It goes without saying that holidays can be expensive – particularly when you have an entire family heading off on an adventure.  In fact, compared to when you travelled solo or as a couple, the cost of a typical family holiday seems almost insurmountable. Tallying up just how much money is required to take the kids on a dream holiday can be enough to kill your dream entirely. Luckily, we have some great tips to help you with your family travel budget and planning your dream vacation!

Well, with a little planning, preparation and sacrifice (yes, you can’t really get around that one!) it is possible to save enough to travel with your family. You may have to wait a bit longer to have your dream holiday, or be more flexible in your requirements, but you CAN get there.

Affording your dream vacation IS possible. Here's our best tips to make your family travel budget and planning not only easier, but a reality.

1. Start with a clear family travel budget and savings plan

Affording a holiday doesn’t magically happen, so we we create our own magic by tackling our finances in a logical and systematic way. Developing a savings plan early, and taking advantage of any windfalls that might happen along the way are important elements in our savings plan. In fact, we made budgeting for our family travel part of our household budgeting process (we live an exciting life!) – and so can you. Here are four keys to helping get your savings on track to ensure you can afford your next family vacation:

  1. Understand your household budget. Take control and get to know where your money is going. There is no advantage to relying on guess work or burying your head in the sand and hoping you can afford your bills and still travel – trust us, this will only lead to disappointment! Know what your expenses are, learn where you can save on things, and work out what your real potential travel savings are. Only by doing this can you identify how much you can save for your next trip.
  2. Set up a dedicated bank account and send your savings straight to it every pay. Establishing an automatic transfer or direct debit to this savings account will get it out of your “everyday” bank account and remove the temptation to spend it. Don’t carry the account card around with you to make it even harder to spend the savings!
  3. Take advantage of any bonus money that might come your way. If you receive holiday loading or are lucky enough to receive a tax refund or other financial windfall, send it to your holiday fund account too. Don’t waste it! We’ve gotten in the habit of not buying expensive birthday and Christmas gifts for each other (we still can’t help spoiling the kids and rest of the family), and instead save the money. We haven’t been shy in telling family that we really don’t need anything and would be happy with money. Some people have an issue with receiving or giving money as gifts, but when your house is already full of stuff, don’t be shy in at least mentioning it.
  4. Continue your savings after your trip! When you return from an awesome holiday the euphoria will last only a short time before you start yearning to escape again. Rather than falling into old (bad) habits, keep up your budgeting and saving regime and stuck into saving for your next holiday (because you always want a holiday after having a holiday, right?)

Having a savings plan will help keep you accountable. When you see where your money is going and just how much is wasted (think about the coffees you buy, the treats at the servo, the extras that fall into your trolley when doing the groceries) you will be glad to see that money accumulate in a savings account instead. Trust me.

We use a detailed travel savings spreadsheet to track our income and expenditure, with all the calculations automated so it is a breeze to see how much we are saving for our next trip. You can get your own copy of the travel savings workbook from our FREE family travel resources library. Grab it here:

2. Choose your dream destination and keep everyone inspired

Knowing how much you can save will give you a really good indicator as to where you might go, and when you can go. If you use the travel savings workbook you will have a really good idea of how long it will take to save for your trip, and how much you will have to spend on it so you can make an informed decision. The next difficult task will be deciding where you want to go (which is a post for another time), but our advice is set your sights high! Dream! Revisit your bucket list and choose somewhere that you and your family will love. Travelling to exotic places that you’ve always wanted to visit is a powerful motivator and knowing you are going to make your dreams literally come true will keep you strong while you save.

Here are three great tips to keep your enthusiasm bubbling to the surface while you save for your family vacation:

  1. Create a Pinterest board for your destination and fill it with inspiring images and great articles. Go mad! Seek out articles about must-see-sights and potential tourist-traps. This is a great way to gradually reveal the best places to go and identify the must-go places to visit on your holiday.
  2. Put together a vision board or a visual reminder to hang above your desk, in your room, in the hallway or even in the kitchen. We have two giant maps in our kitchen and stick pins in the places we want to go – it may be a bit of a cliche but the kids love looking at them and asking questions about the places with pins. Having a constant physical reminder of your goal will help keep you motivated to save.
  3. Do some reading or watching or listening related to the destination. Read a book set in the place you want to visit, or if your planning a cruise, road trip, train journey or similar find a great story that takes place on that kind of transport. perhaps find one about , or a collection of travel writing, or find a new favourite blog with articles about the place. Take time to undertake research once a week to fan the flames of your enthusiasm. This could involve pinning to your boards, reading a travel article or blog, or borrowing a book from the library.

