Happy Traveler asked this question to Sally Black, founder of Vacationkids.com a family travel agency and author of the book “Fearless Family Vacations”. She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.
QUESTION: How Much Does A Family Vacation Cost?
This is probably the number one question we get at vacationkids. If folks don’t come right out and ask us, it’s usually the number one question weighing heavily on their minds.
We always give straight, truthful answers. It’s just the right thing to do and our clients deserve that. Honestly, this is a really tough question to answer. The reason is there are SO many family vacation options with SO many moving parts and variables. Are you planning to fly out and stay with family? Are you planning a family cruise over spring break? A European Family adventure? See what we mean?
When we talk to people about their family vacation budgets, many people get uncomfortable. We want vacation planning to be fun and exciting. We don’t want to make people anxious. Having a working budget is extremely helpful for us. It helps us to narrow choices. Budgets help everyone to stay focused. We want to find fun options that fit our families wishes and their pocketbooks. We simply want our clients to focus on having fun vacation and not worry about paying the bills later on. To us, that’s what a family vacation is all about.
What is a Good Yearly Travel Budget?- Financial experts suggest that the average family vacation costs between 5-10% of your total income. If you’re family makes $40,000 per year then experts say your yearly family vacation budget should average between $2,000-$4000. So if this is your total family budget, how do you allocate spending this money wisely? How do you know “what” kind of family vacation you can afford?
You want to be an informed consumer and understand all of your options. You want to be frugal without being cheap. We want you to have the most vacation bang for your buck. Here are some guidelines that may help you plan your vacation spending…
Airline Tickets – The average cost of an airline ticket within the U.S. is $300-$500 per ticket. If you have a family of 4 then the cost of your airline tickets alone will be $1,200 to $2000. If you’re looking to fly across an ocean, expect to pay $800- $1,500 per ticket. Airline tickets go on sale about 330 days in advance. The closer you get to the time of departure, the prices go up. If you’re trying to decide on whether it’s best to fly or take a family road trip to your destination think 500 miles. This is the average a typical family can drive within on day. If you can reach your destination by driving one day, then it’s probably worth it to drive. If you have to spend money on hotel rooms and food by driving for more than a day, then it’s probably more reasonable to fly.
Hotel Costs – This is where the old saying “location, location, location” come into play. The more desirable the location, the more you can expect to pay. Average domestic U.S. hotel prices will run between $125 to $300 per night. If you need more resort style amenities and hotel features then expect to pay more. All inclusive resorts in the Caribbean or Mexico start from $300 per night but this includes all your meals, drinks (including alcohol, smoothies or specialty coffees), gratuities and daytime activities.
Food Costs – This depends on your family’s needs and tastes. Your vacation food budget will grow right along with your children. Often people disregard their food budgets. Their thinking is “We have to eat no matter where we are”. Eating out costs significantly more than eating in. Are you planning on cooking during your vacation (and is that REALLY a vacation?). Groceries WILL cost more in tourist locations. For a very basic vacation food budget calculate $60 per adult and $45 per child under 10 PER DAY.
More Travel Math – Beverages you’ll need to figure $35-$50 per day on average per adult. Kids figure out half this amount depending upon their age. Think it’s a lot – map out a typical vacation day, at the heat of the beach…a couple of Starbucks, bottles of water, ice tea at lunch and a glass of wine with dinner – remember you are on vacation. Everything will cost more than it will back at home. Tips figure an average of $15 per person per day. Other considerations like parking or daily resort fees may come into play too.
For these reasons, many parents prefer vacation options that include food, drinks and activities. It’s nice to know in advance how much your vacation will cost so that you can budget and not return home to credit card bill shock the following month…
Family All Inclusive resorts – Are mostly found in the Caribbean and Mexico so you’ll need passports and flights. Prices start at about $500 per night for a family of four. At first glance this may appear expensive compared to the cost of a regular hotel. That’s because most folks are simply comparing accommodations and not doing all of the travel math. When you calculate the costs of meals, drinks (including alcohol), child care, activities, entertainment and tips all included in the price you’re paying for your room, the value becomes apparent.
Family Cruises – Average costs for a family cruise is between $79 – $200 per person/per night on most of the family friendly cruise lines. This is a great deal when you consider everything that’s included in your cruise fare. 70% of American families live within a 1 day’s drive of a cruise port. This means you may be able to “drive” to the Caribbean and save on airfare. (OK, you can drive to the port and take the ship the rest of the way).
Disney Vacations – Figure an average cost of $150 per person per day to stay in the park at Disney. This includes a stay IN the park at a Disney moderate resort, park hopper passes and Disney dining. This price will decrease a little if your family opts for a value style resort or opts out of dining. It will cost more if you need to fly to the parks.
Travel Agents – Some travel agents will charge fees for their services. At Vacationkids, we don’t. We can help you juggle all the moving parts and help all the pieces of planning a family vacation come together seamlessly. We have industry insight and contacts that can make your family vacation budget go farther. We look forward to planning with you.