Tuesday, April 20, 2021

O.k. friends, you don’t know this about me but I have planned many a family road trip on the cheap. I really enjoy doing this planning, too!

I thought this might be a good time to write about this since many of you are getting vaccinated and may be ready to go somewhere safely. It isn’t too late to rent a property for this summer. Or, you can choose to do a hotel. Heck, places are probably begging for people to visit.

Since I have had this blog, we have not traveled much so you haven’t gotten to hear about our family trips. Get those trips in before high school, because when high school starts, activities abound and schedules become harder and harder to work around. Yes, even in the summer there are so many things in the lives of high schoolers.

We took trips most Spring Breaks and one week every summer from the time our twins were about 2 until they were 14. Sometimes on Spring Break we wouldn’t do a big trip, but we would go to Great Wolf Lodge for a night or do something small. We also did lots of summer and fall camping – tent camping. I joked that Tom picked either the hottest night of the summer or the coldest night of fall to go camping. It is tons of work and you never sleep well, but we have good memories!

We traveled exclusively by car with our kids until our two week Germany trip in the summer of 2016. Air travel seemed too complicated and pricey and we don’t mind driving. Also, our kids were great car riders.

The ol’ family truckster:

Another advantage to driving is you can take more stuff!

So, my number one tip to save money is to drive.

We have traveled by car with our kids to:

Myrtle Beach

Okaloosa Island

Panama City

Disney World



Washington, D.C. which included Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, Pennsylvania, and Maryland


Colonial Williamsburg

Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island National Seashore

Jamestown, Monticello, Mount Vernon

Harry Potter World, Everglades, The Florida Keys and a boat trip to Fort Jefferson two hours south of The Keys

Siesta Key

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Hilton Head Island

Lake Michigan – at least five times maybe more?


With me being a teacher and the boys in school, we were limited to Spring Break and summer. We don’t have a Fall Break in our district.

Lake Michigan Beach:

We love Lake Michigan. We can be there in under 5 hours and it is so pleasant in the summer. There is no salt water, no sharks, and the temperature is perfection. One time we booked a sailboat on Lake Michigan with a captain and one time the boys took surfing lessons on Lake Michigan!

We have taken our dog on many vacations. We didn’t take our first dog Archie much, but we have taken Ernie on at least 5 trips in his 8 years! Ernie has been to Lake Michigan 3 times and to Dauphin Island, Alabama.

-Decide where you want to go. Don’t rule out places closer to home. You will save on gas and you can maximize your time at your destination when you don’t waste a whole day or more driving! If your destination is far, you can divide it up in two days and find something interesting to do along the way. We usually only did about 7-8 hours a day in the car which made us all much happier. My kids even enjoyed a hotel for a night and we found reasonable rates. Give a kid a hotel room and a pool and they think they are at a water park!

-Don’t just think beach. City trips can be really fun! What are your kids studying in school? Is there a place they have expressed interest in seeing? On two of our Lake Michigan trips, we took the train (an adventure in itself) into Chicago for the museums. I like city combined with beach!

Amtrak train from New Buffalo, Michigan to Chicago:

The kids were impressed with the outlets to charge their phones and their mom was impressed with the bar car on the train!


-Save money by only staying for 4-5 nights. You don’t have to stay a whole week and sometimes a shorter trip can be just as refreshing. Some rentals make you do a full week if it’s in high season.

-I used VRBO for all of our rentals when we didn’t do hotels. The filters are great – check the boxes for the things you must have in a rental. Read the reviews. If there is even one negative review, do not do it! There are so many dog friendly rentals, too. Decide what are your non-negotiables and put those in the filter. One year we did a one bedroom and gave the boys the bedroom and we did the pull out couch in the living room where the t.v. was. The boys were 3 and it made sense and saved lots of money.

-Rent a place with another family. This makes it much more affordable. Bonus if you really like the people, have kids the same age, etc.

