Since becoming a single mom to three active boys, I decided the family vacation was something I was not willing to give up. I wasn’t going to let being the only grown up stop us from making memories each summer. Financing, planning, and executing a family vacation can be intimidating when you’re doing it on your own, but it can be done! Here are my tips for making it happen.
Dare to Dream
Dream big! Where do you want to take your family on vacation? Start a Pinterest board for each location you dream of visiting. If you don’t dream it, you’ll never make it happen. Put everything you can find on your board — places to stay, sights to see, must-do restaurants, etc. Choose a location that’s doable for your next vacation, and then start planning!
Come up with a realistic budget for your vacation. I like to plan it out using a discount travel website such as Expedia to get a ballpark figure for the cost of the vacation. Always round up when budgeting because things will come up. Get creative with financing. Set aside money each month into a vacation fund. Start a change jar. Get organized and save for your vacation by cleaning out closets and reselling what you no longer need on buy/sell/trade sites or through a garage sale.
Take on odd jobs that you can do while the kids are visiting dad or when friends and family are available to babysit, and set that money aside for your vacation. I personally don’t claim any dependents on my income tax withholding, and I use my taxes as a savings account for our vacations. I wouldn’t make much of a return on that money in a savings account, so I look at it like I’m doing Uncle Sam — and my vacation budget — a favor by having the maximum taken out of my paychecks and reissued as a refund. (Maybe you are more disciplined than I . . . .)
See if you can share the vacation with friends or family. We’ve taken a couple of trips with friends and a couple with the grandparents. We’ve shared condos and rental houses. We’ve carpooled. Vacation-sharing offers you ways to save money and has the added benefit of additional grown ups nearby should you need backup.
Use discount travel sites. You can save a lot of money by booking airfare, hotels, and car rentals at the same time. Plus, on several sites like Expedia, Travelocity, and others like them, you earn points for future trips. See what perks you can get by using credit cards. Can you get a cash-back bonus by booking with one of your cards? It makes sense to do it if you are prepared to pay off the charges immediately and not accrue interest.
Look for a Groupon or two in the location you’ll be visiting. See if you can save money on restaurants, hotels, and activities you’d planned on doing anyway.
Best Laid Plans
When you are the only grown up in charge of little people away from home, it’s imperative that you plan every detail. You don’t have to follow the plan exactly. You can make plans and then be flexible once you are at your destination, but having a plan will ensure you are as organized as possible.
Create a daily itinerary and make sure you know how much you’ll need to budget for each day’s activities and meals. Make sure you know what items you need to pack depending on weather and activities you’ve chosen to do.
When visiting large cities, I like to buy the CityPASS and let that be our entertainment for the trip. It saves me money on attractions and gives me a built-in itenerary. This summer, my three boys and I are taking on the Big Apple. The NY CityPASS is a great value, and it includes all of the main attractions we want to see while we are there.
Print out area maps of your destination or enter each location you’ll visit in your phone’s map app. Having an idea of how to get around before you leave home will give you confidence and alleviate anxiety about getting from point A to point B. The last thing you want to deal with when trying to get cranky, tired, overstimulated kiddos back from a full day of fun is getting lost or winging it entirely in the heat of the moment.
Plan your outings like you would at home. Prepare for your daily adventures by packing plenty of snacks and necessities like first aid, toiletries, and medications to get you through the day. Take lots of photos and make sure you are in a lot of them!
Give Yourself Some Grace
No vacation or family is perfect. Give yourself some grace, and plan a vacation you know you can enjoy with your family. Keep it simple, and be realistic with your plans. Anything you enjoy doing together is sure to make great memories. Expect hiccups and you won’t be so disappointed when they happen — and they will happen. Hopefully the hiccups will be something you can look back on later and laugh about. The bloopers are always the best part!