How to Make a Family Vacation Budget in 5 Easy Steps

I know, I know—budgeting for a vacation sounds so lame, but it’s also so worth it! It’s beneficial to know how much you’ll need to spend on your trip so you don’t go overboard.

Plus, taking a little time to prepare will help you cut costs.

The one thing that I don’t want you to do is go into debt for a vacation. If your travel budget isn’t enough for your dream trip, you can table that for another year.

Take a more modest vacation instead and you’ll still have a blast and make great memories. Travel is great no matter where you go!

Take a look at my travel budgeting plan and figure out how you can go on a trip without breaking the bank.

Table of Contents

How To Make a Family Vacation Budget

1. Decide Your Budget Total

There are two ways to do this:

Start with a total:

If you don’t have a specific destination you want to travel to in mind, figure out an amount you’re willing to spend, then find destinations that fit into that amount.

An easy way to get a total is to look at how much money you can save a month. Multiply that by the number of months until you want to leave on your trip, and you’ll have your total.

Once you have your number, go to Google Flights, Kayak, or Skyscanner and use the “Explore” option, put in your specifications (dates, number of stops, price limit, duration), then view all of the different cities that pop up.

Ta da! You have options within your budget!

TIP: Research a couple of options. Some locations might have a cheap flight deal, but the hotels are very expensive.

I start with grabbing 2-3 options of where it will be cheapest to fly, then hunt for hotels and rental cars. Then I’ll decide based off of those prices.

Start with a location:

If you have your heart set on going somewhere specific, find out how much money you’ll need to save to go to that specific area by researching the prices in that area.

You can do that by following the steps below to get some rough numbers together. Also look at budgetyourtrip.com to get an estimate of the cost of living at your destination.

Once you have that total, divide that by how many months until you want to leave, and you’ll see how much money you need to save each month until your trip.    

2. Figure Out How Much Your Largest Expenses Will Cost

  • Airline tickets
  • Lodging (hotel, house or condo rental)

👉 Want to learn how to cut costs on traveling? Read over my 51 tips on cutting travel costs by clicking here!

For Flights: 

To research flights, Google FlightsKayak, or Skyscanner  allow you to put in your exact trip specifications and show you options based on your choices.

They also offer a flexible calendar to view the cheaper days to travel, and Kayak can also check surrounding airports to see it’s cheaper to fly in or out of a nearby airport.

Also check Southwest and other budget airlines for comparison since they don’t show up on the flight search engines.

Tips to get cheap flights:

  • Be flexible with dates. Sometimes, just bumping the trip one day (like instead of Friday-Monday, go Saturday-Tuesday), or going one week earlier or later, can save hundreds. The change in days usually helps with lodging costs as well.
  • Consider nearby airports to fly out of and into. For example, it’s almost always cheaper (and significantly easier) to fly into Burbank instead of LAX in Los Angeles.
  • Look at the flights with stops to compare the difference. If it’s only going to save you $50 to stop, it’s probably not worth it. But you could possibly save hundreds!  

For lodging: 

First, check booking.com to see options for all types of accommodations. That’s always my first step so I can get a feel for the pricing in the area.

If you want to strictly look at house or condo rentals, check sites like VRBO and AirBnB. Not only will you have more room, but you’ll be able to significantly cut your food budget if you’re willing to cook your own meals. 

Either way, you’ll be able to get an idea of how much lodging will cost. Jot those numbers down for the different locations.

3. Add in The Extra Expenses

  • Entertainment (tours, excursions, shows, amusement parks)
  • Transportation (rental car, airport transfers) 
  • Food (eating out and buying groceries to cook yourself)
  • Special gear (beach toys, blankets, chairs, if needed)
  • Gifts/souvenirs (if any) 

For entertainment:

Figure out the activities you are interested in doing. Explore Viator or Get Your Guide for different options.  

Check CityPass too—they have all kinds of activity bundles for a fraction of the regular price. 

For transportation:

If you are planning on renting a car, rentalcars.com is always my first stop. It provides pricing for multiple car rental agencies.

Take a look at TransitApp or Moovit if you would rather use public transportation. You will be able to see how long and how much it’ll take to get from one area to another.

If you’re going to a walkable area, ditch the transportation fee completely and walk. If you’re staying at a hotel, call to ask if they have any shuttle services or bike rentals so you have options to get around near the hotel. 

For food: 

Firstly, see what type of food options your hotel/rental offers. Some hotels give out free breakfast, afternoon snacks, or happy hours. Take advantage of those!

Then, check local food prices by visiting websites of the restaurants at your destination to view their menu. Look for happy hours, nightly specials on certain days, and what kind of kids deals they have.

Use Yelp to scan restaurants in the area and search by price (the reviews always help too.) 

Don’t forget hidden fees:

They add up! Some examples of these:

  • Baggage fees
  • Parking fees
  • Airport transfers
  • Resort fees
  • Tips
  • Small items you have to buy at the location (like diapers, baby drinks)

Add all of these prices together to get the full cost of everything included. Play around with the numbers and try different options together to fit it in your budget total so you can compare each option.