-Rent a place with washer and dryer. It’s so nice to pack lightly and have that available but don’t get into a trap like my sister does with doing laundry just as much on vacation as you do at home!

-I prefer houses that are run by people rather than rental companies. I have found the ones run by owner have spices, baggies, aluminum foil, and more for you to use. They often have strollers, wagons, beach toys, beach chairs, etc. One rental we used even had a lock box on the beach which was amazing! We didn’t have to haul stuff each day.

-If you have space, bring stuff for a couple of meals and possibly your breakfast and sandwich stuff from home. If you have a long drive, you will not want to worry about finding dinner. Or, order pizza the first night.

-Pack a cooler for the car so you don’t have to stop unless you want to.

-I always made activity bags for the boys to do in the car. Sometimes I put the state names on each bag so they could only open it when we crossed that state line. Example: bag with Tennessee on it contained a coloring book and crayons and they got to open it when we saw the state sign.

-When you do go out to eat, try to go at off times. We would have an early light lunch and then go out for dinner at 4:00 or 5:00. Ain’t nobody got time for a 2 hour wait on vacation.

-Do your research before you go. Make a list of restaurants with their addresses, possibly look for Groupons for that area, check attractions’ hours, etc. Also, if you do bring your pet, check the beach hours for dogs. Ernie was not allowed on the beach after 11 and then couldn’t be on the beach until 7. This worked out well as we took him on long walks on the beach (so romantic!) in the morning and he was worn out and ready to nap when we went for the day. After dinner, it got us back on the beach at sunset and he got another walk. We always meet other dogs for him to play with, too. Ernie really has it good, no?

Tom and Ernie enjoying a long walk on the beach:

What tips have I forgotten?

Can you recommend some great places to visit? My boys aren’t really beach people these days. Tom is also not really a beach person. He has to be pretty active and can do water sports but doesn’t really want to lay on the beach. I can definitely lay on a beach, but I like some sight seeing, shopping, history, you know?

Thanks for reading!


20 thoughts on “Budget Vacation Tips

  1. Great tips Amy! I prefer driving too because I love packing all the things and having a car at my disposal. When our boys were younger we always went on trips with our best friends and did all the great things like DC and we even went to the Outer Banks. We have flown to NYC and Chicago and enjoyed ourselves so much. We vacationed in the mountains in TN too each year and that was always a blast. I love AirBnB too, so much more comfortable to have a house rather than a hotel!


    1. That is very true. We would not want the added expense of rental car. That is so fun that you saw so much. It really does change as they get older, right?


  2. Hey Amy! I love these tips – thanks so much for this post. We still have pretty young kids (twins age 5 and son age 7) and I am going to pin this post so I can refer back to it when we start traveling again. We’re in Wilmington, NC so are lucky to have lots of great beaches around. We’ve rented 2 beach houses close-by during the pandemic and I 100% agree with your advice to do 4-5 nights only. We are all usually worn out and ready to be home by then, ha! I remember reading that you took your boys to Disney on the cheap when they were little and so I’m starting to research that for next Feb/spring break. Disney intimidates me – I’ve never been there and am looking forward to seeing it.


    1. You are welcome! You are at a great stage to travel, I think! Fun ages! I love Wilmington, NC and have been there with hub before kids. I did do Disney for $1400 for 4 nights. I should get out pictures and talk about it. I will try to do that! But, so much has changed since we went so I am not sure it would be a great post! Some of the tips might still apply. Get the book Disney with kids 2021 from the library – it gets updated each year and it is what I used. Heck, it is probably a website now!


