Think about some of your favorite travel memories. Who’s with you? You’re probably smiling and reminiscing about moments spent exploring new places with family and friends. Traveling with those we love can be one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. You can do just that without spending a fortune by pooling your resources, finding group discounts and more. Read on to learn about a few ways to save money on group vacations.
1. Budget and share expenses
First and foremost, you should settle on a budget that everyone is comfortable with for shared expenses, such as accommodations and family-style meals. Start saving a year before by setting up a fund that everyone contributes to monthly. You can use technology to facilitate this, through online banks and mobile apps. Collecting money and splitting costs are two of the tools in Travefy, a group travel planner that also allows you to organize, schedule and share an itinerary. MyEvent.com and EventBrite.com also let you collect money for group events.
Technology can also help to manage costs and keep things fair while traveling. The Splittr app tells you who is next to pay for dinner and who owes what. Splitwise keeps a running total, so you can pay each other back.
2. Travel off the beaten path
Pick a destination within driving distance of the majority of your group. Consider staying outside popular cities, in places such as Kissimmee instead of Orlando, or Anaheim instead of Los Angeles. If you can carpool, look into renting a large van. Sharing one vehicle means you’ll save on gas as well as parking fees. If some people in your group have to fly, think about places near major airports. It’s generally cheaper to fly into large cities than smaller outposts.
Travel costs are always lower in the offseason, but you can still save during the summer by choosing the weeks before or after holidays, such as Memorial and Independence Day, and by traveling midweek.
3. Share your living space
If you want to stay in a hotel, look for properties with multiroom suites that include sofa beds for maximum sleeping space. Getting a kitchenette, or a microwave and mini-fridge at the least, will allow you to prep meals and save money.
For more space, rent a multibedroom condo or house. You’ll have a real kitchen to cook meals for the entire group as well as communal places to hang out together. Search for properties by total bedrooms and by how many it sleeps. Even if both sleep six, a 3-bedroom rental will cost more than a 1-bedroom home with sleeper sofas. The fewer bedrooms, the less it costs, so think about combining all the kids in one room with bunk beds.
You can save money by booking early through owner-operated properties, through sites like HomeAway, VRBO and VacationRentals.com, rather than going through a rental agency. Rates will be cheaper for properties a little further from “the action,” meaning a few blocks from the beach.
4. Split meal costs
Bringing food and sharing cooking duties will dramatically reduce your expenses. If you’re driving there, shop at your local big box store for nonperishables and paper products before you leave. At supermarkets in tourist areas, items like this are priced for convenience.
If you’re planning to eat out, look for restaurants with “Kids Eat Free” nights or consider family-style dining, where food is brought out on platters for the table to share. This is popular in Italian and Chinese cuisine as well as in smorgasbord-style restaurants. And, don’t forget that you can purchase Restaurant.com certificates through NEA Discount Marketplace.
5. Find free things to do
Check the local tourism or visitor bureau’s website for free or inexpensive attractions, activities and events. There are often dedicated pages or lists of low-cost options, such as this list from Virginia Beach or this list from Denver, Colorado. Or, study this list of 100 Free Attractions in Top U.S. Cities.
Look for national, state and local parks in the area that might host concerts or festivals. Libraries also hold free children’s activities, such as story times—perfect for a rainy day. If a museum looks interesting, check its website for free admission days; many have monthly corporate-sponsored evening hours open to everyone.
If you have a group of 10 or more, always ask for a group discount. At must-see theme parks like Six Flags or Busch Gardens, contact the groups department as far in advance as possible. In some cases, the group’s travel planner—you—can even get free admission.
6. Pay one price and forget the rest
Time is money, so if all this planning doesn’t seem worth it for the potential savings, consider traveling on a cruise or to an all-inclusive resort that comes with the convenience of having nearly all your costs paid upfront. Generally, this means food and non-alcoholic beverages, entertainment and activities.
The most cost-effective cruises are generally offseason, but if you must travel during the summer, look at the very end of August for lower rates. You’ll save by driving to the port instead of flying. These tips apply to all-inclusive properties as well. You don’t have to fly to the Caribbean for an all-in-1 resort: Try Woodloch Pines in Pennsylvania, Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Florida or Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana.