Taking a fantastic vacation with your family can fuel your soul and give everyone some really fantastic memories. But, it’s so easy to overspend, and end up with credit card debt, or other financial trouble. With careful budgeting, you can make sure you understand your vacation expenses so you won’t end up overspending. With this family vacation budget guide, you’ll be able to make accurate and realistic budgets that’ll get you on track! No matter if your budget is large or small, this guide will help you make sure you stick to it!
Setting your Budget
The first thing, and the toughest part of budgeting, is setting your budget. The truth is almost everyone wants to spend more on their budget than we can really AFFORD. But it’s not worth getting yourself into financial trouble for one great vacation.
Take a look at your monthly household budget to determine what you can save towards your vacation. If you have any extra money coming your way, like a tax refund, overtime pay, or a bonus at work, perhaps you’ll want to put that extra cash towards your vacation. Or perhaps you are willing to give up some conveniences, like your daily Starbucks coffee, or eating out every weekend, to add a little extra to your savings account.
Save those pennies and it’ll really add up! If you can save $250 a month, you’ll be able to afford a $3000 vacation in one year. Setting that goal can be really helpful in motivating you to stick with it. Track your savings, or maybe even open a second savings account for your vacation fund so you can watch it grow.
Even if the number that you determine isn’t as big as you hope, don’t get frustrated. You can wait a little bit longer to get that budget up. Or just go for it and realize you can have fun on vacation with ANY budget. You won’t regret sticking with your budget and coming home refreshed instead of stressed out because you overspent.
Once you’ve got your budget set, the fun begins! Planning your vacation! As you start looking at your vacation options, doing a quick initial budget will keep you on track.
When I’m vacation planning, I pick a couple of vacation options I’m interested in and do a quick budget estimate for each of them. From there, I might find that some of them are over budget, and I’ll (sadly) take them off my list of options I’m considering. If some are a BIT high, I might assume I can cut some costs (stay at more budget-friendly hotel or cook rather than eating out) to reduce the costs to within my budget.
So lets jump in. Once you’ve chosen an option, or a few options, time to start taking a look at the costs.
Expenses to consider
One of the biggest problems with budgeting for a family vacation is that there are SO many (not so) little expenses that are easy to forget! Often, we think about just the hotel and flights, and forget how much we spend on ALL the other things, which can really get us in trouble. Here are some of the things you’ll need to consider when budgeting:
- Lodging: This can be a hotel, motel, resort, vacation rental, campsite, or potentially, the cost of a host gift, if you are staying with friends or family
- Transportation to Destination: Plane, train, or bus tickets. If you are driving, gas costs plus any hotel stays required for multi-day road trips
- Transportation at your destination: rental car fees and hotel parking fees, or airport to hotel transfers, Uber/Lyft or taxi fees, bus fares.
- Food and drink: Restaurants and groceries while on vacation
- Activities: Park passes, zoo tickets, admissions for any vacation activities
- Cost incurred at home: extra costs just because you aren’t at home, like pet sitting, house sitting, or lost wages if you need to take unpaid time off.
- Gear: Any gear you need to purchase or rent for your vacation (ski gear, hiking shoes, etc.)
- Miscellaneous expenses: This would include souvenirs, vacation insurance, any additional medical or medication costs, or any other costs.
When you first begin to plan a vacation, one super important step is to figure out if this specific trip falls into your budget.
Perhaps you have a maximum budget in mind. Perhaps you are planning well in advance and you need to know how much you need to save. Either way, you need to get a rough idea what the vacation will cost before you dive in. Otherwise, you can end up thousands over your budget, and in financial trouble because you’ve committed to costs that are way more than anticipated.
And for this first step, I like to do a really quick and simple estimate. It’s not perfect and has a LOT of room for adjustment, but it gives me some idea how far my money will go for this particular vacation. I can usually get an idea what a particular vacation is going to cost in about half an hour.
Step 1: Lodging costs
For a really quick and easy cost estimate, you can just go off of average room rates. For a standard hotel in the US, my family typically pays about $150/night. In the city (particularly for downtown or near attractions), prices go up to about $200. Resorts with pools and beach access typically cost more – $250 upwards.
Another easy way to start building a quick budget is to look at sites like these to get an initial estimate. They can give you an average estimated daily cost per person for your vacation, or a budget breakdown for hotel, meals, etc. When traveling with kids, I prefer to look at the broken down estimates to get a better idea.
If you are looking at particular (high end) resorts, vacation rentals, or other types of lodging, you might want to take do a quick Google search to get an idea on the costs. The prices can vary so much, so it’s best to just take a quick peak.
