Updated on 12.08.11

Planning a Group Vacation

Trent Hamm

Two summers ago, my wife, my children, my parents and I all traveled to Texas together, in part to visit relatives but also to enjoy the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Because we took some time to plan the trip in advance and involved everyone going on the trip in the planning, we ended up finding quite a few free and frugal things to do on the trip. We were also able to save money on the trip by only taking one vehicle.

However, there were other elements of the trip that weren’t quite as frugal. Our housing wound up being quite costly, for instance, as did our food bill.

This leads us to this winter. Sarah and I often plan the details of the following summer’s family vacation during the preceding winter so that we have plenty of time to find bargains for the upcoming travels.

We’re essentially planning two vacations for 2012, and both of them are going to be quite frugal. What do they have in common? They’re both group vacations.

Here are some of the things we’re doing to maximize fun and minimize cost on these trips by leveraging the fact that we’re traveling as a group.

We’re going with people with a similar mindset. None of the people we’re choosing to travel with next year are heavy spenders. All of them are frugally-minded people. They’re also people that we feel good about spending a significant amount of time with over a week. We want to have a reasonably-priced vacation and they’re on board with the same idea.

We’re splitting costs, looking for deals, and budgeting in advance. For both of these vacations, we’re essentially budgeting costs as a group, looking for deals as a group, and splitting costs as a group. These moves enable us to look at our situation through a lot of different eyes and the net result is reduced costs.

We’re going to visit places that are within a reasonable driving range. One vacation is within our own state. Another is only two states away. On trips this short, it makes a lot of sense to drive, not just based on money, but actually based on time. Not only that, driving means we can bring more of our own supplies, which makes these other options easier.

We’re going to camp for at least some of the vacation. This drastically reduces our housing costs. For us, it also adds to the flavor of the vacation due to the exposure to the outdoors. We’re also considering renting a cabin for our larger group vacation.

Because we’re camping, we’re also going to make most of our own food instead of eating out. Rather than going out to a restaurant, we’ll prepare a meal in our Dutch oven. We can still have something delicious and memorable without spending a ton of money.

The vacations are based on experiences rather than being a tourist. Some of the big things we intend to do on these trips involve going on hikes and fishing, not going to pricy “tourist-y” places. Because of that, our overall budget for vacation is much lower.

In the end, it’s all about people and experiences. Keep that in mind and you’ll find yourself having a great vacation without a great dent in your pocketbook.

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  1. Laundry Lady says:

    I agree that for many families the above suggestions can be good ones. But as a stay at home parent, any vacation where I have to do a lot of cooking or cleaning up isn’t much of a vacation for me. I agree that eating out is expensive, but I think I’d rather take fewer vacations and get to relax more when I’m on them. My husband and I also argue about camping. Personally, I don’t find camping relaxing. Fun perhaps, but a lot of work, so I don’t really consider it a vacation. But to each his own. I’m glad your family has found ways to vacation that fit your budget.

  2. Ash says:

    I live in Dublin(Ireland) and I am planning to exchange my house for a friend’s house in Madrid(Spain). We are both teachers and so have long holidays. For part of the time we will be together so also plan to exchange English/Spanish classes and give each other guided tours of places of interest, museums etc. So Trent I have planned to have a very cheap holiday and some free Spanish classes!

  3. Steven says:

    Vacation, for me, involves sand, sun, dining out at nice restaurants, and lots of fun.

    I love camping, hiking and being outdoors, but even if I’m out in the middle of nowhere for a week, I just don’t feel the same sense of relaxation as I do on a tropical beach. Camping is a lot of work, even if it’s fun. Sometimes it’s just “better” to be pampered.

  4. lurker carl says:

    We do group vacations but not driving all packed into one car.

    We go on an annual Carribean cruise in February with family and friends. It helps to live within easy driving distance to a good cruise terminal to eliminate airline time and expenses.
    We all enjoy the ammenities of the ship and excursions, getting together for meals and recreation, pampered with luxuries we don’t have at home. And my wife loves finding the best deals.

    We go camping for a week or two every summer, and we also go with family and friends. We’re quite comfortable in a modern trailer with all the comforts of home. We don’t feel that recreating our improverished childhoods equals recreation. But we love sitting around the campfire with weenies on sticks and scortching smores, laughing and telling stories late into the night. It’s not the camping that is so compelling as is remaining connected with our closest allies. Even the youngest kiddies get into the spirit, keeping multiple generations connected is what keeps families together for years.

    It also helps if everyone either have similar personalities or common interests. When the group can relate to each other, bonds are created and reinforced. Think family reunions but without family BS.

