July 31, 2012

Summer is finally here and, with it, our thoughts turn to taking family vacations. However, vacations can get pretty costly: transportation, food and activities quickly eat away at our well-planned budgets. Even if the family vacation spot is not far away, there is still the issue of finding affordable lodging. Luckily, I have found three ways in which I can cut my family’s lodging expenses by 50% or even more.

Vacation Rentals

This takes a bit of preplanning but, if you can coordinate your vacation with another family or two, you can really save on your lodging costs by getting a vacation rental. In my home state of Wisconsin, for example, I was able to book an 8-person lodge with kitchen and fireplace at River’s Edge for $1,045/week in-season. With my family staying with another couple in the same lodge, we ended up paying $75/day. If another couple or family had managed to come with us, our costs would’ve been even lower at just $50/day. Compare these costs to getting a one bedroom hotel room with the same amenities for just my family alone (up to 4 people) and we’d be paying $910/week in-season.

House Swaps

Sites like HomeExchange and TheVacationExchange offer homeowners the opportunity to exchange their homes with other homeowners and avoid paying high hotel costs during their vacation. Some of these sites charge a yearly membership fee. Members pay a discrete monetary amount when they stay at another member’s house; for example, TheVacationExchange asks $250 for the use of another member’s house for the duration of one’s vacation. This can be a real boon if you are planning to stay somewhere for 2 (or more) weeks, since your lodging costs come out to under $18/day.


Does the thought of camping make you cringe as you think about bugs, burnt hotdogs and lack of indoor plumbing? If these thoughts are keeping you away from saving money by camping, then fear not: Today’s campgrounds are not only equipped with modern bathrooms and shower facilities but on-site restaurants, convenience stores and even waterparks. Best of all, camping saves you 50% or more on your standard hotel room costs.

I used to go camping all the time when I was a student and on a very limited budget. In states like Virginia and Maryland, I’d find campsites that cost $29-$32/night. This certainly beat hotels with standard rooms running $120/night. In addition to getting really cheap lodging, I could use the campground’s swimming pools, hiking trials and fishing holes absolutely free. And if I didn’t feel like making my own lunch or dinner, the campgrounds offered plenty of ready-made foods at their convenience stores. During weekend hours, there were even cookouts where I could fill up my plate with hot dogs, burgers, potato salad and corn-on-the-cob for just $5. Total average cost of camping: $30 (per night stay) + $5 (meal) = $35. In comparison, the total cost of a hotel stay: $120 (per night stay) + $25 (restaurant meal) = $145. That’s over 75% in savings!

What if you don’t have a tent and sleeping bags or would rather go camping in the early spring or late fall, when temperatures are cooler? Many campgrounds offer camping cabins that start at $60/night. These are often equipped with their own indoor kitchens and bathrooms, giving you some of the comforts of home while still allowing you to enjoy the great outdoors. Even by renting a camping cabin you still save at least 50% on hotel costs.