You have set the family vacation budget and saved to meet the cost of hotels, gas, meals and fun. Still, you find you run out of cash long before you run out of vacation. What happened?

Chances are one of these vacation budget busters is the culprit:


Have you ever noticed how much a small bag of chips costs when you buy it at a gas station? Plan ahead and buy the store brand at your local grocery or stock up at the Costco once you arrive at your destination.


If you have ever found yourself in need of diapers at a resort or vacation destination, you know that it can cost more to buy a couple of diapers there than a whole box of them at your local discount store. If you’re driving, stock up before you go. And don’t forget to buy some swim diapers if you’re headed somewhere with a pool.

Entry fees

In one year I spent $60 in park entry fees for the same park. It was so frustrating when I realized I could have purchase a Federal Duck Stamp for $15 and entered several parks for free. Do a little research before you go to see what kind of annual pass the park offers. If you have a museum membership in your town, ask whether the membership card entitles you to free entry at partner attractions in the city you plan to visit via the Association of Science-Technology Centers.

Bottles of water

At $1 (or more) per bottle of water, this can add up fast. Assuming you are visiting someplace where the water is safe to drink, bring a refillable water bottle for each member of your family and refill them along the way. It’s better for your vacation budget and for the environment. Soda and sports drinks can cost even more. Consider buying a case of it before you go.


Summer is over, who needs sunscreen? We all do, but we often forget that sunscreen at home when we are not heading to the beach — then we end up paying $14 per bottle when we get there.


With two children who could star on the next episode of “Hoarders,” souvenir shops are off limits. We stick with free souvenirs such as trinkets we win at games, photos that are snapped along the way, and things we pick up at the beach. You can never have too many free seashells, can you?


We paid $25 to park close to Busch Stadium in St Louis. Then as we left, we drove down the street and found $10 parking. Palm to forehead. Plan where you are going to park, figure out if the city offers public transportation, and see if your hotel offers free parking. In large cities, check online for discount parking at sites such as SpotHero.


Hotels often charge $9 or more for 24 hours of WiFi. Look for a hotel where WiFi is included in the price, live without it for the duration of the trip or head to a Starbucks, McDonald’s or other spot that offers free WiFi.

Batteries and phone chargers

I have spent $25 on a charger at a gas station, only to find the exact same charger on eBay for less than $1. My method for preventing this wasteful spending: I keep extra phone chargers and batteries hidden away in my car.

Bottom line: The best way to stick to your vacation budget is to make a list of those things you use daily and decide whether you will need them while you travel. Keep that list handy. As you start packing, include those daily necessities in your travel bags.

For more great tips on family travel, download your free copy of 101 Family Travel Tips at, an online family travel magazine filled with tips and advice from moms who travel with their children. Or visit to read an often humorous dads’ perspective on traveling with children.