  3. This post is amazing! So many great tips! You all have been so many places! I’m so thankful that my kids are older and pack (with a list from me) and we don’t need all the entertainment and snacks in the car like when they were little. I totally agree with going somewhere for 4-5 days, seeing what’s close by, etc. Sometimes we go somewhere nicer for a few days for what would cost somewhere cheaper for a week. I’m so thankful we’ve used most fall and spring breaks to take the kids somewhere besides the beach. My travel list is long. I’d still like to go to NYC, DC, Lake Michigan, Nantucket, And I’ve thought Arizona or San Antonio – river walk would be fun to visit one spring break (but we’d have to fly)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I wish I had time to find more pictures! I gave mine a list too but checked before they put in bag. We don’t get a fall break! The kids get a 4 day weekend but teachers have to work and it stinks.
      I want to go to all those places you named, too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My former district gets a week long fall break! I never needed a week at that point in the year but wish we get more than a four day weekend in my current district. I always check their bags too 😂


      2. I would like Thanksgiving to be a whole week instead of us going 2 days. I would be fine with a 4 day weekend in October, too, if teachers can have it off, too!


  4. Great post! My ideal trip is usually 5 nights, and we like to eat a big breakfast and then a mid-afternoon lunch/dinner. I’m different from some other people – I prefer to fly, and I like to stay in hotel. Having the room cleaned everyday and restaurant meals is a real treat for me! You can really drive to a lot of vacation spots from your area of the country!


    1. I agree with the cleaning and meal making, cleaning up. It has been different this past year as not servicing rooms daily. Just another change and things to be grateful for when this ends.


    2. I miss my dog after 5 nights! You make a good point about a hotel and I could handle that right about now! We can but you have to get out of the giant state of Texas first, right? Lol!


  5. Wow, you’ve traveled a lot! I’ve seen a lot of Europe, but when it comes to America I’ve only been to Florida, Los Angeles and New York. My kids have only been to Florida, and for a long time they thought that all of America is tropical! 😀


    1. A decent amount but even more with my original family – mom, dad, sisters. Ha – that is funny! Maybe you can do another city in the US soon. There are many driveable places near Florida if you are comfortable driving?


      1. We are absolutely comfortable driving, but we are a bit lazy… You know, we have traveled all the way from Sweden, we are in the middle of paradise… why go anywhere else!? My husband has seen a lot of Florida, but I haven’t. Of course we have to go down to the keys one day. I’m just afraid that it will be to touristy…


      2. You are here for so long in the summer that I really think you should plan a trip and I can help you come up with ideas. The Keys are so worth it. We drove down the middle of Florida and did a swamp boat ride in the Everglades, then drove all of the keys taking our time and stopping at as many places as we could. It was one of my favorite trips. We also took a boat ride to an American fort 2 hours south of Key West. Unforgettable! We snorkeled after touring the fort. It is where they incarcerated the doctor who worked on John Wilkes Booth who shot Lincoln. I didn’t think it was too touristy!


  6. Thank you for the tips! We love to travel and have been to England, Germany, Switzerland, Italy France, Austria, Greece, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, Kenya, Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Most of our states here in U.S. Typing that out I should be able to pack better, but just flew to FL as are fully vaccinated and WAY overpacked. Ugh. We drove to FL end of February, as not vaccinated yet, and loved being able to bring all the things and take our time. We love driving trips, but lack time as not retired so usually fly. It has been nice to bring the sleep machine, pillows, special creamers, food, as drove to Lake Superior a lot this past year as in our state and so beautiful. We like to take cruises and have missed that. We get to unpack and wake up in a different place each day. We love the beach so Caribbean is a favorite. I would recommend Yellowstone, Black Hills, and Glacier Parks and area as we love to hike and the natural beauty. We were able to visit Banff, Glacier and Lake Louise in September 2019, my 50th birthday, and it was stunning! We want to go back as soon as borders open. Headed back to Napa/Sonoma area in July for my husband’s 50th and staying at a resort as have cooked and cleaned up all the meals this past year and want to eat at their amazing restaurants and not clean floors and such. We have like VRBO’s when we have used them.


    1. You should give me tips! I love to pack, too! Our family went to Germany with just carry on luggage for two weeks and it was so liberating. We did have access to washing machine.
      I have been to many more places with my family growing up- I have been to Glacier National Park and it is beautiful. My hub has been to Banff and Lake Louise. It sounds like you have made the best of it!


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