Step 2: Transportation to the destination
If you are flying:
If you just want a quick estimate, assume $200-300 for short flights (2 or 3 hours), $500 for longer domestic flights, and $800-1500 for international flights.
If you are driving
Estimating costs for long road trips is pretty straight forward. You can use Google maps to determine the miles you’ll need to travel. You can assume it costs about $0.25 per mile (not including any wear and tear on your car) for a road trip.
If it’ll be a multi-day road trip and you’ll need to stay at a hotel, you may want to add that cost as well.
Step 3: Transportation at your destination
If you are planning to rent a car, or will need transportation in one form or another, I typically would just plan on spending $300-500 per week.
Step 4: Food costs
When estimating food costs, travel cost estimators are super useful for estimating restaurant costs, especially for international destinations where costs are significantly different than here in the US. Or, for most destinations in the United States, I will often just assume the daily restaurant cost is $100-150/day for my family of 4 (two smaller children that don’t eat a ton) You might adjust this number based on what you’d typically spend at a restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you are planning to purchase groceries and eat out, I’d expect that groceries costs will be slightly higher than the cost at home, since you might need to purchase a few extra staples you’d already have at home. Also, you might want to buy some extra, pricier snacks since you’ll be in vacation mode. For a week away, plan on your normal weekly food budget x 1.3.
Optional- Step 5: Activities
If you are planning a trip to Disneyland or something similar where tickets are going to be a huge portion of your total vacation cost, you’ll definitely want to consider the cost even in your initial planning. Typically those costs are easy to figure out upfront, and then you can look for discounts later on.
If you don’t anticipate huge activity costs, you can just leave this cost out for now.
Optional- Step 6: Gear
If you KNOW you’ll need a bunch of gear, take a quick guess at what that costs. For example, if you are planning a ski trip, or just a trip to somewhere very cold, and no one in your family even owns a winter jacket, you’ll definitely want to include that cost in your budget.
But MOST of the time, you won’t need to consider the cost of gear. If you just need a few things (maybe one or two of your kids could use a new swimsuit), you can rent any gear you need, or you aren’t SURE if you need anything, just ignore that cost for now.
Step 7: Add everything up
Once you’ve accounted for the major expenses, add them all up, and 10-20% to account for some of the extra costs you DIDN’T estimate yet. This method isn’t going to give you a rock-solid number, but it gives you some idea what you need to save. And the great thing about it is the estimated cost is likely going to be high – so if you don’t like it, you can probably cut costs here and there as you start doing detailed planning to bring it down a little bit.
As you begin detailed planning of your vacation, budgeting is easy because you’ll know the exact costs of much of your vacation. However, it’s still really great to keep track of what you have already spent, and make sure you know what you still NEED to spend while on vacation.
Step 1: Weigh the options
As you begin detailed planning, and budgeting of your trip, make sure you have enough information to make decisions.
Flying vs driving
Super long road trips can put some significant wear on your vehicle, so considering those costs in your budget may be wise. You also don’t want to forget about hotels for multi-day road trips, the extra cost of food on the road, or even extra time off of work, if driving means extra travel time.
But, there are plenty of extra costs for flying too; luggage fees, overpriced airport food and drink, parking fees, and the cost of transportation AT your destination since you won’t have a car.
While driving is almost ALWAYS cheaper, it still makes sense to compare all the little costs when making a decision
Big resort or simple hotel
Big resorts come with a BIG price tag, BUT some have SO many amenities included that you won’t spend a dime on entertainment for your vacation. While simple hotels come with nothing more than a place to sleep, so you need to head out to find (and likely pay for) your own entertainment.
Renting a car or not?
When comparing rental cars to other modes of transportation, consider ALL the costs. For the rental car, you need to consider the cost of renting the car, parking fees (resort parking fees can be HIGH), the cost of gasoline, tolls, and more. If you choose to skip the car, look at the cost of airport transfers, expected Lyft/Uber rates, and if you have small children, also consider the hassle of moving a car seat every time and having to take it with you everywhere you go.
If you need any special gear, compare the cost of renting gear at your destination, versus the cost of bringing it with you (oversized luggage fees, shipping costs, or just extra luggage). And maybe the cost doesn’t matter- sometimes it’s just about convenience or personal preference. But definitely include any costs in your overall budget.
Paying a pet sitter can be expensive. But, if you chose the bring them, you’ll have to choose a hotel or vacation rental that allows pets, and even then, they may add a pet fee onto the nightly rate, add a nonrefundable pet cleaning fee, or both.
