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Tips for planning a cheap group vacation

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Ben Arnoldy/The Christian Science Monitor/File

(Read caption) Half Dome towers over bicyclists and drivers in Yosemite National Park's Yosemite Valley. When planning a group trip, it's a good idea to travel with people who have similar spending habits, Hamm argues.

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Two summers ago, my wife, my children, my parents and I all traveled to Texas together, in part to visit relatives but also to enjoy the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Because we took some time to plan the trip in advance and involved everyone going on the trip in the planning, we ended up finding quite a few free and frugal things to do on the trip. We were also able to save money on the trip by only taking one vehicle.

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However, there were other elements of the trip that weren’t quite as frugal. Our housing wound up being quite costly, for instance, as did our food bill.

This leads us to this winter. Sarah and I often plan the details of the following summer’s family vacation during the preceding winter so that we have plenty of time to find bargains for the upcoming travels.

We’re essentially planning two vacations for 2012, and both of them are going to be quite frugal. What do they have in common? They’re both group vacations.

Here are some of the things we’re doing to maximize fun and minimize cost on these trips by leveraging the fact that we’re traveling as a group.

We’re going with people with a similar mindset. None of the people we’re choosing to travel with next year are heavy spenders. All of them are frugally-minded people. They’re also people that we feel good about spending a significant amount of time with over a week. We want to have a reasonably-priced vacation and they’re on board with the same idea.

We’re splitting costs, looking for deals, and budgeting in advance. For both of these vacations, we’re essentially budgeting costs as a group, looking for deals as a group, and splitting costs as a group. These moves enable us to look at our situation through a lot of different eyes and the net result is reduced costs.

We’re going to visit places that are within a reasonable driving range. One vacation is within our own state. Another is only two states away. On trips this short, it makes a lot of sense to drive, not just based on money, but actually based on time. Not only that, driving means we can bring more of our own supplies, which makes these other options easier.

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We’re going to camp for at least some of the vacation. This drastically reduces our housing costs. For us, it also adds to the flavor of the vacation due to the exposure to the outdoors. We’re also considering renting a cabin for our larger group vacation.

Because we’re camping, we’re also going to make most of our own food instead of eating out. Rather than going out to a restaurant, we’ll prepare a meal in our Dutch oven. We can still have something delicious and memorable without spending a ton of money.

The vacations are based on experiences rather than being a tourist. Some of the big things we intend to do on these trips involve going on hikes and fishing, not going to pricy “tourist-y” places. Because of that, our overall budget for vacation is much lower.

In the end, it’s all about people and experiences. Keep that in mind and you’ll find yourself having a great vacation without a great dent in your pocketbook.


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