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How to Plan a Family Vacation on a Budget

Many families like to go on annual vacations, whether it’s jetting overseas or road-tripping. But family trips don’t always play out exactly as envisioned, especially when the whole family is in close quarters—constantly, 24/7, for a week. Gulp.

If you’re afraid of taking getaways with your gaggle of kiddos and partner, you’re not alone. But there are major benefits to traveling with those you love most.

There’s no better time than today

According to research from QuickBooks Time, “The majority (nearly 61%) of those who had available PTO hours said they left some on the table at the end of last year. A plurality of workers with PTO didn’t use 1-5 vacation days and 1-5 sick days. That means the American workforce left nearly a billion days of paid time off on the table.”

Longer isn’t necessarily better. There is an expiration date on some vacations. The larger the group and the more generations involved, the shorter it should probably be. “I don’t want to be with that many people for too long,” says Tykesha Burton, who writes about culture-focused family travel on her blog, Momma Wanderlust. “Seven to 10 days max.

DO make local culture and history enjoyable for the kids

Bear in mind the distance you plan to cover in a day, and how little legs and feet might cope with a lot of walking or hiking. Dragging irritable children around because you’re trying to do too much will suck the fun out of the most exotic locale. Plan shorter excursions each day, and include ones that don’t require as much walking. For example, site-seeing bus tours can be really engaging for the whole family and they let you sit down while you see the city.

Plan Your Travel Logistics For Your Family Vacation

Before leaving for vacation, you should gather all necessary documents for travel, including vaccinations and travel insurance. This can include passports, ID cards, and visas.

I learned the hard way to never leave my home to travel abroad without my children’s birth certificate. I can tell that story later!

Ensure the expiration date on all your family members’ passports. Passports for young children tend to expire much quicker than adult passports.

Figuring out common interests

The best way to plan a vacation as a group is to make sure we know the shared common goal and to get this on the wish list. The smaller tasks will always happen along the way. E.g. We did our first vacation post-pandemic with my son’s friends and their families and for all of us the common goal was to get to a place where our children could hang out and get some sun together. Since this was post-pandemic some of us were looking for safety and the others were looking for other aspects, we chose private villas in Goa but all of us had one common goal and that was to give our children a memorable friendcation!

Choose a destination that’s convenient for everyone

Say for instance, the kids are set on a winter vacation somewhere there’s snow, while parents just want to lounge and decompress somewhere sunny where they can go snorkeling from a tropical beach. This is a common dilemma many families face when deciding on a vacation destination, especially if they have older kids. Know that while everyone may not be able to get what they want; you can all meet somewhere in the middle. Pick somewhere that everyone can find something to do that they enjoy.

Define your budget

Often your budget will determine how you will pick your destination. A beach vacation in the U.S. can often be more affordable than a beach vacation in another country. Some things that you will need to budget for include:
Transportation costs (airplane, train, or gas money). Be sure you factor in the price of a ticket for each member of your family. If you plan to rent a car or take taxis once you arrive, you should count this in as well.
Accommodation. Hotels are a common option, but if you have a larger family, you might want to consider renting a house, condo or cabin.
Food. You will probably have to account for the cost of eating out in a restaurant, but staying in a place with a kitchen will help you save money here.

Build up the Anticipation

Some research suggests that the anticipation of travel is often more enjoyable than the actual trip itself. This building up of excitement can actually put you and your family in a positive mood for months which is most likely far longer than the duration you have planned for your trip.

You can help build up anticipation by watching videos or reading books on your travel destination with your kids. Put up a family calendar that allows you all to count down the days until your trip.

Read Books Related to the Place Before Your Trip

By reading noteworthy books or articles about the history or locale of the destination, your kids will understand what to expect from the vacation.

For instance, if you are planning a trip to Prague, then make your teens read The Heart Travels. This book explores the delight of experiencing diverse cultures and different countries, including Europe, Australia, the Philippines and India. Teens can also go through such books during the journey to make their tour more memorable.

Deal with the generational gap.

It’s normal for a family – especially an extended one that covers more than two generations – to experience a gap in interests.

In many cases, this can be a significant source of conflict when it comes to making decisions about your family vacation. After all, you, your kids, and their grandparents are most likely to have different definitions of fun.

The good news is, you can deal with the generational gap while ensuring everyone’s happiness through compromise.

Of course, before you can get to an arrangement everyone will agree on, you must first:

  • Keep an open mind.
  • Open communication lines.
  • Listen actively to what others are saying.
  • Keep unconditional love at the center of your discussions.

Use vacation time to kickstart healthy new routines.

Instead of thinking of vacation as a few days away from your real life, think of it as a few days away to help improve your everyday.

“Vacation is a really great time to initiate healthy habits that you just don’t have the time or energy to start during your day-to-day life,” Bell said, noting that you’re much more likely to pull healthy routines back into your life if you can start them in a happy, conducive environment.

Keep health and safety in mind

Adventures to new places can bring with them unexpected risks. Discuss safety plans with your children. Be sure they know their phone number or what to do if they are separated. Talk about what safety concerns the area might bring, such as being in a large urban environment, or an isolated rural area. Bring along plenty of water and sunscreen on adventures. Make sure children have adequate rest breaks, snacks and fluid when on long outings. Many areas are experiencing outbreaks of bedbugs, so be sure to inspect your hotel room before you unpack.

Timing is everything

Last-minute deals don’t tend to exist during the school holidays, and those that do are usually to less desirable places. If your kids are in school then you’ll know their term dates far in advance; use this information to book months or even years ahead, when prices are still relatively low due to the lack of demand. If your kids aren’t in school yet or you educate them at home, make the most of traveling outside the peak periods, when costs are low and crowds fewer.


Figure out one can’t-miss activity to do each day and then leave the rest of the time open for naps and lounging at your accommodations. This is an especially good travel plan for families with kiddos that nap.



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