4. Build the Final Budget

You have all of your prices noted so you can make the decision on where to go.  

You were most likely able to eliminate different locations due to price as you went through the process. If you didn’t, pick the location that you want to visit most.

Once you have your location chosen, put the more detailed, final budget together. Play around with the numbers to ensure everything fits within your budget, and add a little buffer for miscellaneous costs.

5. Deduct Your Regular Expenses

Once you get the trip totals together, also get your regular, everyday expenses together.


If you are going on vacation for a week, total together your usual weekly spending like groceries, gas, entertainment budget, etc. You were going to spend that money regardless, so now you can tack it on to the vacation budget.

You can either subtract that amount from the total you need to save, OR don’t add it to your budget and use the extra money to splurge on something on the trip. 

Budgeting While on Vacation

The budgeting doesn’t stop once you book the trip. While at your destination, try not to let yourself get carried away. 

I have learned too many times that the “I’m on vacation, why not?” mentality is not the way to go if you don’t want to cringe when you see the credit card statement after returning.

So, when I’m on vacation, I still keep track of my daily spending.

Tips on how to track spending:

Envelope System: have envelopes of cash for each day or type of expense. Once the cash in the envelope is gone, then you either have to borrow from another envelope or you are done spending money that day/activity.

Credit Card Tracking: Plan to use a credit card for all of your purchases and track your spending at the end of the day to ensure you’re not going overboard. There are also apps for this!

An Example

Step 1: I’ve decided that I have $2,000 to spend for an upcoming vacation for 4 people.

 

Step 2: I go to kayak.com and use the Explore feature to check out where it is cheapest to fly to during the month I’m going on a vacation. I note 3 options that I’d like to visit and how much each will cost in flights.

I then go to booking.com to view hotel prices for each of the 3 options. 1 location has hotel prices that are too high, so that one gets cut from the list. The other two have reasonable prices, so I jot down the prices for 2 options in each location.

 

Step 3: Then I visit rentalcars.com to view prices for a car in both locations. (In this step, either 1 location will have a much better rate and will win due to process of elimination, or both will have prices within budget.)

In my situation, both have reasonable rates, so I note both and I continue with 2 locations.

I go to Viator to check out types and costs on activities. I see that 1 location has more interesting activities AND they are reasonable prices. That location wins!

(In this step, if you still haven’t eliminated one, continue on to food prices to make the decision. Or just pick the one you want to visit more!)

 

Step 4: Now that I’ve chosen my location, I put together my detailed budget. I choose the hotel and flights first, and then fit in rental car and excursions.

Then, I leave extra in the budget for food and miscellaneous expenses.

Lastly, I book!

 

Step 5: I take out $500 from my weekly spending amount to put towards the budget of the trip.  

FAQs: How to Make a Family Vacation Budget

How do I set up a vacation budget?

You can set up a vacation budget in 5 easy steps!

Find your budget total, figure out your largest expenses like hotel and flights, then add in the extra expenses like transportation and excursions (if you need to).

From there, deduct your weekly spending total from your overall total and choose the way you want to track your spending while on vacation.  

 

Is $3000 enough for a vacation?

Yes! Any amount of money is enough for a vacation. Start with that amount and plan a vacation that fits in it!

Start off by using the Explore feature on kayak.com or Google Flights to find locations that are cheap to visit. Then, research different lodging options for those locations on booking.com. Then fill in transportation and excursions to that total. Leave a little buffer for extra fees and you’ll be set!

 

Should I go on vacation or save money?

Both! You can put a small amount each month towards a vacation savings account, while still putting more towards your major savings account.

When your vacation account hits a total enough for the vacation you want to go on, start planning!  

Wrapping Up: How to Make a Family Vacation Budget

These are just a few steps to have some peace of mind when planning travel.  Don’t put a sour note on a vacation by coming back home and realizing you spent far too much money.

You want to come home refreshed and charged! Not panicked.

Spending a little bit of time making a vacation budget will be time well spent!  

learning how to make a family vacation budget will let you enjoy your vacation so much more!

MEET BESA

Your Go-To Girl for Beach Travel

Hi! I’m Besa. I’ve always been a travel-loving beach bum… and then I had kids. Two boys, born 19 months apart. But I didn’t let that stop me. I still travel, even with a couple little boys in tow – and I want to help other parents like you do the same!

I’ll be sharing all my travel tips, beach hacks, and guides for some of my favorite family vacation beach spots.

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Besa has been a frequent traveler for almost 20 years, and the last five years of her travels have included her two toddler boys, 19 months apart.
Years of flying and beach bumming with her kids has given her plenty of hard-earned experience in the travel world.

Need Help Booking Your Trip?
Use My Favorite Resources!

FLIGHTS
Kayak searches hundreds of travel sites for the lowest prices plus the flexible calendar tells you which days are the cheapest to fly.

LODGING
booking.com is easy to use and gives options for all types of lodging. When I know I want a big rental house, I use VRBO.

RENTAL CARS
rentalcars.com scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.

ACTIVITIES
Viator lets you search for a specific activity at your destination or scroll all available.

Read over my full list of the best sites to book with on my Resources page.