By John Frenaye
For the average dual-income household, planning a family vacation can often be an expensive proposition. But with the divorce rate still hovering around 50 percent, it's even more challenging for single parents, like me, who struggle to afford some much-needed downtime for the family. After almost 10 years of being a single dad and treks to four continents with kids in tow, I've come up with a few ways to save a buck and still have fun. Here are my top five money-saving, single-parent family-travel tips:
1. Travel Off-Season
Paris is just as beautiful in January as it is in May - but a lot cheaper. The Caribbean is a lot less expensive during hurricane season - and not that much warmer. Alaska tends to be an expensive trip, but is manageable at the beginning or end of its peak season (May and September). Look for destinations and specials for the off-peak times. Very often, with off-season travel, you'll find discounts of 60 percent and more.
2. Look for an All-Inclusive (or Mostly Inclusive) Vacation
With kids, I have found that the incidentals incurred on a trip will kill the wallet. A trip to McDonald's, because all my youngest will eat is Chicken McNuggets, will be $20 before I know it. When I travel, I look for all-inclusive resorts or a mostly inclusive cruise. No, it's not McDonald's, but the food will please all palates, and the entertainment is already there for no additional charge. The cost is a bit higher on the front-end, but when all is said and done, you'll get more bang for your buck.
3. Ask for a Discount or an Upgrade
It's that simple. All travel suppliers want your business and hope you come back. If they can accommodate your request with minimal or no cost to them - they will. If you booked your family of four into a single room, ask if they might upgrade you to a suite or two connecting rooms. You have nothing to lose and a whole lot of comfort to gain. In a hotel, consider paying for (or asking for) the concierge level. Typically, they have a lounge with snacks and drinks to keep the kids satisfied and most will have a private television room as well.
4. Travel During a Crisis
Did you hear about the H1N1 (swine flu) virus? The media and the government sent the world into a panic. Mexico was decimated from a travel point of view. But what a great time to travel! No lines, cheap airfares and hotels at 80 percent off. The service will be top-notch because your business is appreciated and there are fewer people to serve.
I was in Cancun just after the swine flu scare became national news. Airfare, hotel accommodations and meals for four people for a week: just over $2,000. That included tips, a virtually empty beach and staff that tripped over each other to serve you. I was in Hong Kong during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) "epidemic," and the hotels all had similar deals and 10 percent to 20 percent occupancy.
Of course, use common sense - be healthy to start, purchase travel insurance and take an objective look at the issue. For some, the risks may be too high for their comfort level; for others, there definitely are bargains to be had.
5. Join a Group
Any time you travel as a group, you should be entitled to some discount or amenity. It might be as small as three families getting together or something as large as a whole church congregation. Check with your travel agent; often times they will already have a group reserved and you can "piggyback" and take advantage of the pricing, but forgo the group amenities.
Look for organizations that have a common bond to your family. My company, Single Parent Travel, organizes group trips all over the world specifically for single parents and their kids. Your local Harley Davidson dealership may have a group travel program. Look into your church, your schools or almost any association. And if they aren't traveling ... why not suggest it - you might score a free trip.
Undoubtedly, single parent family travel can be expensive; but with a little common sense and a keen eye for an opportunity, you can be packing your bags in no time.
Budget tips for single parent family vacations, http://www.travelmuse.com/articles/travel-tips/single-parent-family-travel-savings.
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