Save Money Vacationing with a Child

As I write this, the final days of summer are winding down in the Northern Hemisphere. Autumn is upon us and most of us are looking forward to cooler weather, football and Halloween. It will be December before we know it and Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve will occupy our thoughts and our time. October through December can be the busiest time of the year, can’t it?

For some reason, many people feel the need to follow their December holidays with a planned vacation. I have never understood that. At least in the USA, people in the Northeast feel compelled to visit sunny Florida. People in the American South feel the need to go to Colorado or some other place where they can ski.

If you are single or have no children, I can understand the desire to go on a vacation, at least to a certain extent. For those of us with children, however, especially young children, it takes a special child to make a vacation a relaxing experience.

Although I really do want to all of you to come to Florida and spend your hard earned dollars, I suggest that if unless you are independently wealthy you rethink your vacation plans while you still have young children at home. Every year, I watch families visit Disney, Universal, Daytona and many of the other places that people like to visit here in the Sunshine State and every year I am amazed by the high level of stress that I encounter in vacationers traveling with kids.

Just the other day, for example, I visited SeaWorld so that I could see their excellent dolphin show. Seated in front of me was a family of five from Tennessee (or so I assumed, based on all of the Tennessee Volunteers attire). The parents both looked exhausted. Throughout the show, one daughter was complaining that she could not see the show because she was too small. Another was complaining because she wanted to sit somewhere else. The third child, a son, was complaining because he wanted to buy a t-shirt and his parents had said “no.” At no point during the show did any of the five actually watch the show and I suspect that the rest of their day played out in much the same way.

Having observed vacationers both in Florida and elsewhere for many a year, and having taken a few vacations myself, here are a few suggestions for planning your vacations and avoiding spending a bundle when you don’t need to do so.

Taking Care of Kids is not Relaxation: If your kids are still at an age that requires you to care for them, your vacation is going to be a chore unless you travel to a parent-friendly vacation spot that offers child care that you can trust. If you are not comfortable with on-site child care, consider leaving your kids with a family member and taking the vacation on your own. If you just want to relax and rejuvenate, you do not have to travel far as long as your kids are safe and secure at a relative’s house. A local resort for a weekend without the kids may be just the therapy you need and it will cost much less than a trip that requires airfare and accommodations for four or five.

Make Sure Everyone Likes the Destination: I really want to visit New Orleans so that I can visit the National World War II Museum. None of my family members want to go there. My wife does not like to be out in the sun. One son will not do anything on boats. Another hates cultural visits. I know we all have different tastes and that we have never found a place that we all want to visit, so I do not try to plan family trips. When my eldest son is away attending summer high school programs, my wife, younger son and I will go on trips that the three of us can enjoy. My older son would rather go on vacation with his friends so he tends to stay at the vacation homes of his friends when he has the chance. If everyone in your family is not going to have a good time, nobody will have a good time. Always keep that in mind.

You Do Not Need to Travel to Have Fun: If you live on the coast or in a major in-land city, there is much to do in your own backyard that I suspect you have not experienced. In places like Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, there are innumerable cultural and athletic experiences that can occupy you for days and weeks on end. If you have not fully explored the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, do you really need to go to New York to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

Be Prepared to Say No to the Extras: Vacation destinations usually are full of shopping opportunities. If you go on almost any ride at a theme park, it will end in a gift shop. If you stay in a hotel, it is likely to have shops associated with it. Prepare your kids, if you are vacationing with children, for the onslaught of shopping temptations and tell them how you expect the shops to be perceived. If there will be no purchases allowed, make that clear. If there will be purchases allowed, establish guidelines and do not deviate from them.

Look for Dining Deals: Some hotels and vacation attractions offer dining deals that will allow you to cap the cost of food. For example, at SeaWorld (Orlando), adult visitors can pay approximately $30 for a full day of meals and snacks. Children pay a little less than half that much. If you have the stamina to spend a full day at a theme park, it is not a horrible deal to cap food costs at about $85 for the full day for a family of four. Yes, that is much more than you would spend at home, but it is much less than you would spend a la carte.

Look for All-Inclusive Deals: Cruises are especially good options for travelers who want to avoid incidental costs. Many cruises offer pricing that includes meals and other incidentals. Before making reservations, explore all-inclusive options with your booking agent.
Make the Trip Worth Your Money. Do not feel that you have to take a vacation every year. A vacation is supposed to be relaxing. A colleague of mine did not go on any vacations for the first ten years that I worked with him. Rather, he saved his money and then took a very special month long vacation to Ireland. He has not been on another vacation since. He loved his time in Ireland and he may go back again in a few years, but he is not going to force himself to take vacations every year.

How do you make vacations worthwhile? Do you bring your kids? Are you annoyed when other people bring their children to your vacation destinations? Do you feel the need to go on vacation every year?

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14 Responses to Save Money Vacationing with a Child

  1. Ann says:

    I’m lucky enough not to worry about the kid angle. LOL

    I like to combine efforts. For instance, I recently went to London, Ontario. I had fun exploring some of Michigan (a beautiful state) along the way and then picked up 750+ lbs of soapstone for my studio while in London. :-) To me, it was a win-win situation — I got to see some more of a state I love and I got to personally pick out colors and shapes of stone supplies … and met a really interesting Native American, who owned the distributorship, and even picked up a tip on darkening and accenting fine details in the stone! Loved it!

    I’ve also checked out some of the folkart schools. There are some terrific schools in beautiful places where you can take classes on everything from different woodworking things to weaving to boat building to stained glass, etc. You can go a little early and stay a little late and really explore some new and interesting countryside! Most of these places are in a country setting, but there are also classes offered in or near major cities. For instance, if I go to Florida, I’d like to go to Seaworld and Disney, but I’d also attend a stone sculpting class at Montoya. LOL Loveland, Colorado also has a sculpting school. Same bit — visit the Rockies and take a class! :-)

    The advantage for me is that at least part of the trip is then tax deductible as a business expense.

