It seems like it’s been forever since we’ve been on a family vacation. Since we are far from family we always put our vacation time and money into going home several times a year. Except this year was different…we decided to make our family the priority and do something for US (plus my son hates the car so we aren’t going to Illinois again until he’s 10).
We knew we didn’t want a long plane ride but wanted to go somewhere warm and kid friendly in roughly the same time zone (OCD much?). We settled on Ft. Walton Beach Florida because #1- we’d been to the area before and #2- we found a sweet condo community that was SUPER kid friendly.
Our goal was to do a 7 day vacation without breaking bank. Although we did splurge on a few things I think we did a great job keeping costs down overall. Here’s how we did it-#1- We didn’t spend a dime on airfare or our rental car. We use a Capital One card and cashed in all our points from the last year. In order to do this we charge EVERYTHING we can to the card, then pay off our balance in total every month. There is a yearly fee on the card ($60 I think…) but we end up earning several thousand dollars in rewards every year. Chaaaaa chiiiiing!
#2- We splurged on the condo we were staying in but ended up saving money in the end because it had EVERYTHING we needed. We had a fully equipped kitchen to prepare our own meals and a washer/dryer so we didn’t have to pack as much clothing (and pay extra to check another piece of luggage).
The complex also had a lazy river, kid friendly zero entry pool, a splash pad and a toddler play area…all on top of being right on the beach. We could have spent 100% of our time at the complex if we wanted to which cut down on our activity costs.
#3- We brought our own car seats. You can rent these on top of your car rental but it was cheaper and easier for us to pack ours up. We purchased these Jeep Car Seat Travel Bags (on Amazon now for $12.87!!) to protect the seats since we were flying and had to check them. These bags are AMAZING because they have extra pockets and a sturdy zip up so you can actually pack more junk into them. We stuffed ALL our beach toys and towels in with the seats and GUESS WHAT…checking car seats is FREE when you fly. Yet another reason we were able to eliminate checking an extra bag (and paying the extra money for that bag). Cheap? Yes. Smart? Oh yes.
As a note, you can see our car seats are in the black bags in the picture below. My son has a Britax Marathon and my daughter has a Graco Nautilus and their seats fit perfectly in the bags with plenty of room to spare!
#4- We rented a car one size smaller than our own. This might not have worked if we we have had to check one more bag but we were able to shove all our junk into a smaller SUV and saved some money getting a smaller car than we are used to. I mentioned previously that we didn’t actually “pay” for a car…just used travel points. But we save our points just like we were to save actual cash for a trip so I still consider this an expense.
#5- We stuck to free activities. When we needed to get out of the condo we either went for a walk on the pier or drove down to Destin (a larger city) to scope out the scene there. There are also two very good a FREE air museums in the area- one at Eglin Air Force Base and one in Pensacola (home of the Blue Angels). We’ve been to the Pensacola museum during a previous kid free trip and really enjoyed it but it was a little far for us to drive from where we were staying. We opted for the closer Eglin Air Force base and the kids had a blast!
I should note that we did splurge to visit the Gulfarium. It was so expensive for what it was (I think we spend $60 for our family of 4 and our little guy was free!) but we live in central MI and my kids have never seen a dolphin in their lives. It was worth the price to see their faces during the dolphin show but if we lived in an area where we had access to an actual aquarium then we would have skipped this.
#6- We passed on souvenirs. The kids were given a little spending money from Grandma and Grandpa but that was the only money they spent on “junk” while we were there. Instead I focused on taking lots of pictures and videos. I want them to remember the experience they had buy putting together a video collection and doing a photo book, not by a t-shirt that they will grow out of or a $20 snow globe that will be broken by Christmas. I plan on using Shutterfly for our photo book and put together this movie via iMovie (it was WAY easier than I thought!)-
We had so much fun and can’t wait to take the kids back. We’ve also promised ourselves NOT to wait so long in between vacations if possible. I think next up will be Disney for us though so we might need about 17 years to save up. Geez!