How to Save Money on Your Next Mini Vacation

Weekend getaways are a budget-friendly alternative to big family vacations.
Brother and sister playing on a swing (Photo: @karina_kirina_ via Twenty20)
Photo: @karina_kirina_ via Twenty20

With staffing shortages at the airlines, gas prices through the roof, and inflation making everything more expensive, many families are turning to staycations and cheap weekend getaways close to home as an alternative to visiting the most popular family vacations spots in the country.

Shorter stays and no flights mean you can skip the most painful costs (and hassles) associated with family travel while still creating great memories. Here are 10 easy ways to save on cheap family vacations close to home. 

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1. Make Your Own Weekend

Splash time at a family resort (Photo: Shutterstock)
Splash time at a family resort (Photo: Shutterstock)

While local weekend getaways are less expensive than big family travel adventures, weekends are still peak travel time. But if you can make your own “weekend” by traveling midweek, you’ll save money and find wider availability wherever you’re headed because hotels typically have lower occupancy on these days. 

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Even if you can’t find time for a Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday getaway, look for an opportunity to overlap your stay a day before (Thursday) or a day after (Monday) most other people travel. You’ll get a lot more bang for your vacation buck. 

2. Travel Just After Peak Season

Sunrise over the beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts (Photo: Shutterstock)
Sunrise over the beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts (Photo: Shutterstock)

Shoulder season is that best-of-both-worlds time when the tourists have all gone home but the weather’s still nice—think New England lake towns after Labor Day but before foliage season, for example. Instead of traveling during the peak summer vacation months of May, June, and July, plan your family’s weekend getaway for September. You’ll spend a lot less while still enjoying all the perks of high-season travel.

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One of the great joys of cheap weekend getaways is wandering the streets and dining in the restaurants of a prime tourist spot while feeling like you have it all to yourself (and knowing you’re saving a ton of money on vacation, too). 

3. Look for Last-Minute Hotel Deals

Kids watching TV inside a hotel room lying on the bed (Photo: @clyd_c81 via Twenty20)
Kids watching TV inside a hotel room lying on the bed (Photo: @clyd_c81 via Twenty20)

If you know you want a cheap weekend trip but don’t know exactly where you want to go, last-minute hotel deals are for you. Sometimes rooms don’t fill even in the high tourist season. Sometimes there’s a sudden cancellation and vacancy. Whatever the reason, you can find deeply discounted accommodations for your driving-distance weekend getaway by keeping tabs on last-minute deals.

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It helps to have some destinations in mind and call or look online a day or two before you want to go. Stay flexible and let the savings come to you. 

4. Take Advantage of Travel Rewards

Dog on bed at Aloft Hotels, a dog-friendly hotel chain
Sign up for hotel loyalty programs to find special deals (Photo: courtesy of Aloft Hotels)

Among the privileges afforded by a good travel rewards credit card are flexible rewards points that can be redeemed for travel, lucrative bonus points offers, and built-in benefits like complimentary room upgrades.

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Even if you don’t want to carry a travel-centric rewards card, you can still join the free loyalty programs of major hotel chains with kid-friendly family resorts close to home. These programs let you earn points and special offers you can use toward discounted weekend getaways. 

5. Use Coupons, Discounts, and Multi-attraction Passes

View of the Manhattan skyline and Empire State Building in New York City (Photo: @eric_urquhart via Twenty20)
View of the Manhattan skyline and Empire State Building in New York City (Photo: @eric_urquhart via Twenty20)

Coupon books for major U.S. cities like those offered by CityPASS offer great savings for close-to-home weekend getaways. Contact your local tourism office or convention and visitors bureaus to see what kinds of discounts are being offered to tourists and take advantage of those on your weekend getaway. 

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Many popular destinations also offer savings on multi-attraction passes, so if you’re already planning to visit the science museum and the aquarium on the same weekend getaway, for example, you can usually save money with a discounted pass that covers both attractions. 

To save money on hotels, look for discounts that come from your other affiliations, such AARP travel discounts or deals from AAA. Booking a nonrefundable hotel rate will also bring the cost of your getaway down. And, when in doubt, call or check the hotel’s website directly to see if they can offer you a better price than what’s available from the major online travel agencies. 

6. Get a Room with a Kitchen

Christmas gift ideas for foodies (Photo: @Colour_Your_Life via Twenty20)
Booking a hotel room with a kitchen cuts down on dining costs (Photo: @Colour_Your_Life via Twenty20)

One of the major expenses on any family vacation or weekend trip is the food. The cost of dining out adds up fast, but if you book a hotel room or vacation rental home with a full kitchen or even a smaller kitchenette, you can save money by preparing some meals in your hotel. 

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7. Never Say No to a Free Breakfast

Breakfast offerings at Oga's Cantina in Disney's Orlando Star Wars land (Photo: Walt Disney World)
Breakfast offerings at Oga’s Cantina in Disney’s Orlando Star Wars land (Photo: Walt Disney World)

It’s hard to beat free. Fill up on the pastries, granola, and scrambled eggs served at most major hotel chains’ continental breakfasts. The money you save by eliminating one meal a day from your budget can go toward more exciting things. And don’t forget to grab a to-go coffee on your way out.

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8. Make Lunch the Fanciest Meal of the Day

Couple dining in a restaurant (Photo: Shutterstock)
Couple dining in a restaurant (Photo: Shutterstock)

Speaking of food costs, sometimes a restaurant you can’t afford for dinner is right within your budget for lunch. Enjoy a nice meal at an upscale restaurant on their less-expensive lunch menu for a taste of the good life on your weekend getaway—without the accompanying price tag. 

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9. Don’t Overschedule 

watching a Christmas movie
Build a little down time into your weekend getaway (Photo: @zelmabrezinska via Twenty20)

Weekend getaways go wrong when you try to cram too much into a few days away, especially if you’re vacationing with toddlers who need some built-in down time. Plan to do some fun activities with the kids, but don’t overschedule it. The idea is to return to everyday life relaxed and refreshed, not feeling like you need another vacation. 

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Bring a book and take a break now and then. Maybe even take a nap. (You know you want to!) Being away from the usual environment is often enough to make your family time feel special. Taking a slower pace to your getaway is an easy way to save money, too.

10. Arrange a House Swap

Vacation rentals are often large enough for big groups (Photo: @keithbetti via Twenty20)
House swaps are one way to cut down on lodging costs (Photo: @keithbetti via Twenty20)

One way to upgrade your cheap weekend getaway is with a house swap through a reputable service like Home Exchange ($175 for an annual membership). You can also trade homes with friends or family to cut costs even further. Sometimes all it takes to have a cheap weekend getaway is getting outside of your ordinary life for a day or two.

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Josh Roberts
Josh Roberts is the Editorial Director and Co-Founder of FamilyVacationist. He is the former Senior Executive Editor at Tripadvisor, SmarterTravel, Airfarewatchdog, and FamilyVacationCritic. He has been recognized with multiple awards for excellence in travel journalism from the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA). His work has also appeared in Insider, Yahoo, USA Today, Tripadvisor, and many other publications.