    Laugh a lot, love a lot, cry a little – time is fleeting. Make the most of it.

  5. Maureen says:

    We rent a house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It’s usually a large house and we split the cost of the house with other family members. Plus we always get it within walking distance to the beach. We go out to dinner once as a splurge. The other times, each family takes a night to cook dinner for everyone. Last year, it turned out for all the meals to cost $45.00 for the week for each person. I’m sure we could have cut it to less, but overall I think that we fared pretty well with that cost!

  6. Kyle says:

    Kids love finding a new playground with different swings and slides and play equipment then they have at home. If you are driving with kids, try to find kid parks with different equipment. It will make for a wonderful picnic and afternoon with the kids (and tire them out). The kids will remember the park long after the adults will.

  7. Kyle says:

    Also, a swimming hole with a rope swing is pure gold for kids, especially if they don’t have one at home. Just make sure it is safe first.

  8. Rockledge says:

    You came to Texas in the summer? What’s wrong with you??? And not just any part of Texas, but Dallas? Oh, my!

  9. Tom says:

    I think the last 4 points you made easily apply to single-family vacations as well as group vacations. In fact, your only group advice was travel with people of the same frugal mindset as yourself (actually very good advice, especially if you know someone’s idea of “affordable” is vastly different from yours) and split costs (duh). I wish these were more elaborate than just one-off thoughts.
    My suggestion for group travel is know if the people you want to travel with not only are frugal like you, but plan like you as well. A lot of my friends and family aren’t into planning things way in advance, or don’t commit to things until last minute. You don’t want the planning to be so stressful that it ruins your vacation experience before it even starts.

  10. Kevin says:

    “going on hikes and fishing, not going to pricy ‘tourist-y’ places.”

    Huh? Then what’s the point of travelling? I can hike and fish within 10 minutes of my home – why would I fly halfway around the world to cheap out and do the same thing?

    If you went to Hawaii, would you forego Volcano National Park because of the $15 park entrance fee? “Heck with that, let’s just go for a hike instead.”

    If you went to Italy, would you skip the Picasso museum, the statue of Michaelangelo’s David, and the Sistine Chapel because of entrance fees? “Heck with that, aren’t there any fishing holes in Italy?”

    It’s almost comical, except you’re serious.

  11. Misha says:

    Kevin, I think it’s an excuse he uses to avoid going anywhere more than a state or two away from Iowa. There are plenty of free things to do in Washington DC, for example, but that’s probably too “tourist-y” for him – he has a problem with conflating the two.

    Hate to tell him but there are some pretty inexpensive things to do in Hawaii as well.

  12. Julie says:

    When I go on vacation, I want to do minimal work. I don’t want to cook, and I want to be comfortable. I like being a tourist because who knows when I am going to go back to a location again.

    My boyfriend and I went to an all inclusive resort in the Caribbean in the spring. It was not too pricey, and all our meals and beverages were included. It was great because we were able to be lazy and eat as much as we wanted to while relaxing in the sun. We also did some touristy things like zipline through the rain forest, visit a volcano, and go on tours.

    The world is a big place. Everything is so different. It is okay to spend a little money to explore.

  13. Gretchen says:

    These aren’t really planning tips, though.

    Ditto what Kevin said as well.

  14. Riki says:

    When I travel, my goal is to see things that I’ve never seen before. So yeah, I always go to museums, tourist attractions, shows, or other things that are out of the ordinary. I am not a frugal traveller, but I also don’t do it very often. I’d much rather go less often and see really cool things without worry about the cost.

    My biggest advice is to spend the money where it matters but then cut costs on unimportant things. I always make breakfast and have snacks in my room so that cuts down on food costs. I also don’t buy a lot of souvenirs. Instead, I take a million pictures and spend the money on experiences. YMMV.

    Camping literally sounds like the worst kind of torture to me.

  15. valleycat1 says:

    We’ve found cruises to be really inexpensive, assuming you have the self discipline to stick to a limit on the add-on shore excursion fees and bar tabs. And these days the industry is hurting so bad you can get even better deals on the basic cruise cost. We fortunately live close enough to the California coast to be able to drive to a port.

  16. CNM says:

    The best deal that I have found when traveling with a group is doing a house rental. You can find many vacation rentals online on sites such as vrbo.com.

    House rentals are especially good for families traveling with children who may have different sleep schedules than the adults.

  17. Danielle says:

    We travel a couple of times a year with a large group of friends and rent a cabin out in the woods. We assign a meal to each person, and that person cooks for all 15-20 people. Another 2 are assigned to cleanup. That way no one gets stuck cooking or cleaning the whole time.

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