    When I was in corporate, sometimes people I worked with would have their spouses or family join them. Their expenses were covered, so they just had to pay for the rest of the family and the family could go off exploring, while they were working. Worked for them! :-)

  2. Well said about family vacation stress and going broke after vacation. One thing to look for at those attractions is the “unlimited food meal plans” They are worth it for those always hungry kids.

  3. asmom says:

    Very funny article! I’ve vacationed many times with my kids over the years and I’ve been able to relax AND enjoy myself, go figure. If you cannot learn to spend times with your kids without feeling stressed and harried, you better learn because 18 years is a long time to avoid vacations because you find taking care of kids a “chore”.

  4. Tony says:

    I enjoyed this article. I however might be one of the few who do not take a summer vacation, not because I don’t want to, but because the job doesn’t permit. I think you are dead on about taking a vacation to a place where everyone is happy with, which in itself is very hard to please everyone. I too live in Florida and my the whining of the kids. Should be a happy place here you would figure, but with the heat and crowds, I am sure I would be in the same boat. I get to vacation in the winter time and sometimes leave here for Colorado or Kansas or anywhere that has a “real winter”.

  5. cptacek says:

    Good comment asmom. I was going to say…those kids in front of you at the dolphin show probably act like that all the time, so it wasn’t any more stressful than a normal day!

  6. kenyantykoon says:

    seeing as how vacationing with kids is so stressful, why dont parents just find something fun to do at home? these stressful holidays make the parents want to take vacations from those vacations. nice post btw

  7. Lou Russo says:

    My wife and I have been married for 40 years and have two grown children. It is only since they went out on their own that we went on vacations on our own. For more than the first half of our marriage, we did all of our vacationing as a family. We visited Disney (twice), Williamsburg and other places, but most of our vacations were on the New Jersey shore. I suspect that the kids enjoyed those vacations as much as we did. In fact, we know go on vacation with our two adult children, their spouses and 5 grandchildren. While at the shore, we all find things we like to do separately, but we spend a lot of time together. We play games, go to the beach, visit sites, go to the zoo, etc. Now that the kids are goen, though, my wife and I also enjoy going places that we didn’t go when they were younger. I can’t imagine going on vacation when I was younger without including the kids.

  8. persephone says:

    We did not vacation with our kids very much when they were very young but after they got to be a bit more self-sufficient, it was fun. We found with each child that the ages of 10-14 were the best ages for kids to travel. Any older and they did not want to hang around doing things with my husband and me. Any younger and they became too easily bored.

  9. spicoli says:

    When I was younger, my parents liked to visit museums and historic places. I have no interest in places like that. Also, my Dad would only do things that included everyone because he was not willing to leave my mother or siblings in a hotel room while he took me off to do things that I might like and he did not want to worry about my Mom or siblings if they went off in a strange city to do things without him. As a result, I enjoyed staying close to home where I could do what I wanted and where my parents felt it was OK to do things one on one with me, without dragging my siblings into the activity.

  10. we_travel says:

    Our solution to vacationing with our children is to rent a timeshare. We use – very budget-friendly. We can typically get one with 2 bedrooms for up to 50% what a cramped hotel room would cost. The kitchen helps save money on meals when you’re feeding constantly hungry kids. The resort’s amenities are included so we save on things to do. Some even offer baby-sitting services, and many have children’s playgrounds, kiddie pools, etc. This is the only way to go with youngsters! You can still go to the amusement parks, etc., but then when you come “home” at night everyone relaxes better.

  11. minny says:

    Our most enjoyable holidays with the kids was when they spent hours on the beach.

    As they grew older we went to sites where we could stay in a caravan or tent, there was a pool and the kids all congregated there together messing around.

    We quickly discovered that if they were happy, we were happy. We then left them with grandparents and had a few days alone.

  12. Anette says:

    I’d second the renting a timeshare idea. We do an annual family vacation — my family did that when I was a kid and I have wonderful memories from it. But never in a hotel. We go somewhere in driving distance and rent an apartment or timeshare, or camp. It saves on food, and if you rent an apartment with a pool and/or jacuzzi the kids consider it the height of luxury. (We also allow daily soda on vacation and they consider that the height of decadence. Only works if soda is usually restricted, of course!)
    We’ve gone to Williamsburg VA the past few years which has a good mix of cultural/historical stuff, theme parks, and outdoor opportunities, and over Spring Break is a LOT warmer than our Upstate New York home. We live very near the Adirondack Park and in the summer, that’s where we go.
    You are right on that theme parks with younger kids make no sense. I do plan to do Disney one of these days, but not till my youngest is old enough to do a whole day without a meltdown.

  13. Gail says:

    I well remember our trip to Disneyworld with two youngsters and a husband who wasn’t into helping with anything. I was left with all driving, suitcase lugging, child care, food prep, etc. while HE took a vacation. Glad I will never go through that again as that husband is now on his own and goes on vacation where he wants and I assume has to take care of himself. If you don’t have a happy family to start with, a vacation isn’t going to help it to be happier but will escalate the stress.

    When current hubby and I take our rare trips, it is wonderful what happens when two people work together to have an enjoyable time.

  14. ThiNg says:

    You are making a basic assumption: that vacations are only taken to relax.

    That’s not always the case. We take vacations to give the kids real life experiences OUTSIDE of their own backyards. I want my children to know that the world exists outside of my town and my province.

    You can’t assume that parents who are stressed on vacation are miserable. I’ve been stressed (they lost 2 suitcases and of course, they were the ones with all the boys stuff in them!) on vacation, but it had nothing to do with the kids!!

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