rent a house two rows back from the beach front — which is cheaper. Walking two streets over is great exercise. In addition, our home rental does not require a cleaning service so there is no additional fee. We clean it ourselves upon departure because we’d be doing it anyway at the end of the week at home. Everyone pitches in and it gets done quickly and saving anywhere from $60 to $100.

Consider a vacation rental in early August when the price drops. Homeschooling families can take advantage of late August or early September with fewer crowds and the best rates.

Camping is another frugal option that could be considered. We enjoy half-price savings at many campgrounds through Passport America.

How do you save money while on vacation?

Jackie Brown is a mom of four whom blogs at Mom on a Mission: sharing Christ through Freezer Cooking. She makes abundant freezer meals for her family while inspiring others to bless the poor and the needy with their freezer bounty.

photo source

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  • Lana says:

    Owning a 1/12th share of a vacation house for the last 14 years has saved us a ton of money. We paid cash for our share and yearly fees are $480 for 4 weeks every year. Yes, we are going the same place over and over but we do not have to do anything but relax and unwind. Also we can call the attorney’s office who handles the calendar and go anytime the house is not being used. Property values on our lake have tripled in the time we have been owners so someday we will get back a chunk of money when we sell our share.

  • Sarah says:

    We try to only eat out one meal a day on vacations. Some things that have helped us stick to this rule on trips include staying in hotels with free breakfast, stopping by a grocery store for rotisserie chickens and frozen microwaveable veggies to eat in our room, and packing one meal of pb&j, apples and carrots (which don’t have to be kept cold). We also always get ice cream at the grocery store! It’s cheaper to let each person get their own individual carton than to go to the ice cream shop any day.

  • Susan says:

    Here’s my tip …

    I’ll start by saying that I am the same “Susan” who often comments on posts about Swagbucks saying that is is a ridiculous waste of time, but this is one area where Swagbucks has paid off for me. I’m not talking about earning gift cards.

    This has happened to me many many times … whenever I”m doing research online about a trip, I see ads on swagbucks for something that I was just searching on. We travel quite often — 4 to 6 times a year, sometimes more — so at any given time I’m researching one trip or another.

    For example, we will be in Dallas TX next week, and so recently I was searching for ideas of things to do. One of the websites I visited was the Reunion Tower / GeO Deck. Shortly thereafter, like within a day, an ad appeared on swagbucks with a promotion code for $5 off per ticket. Tickets are normally $16, so $5 off is a very nice discount. Sure enough, the code worked! I’m careful not to click on pop-up ads because they can contain viruses, but I’ll jot down the code and enter it when purchasing tickets.

    Another example, we’ll be traveling to the Las Vegas area in December, this time with a group for an event, so we’ll want to stay at the host hotel. I looked up rates for this hotel, and they were not the best. Shortly thereafter, an ad for this very hotel magically appears, with a promotion that was a substantial discount.

    Another really great thing I love … I often get promotion codes for free Shutterfly books from travel sites. Again, they’ll show up in an ad, or in my inbox from travel sites such as Trip Advisor. In fact, just in the past month as we’ve been planning our trip to Dallas, my daughter and I each received an individual promotion code for a free photo book this way.

  • jk says:

    Our family loves to stay at Homewood Suites where they serve hot breakfast and dinner(weeknights) included in stay. My hub collects Hilton points as he travels on business quite often and we always stay ‘free’ w/accumulated points.

  • Because my husband has Celiac Disease (and he really doesn’t want to get sick while traveling), we ate all of our food from things bought at a grocery store or Wal-mart. Not only did we save a ton of money on our last vacation (even eating gluten-free), we spent so much less time eating that we had tons of time for extra activities.

  • I like to get coupons for reduced price attractions ahead of time by going to the tourism page of the area we’ll be visiting.

    This not only saves us money, but often gives us information on fun things to do we might have otherwise missed.

  • DeeDee says:

    We have been on a few trips this summer once staying in a hotel & once in a dorm style setting. We took bagged meals and cooked them in the crock pot. I had never thought of crock potting in a hotel but it was really handy. Just like at home a few extra minutes in the morning and dinner was waiting for us when we returned from a busy day of vacationing.

    • shannon says:

      love this idea!!!!!

