If you feel like the cost of a family vacation is out of reach, you’re not alone. According to American Express, the average per person expense of a vacation is $1,145, which means you’re looking at $4,580 to post social media vacation fodder for a family of four. That’s no small charge for families on any type of budget.
The good news is a family vacation, even when you feel broke, is actually doable without eating ramen the entire way there. The first step is looking away from social media at everyone’s glorious vacation pictures and focusing on your own vacation strategy. The next step is finding creative and resourceful ways to afford that vacation in the first place.
Leverage Travel Rewards
Free frequent-flyer miles, hotel stays and even $150 in cash-back bonuses are up for grabs if you get organized and know how to play the game. For starters, make sure you’re in a position to apply for credit cards with travel and cash-back bonuses and can meet the minimum spending requirements. Expect to spend $500–3,000 on a credit card over three to four months in order to earn a cache of travel points. But in some cases, you can earn points just from a one-time purchase.
Here’s another option. Ask extended family if they have any spare travel points they’re willing to share or use to purchase tickets and hotel rooms in your name. Offer to cover any taxes or miscellaneous costs and start planning your vacation.
Curate a Free Family Vacation
Leveraging lots of travel points is one way to travel free or cheap, but it’s not the only way to curate a free family vacation. Brainstorm creative ways to stay somewhere for free that your family will enjoy. Camping on free or inexpensive campgrounds or sacking out on a friend’s sailboat are just a few options.
You can also sign-up for Airbnb, grab a referral link and earn $25 every time someone you refer signs up through it and completes a trip. With just a handful of friends, you may have enough to get away for a little rest and relaxation.
Travel Off Season
A cold beach vacation may not sound appealing at first glance, but can be frugal and fun. Pick an inexpensive hotel that’s even cheaper during the off-season slump with an indoor pool and hot tub for the kids to go nuts when it’s too cold outside. During the warmer daytime hours, head out to the beach to go hunting for seashells, starfish and sea glass before warming up with s’mores or hot chocolate.
The same thing goes for the popular ski slopes in the summertime. It may not be ski season, but there are still plenty of opportunities for camping, hiking and swimming in nearby lakes.
Use your own sweat equity to get the family vacation you really want. Volunteer opportunities at farms, cabins and tourist spots have been around for ages but aren’t always on a traveling family’s radar. In reality, you can look for places where either the parents or entire family can volunteer a few hours a day in exchange for room and board.
You can also think about the assets you already have and how you can barter with them. A skilled accountant or dentist could offer free services to a client in exchange for the use of their timeshare to take that beachside family vacation you’re hoping for.
Rent Out Your Stuff
If all else fails, start looking at ways to earn more money on the side. However, I get it. This is no easy feat for busy parents with few hours in their day. That’s why renting the stuff you already have can bring in more cash with little effort.
Renting out a spare room or basement on Airbnb can put together a few hundred dollars relatively quickly depending on the area you live. Or you can use a service like Turo to rent out your family’s second car on weekends or days you just don’t need it. Instead of just sitting in your driveway for days on end, your spare car can earn money while you’re out living your life.
However you decide to approach your family vacation, remember it doesn’t need to cost a fortune. There are plenty of creative ways to fund your family vacation that doesn’t require saving up until your kids are ready to graduate.