Plan ahead and travel where it's in off season, and you can save big money on your family trip this summer.

Taking an entire family on vacation is expensive. Theme parks can easily run you into the thousands if you are staying in a hotel. Flying anywhere is also costly, especially if you are going to a place that is popular in the summer months. And let’s not forget meals at restaurants.

So how does a family on a tight budget take a summer vacation? You have to be smart about it — and if at all possible, plan far ahead.

Plan ahead

This has almost never happened in our family. We won’t plan something, and then, I’m not even kidding, the Wednesday before a 3-day weekend my husband will say that he wants to go somewhere and we should start looking. By then, all hotels are booked or cost a ton of money.

However, a lot of people we know book in advance when they are thinking about taking a vacation. This helps with things like airfare and hotel prices. So if you are a plan-ahead family, you are one step ahead of the game.

Season swap

This is one of the best secrets out there. Go to a place that’s usually popular in winter. Ski resorts, mountains, even certain beaches can be a steal if they are in their off season.

In California, places like Big Bear and Mammoth Mountain are expensive during the winter months because they are prime ski destinations. You’ll easily pay $300 a night for a place. But during summer, prices drop substantially. We recently went to Big Bear with some friends and places that were $250 a night were priced at $98.

What a lot of people don’t realize is these places are absolutely stunning in the summer, especially if you like the outdoors. There is hiking, mountain biking, swimming, even just simple outdoor walks. It’s a great deal with great experiences for everyone. Just know that there are times when it’s not as cheap, like holidays and three-day weekends.

Places to eat

We took a vacation last year and I ordered breakfast to our room for our kids since we were running behind and had to get to the airport for our flight. One order of blueberry pancakes cost me — wait for it — $44.

I don’t even know how, or what was in those pancakes, all I know is that he ate three bites and was “full.”

Being on a budget means pricey pancakes are off the table. (If you were wondering, NO, they were 100 percent NOT worth the $44 we paid for them.) But you still need to feed the kids and yourselves, so what do you do?

Ever since having kid No. 2, we make sure to stay at places that offer free breakfast, or at least free breakfast for kids. Free breakfast isn’t fancy or complicated. It usually consists of a cereal bar, some muffins or bagels, fruit, and possibly an omelette or fresh waffle making station. It’s perfect because this way they can eat a little something and I don’t feel guilty having them order an entire plate of food and not eat it.

List of hotels offering free breakfast

Make sure to double check, because the list can change, but here are some hotels that offer free breakfast. These are known as “limited service” or “select service” hotels and don’t offer as many amenities as full-scale Marriotts, Hiltons or Hyatts.

  • Residence Inn
  • Fairfield Inn and Suites
  • Springhill Suites
  • Embassy Suites
  • Homewood Suites
  • Holiday Inn Express
  • Hampton Inn
  • La Quinta Inn and Suites
  • Country Inns and Suites
  • Sleep Inn
  • Comfort Inn and Comfort Inn and Suites
  • Quality Inn
  • Clarion
  • EconoLodge
  • Mainstay Suites
  • Hyatt Place (some have recently switched to a $10 per room fee for breakfast, so make sure to check!)
  • Hyatt House

Some “full service” hotels give you free breakfast if you are an “elite” member of the hotel chain — meaning you’ve signed up for their free loyalty card and have stayed in their hotels for a certain number of stays or nights. If you don’t mind the emails, it can be worth it.

When it comes to restaurants, we also look for places that 1. Are kid friendly, and 2. Have items that our kids will actually eat.

Having once been a couple without kids, we know how it can be if you want to sit and enjoy a meal and not have a screaming child throwing food behind you. It is for this reason we have presently banned ourselves from all restaurants, even kid-friendly ones, until such time as our younger child can behave. Even with this self-imposed ban, we sometimes have no choice but to go out to eat.

Besides the two previous criteria, bonuses we look for are a decent selection for kids meals and even places offering kids eat free nights.

“I want that!”

It it a given that kids will want “something” whenever they go somewhere. I’m OK with this, within reason. I like for them to have a memory of the places we’ve gone. I remember taking a trip with my family to the mountains of North Carolina when we were young., and I still remember to this day what me and my older sister got. She got a hand-made “whimmy diddle” and me, well I got a small tub of Burt’s Bees lip balm (this was long before they were big).

When we go somewhere, if my older one is well behaved, he is allowed to choose one thing, be it candy, toy or a book. Depending on where we are, I max out and limit the purchase to $20 or less. If it’s a place with a lot of junk, it’s a $5 limit. This allows him to enjoy the place more, and hopefully get a souvenir out of it.

Have fun on your travels this summer!

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Meet the Author

Jessica Patel

Jessica Patel


Jessica Patel is an award-winning editor and writer living in Los Angeles. She previously served as deputy editorial director of T Brand Studio at The New York Times and as Senior Editor and Analyst of

Budgeting & Saving, Family, News

save money, vacations

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Article last modified on August 15, 2018 Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: How to Save on Your Family Summer Vacations - AMP.