Creating a Travel Budget for Your Family Vacation

Every parent wants to go on vacation with their family. Introducing your kids to places besides your own neighborhoods and routines is an ideal way for them to expand their surroundings, and can open their eyes to new sights, sounds and cultures.

Family travel is also not cheap, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find ways to make your family’s budget work well with the idea of getting on an airplane or taking a long car trip somewhere. We can offer some advice on what to do to ensure your family vacation stays on budget and doesn’t end up costing you even more in the long run. We are going to go over the most important elements of your vacation and what travel normally costs.

What is Travel Supposed to Cost?

The average American family should expect to spend 5 to 10% of their total income on a yearly vacation. The bigger question for many families making $80,000 a year and expecting to spend $4000 to $8000 on a family vacation is understanding how to allocate the many parts of a family vacation into your budget.

Many families go into debt for the purpose of traveling and seeing the world. 74% said they have gone into debt to pay for a vacation and most Americans take six months to finally recover from taking a vacation. Ideally, simply using a few methods to save money will keep you from having to get a loan or add to your credit card balance while going on vacation.

We highlight a few of the most important elements to save money on, while also considering that families take different vacations:

Airline Tickets/Travel

Getting there can be the most expensive part of a vacation, especially if you fly. Flying, of course, is also the easiest and fastest way to get to your destination. Expect to pay $200 – $500 per ticket depending of course on the time of year and location. You will pay more if crossing an ocean.

How to Save Money

Airline tickets tend to go up in price the closer you are to take off time, but most airlines release flights and prices nearly a year in advance. With a fair bit of planning, you can save some money on airline tickets. Some airlines also have discounts or free airline tickets for kids with some exclusions applying. Generally, you can expect to pay less between four months and three weeks out.

Many credit cards also offer rewards programs for credit card usage. Use these with caution and be sure to pay off balances to make these worth your while. Interest charges can easily wash out any savings you might have.

Hotel Costs

There are now more options than ever for staying someplace else. If you aren’t lucky enough to have family or friends in your vacation area, then you have a range available from an Airbnb, VRBO, resort, or hotel to stay at. All-inclusive resorts are often thought to be a way to save money on a vacation with dining included, but this isn’t necessarily true if your family wants to wander outside the resort and buy services elsewhere. Most hotels and resorts have all-inclusive and full board services which you can choose. And if you don’t know the difference, read and compare full board and all inclusive reservations. The question as to which is the right one depends on your travel itinerary.

How to Save Money

Think about what you would expect to pay more for: A better view, better access, and better amenities. Do you need all of these? Paying less for a place to stay is in part about timing, going during a non peak time, and choosing whether or not an ocean view from your hotel is really important versus walking to the beach.

Food and Eating Out

Unless the purpose of your vacation is to explore cuisines from a different part of the world, you should be careful with your food budget, especially when feeding several mouths. Food will cost more near tourist destinations, even at grocery stores. Of course, if you are vacationing with family and are cool with cooking while the family plays card games or something like that, then you can readily save money without going to a restaurant.

How to Save Money

Food is where researching your hotel can help quite a bit. Many hotels have a decent free breakfast that will at least keep you going until lunch. Even if their breakfast isn’t free, a good brunch or buffet can provide a better value than eating at a restaurant somewhere else.

One suggested way of saving some money is to eat at small restaurants and food trucks. They tend to have lower overhead, less wait time and offer really good food for cheap.

A Family Cruise

Does your family like boats? A family friendly cruise might be a great option for saving money while traveling to places like the Caribbean, especially considering that cruises often include most if not all amenities and no additional transporting costs, except driving to the port itself.

All Inclusive Resorts

If you stay disciplined and stay in the resort for most of the time, your family can enjoy a cheap family vacation in an all inclusive resort while not worrying about extra or unplanned expenses. Most resorts are in the Caribbean or Mexico, which may require a new passport or airline flight, but the passport will be reusable later anyway. Resorts can be an excellent option for lots of family entertainment without the excess travel or planning that a city vacation would require.


With a little bit of research and some planning, you can readily save some money to avoid going into debt while also having a great vacation. Consider finding ways to eat out for less, including doing some cooking yourself and traveling with an airline who knows that kids are their parent’s essential cargo.

Know your own expectations for a family vacation and what your kids will remember and want to experience. Simple things like a beach, waterpark, games, or being with their parents while they are extra relaxed can be very fulfilling and they don’t require you to go over the top or over budget.


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