How to Plan a Family Vacation on a Budget – 2024 Guide

If you’re dreaming of a family vacation, you may be wondering how you can swing it. Maybe you want to go to Branson, which attracts seven million visitors a year. You might want to head to the sunny shores of Florida, to the rugged coast of California, or the historical sites of Europe.

Whatever your dream family vacation is, the following is a guide to help you save and plan something incredible, even on a budget.

Saving for a Vacation


First, before you start any of the planning, you should begin saving money that you’re going to use for your trip specifically. The following are general tips to help you put money aside, no matter what your income is:

  • Have a financial goal that’s realistic for you. If you can set a goal, first, it’s going to make saving easier for you. You’re also going to feel like you’re accomplishing something as you get closer. Setting a goal for your vacation savings will also help you then in turn have a budget for your trip.
  • When you have a set budget, that will guide your trip planning. Again, be reasonable and realistic with your goal. You only have so much money available to you, and that’s the reality. You’re just going to frustrate yourself if your goal is too far out of the realm of possibility for you. There are plenty of things to do in Branson and everything about that place can be found at
  • Have an account that’s just for your vacation fund. Then, when the money is separate, you’re going to be less likely to spend it on other things. Try to find an account that will give you some interest, even though rates are low right now. Something is better than nothing.
  • Use apps and tools on your smartphone to help you. There are a lot of savings apps that you can try out to see which one works for you. For example, you can find an app that will round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and then put that difference into your vacation savings account. It might not sound like much, but it does add up.
  • If you have a rewards credit card with travel perks, try to use it strategically. You don’t want to get into debt trying to earn airline miles or hotel points, but if there are times when it makes sense, and you know you can pay it off right away, go for it.
  • Don’t make impulse buys. Every time you overcome the urge to make an impulse buy, reward yourself by putting some money into your vacation account.
  • Get smart with meal planning. We all spend so much money on eating out, and that money can go toward your dream trip with your family.
  • If you have any extra time or skills, put them to use and take on a side hustle. Even something as simple as walking dogs a few times a week can mean you have a couple of hundred dollars each month to put toward your trip.

Budget-Friendly Vacation Ideas


If you know you want a vacation, but you’re not sure what will work within the confines of your budget, ideas include:

  • Visit friends or family. If you have loved ones who live somewhere else, you may be able to stay with them for free and then share the costs of things like meals. If your family or friends live near somewhere like Orlando, the theme parks offer in-state resident discounts that you may be able to take advantage of. When you visit people you know as part of your vacation, you also have the bonus of local tour guides.
  • One of the best things you can do when planning a trip is going off-season. First, you’re going to save money on the more obvious things like accommodations. There are more benefits than saving money, however. For example, you’re going to find fewer crowds, so you can truly relax and enjoy your destination more. Different places have varying off-seasons, so you’ll have to do some research to figure out when it is in the area you’re going to visit.
  • Road trips are almost always going to be cheaper than flying. If you can pick a destination that you can drive to, you can save thousands of dollars and put that money toward another element of your trip. If you have a family of three or four, flying might be more expensive than anything else you do when you travel. When you do a road trip, you can also make a trip out of the drive itself, even before you arrive at your destination.
  • Choose an unlikely destination. If you want to go to Europe, for example, consider somewhere like Croatia or Portugal. They’re beautiful and offer the culture, history and architecture Europe is known for but you’re going to get much better deals than you would if you went somewhere like Paris or Rome.
  • Go camping. During COVID-19, more people went camping and explored the nation’s national parks because of social distancing. It really sparked a newfound interest in the outdoor beauty America has to offer, so why not take advantage?
  • Decide whether you’ll plan well in advance or at the last minute. Both options can lead to deals. If you book ahead for things like airfare, you’re usually going to get better prices. However, with things like hotels, if you wait until the last minute you’re more likely to find deals on unbooked rooms the company is trying to offload.
  • Put more attention on what you do than where you stay. When you travel, it’s about the experiences, so rather than booking an expensive suite or a house with more space than you need, go a little more on the low-end with your accommodations because you’re probably going to spend most of your time out and about anyway.
  • If you can book a rental with a kitchen that’s still affordable, that’s a great way to save money. You can make your own coffee and prepare meals. It can be part of the fun to shop at local markets when you’re traveling.

Other Budget-Friendly Travel Tips


Beyond what’s listed above, the following are some other tips to keep in mind:

  • Sign up to get online fare alerts if you’re going to fly. Some sites will alert you anytime the route you have your eye on goes down in price.
  • Consider packages. Vacation packages are actually both more affordable than booking everything piece by piece, and they’re more convenient. With a vacation package, the details are all included.
  • If you’re flying, try to book flights in the middle of the week. The weekends and any time around holidays are going to be most expensive.
  • Go directly to company websites before you book anything to comparison shop. A lot of people have gotten so used to booking through travel aggregate sites that they don’t look at the airline, hotel, or car rental company directly. The reality is, going direct might get you better rates. Picking up the phone can too. Call the companies and see if they have any special deals or are willing to negotiate with you at all.
  • Manage your expectations. This is critical not only to help you stay within your budget, but it’s also essential to help you enjoy your trip rather than thinking everything has to be perfect. Sometimes the best travel experiences are the most imperfect. Kids are easy to please, so try to be more like them.
  • Do a lot of research before you plan anything. Sometimes we tend to think that the prices are the prices, and that’s it. That’s rarely the case and especially not when it comes to travel.
  • Look for a hotel that offers food. Even just one meal a day, like breakfast included in your stay, can save you hundreds of dollars when you’re traveling.
  • When you’re at your destination, be mindful of what you’re spending because all those little extras add up quickly. For example, visiting a pharmacy in a tourist destination to pick up shampoo or sunblock can be incredibly expensive. Snacks and bottled waters can be, as can souvenirs along the way. Set a “walk-around” budget for your family for each day. Carry it in cash if you have to so that you don’t go over it.

The biggest thing that you should remember is that the experience of traveling with your family is a memory that’ll stay with you forever. Your trip doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does it have to be luxurious. Too often, families think they can’t afford to travel, and they miss out on great things.

A camping trip or a trip to a national park can be just as meaningful as going to a tropical island, and if you plan ahead of time and save, you can make a trip work for any budget.