Top 10 Cost-Cutting Vacation Tips

Tips to help s-t-r-e-t-c-h your vacation dollars!

Art of Animation Resort Pool
••• Who needs the theme parks when you can play in this colorful Nemo-themed pool at Disney's Art of Animation Resort. © Dawn Henthorn, licensed to About.com

I haven't always been good at planning vacations. My husband and I had to cut our honeymoon short because we planned too many activities and ran out of money. That should have been a sign of things to come. Sure enough, a year later we arrived home from our very first week-long vacation as a married couple a day early and with less than a dollar in our pockets. So, you might say I've learned the hard way that a budget has to be one of the most important considerations when planning a vacation.

While travel costs continue to spiral upward it is even more important than ever to plan vacations with your budget in mind. I'm sharing these cost-cutting measures that I've learned over the years in the hope that they help your vacation dollars go farther.

1. Purchase necessities BEFORE you leave and save!

It's the little things that add up — little things like sunscreen, toothpaste or even a simple aspirin. If you forget these items, expect to pay a premium for them at your destination, particularly if purchase them at your hotel or resort. A five dollar disposable camera at the neighborhood drug store can cost as much as $20 at a resort.

Tip: If you must leave necessities behind because of packing restrictions, make sure you have a list of what you need and stop at a discount store before you get to your destination hotel or resort.

2. RENT a condo or home instead of a hotel room!

This is the single most cost effective measure that a family, especially large families, can take when planning a vacation.

Renting a home or condo is easy on the budget in many ways. Besides saving on the actual lodging cost, being able to prepare some meals yourself will cut back on the number of expensive restaurant meals you consume.

If you've never rented a home or condo before, don't let the task intimidate you. Vacation Rental 101 answers every question you might have and follows up how to find a vacation rental and what you need to consider before you rent.

3. Spend the day away from the attractions.

You're paying for that hotel swimming pool... use it! Or, spend the day at the beach or a nearby museum. Also, the shopping areas near the major attractions (like Disney Springs) have children's play areas, providing an inexpensive day of fun for the little ones.

Tip: Visiting Disney World? Forget the theme parks and simply enjoy your resort hotel, the themed swimming pools and exploring Disney World via some pretty fun transportation.

4. Find an ALTERNATIVE to airport parking.

Have friends drop you at the airport or consider a "Park & Fly Package" at a hotel close to the airport. Just one night's stay includes free parking from a few days up to two weeks, depending on the package. Usually a free shuttle to the airport is included.

5. Rental CAR Tips

While renting a car can sometimes save you money over using airport shuttles or save on the wear and tear of your own vehicle, there are also pitfalls that everyone should consider:

  • Avoid airport car rentals when possible! Airport surcharges and taxes are often nearly double that of off-site car rentals. It might be cheaper to take a cab to a nearby car rental off airport property.
  • While a coupon for a free upgrade might sound like a good deal... beware. These larger models often do not get good gas mileage and will cost you more in fuel costs.
  • If you are planning on renting a vehicle for five or more days, check weekly rental rates. You can often save as much as 25-30 percent compared with paying for a five- to seven-day rental on the daily rate.
  • Check your insurance coverage before leaving home. Not taking insurance coverage at the counter can save as much as $10 to $15 a day. Many personal insurance policies offer liability coverage or cover rental-car coverage. Also, some credit card providers have a built-in protection for rental car insurance.
  • Check whether your hotel or resort charges for parking. You might eat up any savings on airport shuttles if your hotel or resort charges for parking.

6. LIMIT expenditures for limitless fun!

Have a small budget, but want BIG family fun? Take it to the limit with money saving tips! Although they all start with the word limit, they go a long way to ensure limitless fun and enjoyment on a limited budget.

7. You gotta EAT!

Sure, you've got to eat, but you can take a few budget shortcuts here without feeling deprived by trying these tips:

  • Stay where breakfast is free.
  • If you are driving, pack a cooler with drinks and snacks. Packing sandwiches for lunch at a rest stop gives the kids a chance to run off their pent up energy and can be healthier than fast food.
  • Split meals. Children are many times too excited or tired to eat much at a time. Restaurants that are kid friendly are more than happy to accommodate special requests for extra plates.
  • Eat lunch in your room. You'll be surprised how good a peanut butter sandwich, chips, and fresh fruit tastes away from home, and everyone gets a needed break from the heat and crowds of tourist destinations.
  • Do not use the mini bar in your hotel room!
  • Take advantage of coupons, but be sure to read the fine print.
  • Order take out and eat that pizza watching a beautiful sunset from your balcony or at the picnic table by the pool. Bring your own drinks for a cost-cutting measure.
  • Bring along individual refillable water bottles. These can be refilled at the hotel and at attraction water fountains. A family of four could easily spend $20 or more a day buying bottled water.

Tip: Did you know you can ask to have the hotel mini bar cleared out so you can store your own drinks or milk for the children?

8. Take advantage of multi-day passes at the attractions!

Under most circumstances, combination multi-park tickets that include one or more theme park or attraction can save money. Multi-park tickets are available at Disney World and Universal Orlando. Do your homework for just about any destination in Florida and you should be able to come up with a variety of great deals, including Miami and Orlando Go Cards. Florida residents should consider the Fun Card if they are planning a visit to Busch Gardens or SeaWorld Orlando.

9. TAME the gimmies!

You can tame the "gimmes", and your pocketbook at the same time, by giving children a pre-set spending limit for souvenirs.

Think outside the box to find inexpensive souvenirs. We invested in autograph books (about $6 at most attractions) and watched the fun as our girls collected the "autographs" of their favorite characters. Best of all, they have become cherished keepsakes.

10. Take ADVANTAGE of coupons!

Whether it is for lodging, food, or attractions – coupons SAVE money! Find them everywhere... online, in local newspapers, at convenience stores, motels, etc. Always read the fine print carefully for terms of the coupon.