How My Family Travels the US on a Shoestring Budget

Learn this parent's tricks for spending less on a fun vacation.

Travel has long been a favorite pastime of mine. When my husband and I met, we were united by our shared love of a great vacation, especially if it featured delicious food, good sightseeing and ample relaxation time.

Now that we’re a family of three, our money, time and energy are all a little bit tighter, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a great time traveling. We just need to be a little bit more thoughtful in our trip planning. And using resources like a recent GOBankingRates study on the best and worst U.S. vacation cities for your wallet helps us decide on travel destinations.

Here are some of our favorite tips for planning a great, family-friendly vacation that doesn’t break the bank.

Check Out Places off the Beaten Path

Did you know that San Antonio, which ranks No. 3 in the GOBankingRates study, has world-class restaurants and an incredible historic scene? And that Denver (No. 6) has some of the best microbreweries in the country?

Other less obvious but totally fantastic vacation towns include Milwaukee; Detroit; Orlando, Fla.; and San Jose, Calif. Choosing a location slightly off the beaten path is a great way to save money and discover unexpectedly amazing places.

For more ideas, check out the map below to see the 10 best and worst vacation cities in the U.S.

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View Apart / Shutterstock.com

Don’t Miss: The Most Underrated Travel Spot in Every State

Visit Expensive Destinations During the Offseason

Our August Maui trip cost us significantly less than if we had chosen to go in December, and the reason makes sense: People flock to warm-weather locales when it’s cold where they live. But because we were cool with trading warm for warm, we scored a sweet deal on our flights.

Timing Is Everything: The Most Expensive Times to Visit All 50 States

Eat Breakfast in Your Hotel Room or Rental Home

Skipping restaurant breakfasts on vacation is an easy way to save a serious amount of cash. After tax and tip, the average bill for a breakfast of eggs, pancakes, fruit, milk and coffee for a family of three is around $40, and a week of breakfasts like this will put you back $280. Because lunch and dinner tend to be more interesting anyway, save your money for the latter two meals of the day, and eat breakfast in your hotel room or Airbnb.

When we travel, we pick up a couple of cereal boxes (usually one healthy cereal and one sugary one), milk and a bag of ground coffee for less than $20. Even better: Sometimes, we’ll stay somewhere with a kitchen and cook a proper breakfast for a tiny fraction of what we’d pay in a restaurant.

Check Out: The Most and Least Affordable Cities for Foodies

Stay Somewhere With a Kitchen

Last summer, we went on a fabulous Hawaiian vacation to Maui. The beaches were gorgeous, the snorkeling was perfect and the mai tais were potent. But my favorite part? Grilling fresh fish and making mango-pineapple smoothies in our condo kitchen for way less than what we’d pay at local restaurants. It was the perfect way to enjoy the local specialties and support the farmers market near our vacation rental without paying premium restaurant prices.

Traveling well doesn’t have to be an out-of-reach luxury when you’re trying to save money. With a little smart planning and some creative organization, your family can go on amazing vacations that work with any budget.

Click through to read more about the best and worst airlines for cheap flights.

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