3. Budget for everything

The big expenses associated with family travel are pretty obvious – transport, accommodation, travel insurance, food, cute souvenirs… but there are plenty of other expenses that will need to be covered, even while you’re relaxing on golden sands on the other side of the world. While you are busy saving for your trip, make sure you take time to consider the smaller expenses that you may encounter, plus the things you will have to pay for at home while you are away. Some expenses that we have almost forgotten in the past include:

  • pet kenneling
  • airport car parking
  • car seat hire (we lost ours one time!)
  • holding of mail
  • regular childcare costs to secure our place while we were away
  • SIM cards and a dongle for our phones and laptop
  • overseas power adaptors
  • additional luggage & excess baggage fees (be careful how many books you buy while travelling is all I can say)
  • normal household expenses (mortgage, utilities, rates, etc)

Considering some of these additional expenses during the planning stages will ensure you have a healthy cash flow (I can’t believe I just used that term) while you are away. Now, you will never be able to predict every expense that will arise, so keep a little “emergency” funds in your budget too. How much is enough in an emergency fund is going to depend on your family’s particular circumstances, where you are travelling to and for how long. On our last big adventure we combined our “spending money” and emergency fund, and balanced it out as we went so that we always had some money up our sleeve for a surprise expenses, whether it was a fancy dinner, visiting an attraction we discovered or a real emergency. The bonus with this approach was we arrived home and still had money in our pocket (which we put straight back into our savings!).

You’ll find an in-depth list of potential travel costs as part of our travel savings workbook.

4. Book the big and/or important bits now

We are in favour of “locking in” the major parts of our holidays such as main accommodation, airfares, that kind of thing. This is two fold – we make sure we get what we want, and it makes the trip “real” once you have booked something. We learnt our lesson about booking big-ticket experiences a few years ago on our trip to New Zealand when we didn’t book our tour of Hobbiton (from The Lord of the Rings films) far enough in advance. We were all very disappointed to have missed out on this experience.

Do be aware that some of these big expenses will require a deposit (or even full payment) when or shortly after you book, so you may need to have some savings before you take this step. Planning and budgeting for your trip can be a balancing act!

One question that comes up a lot is how, when and where to book. With the rise of online services and websites to assist with your holidays, it is very easy to book most of your trip yourself – and get some pretty good deals too. We always use online services for our shorter domestic holidays as it is fast and convenient. Having said that, we still find value in visiting travel agents, too. When booking international trips, particularly when visiting multiple destinations, we have consulted a travel agent for advice. I’ve always valued the input of travel agents when we are looking to visit somewhere new as they usually have the necessary knowledge and experience to help us make the most of our trip. We worked with an agent on our last big trip to the US and she was able to solve a number of problems we had been struggling with, including booking a family suite to accommodate five on a cruise ship.

While our travel agent was able to get us some good deals, we also optimised our savings by doing a lot of research ourselves. Going to the agent prepared and informed allowed us to clearly explain what we wanted and made the whole process straightforward.

If you really want to save money you can do it all yourself – you just need to be well organised, be brave and do your research to make sure you are getting the best deal and the best value for your money.

Otherwise you could try what we did and enjoy the best of both worlds. Either way, you are sure to get some awesome deals.

5. Keep an eye out for low cost travel options, specials and last minute deals

The internet is a wondrous thing and there are many sites out there that specialise in last minute deals. If you are looking for a holiday closer to home or on a whim, the usual suspects like Wotif, Stayz, Lastminute and Expedia can really bring up some awesome deals.

Personally we like using Airbnb to secure home-like accommodation for our family while we are away. With 3 kids we often need to book 2 rooms at hotels or book early to secure the limited number of family rooms available – it can make things tricky.  So we love being able to secure self-contained accommodation that can house us all in a family friendly environment for less than the cost of a typical hotel.

Coupon and deals sites also offer great specials that could save you hundreds of dollars. Scoopon, Living Social, Groupon, All the Deals, Travel Factory, Best Travel Deals and TravelZoo are just some of the sites you can join in order to pounce on travel deals when the moment is right.

6. Look for low cost and free family activities

One way to get more out of your family vacation is to opt for cheap or free activities. A bit of online research can very quickly turn up some real gems that will let you get a lot more holiday than you originally thought possible! Just search for free + kids + activities + destination and you will be spoilt for choice.

Some of our favourite low cost or free locations / activities / attractions include:

  • museums
  • art galleries
  • parks & playgrounds
  • beach
  • plane & train spotting
  • travelling on a train, bus or ferry
  • libraries
  • geocaching
  • park run, yoga or other public exercise activities
  • shopping centres
  • sightseeing on foot

There are so many ways you can enjoy any location for little to no cost. All you need to do is take the time to research the options at your destination and open your mind to all the possibilities.

7. Make notes for next time

Our final piece of advice isn’t a tip for planning your next vacation, but the one after that! Keep a diary, make some notes, or write some awesome Facebook updates along your way. If you are anything like us, you will get back home refreshed and reinvigorated, and ready for another adventure! Looking back over the things you did is not only a great way to keep you inspired as you work toward your next family trip, it is also a great learning tool. What worked? What expenses came up that you need to remember for next time? What did you love doing? We discovered on one trip that our entire family loves observatories – not something we would have ever predicted!

So thats it – our best family travel budget and planning tips.  We use all these strategies every time we travel. It keeps us focused on our goal, motivated to work for it, and able to enjoy it once we get to wherever we are going. Don’t forget we have a really useful budgeting and savings workbook for download. We find it invaluable in our everyday lives (not just for planning our holidays), and you can grab it for FREE by filling out the yellow form below.

Do you have any suggestions for making your family travel budget a reality? How do you go about planning your family adventure? We would love to hear from you so leave a comment below!