Family vacation on a budget? How to maximize the fun
The children frolic in the pool while you relax on a chaise lounge, sipping a drink with a cool name and a cute straw delivered by an attentive server. Ah, the idyllic family vacation. It’s just as American as apple pie.
But the perfect vacation — no matter the budget — doesn’t happen without a good plan. Here’s how to get the most vacation for your dollar.
Start early: Plan a year in advance, says Tina Erskine, owner of Tina’s Travel Network of Pflugerville, Texas. “It gets you the lowest prices and it allows you to make payments,” Erskine says. “The people who come in three months before they go, they’re sticking it all on the credit card. Now they’re paying interest for the trip.”
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Consult a travel agent: The Internet puts vacation planning at your fingertips night or day, but it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a newbie. Need to make a change, or get the wrong room? Joe Weigler, owner of Shadyside Travel Agency of Pittsburgh, says the tourism industry pays travel agents, so booking your trip through a travel agent shouldn’t make it more expensive. Agents also know tricks that could net a better deal than what’s online. “Chances are they’re [the consumer] not going to get it cheaper,” Weigler says.
Determine your budget: Can you afford Maui or Jamaica? Or is Washington, D.C., or New York more in your price range? A stateside trip for a family of four could cost $1,200 to $2,500, Erskine says, compared to several thousand more for an island getaway. “The most important thing when you’re dealing with a budget is how long you can go for and what type of resort — whether it be a budget resort, mid-range resort or a deluxe resort,” Weigler says. “A lot of people think ‘we have $4,000, we can stay at a luxury resort.’ That’s not going to happen.”
Book early: Thinking the price will drop closer to your travel date is so 1999. When it comes to travel, the early bird really does get the worm. “The price almost never goes down,” Erskine says. “There’s a 95-percent chance that it’s going to continue to go up weekly. I spend a lot of time trying to inform people how it works.”
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Try all-inclusive: It sounds expensive, but all-inclusive vacations can be cost-effective because they include meals, activities and drinks. “Most people don’t look at that, that’s why at the end they get short-changed, and they end up putting more on the credit card than they wanted,” Weigler says.
Erskine says many people balk at the meal plan prices when visiting a Disney resort, but after breaking down the cost per meal compared to purchasing food, most see the savings, she says.
Get educated: Whether you have $5,000 or $10,000 to spend, Erskine and Weigler advise potential travelers to be as informed as possible. “Don’t waste your one vacation a year on a bad experience,” Erskine says.