How To Plan a Family Vacation On A Budget


It’s August! The last month to really soak up the summer sun and a more relaxed schedule before school starts and all the fall activities and commitments start rolling in. Believe it or not, there’s still time for a family vacation on a budget.

Do you have any end of summer trips planned?

We took a road trip up the coast of California, through Oregon, into Washington, and back down again within a 9 day stretch. All this, with my 6 kids in tow.

Best of all, we spent under $150 per person for the whole trip.

My brother and his family of 5 caravan-ed north with my family of 8. We packed as much as possible into our two mini vans and headed out around 6am. Hitting the 5 fwy but branching off once we hit the 101. We wanted our northbound trip to be more coastal. During my elementary school years we lived in central California and the 99 is…not all that exciting…except for maybe the fruit stands.

Here’s what worked for us on this family vacation on a budget:


Bring Groceries With You

We shopped a couple days before we left to grab food and extra snack stuff that our family normally eats. It was a basic shopping trip for the most part with a few extras or special things. Make sure to bring an ice chest large enough for your cold items and then put everything else in bags for easy access.


Have Picnic Lunches Along The Route

Anytime we stopped for lunch we would usually find a park, pull out sandwich fixings and veggies, and then let the kids run and play for about an hour. The snacks like fruit, pretzels, and chips were consumed while driving.

vacation on a budget - kids at playground


Costco For Cheap Gas And More

Most of our gas stops were at Costco since they seemed to always have the best prices in town. Also, if we wanted something other than sandwiches, Costco’s food court did just fine.


If You’re Caravaning, Bring Walkie Talkies

Each van had a walkie talkie which was great because there were a few hours that we drove along Highway 1 and there wasn’t any service. Also, there’s no service while you’re in the redwood forests of northern California (just an FYI). It was like riding together yet still having our own family space. There were times where my sister-in-law was playing “I Spy” from her van with one of our kids in our van that happen to be the only one awake at the time. There were also moments of random trivia questions and of course the “someone needs to use the restroom” moments. The walkie talkies were just way more convenient than having to text or call.


Stay A While

If you’re going to camp along your trip, plan on staying 2 nights minimum. Setting up for tent camping is time consuming, especially when you have to fit all your food into a Bear Box.


vacation on a budget bear box


Use Guest Rooms.

Stay with friends if you can along your route. If that’s not an option, check yelp reviews on hotels because google reviews are not as reliable. We saved a lot on lodging since we were able to stay with friends and loved ones for most of our family vacation on a budget.


Bring Along A Portable DVD Player.

We didn’t have it on the whole time but a lot of times it was the moments of, “We only have about an hour left, keep the baby happy!” So a Baby Einstein or Curious George seemed to do the trick. I’m thankful for a friend who let us borrow her double monitor player. 


Plan Special Outings That Are Free Or Super Reasonably Priced.

We visited an aquarium in Poulsbo, Washington that was free (they take donations) called SEA Discovery Center, and then ate lunch at the park in downtown. The kids really enjoyed the touch tanks. We also went on a fire station tour, fishing for trout, rode the ferry (that was probably the most expensive thing), hung out at the beach, and explored the forest that surrounded our relative’s home.


camping vacation on a budget


Find Local Cafes.

A lot of times they have way better prices than food chains and they also give bigger portions. On our drive home we stopped at the Branding Iron Cafe in Cottonwood, California, which is just south of Redding along the 5 Freeway. Our server’s name was Donna who was super nice and the food really good with great generous portions. The kid’s plate came with only one pancake but it was thick and fluffy and as big as the plate. And bonus…it only cost $2.99! So needless to say, we all recommend the Branding Iron Cafe.

If you’re planning a family vacation on a budget anytime soon I hope my tips are helpful! Road trips are some of our favorite ways to vacation.

I also wanted to share with you the family vacation on a budget packing list that I put together for our family of eight.

I’ve looked over many lists and decided it would just be best to create our own. I’m laminating this one to have ready for our next trip.

Download this free printable and use for yourself by clicking the link below:

***Nunez Family Complete Packing List***

I’m sure not everyone’s list will have all the same things depending on your dietary restrictions and such, but I figured I would include what we pack to at least give you some ideas and help you to brainstorm what your family will need.

Happy Trails!

vacation on a budget