If you follow Explore Joy on any form of social media, you’ve likely seen me post about Part 1 of this series a time (or twelve) in the past few days.

If you haven’t, here ya go. Got it? Now, let’s carry on…

This is where it gets real. Now you need to know how to afford an epic family vacation by actually cutting back your spending while you’re on the vacation. To make any trip happen, you’re going to have to have some sort of budget. So, cutting costs where you can while you’re actually on your trip is vital.

How to Afford an Epic Family Vacation


My minimizing expenses for maximum experiences mantra carries on. Depending on your destination(s), you may be able to save a ton of dough on lodging. The most obvious money-saver is camping. Don’t even try to act surprised to hear this coming from me. Do you even know me at all?! Do you even follow my blog?! Sometimes, it’s worth it to forego the comfort of a hotel for more experiences. Y’all, I’m all about saving a dime and sleeping outside. But, something I don’t do — sketch hotels. I DO NOT. I would rather stay in a tent. So, I do. It’s my air mattress, my bedding, my pillows. It’s not always convenient to camp, but if you’re on a tight budget, and you want to get out of your house and go on a vacation, it’s something to consider.

I know camping isn’t for everyone, because LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS, OH MY. But if you’re on the fence, stay right where you are and let me try to convince you.

When we took our road trip out West in 2014, we camped a majority of the time. All across the US, we paid anywhere from $10-$35 a night for a campsite. WHATTHEWHAT! You’re not convinced yet, because now you’re all, but it’s so much work and I can’t put up a tent and UGH. Welp, within a week of starting our trip, Brian and I were able to set up the tent in 10 minutes. Yep, he timed it. We’re so BA, right?

We just value experiences over comfort. So, paying $25 for a campsite in Malibu rather than $250 for a hotel room, affords us so many more opportunities. We were able to go whale watching and surprise Jet with a surfing lesson and go to the most epic movie experience at El Capitan. That’s the stuff memories are made of. Truth bomb: had we not camped most of our trip, we would never have been able to afford 3 full weeks out West.

Now, I’m being completely transparent here. We don’t ALWAYS camp. It isn’t easy. Sometimes a tornado practically comes right by. Sometimes, you just want a break and air conditioning and need to book an apartment via Homeaway for the night. And sometimes, camping just doesn’t make sense for where we’re going. We can’t camp on a cruise, for Pete’s sake.

So, even if none of the above appeals to you and you’re not the camping type, that’s quite alright. We can still be friends. There are plenty of other ways to budget your lodging. Many times, you can find good deals on Homeaway. When Brian and I went to NYC, we stayed in a studio apartment in Brooklyn for around $100 a night. When we went to Disney, we didn’t camp. But, we opted to not stay on property and instead stayed at the Best Western at Disney Springs for around $110 a night, including taxes and resort fees. It’s a non-swanky, mid-level hotel. But it was clean and safe and the staff was very friendly. We had a shuttle service back and forth to any of the four parks all day, every 30 minutes. Most mornings of our stay, continental breakfast was included. Airbnb could also be a cost-cutting option for you, if you’re into that. I haven’t used Airbnb yet…ohhhhh but I will! Next weekend, it’s going down. I may or may not be freaking out about it a little. You’ll be hearing about it soon.

 How to Afford an Epic Family Vacation


 It’s not always easy to bring your own food or cook on vacation, but when you have that opportunity, it’s going to save you some dolla dolla bills, Y’ALL.

If you’re going to camping in the same location for a week or a weekend, it’s a no-brainer. Bring your own groceries. If you’re traveling and camping as you go, things can get a little more difficult, but it’s still totally do-able. Out West, we kept a cooler in the back hatch, so we could keep it filled with some essentials and get to it easily. It allowed us to make plenty of sandwiches and purchase fresh fruits and snacks along the way. We love to try new places and foods and eat local as often as possible. So, when we go to restaurants, we try to eat out during lunch. Meals just get more expensive when they roll out the dinner menu. Most of the time, we were setting up camp in the evenings anyway, so it was convenient to just cook something up there. When in doubt, peanut butter jelly time.

If you’re not somewhere you can have a cooler and cook your own meals, consider keeping fruit and Kind Bars (or some equivalent) on hand for easy/cheap breakfasts and snacks. Eat your biggest meal at lunch, then a light dinner. I know it’s not Paleo, and I can’t believe I’m about to suggest this, but…McDonald’s. It’s cheap, it’s everywhere. I can’t even tell you how many $1 sweet teas we purchased at the Times Square Mickey D’s (technically I could, but I don’t want to and I’m just not gonna). Ordering water can also significantly cut down on your meal prices. If you have a family of four and everyone orders a $2 soda, that can really add up over vacation. You know how to do math. Also, it’s water. It’s healthy. BOOM. Now let’s get one thing straight, I don’t share dessert. But I’m all about sharing a meal when the portions are right. When we go out for Mexican food, Brian and I always share fajitas. It’s plenty of food for the both of us, and the kids end up with a basic taco. When we’re all drinking water, it’s a pretty good deal for a meal I didn’t have to cook.

How to Afford an Epic Family Vacation


Groupon, you guys! Groupon! It’s been the source of some pretty great deals for our vacations! It’s how we biked San Fran and Central Park on the cheap. What is it with us and bicycles, anyway? When we biked Central Park, we purchased two bike rentals for 4 hours for around $25 total. Then, in San Francisco, we rented 2 more bikes for around the same price. Before you go, and even while you’re on your trip, just keep checking. There are so many opportunities available. You can even find some legit Groupon deals on restaurants and lodging too!

How to Afford an Epic Family Vacation


We’re not really big souvenir people. Is that weird? The kids like to buy little things here and there, like bracelets and koozies, so they each have a budget with their own money to spend. Brian and I take tons of photos and soak in the experience. Every now and then, we’ll snag an awesome t-shirt (our all time faves came from The Grey House in Estes Park, CO). The one thing we always always always come back with is a Christmas ornament. Every year, decorating our tree gets more fun and sentimental and such as we load the tree down with our hodge podge of mismatched memories and fight over who’s going to put the new ornament on reminisce about past adventures.

What are some ways you plan to save money on your next adventure?

 xo | Brooke

Ready for Part 3? Here ya go!

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