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A Travel Agent’s Tips for Budget-Friendly Family Vacations

Budget is a four letter word.

Ok, so it’s not literally a four letter word. But do you know what that word reminds me of that IS a four letter word? Diet. A budget is like a diet. Not fun, restricting, and an all-around bummer. So why would you want to “budget” something as exciting as a vacation? It creates guilt. It just flat out sucks. You hear budget-friendly family vacations and you think, that’s no fun.

Not saying you should just go crazy and spend every penny you have…but there are ways to stay cost-conscious while planning (and enjoying) budget-friendly family vacations – without that nasty “budget” word! As a travel agent, I’ve picked up a few tips along the way, and have also included a few Disney budgeting tips, since most of my traveling families are off to see the Mouse!

Book Your Hotel First, Flight Second

You know how many days off you have, you know when you want to go…so get the hotel booked early! Reach out to your travel agent and get your hotel locked down…a good agent will keep an eye on promotions that could be applicable to your trip to save you money. Waiting for a good deal isn’t always the best deal for hotels.

Flights, however, are another story. You don’t want to book them too far in advance. I like to use apps like hopper to tell me when is the best time to book. In my experience, I have found that the sweet spot to book your flight is about 6-8 weeks in advance.

Bonus Disney Budget Tip: Get the Dining Plan, and understand how to use it! Some restaurants on property have a much higher value than others. Do your research and know where to go to get the most bang for your buck!

Slowly Save

My husband and I did a $5 jar one year and it was so smart…every time we ended up with a $5 bill using cash, we put it in the jar. We just never spent $5 bills. At the end of the year we had several hundred bucks in there! (Why did we stop?!) But along those lines, each day/week/month, put a little bit away into a jar. 

Or, if you already have your trip booked, make small payments along the way. Twenty bucks here and fifty dollars there can add up pretty quickly. I have lots of clients that will do this and get their trip paid off in no time at all.

Bonus Disney Budget Tip: I like to buy gift cards for our trip almost every time I go to Target, especially since we save 5% with our Target Red Card. I manage those gift cards on Sometimes I’ll use the balance on the card to make actual payments on our vacation, and other times we will take the card with us to use for food or souvenirs on property. You can use the gift card to pay for the balance you charge using your Magic Band, just let the front desk know that is your plan so they don’t automatically charge your credit card at the end of your trip.

Splurge on One Thing

Pick the one thing you HAVE to do…and make it happen, even if it’s a little crazy. That’s another good idea about planning early: you can usually add excursions or event tickets to a package. This way you can also make payments instead of needing to shell out a huge chunk of money to go see Britney Spears in Vegas once you get there!

A side note on that—get trip insurance. Most of the time, event tickets are nonrefundable, and if you have to cancel or move dates, those tickets will be lost! 

Bonus Disney Tip: There are a LOT of really cool things to splurge on at Disney, obviously. Disney Tea Parties, VIP Tours, and they just announced a new Toy Story immersive experience you can drop your kids off for while you go enjoy some grown up time!

Adopt a Zen Attitude

According to a study out of San Francisco State University, people who spend money on experiences rather things are happier and feel better about the money they spent. So if you see a painting in Central Park and you have to hang it in your bathroom? GET IT. If you look up at that zip line in Costa Rica and all of the sudden get the guts to try it out? DO IT.

While setting a strict “budget” for your trip may be the first thing you want to do while planning, consider trying it a different way. The idea of limiting yourself only leads to an inevitable sense of failure when it doesn’t work out as planned. And this is your life, your vacation! No feelings of failure allowed. Fear not! Budget-friendly family vacations can happen!


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