    • Rebecca says:

      This is our last morning of vacation for our family of nine. We get cheaper rooms with a kitchen so we can afford a few activities. Even with coupons doing anything with nine people adds up. Yesterday one of my sons said “sandwiches again?” I told him “We are eating sandwiches so we can go river tubing.” It was so much fun and will be remembered long after a meal at mcdonalds would be forgotten! Love the idea of filling up the cooler with frozen made ahead meals. Gonna try that next time!

  • Marie says:

    All these tips are great and ones my family uses as well. In addition I would add visiting the cities tourism dept. (not just the ticket booth or information booths) I found that they offer different and much better coupon books!! Also we wanted to go minature golfing so I asked the lady if there were coupons and where I could find them. They were in an obscure brochure but luckily my husband found one and we saved a ton.
    It’s really not hard to save money on vacation with some planning.
    Another tip is knowing the time of season to go. We just went to WI. Dells this summer but by going in June we saved a ton of money and beat the crowds! And the weather was perfect!

  • JOYce says:

    Websites abound for ideas on cooking food in a hotel room…some pretty amazing(using the coffee pot and iron). “Back in the day” when my parents traveled, it was common for many a motel(yes m) to provide a kitchenette room for guests. Some owners permitted(which means asking before doing) the use of an attended electric skillet for foods requiring minimal heating. Many hotel suites provide small fridge/freezer and microwave and some provide full kitchens, as do time-share condos and homes…reheating to full meal prep, depending on the provision. DO…and I repeat ~ DO ask permission prior to arrival for going beyond minimal provision as doing likely exceeds health and safety codes. Translation: you could be fined… and in the event an appliance, even a usually benign slow cooker, malfunctions ~ MUCH WORSE.

    With that said…lodgings of full “home away from home” are great! Meats can be grilled outdoors at home and individual meal portions frozen and transported in a cooler safely. Think burgers, chicken, sliced roast, pork chops ~ add baked potato plus salad/veggies, chips and buns, etc. Have stayed in a condo and enjoyed homemade spaghetti and meatballs and side salad/fruit and home-baked bread with very little effort. And saved oodles on those noodles with little cleanup. 🙂

    Travel wisely, friends…even if it means a bit more money overall! <3

  • Cathy says:

    How do you find the rental vacation home to clean yourselves? We have been looking on vrbo for a trip planned for next year but they seem to have cleaning fees.

    • Lana says:

      I am curious about that, too. I can understand why they charge for cleaning, though. When our lake house has been rented with the stipulation that the renters clean and take the garbage to the dump we often find it left dirty and the garbage in the can. We do not rent to those people ever again.

  • E.Blake says:

    #6 Sounds great, but I must warn you plastic water bottles release chemicals into the content of the bottle when frozen, and if left to get warm. We here in Arizona have been warned many times about send plastic water bottles with our kids for this reason.

  • Julia says:

    On our road trip last month, one way we saved money was to ask about suites in motels. Otherwise we have to pay for two rooms since we have 4 children.

    Also, one highlight was a lesser-known cave in Missouri at a State Park. Admission was much less expensive than the more famous caves. It pays to research costs ahead of time!

    I shared some other tips and takeaways in a recent post about our 6,000-mile-long trip.

  • SK Bell says:

    Love this! If we are traveling with other family members, we like to split an inexpensive vacation rental (I recommend which gives us a full kitchen, backyard for the kids and is almost always either the same price as a hotel or quite a bit cheaper once we split the cost per night. Having a full kitchen helps us save money on food AND fuel.

    Another question… What kinds of cold and gluten free foods do you all recommend for packing? I usually do meat sandwiches, summer sausage with crackers, something that needs to keep cool, for the first part of our drive… and then we do a whole lot of PB & J. Any other recommendations?

  • Christy says:

    I hope you enjoyed Charleston. We live about 20 mins. away and love to be tourists in our own “town.”

    When we do vacation, we look on and can often find a 1 bedroom condo for the same price as one hotel room. We get the kitchen (I also bring freezer meals) and we can put the kids to bed and stay up a few hours since we are not all in the same room!

    We also do all the groupon searching, etc. Many cities we visit have on line self guided tours that are fun and free.

  • Kristi says:

    There is a local museum that my sons like to go to so we get an annual pass every year. We pay an additional $25 for the upgraded membership because it gives us complimentary access to hundreds of museums throughout the US. You get the benefit as long as you live more than 60 miles away from the museum you are going to, but I have shown my card at museums one city over and they have let the whole family in for free!

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