It's that time of year again. The air is cooler, summer memories are fading, school is in full swing, and the whole family is itching to get away for a few days. Here are seven ways to do it affordably:
- Make it a road trip. The high cost of airfare and the myriad fees that come with flying mean that driving is almost always the cheapest way to get away with kids in tow. Check out your state's official tourism website as well as those for neighboring states, and look for a page of special offers. You'll be surprised at how many winter discounts and getaway packages are available at hotels and resorts within an easy drive of home.
- Find cheap gas. No-brainer apps like GasBuddy help travelers locate which gas stations are offering the cheapest gas wherever they happen to be. You can use GasBuddy before your trip to budget your gas spend, and during your trip to find gas stations along your route offering the lowest prices.
- Play dead. Timing is everything. The long Thanksgiving weekend and the holiday week between Christmas and the New Year are typically two of the most expensive times to stay at a hotel that's remotely family friendly. But the week immediately following a major holiday can be a completely different story. Known in the travel industry as a "dead week" because the crowds disappear, it's a fabulous time to land a bargain. If your kids are still in pre-school, this is as sweet as it gets.
- Break out the flip flops. Already breaking out hats and mittens where you live? If your idea of the perfect getaway includes living in your swimsuit, consider an indoor waterpark resort, such as one of the 11 Great Wolf Lodge properties scattered around the country, where it's always a balmy 82 degrees. The real value lies in what you get along with your lodging: unlimited access to an enormous enclosed waterpark that's loaded to the gills with waterslides, raft rides, spray guns, tipping buckets, lazy rivers, wave pools, surf simulators and more. The best part: attendance is limited to hotel guests, so lines never get crazy long.
- Play hooky. In general, you'll get significantly more bang from your buck if you book a midweek stay. Not only are Monday-to-Thursday rates considerably lower at Great Wolf Lodge and many other family hotels and resorts, but crowds are thinner, too.
- Bring your own food. It's easy to underestimate how much you'll spend on food when you're away. But when a family eats out three meals a day, every day, the food bill can really skyrocket. Many family-friendly hotel chains offer rooms with a fridge and a microwave, which give families considerable control over how often they eat out. Fixing even a few snacks and light meals in your room can save big money over a two- or three-day getaway.
- Snag a free meal. Being savvy means maximizing what you get for what you pay. A slew of hotels offer free breakfast and many Holiday Inn properties offer free kids' meals. This translates into genuine money-in-your-wallet value for families.
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher is a family travel expert and the co-founder and editor-in-chief of WeJustGotBack.com, a multi-award-winning family travel planning site.