There are varying styles of travel, and every family travels differently. Before I had children, my husband and I were die-hard backpackers, and shared accommodations in hostels were just part of our travel style. With our daughter now in the picture, we continue to be bargain-hunting travellers, but we've discovered (after a lot of trial and error) that an all-inclusive vacation experience was the most convenient – and the most affordable – style of travel for our family. Even though parents wish they could keep the same routine they have at home while on the road, travelling tends to require a lot of flexibility. And this goes for budgets more than anything else. Here are some of the budgeting tips we’ve picked up along the way:
There is one golden rule in budgeting for a family vacation: If you’re going to make a budget, stick to it. There are spreadsheets, apps, and websites galore that can help you allocate costs to elements of your family vacation. Choose an app or mobile-friendly site so you can refer to your budget while you’re travelling, like Mint or Trail wallet.
If you've allocated $300 towards a family excursion and the excursion costs $350 or $400, then be willing to stretch your budget to accommodate, or else you’ll need to balance the books in other areas or deduct the extra from what I like to call, “mad money.” In order to “plan” for any extras, contingencies, or even splurge-worthy events and moments, budget for “mad money” to account for a bit of extra fun! Aside from “mad money,” however, make sure to also put aside some additional funds for health or any unplanned costs that may come up – ideally, you’ll never want to use that money, but if you need to, you’ll be happy that you put it aside.
For budget-savvy families like ours, companies like Sunwing Vacations have developed the Smile Resorts program, which takes the guessing game out of planning an affordable trip. The minute you hear the word “free” when budgeting, you can bet that’s the best deal in town. There are Smile Resorts in places like Cuba, Los Cabos, Puerto Plata, and Panama, so there’s lots of choice there, and any parent will attest that having up to two kids (depending on the hotel) stay, play and eat for free is a HUGE money-saver on your family vacation. The extra savings comes when the resort you’ve chosen has an on-site water park like the one at Memories Splash Punta Cana, one of Sunwing’s SplashWorld resorts, or has access to a nearby water attraction – all included in the cost of the package when you book specific room categories.
I know, this tip sounds crazy if you are on a budget, but it’s definitely possible! Just because you’re on a budget does not mean that you have to stay in cramped quarters. If you’re looking to cut costs, there are ways to find what you want and still keep the whole family happy. Family rooms, rooms with sliding doors and even interconnected rooms are all options that won’t break the bank. Consider the cost savings from not having to pay for each meal, your transportation, various activities and entertainment (which are all included at Sunwing’s Smile Resorts), having a little extra room on your family vacation will definitely go a long way when you or one of your family members needs some space.
I will eventually be living with a teenage girl, and this makes me nervous at times. Changes in moods, physique, and philosophies make these once-adorable little people sometimes hard to please. But that’s not what makes me nervous. I dread the day when I will have to pay the full adult fare when my kiddo turns 13. That’s why it’s a load-off to have certain resorts, like those in Sunwing’s Smile program.
This program in particular caters to parents of teens, and promises special rates for 13 to 17-year-olds. Luckily, many of these resorts come stacked with activities as extreme as archery or paddle boarding, and teens lounges fully loaded with Wi-Fi, video games, air hockey, ping-pong and the like. So, once you’ve knocked off a few bucks from your total vacation cost -and have hopefully convinced your teen to want to spend seven days with the whole family - you’ll also have peace of mind that once they get to the resort, there’ll be plenty of things to keep them busy – they just might have some fun, too!
Most hotels are based on double occupancy, and will charge even if you are travelling on your own. This is not a great budget-saving feature for single parents or grandparents. So, it definitely speaks to budget-savvy single parents when Smile Resorts offer the “no single supplement” feature, allowing them to travel with their kids without getting charged for any extra occupancy costs.
I used to chase seat sales and last-minute deals, and on occasion I’d get lucky with a great offer for cheap. However, now that I know exactly when I want to travel (since I don’t have much flexibility with vacation times and the school curriculum), I make sure that I start planning my family vacations at least four-to-six months in advance.
There’s no question that budget is a very important part of your travel experience. However, once you get over the hurdle of actually building the budget, sticking to it is pretty straightforward. But don’t let it rule the mood and overall flow of your vacation. The idea is to discover different places in the world together. And trust me, if you want it bad enough, it can be done on a budget while keeping everyone smiling.