How I Really Afford Family Vacations

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A few years back I stumbled across the reality television show “17 kids and counting” and Jim Bob happened to mention credit cards. I was in over my head in debt, I’m prone to impulse buys (and not even on good stuff) and yet I deemed it mandatory to vacation yearly. Both alone and as a family but based on my debt those days were coming to a screeching halt.


Jim Bob had no idea, but that night he challenged me. He doesn’t use credit cards. He pays for everything flat out by saving the money. Soon I found myself researching debt consolidators. I switched my debt into one lower monthly payment and cut up my credit cards. Doing my own math, I realized that an impromptu lunch – you know the one initiated and paid for by me – costs me triple in the long run after making minimum payments and with interest rates.

Feeling like an idiot, an idiot that wanted to go to Hawaii AND Disneyland, I needed a plan and quickly.


I soon realized I already initiated the wherewithal years earlier. See I never held a large limit credit card but still managed a yearly trip to Hawaii. How?


Pleasant Holidays! Pleasant Holidays makes vacationing in Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean easy and affordable. Here is why I love pleasant holiday – you choose your trip, you can price out your dream trip then scale down if needed. I love daydreaming on their site and “touring” various properties. But I also realized I could book a trip because you only need the airfare as a deposit. If you can’t afford to pay for the whole trip at once the remaining balance is due 45 days prior to your trip, and they accept partial payments until that deadline! The sooner in advance you book, the longer you have to pay. It’s brilliant!


Most of us keep change jars and when I finally cashed ours in we had over $300. It was a start.

In addition to change jars, why not recycle your own cans and bottles? Living in San Francisco our recycling is taking long before the Recology truck arrives. The truth is my recycling is sitting out back, but I know it’s there. When I’m ready to cash in (maybe you’ll be more ambitious in this department).


Start a vacation fund. I find it easier to stash vacation funds at home (but that is me) or have a friend hold your cash for you (thank you bank of Molly! True story)!

Supermercados are dangerous for impulse shoppers like me! Doesn’t every asthmatic need a 3 pack of lighters, mini Lysol and sharpies? But if you look a bit higher you’ll see Disneyland 2 & 3 day passes! Disney also sells gift cards (although the Disney dollars were much cooler) in a variety of increments. I started collecting them until I had purchased enough for my family to take a trip. Brilliant!


Airlines sell gift cards as well and you also you have the option of buying miles for yourself for as low as $25 for around 500 miles. Sign up for email alerts as airlines offer double miles for short periods of time. Extra, extra tip airline gift cards is a great gift idea for college students. If you know where your child wants to or is attending school research airline hubs, best flight options and start buying miles and gift cards now. This helps with unplanned last minute visits and homesick trips.

Depending on where you live a vacation might entail a road trip, so I started stocking up on gas cards! Gas is outrageous, so I buy and give gas cards year round. At first I received a few funny looks but once prices went up over $4 a gallon I was then deemed “thoughtful”. If I want to make the hour and 30 minute drive along the picturesque highway 1 to Santa Cruz then having a $50 has gift card on-hand means I can enjoy a guilt free (although not calorie wise) lunch at our favorite coastal spot. The beauty of a boardwalk destination is they offer free admission and an option to buy per ride as opposed to all day passes. Most boardwalk locations offer a free summer concert series or cook off competitions (for minimum fee).


Memberships are also a perfect idea. I just renewed my zoo membership for $115. Most venues offer a “guest” pass in lieu of listing an individual and up to 5 children FREE entrance per adult! My local zoo has a brand new playground and various events year round including boo at the zoo and zoo lights. The playground and special events make the membership price well worth it. Plus it is great when you have out of town visitors.


The cost is even less if you split a membership! Win/Win!


Buying in bulk is not something I do for all products, but wholesale places often sell, at discounted rates, amusement park tickets, movie and restaurant tickets as well as vacation packages. Our $50 a year membership to Costco save’s us big time.


Keeping a couple of movie passes in your wallet also come in handy when you forget to buy your nephew a birthday present. Then see him a few days later…And it still beats underwear and socks.

Special thank you to my friend and fellow mom, Pilar, whose curiosity about my travels inspired this blog.


J. McKenna is big sister of two, mother of four and auntie of 14.

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