Sometimes moving your dates by just a day or two can make a significant difference in the price. Or, for even bigger savings, consider moving your trip from high season (Summer, spring break, or Christmas) to low or shoulder season.
There may be other options you’ll need to consider, but hopefully you understand the basic idea now and can continue with this analysis for your trip.
Step 2: Sum up known expenses
As you progress in vacation planning and budget creation, you’ll likely have nailed down at least some of your costs. Make sure you keep track of all those costs, and write them down to understand the complete vacation budget.
If you haven’t yet booked your flight, you’ll still want to make sure the estimated cost is in your budget. Do a quick Google search for the flights on or around the dates you want. Google flights has this great feature where you can see how the current flight cost compares to typical costs for that flight. Plan on costs being in the ‘typical’ range, rather than ‘low’ because you never know if they’ll drop that low when it comes time to book, and it’s better to have a little extra money in the budget than not enough. If you are looking only a few weeks in advance, flights will likely be higher than average.
Keep in mind that flight prices vary by day of the week, so if you are dead set on flying out on a Friday, look at Friday flights since they are often the most expensive.
When estimating flight costs, do a quick scan, but don’t plan on being able to buy the CHEAPEST flight out there, especially if you are traveling with younger children. Just get a realistic idea what the costs will be. Then round up a bit because things always end up costing more than you expect.
If you haven’t yet chosen your hotel, do a deep dive into what type of hotel you want. Beach hotels are going to cost a lot more than those a mile inland. Hotels on-site or walking distance from Disney will cost more than those which require driving. So as you create your budget, make sure you are considering the right type of hotel.
My family typically picks a hotel or a place to stay pretty early. So perhaps, you’ve already chosen or at least narrowed it down to a couple of options. Great! That just means you have a better number in your overall budget
Other costs at home
Don’t forget about those un-fun costs that you incur just because you aren’t at home. You might need a pet-sitter, or a house-sitter while you are gone. Perhaps you don’t have paid time off so you’ll need to take unpaid time off for your vacation. Consider any other costs that my apply to you and your family just because you aren’t at home.
Step 3: Estimate the costs for what you’ll spend ON vacation
The next part of your family vacation budget process is a little bit trickier. Even though you may have already accounted for the BIGGEST costs of your vacation, you can end up spending a LOT more than you expect on things like food, parking, souvenirs, and more.
Food and drinks
For resorts, or tourist areas that are known to be high-cost, like Hawaii or Disney, I like to spend a little bit of time, before my vacation, looking into some of the restaurants at which my family might eat. For resorts where we plan to eat on-site most of the time, I look over the prices at all the restaurants to get an idea what we’ll spend every day. That gives me an idea what costs will be, AND helps me determine where I can reduce my expenses.
I am a classic overplanner, but honestly, it’s really helpful to do some planning, even with restaurants, to make sure you end up at a place you and your family will enjoy, and you won’t end up spending more than you wanted to.
You probably won’t want to spend hours coming up with a food budget. But if you come up with a reasonable daily budget, and add in any meals you expect will be MUCH more expensive, you should have a pretty good idea what you’ll end up spending.
Parking and Transportation
Don’t forget to look into parking fees at your hotel. Resorts, or downtown hotels often have parking fees at high as $50/night. Because the fees can be so high, you’ll definitely want to add those fees into your overall budget.
If you’ve chosen not to rent a car, spend a few minutes taking a look at your other transportation options, and get an idea of what you can expect to pay for your outings.
If you are heading to Disneyland or Disneyworld, you probably already considered your activity cost since they’ll be a BIG portion of your overall budget. But even if your activity costs aren’t going to be HUGE, you’ll want to consider them. For families, even a day at the zoo or aquarium can be a pretty big cost.
When planning out your daily activities, take a look at the admissions costs for all of them. Even if you aren’t 100% sure which activities you’ll do, it helps to keep track of the costs, and include them in your budget, where it makes sense. It’s easy to overspend when you don’t have a plan.
I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of souvenirs. But my kids love getting something, and I know it’s a big highlight for many people. However, since it’s a not a necessity, you can 100% choose your budget. Then the only tough part is sticking to the budget you’ve chosen!
After you’ve returned home from your vacation, hopefully after an amazing family trip, it’s great to look back on what you spent. Add up everything you spent and compare it to your budget. How’d you do? Were you way off on any of your estimations? You might also take some time think about if the costs were worthwhile. Was the expensive resort or tour, or a fancy restaurant worth the cost?
Going over your actual costs will help you create a better family vacation budget in the future, and make sure it’s one you’ll actually be able to stick with as well!