How to Stretch Your Family Vacation Budget

With transparent costs and built-in itineraries, these getaways can take the stress out of family travel.

Playful siblings sitting on a lake pier with their parents on a sunny day

by NEA Member Benefits

Looking for a way to take some of the economic and planning stress out of your family vacations? Here’s one fun suggestion: Book an all-inclusive trip. “Many families find their budget destroyed as they overspend to cover the non-inclusive portions of a vacation, like parking, entrance fees, meals and so on,” admits Doug Cole, owner of Marble Mountain Ranch, a California dude ranch that specializes in all-inclusive ranch vacations. “Knowing the bottom line is essential in planning a budget, and an all-inclusive vacation puts this all on the table up-front.”

Perhaps just as important as sticking to your budget, all-inclusive resorts alleviate the stress of choreographing an itinerary, giving all travelers much needed peace of mind. “It’s much nicer to go on vacation and be able to participate in all the activities you want, without worrying about an added cost that will shock you at the end of the week,” says Colleen Mahaffie, marketing coordinator for the Tyler Place Family Resort, which offers summer family getaways in Vermont.

An added bonus: Parents won’t need to painstakingly plan entertainment for their kids, which can be especially taxing at resorts that offer separate activities for children and adults.

There are many all-inclusive resorts around the country, each with an impressive array of activities for kids and adults alike. Take a look at a few for families:

Great Wolf Lodge (16 locations around the country, with more opening soon)

Main attraction: This indoor water park resort offers weatherproof, water-filled fun for all ages, complete with a wave pool, Alberta Falls tube slides, Family River Rapids slide and a multi-story Fort Mackenzie treehouse with interactive splash features, including a huge tipping bucket splashing 1,000 gallons of water every four minutes. Even better? The water park is exclusive to resort guests, ensuring the lines are always short and it’s never overcrowded.

Estimated cost: Most guests stay at the resort for two or three nights, says Susan Storey, communications director, who notes rates average around $249 per night, depending on the location. Two-day admission to the water park for four people is included in your stay (additional water park passes can be purchased for $40 per person). And be sure to check out the current deals! Although meals are extra, additional add-on packages for meals and entertainment can be purchased to help families save money and avoid stressful planning.

Don’t miss: In addition to water fun, families will also find unique attractions like MagiQuest (a magical scavenger hunt journey through the resort), ice cream-themed manicures and pedicures at Scooops Kid Spa, a giant arcade, family dance parties, color-your-own souvenirs, Wiley Bingo and nightly Story Time for the whole family.

Tyler Place Family Resort (Swanton, VT)

Main attraction: Parents looking for a weeklong adventure that will leave the kids just as happy as the adults will revel in this family-friendly resort. Children are placed in one of nine age-staggered groups, from newborns up to 15 year olds, and lead by friendly counselors through activities, like swimming, hiking, team games, arts and crafts and water sports (they also eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with their group). Meanwhile, parents can enjoy adults-only meals and activities, like tennis, kayak tours, sailing lessons, cooking classes or simply relaxing in a hammock with a good book. Families are able to come together for a few hours every afternoon for special activities, like fishing trips, butter churning classes, sack races and making fires.

Estimated cost: A seven-night stay for a family of four costs around $4,482 (or roughly $160 per person per day), including lodging in one of their 70+ accommodations (like a three-bedroom suite cottage), childcare, activities and meals (all exclusive of tax). There’s a no tipping policy, so expect a 10% service charge, plus additional fees for alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, private lessons and some fossil-fuel waterfront activities.

Don’t miss: The adults-only, candle-lit dining room and rotating evening entertainment, featuring the infamous Tyler Place Dance Party, jazz nights and live music.

Marble Mountain Ranch (Somes Bar, CA)

Main attraction: Families seeking an outdoor adventure will find paradise at this dude ranch, known for its signature all-inclusive “saddle and paddle” or raft and ride vacation. “No other dude ranch offers this variety of daily activities and it suits mixed interest families and groups well,” says Cole. “Unlike traditional dude ranches that offer morning and afternoon riding as the key events, we present a more diverse access to the wilderness and limit the saddle sore results that novice vacationing riders experience after long hours in the saddle.”

Estimated cost: Most guests stay at the dude ranch for five nights, says Cole, who notes rates for a family of four average around $1,364 per night (or roughly $340 per person per day), including all activities, meals, snacks, beverages, taxes, fees, private lodging and airport shuttles from Medford Oregon or Arcata California. Voluntary gratuities are not included.

Don’t miss: Families come here to unplug—there’s no cell service and Wi-Fi is only available in the main lodge. But you can keep the kids engaged with daily arena horseback riding games and lessons, trail rides, rafting and kayaking, shooting sports and archery. Rather than sending your kids off to camp, expect a whole-family approach here, where everyone can share their adventure together.

Though an all-inclusive vacation can often look expensive upfront, once you add up the incremental costs of a traditional pay-as-you-go vacation, all-inclusives often turn into a bargain. And a bargain with no surprises, at that.

Save even more:

Pack light and avoid baggage fees. Most all-inclusive resorts provide everything you need during your stay, from towels and life jackets to bug spray and toiletries.

Travel during shoulder seasons. The savings can be huge when you stay during off-peak times, like mid-week or starting on a Sunday, suggests Storey. You can even save up to 48% off at Tyler Place if you visit during their discounted weeks, such as May 27 through June 18, and September 3-10.

Explore discounted tickets. Get even more ideas for family trips, plus discounts on the tickets, through the NEA Discount Tickets Program. Find great deals on tickets to local events, popular attractions, concerts and much more.

More ways to save on travel