Here are a few things that we've found to be helpful in saving money while out of town.
1. Minimize the eating out
-I know this is hard when you are staying in a hotel, but if you do have options of staying some where with a small kitchen/kitchenette or with a friend, getting a few groceries (or bringing some with you) are a big money saver. Breakfast food, especially, can be very overpriced at restaurants. Even without a kitchen buying some yogurts and fruit for breakfast to keep in your hotel fridge will save you a lot of cash! Another idea is to get a 1/2 gallon of milk and box of cereal, or some fruit and muffins.
-If your kids are still small, try skipping buying them a kid's meal. I know it's so tempting and easy to just get them their own meal, but if you get something that will be more then enough for you and them, it's best to skip the $3-5 you'll spend on their extra meal. It also will increase your taxes and tip too, not just the cost of the extra entree. Plus, if you're traveling, sometimes leftovers aren't easy to keep anyway, so get just what you'll be able to eat that meal.
-If you do have an option for reheating and keeping leftovers, then ask for a box after dinner and make it your lunch the next day. Every meal you eat in, will save you money and by the end of your trip can add up into the hundreds.
-Try using the dollar menus for quick and cheap meals. Instead of going with your usual meal # at a fast food joint, try to limit your family's selections to thing that cost a dollar or less and you'll be amazed at how much a family of four can get for under $10.
2. Plan outings away from the crowds
-The main attractions in most cities have raised their prices to usually ridiculous amounts! For instance while looking for things for the kids in the Chicago area, the "Chicago Children's Museum" was significantly more expensive then other children's museums in the area. We found several that were cheaper and closer to where we were staying. Plus, the others had free parking, because it was off the 'beaten path' a bit. There were other mini-type museums really close by too and again, for significantly cheaper. The most well known and popular locations typically charge more and usually aren't worth the extra cost, especially when it comes to kids things. Kids are just as impressed with a fun inexpensive play place as they are with a big fancy $25/person outing. Also, keep in mind that with toddlers, you'll only be at these places for about 2-3 hours before they'll need to eat, take naps and are on the verge of meltdowns from all the activity and stimulation.
-Most communities have websites that let you know what free/cheap things are taking place in the area during the time you're there. Interacting and asking the locals will also help you find out what's happening in town. For example, this week we came across a great little children's art fair taking place down town the city my sister lives in, all for free. The kids enjoyed strolling down the sidewalks, looking at the creations and enjoying the little "stops" with things for them to do too. There was also a FREE zoo/farm in the area my husband's conference was taking place, but unfortunately they didn't open until Memorial Day weekend! :( Otherwise, we would've been there!
-Do some research before you go to find things to do, parks in the area where you can do a simple picnic, look into rec centers, find out about festivals, shows that happen in town and you'll be amazed all the things the locals will be enjoying, while all the tourists are forking out small fortunes to entertain their families! Get creative and often times these types of things are much more fun and far less stressful then the pricey tourist trap.
3. Skip the hotel
-If at all possible, rent a house/apartment/condo instead of staying at a hotel. In a lot of cities and vacation sites there are rental properties that rent for short time periods and have wonderful amenities, including more space (separate rooms for parents and children), full kitchens so you can save on food and are right in the mix of all the fun in their local communities. A great resource for these types of rentals is: www.VRBO.com.
-If you have any friends that you know you can tolerate being with for a whole week, share the rental! We love to do this with one of our friends and have enjoyed the opportunity to spend time together while both of our families are saving money by splitting the cost of the rental. We fix our meals together, split the cost of groceries (and each bring some from home) and tag team the cooking and cleaning, which also helps us all save money.
Saving money will help you really enjoy your vacation and not feel stressed about how you'll be paying for it when you come home! :) Then you'll get to take pictures like this for your family album:
What tips do you keep in mind while traveling? How do you save money on outings and family getaways?