BUSINESS | Budget vacations for families | Breaking News

A vacation can be one of the most memorable things a family can do together. Vacation memories can be wonderful or terrible, depending on many things. I remember great trips with my family, traveling to see my grandparents, or going camping or fishing.

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I remember one summer that we traveled for most of one summer. We spent much of that summer camping out as we made our way from Missouri around the western United States. We traveled to Arizona via Texas. After a month in Tucson, we headed over to San Diego and then up the west coast into Vancouver through Oregon and Washington. When we left Vancouver, we headed back into the U.S. through Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and back to Missouri in time for school. We kids call it the summer; our parents went crazy. What else could explain two adults even considering spending two and a half months in a car with four children? My mom and sisters slept in the car, and my dad, my brother, and I slept under the stars. We ate most of our meals off the car’s tailgate and spent every third night in a motel. We had to have a shower at some point to be able to stand one another! In retrospect, the cost of taking six people on vacation for two and a half months must have been high.

Creating a memorable vacation with your family doesn’t need to break the bank, but doing it requires some planning. The primary expenses are food, accommodation, and transportation. Here are a few tips for saving money on travel. Accommodation is often the most significant expense and being smart about those arrangements will make a big difference. Start with timing. The law of supply and demand is especially relevant in the vacation world. The more people who travel, the more expensive travel tends to be. If you can travel during off times, travel will be much cheaper. During the week and the off-season, you can find great travel deals.

If you travel as a family, an Air BnB can be a very economical way to travel. You can usually find something that can accommodate six people for the cost of a hotel room. Having a kitchen means you can prepare inexpensive meals or save leftovers from a restaurant meal to eat later.

When booking an Air BNB, take the time to read the reviews. They will let you know if there are problems with bugs or foul smells or if the accommodation is in a dangerous or seedy area. Check the restrictions. If you travel with pets, make sure you book something that allows pets. Otherwise, you could be turned away or hit with a hefty pet fee. The same thing is true of kids, although they are allowed more often than pets. Check the times you can check-in and check-out. If you arrive mid-week, early in the day, ask for early check-in. Once the housekeeping is complete, many hosts will let you check in an hour or two earlier or allow you to drop your luggage off. Most important: Check the extra fees. The great deal on an Air BNB can evaporate with add-on fees; the most common is housekeeping. I recently noticed that more and more rates quoted now include housekeeping. If anyone in your travel party insists on having Wi-Fi or cable TV, make sure you select a place that provides those. If a rate sounds too good to be true, it is. I just looked at a great property on the beach for $39 a night! When I checked the dates for the “exact price,” it was between $298 and $210. Do your research, Caveat Emptor!

If you repeatedly go to the same place, be an excellent guest and get to know your hosts. A lot of BNB Hosts prefer guests they know and may have a friends and family rates. You can become so familiar with a place that you know which weekends there is a fair or festival nearby, know the best restaurants nearby, and even have a favorite Uber or pedicab driver.

If you plan to spend every day at the beach, it makes sense to book something on or near the beach. One of my favorites was an Air BNB condominium on the beach with a pool. That way, I can get a swim in even if the gulf water is too warm or gross with jellyfish or vegetation. If activities other than the beach interest you, you can save money by staying further inland. Chances are your accommodation might be quieter as well.

Simple things can make a vacation much better. If you stay in a hotel, selecting one that offers breakfast can save money by covering that meal. If you like to sit around with friends and share a couple of beers, a hotel with a bar and reasonable prices can make a good evening even better. There is no need for an uber or designated driver, and when you’ve had enough, you just make your way up to your room.

Travel can also be a considerable travel expense. If your car is a gas guzzler or unreliable, you can make your trip cheaper by renting a car. GasBuddy is an app that will give you gas prices in an area. Driving around to save a few cents per gallon on gas doesn’t make sense but looking at prices to save $5.00 or so per fill-up could pay for coffee. If you want to go further away and go to a metropolitan area, consider Amtrak. A trip from New Orleans to Atlanta could cost you $39. Train travel is comfortable in the coach for about 6-8 hours. It is comfortable for longer if you opt for a sleeper, but more expensive. Foodservice varies, so check food service on the train you are riding on and bring snacks. I talked about air travel in last week’s article. Fares vary widely, and booking ahead can save you a lot of money. I’ve never been a fan of bus travel, but a return trip to Atlanta is $60, and it is possible to get on and off in much smaller towns than train travel allows. The final form of travel I’ll mention is ride-shares. I’ve had friends use this method of travel, but don’t recommend it. I know people I wouldn’t want to ride in a car with for hours. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a car with someone I found on the internet.

Entertainment can drain your bank account or cost you almost nothing. Walks on the beach and hiking in the hills can be fun and are free. If hiking, wear appropriate footwear and watch for snakes this time of year. Rollerblading, bowling, and even a movie can be inexpensive entertainment at a destination. Avoid the overpriced attractions that will drain your wallet. If the kids love waterparks, check if the one nearby has sunset hours. Some parks will let you in for a couple of hours at the end of the day for a fraction of the full day price. A couple of hours is enough for me anyway!

Listening to music is often free, whether walking downtown near the music venues or a street fair or sitting on a blanket at a music festival. The internet makes it easy to figure out what will be going on at your destination. I like to get everyone on the trip to pick something different to do. Sometimes all it takes for fun is a deck of cards or a small game.

Memphis, Pensacola, Galveston, and Birmingham are all within six hours, are interesting vacation spots, and make affordable destination locations. Let me know what fun things you find to do within six hours of Baton Rouge because I plan to do a little traveling this summer!

Cami Miller is a business coach. She works with executives, entrepreneurs, and family businesses to develop strategies for success. She can be reached at or 225-432-0454

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