It’s almost summer vacation season. Families are planning where, when and how much they’ll spend on their treks away from home. Recently I did several interviews on family travel for Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. Most of the questions revolved around value, how to get the best vacation for the money. It got me thinking about strategies for planning the perfect vacation at the best value. Here are a few of my suggestions, in no particular order. I’d love to hear your strategies too.
1. Determine your ideal vacation. The first step in planning any vacation is to determine what your ideal experience looks like. Don’t limit yourself to budget at this point, determine what will make for the best memories, then begin researching how you can achieve the whole package, or as much of it as budget allows.
2. Use Social Media. If you have specific places you’d like to vacation, “like” them on Facebook, follow them on twitter and any other social networks. Resorts and attractions are getting savvy to social media. It’s a great way to find out what the resort offers before you get there and many times they’ll offer deals to their fans.
3. Look beyond accommodation prices. At Sandestin accommodations include 4 hours of bike rental, 1 hour of tennis court time plus kayak and boogie board rental. All things we would pay for once we got to the resort. Having it included in our accommodations is a great value for our family. Last year we visited Little St. Simons Island, a fantastic all-inclusive resort off the Georgia coast. LSSI is a nature lover’s paradise and prices include all sports, guided nature activities, gourmet meals, alcohol and gratuities. It was so nice to set the kids loose and not worry about costs or even tips – which always stress me out.
4. Determine the best accommodations for your family. Most people will save money on vacation by eating in. Many vacationers look for rooms with a mini-fridge and/or microwave to cook small meals, but have you ever thought about paying a little more to stay on the concierge level? Not only will you have a nicer room, but most have a free breakfast in the morning and cocktails at night down the hall from your room. The money you’ll save on a babysitter and drinks might just pay for your upgraded room.
5. Look to the local experts. Local blogs like Field Trips with Sue offer insight into activities that aren’t necessarily in the convention center guidebooks. Look online for local place blogs or sites that take submissions from numerous bloggers around the county to find one local to your destination. I contribute to two such sites Travel Savvy Mom and Traveling Moms. Other good sites include Vacation Gals, Trekaroo and Travel Mamas.
6. Set expectations. We’ve taken all kinds of vacations with our boys, some more budget than others. No matter where we go, we make sure the kids understand what we can do and what we can’t. We plan extra activities before the vacation so the kids can look forward to them and we can budget for them. Onsite, we give them a set amount for souvenirs – or let them know this trip we won’t be shopping. We do the same for treats. Letting them know we’ll get a treat once during our trip, but not every day.
7. Mix Paid and Inexpensive or Free Activities. Find some inexpensive things to do at your destination and mix those in to balance out the more expensive programs. We recently visited The Cloister at Sea Island, a luxury resort on the Georgia coast. Even this Forbes Five Star Hotel has a very affordable $5 movie each day that includes popcorn and a drink. At Disney World, there are free hula lessons and free movie nights with character appearances offering a break for your wallet.