If Sally Black, founder of www.vacationkids.com, ever hits the lottery, she’s going to open a hotel and call it ‘Someplace Warm and Cheap,’ because the name alone would ensure its success.
“Everyone wants to go someplace warm and cheap,” says Black, whose travel agency and website are geared toward helping families plan their perfect vacations. What she’s learned from years of being in the travel industry, and taking her own family on vacation, is that when it comes to vacationing with kids, warm and cheap take time and effort.
“Planning a family vacation is just like planning a family – you need to work nine months in advance,” she says.
Here are a few other guidelines for planning a memorable trip that doesn’t break the bank.
Decide on a budget and stick to it: The easiest way to save money on a vacation is to answer five simple questions before you book anything. “You need to sit down and have a frank discussion about who, what, where, when and how much,” Black says. “If you have that framework to work from, then vacation-planning is a joy, and it’s easy.” Above all, don’t ignore that last one, as having a budget and sticking to it saves much frustration – and remorse, Black says.
Be as flexible as possible: Travel is all about supply and demand. Unfortunately, most parents are tied to the school calendar, which means holiday weeks and spring break weeks are going to be your most expensive times to travel. If those weeks are your only options, start planning in September for a vacation in April, Black says. Or avoid that trap by planning two small long weekend trips instead of one traditional week-long vacation. “Even with flights and everything, the money you can save is going to be substantial,” she says.
And if your kids are under five and not yet tied to a school calendar, plan your vacation for off-peak times. “Go in early September, or the beginning of December,” Black says. “You can save up to 40 per cent on hotels and airfare.”
Think all-inclusive: All-inclusive resorts are a great deal for families because you know up front what your entire vacation is going to cost. “You can fly to a tropical beach for less money than you can drive somewhere,” Black says.
“People often don’t factor in things like eating out at restaurants every night, and extra entertainment costs like taking the kids to mini-golf or the movies or whatever. So renting a house somewhere might look a little cheaper on paper, but usually it costs more.”
Another all-inclusive way to go is a family cruise, which has the added benefit of endless activities for multiple age groups. “There’s something for everyone on a cruise to keep everybody happy, and that’s the tricky thing about a family vacation – making everyone happy.”
Don’t be afraid to explore: Think outside the box when it comes to destinations and itineraries. Generally speaking, the cost of a house in the Dominican Republic is less than the cost of a hotel room in Florida, Black says.
Mexico is another good option for those looking to stay warm but not burn through too much cash. “The deals down there right now are really good, including a lot of single parent rates, and kids stay free rates over the summer,” she says.
Get everyone’s input: Perhaps most importantly, have a clear picture of what mom wants on vacation, what dad wants on vacation, and what the kids need, Black says. And then get the kids involved in the planning process. They’ll be more excited for the trip and build a better appreciation for how much it costs to take one, too.
Robyn is a freelance journalist who would love to take her family someplace warm and cheap.
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