Trying to book your spring break family vacation (or travels throughout the year) but feeling overwhelmed and nervous about your budget? You're not alone. Family of 5 here. Traveling can cost an arm and a leg but you're in luck cuz I work my butt off finding and reviewing the best family vacation spots, and am always looking for the best way to save money (and also featuring which things are worth splurging on!), so here are some of the hacks I use, wrapped up in one handy dandy "How to save money on your spring break family vacation" blog post!! Let's go!!!
Disclaimer: There are some affiliate links included below, noted with ** You don't pay more but I receive commission from qualified purchases or registration after clicking.
No Frills Budget Airlines
When I say no frills, I mean no frills. Which means if you pick the right day, you can get tickets for dirt cheap! You'll pay extra for everything other than a basic seat and small personal item (i.e. purse or small backpack). BYO food and drinks (or purchase in flight), don't expect in-seat TV or power outlet. If you need a carry on and a checked bag for every passenger, or need to guarantee family sits together, you're better off booking with a regular "full service" airline, because the price will be the same and they have more flights and partner airlines. The no frills airlines usually don't have partner airlines, so if you miss a flight or it gets cancelled, you can really run into trouble re-booking, especially if you have a large family. Having travel insurance here is key and worth the extra expense (we always use Allianz Travel Insurance), though it can't save the time and hassle of re-booking, it can save you having to pay out of pocket for same day flights with a different airline or couple nights hotel waiting for the original airline to find seats for you.
Some "no frills" budget airlines include Spirit, Breeze, Allegiant, Frontier (if you're single with a flexible schedule, look into their "Go Wild" annual pass - you pay $599 for unlimited domestic and international flights, or $149 for their monthly pass), and a newer international budget airline we just booked our upcoming spring break travels with is Play! I played around with the dates (this is key because you'll see one set of dates is 3x more than another set, so you really have to spend some time looking at all of the options), and I got us tickets from Stewart Airport in NY to Iceland for spring break in March for $280 round trip per person! CRAZY!!! It's $120 extra per 44lb checked bag round trip though, so we purchased ONE for our family of 5... packing will be interesting (or we may have to splurge for a 2nd bag at the last minute).
For 2022 spring break we got great priced tickets with Spirit to Cancun ($290 per person roundtrip from NYC), and in 2023 spring break we saved huge with Frontier flying to Phoenix. Had a really great experience with both of them - we were careful to pay for 1 checked bag (the five of us shared!) and made sure each of our "personal item" was a small backpack each well within their size limitation. You hear some horror stories on TikTok about getting charged a huge fee to check your "oversized" personal item at the gate, so you really REALLY have to be careful with that!!
When searching flights, not all travel websites include every no frills airline... Expedia** and Kayak do include Play, whereas Google Flights does not. So, check a few places and sometimes it ends up being on the airline's website where you can play around with dates to find the absolute best deal.
Miles & Points Hacking
If you're about to be applying for a mortgage or car lease, or if you are working hard to increase your credit score, you may not want to consider this... but for everyone else, I'll go on a (non-professional non-expert) limb and say that the benefits of "smartly" mile and/or point hacking with credit cards outweighs the risks of little short term credit score dings (consult a professional if concerned!!).
I generally go for the credit cards that are free for the first year, to get the huge sign on bonus - this year I got 60k miles and 2 lounge passes from United's Chase card** and 100k points with Hilton's AmEx card**. Then before they renew and charge me, I cancel and sign up for another program/card. You really have to set reminders so you don't miss the chance to cancel before you get charged, and there are limits to how many times you can sign up to a certain type of card in a specific time frame, so be careful and read all the fine print! People who travel a LOT may find that some of the platinum card benefits with huge annual fees (we're talking $695) more than pay for themselves with all of the "free" benefits they offer. It's not worth it for me or my family, but I have a lot of travel creator friends who find theme extremely worthwhile.
While we're talking about earning points, make sure however you're shopping, you're getting cash back or earning points or miles with your purchases through a great credit card AND cash back through Rakuten** (yes, double dipping FTW) - I have Rakuten installed as a Google extension and it activates every time I'm on a site they're partnered with. We're talking 10% cash back shopping on Hotels.com**, 8% back booking tours with Viator, up to 3% back on Walmart.com**, heck, I even got 2% cash back buying our new fridge on Lowes.com last month!! One of my credit cards gives me 3% cash back for groceries, and Rakuten gives me 1% back when I shop Aldi on Instacart - boom - 4% cash back!!
I love a good five star hotel or all-inclusive resort, absolutely LOVE them, but they're not always the best choice when it comes to finances and convenience. A rental home may be a better choice when vacationing as a larger family, with multiple families, or as a multigenerational travel group - plenty of separate rooms and bathrooms, a kitchen, you name it! VRBO** and AirBNB are the most popular sites for finding vacation homes, they have great features too in case you're looking for a more unique stay, like a tiny home, treehouse, house boat, ski-in, yurt, you name it!
If you feel comfortable having others stay in your home, you could even consider house swapping casually or through an agency like Home Exchange where it doesn't have to be a simple 2 house swap (that can be hard to coordinate regarding time and destination), instead you earn points when you rent your home and use those points to rent another home, can be at the same time or another time.
If you're up for roughing it, camping is always a very budget-friendly option, especially after the initial investment of tent and gear (or RV). We had a fabulous spring break staying in a cabin at Verde Ranch RV Resort last year (read about it and watch our video here)! KOA (Kampgrounds of America) is our favorite nationwide family-friendly chain of campgrounds, most have a pool, bounce pad, and even have cabins if you prefer being in a proper structure (with kitchen, tv, and mattresses!). Read about our experience at KOA Newburgh, just north of New York City, here!
When I say drive, I mean two things...
One is that driving to your destination, instead of flying or cruising, can really help you save a TON of money, especially for bigger families!! Bus and train are also options to consider. Back when we were a family of 3 living in Brooklyn without a car, we took the bus and train to a ton of places, as far as Montauk, Canada, and North Carolina! Now as a family of 5 with a car, driving is MUCH cheaper.
By driving, I also mean: consider further away airports and cruise terminals. This week I was researching cruises out of New Jersey and New York and I found one out of Boston that would save our family about $2k as opposed to the same cruise out of NJ!! Yes, it ads a 4 hour drive for us but TOTALLY worth the savings!!
When flying out of the NYC area, we generally look at Newark, La Guardia, and JFK. But did you know, there are a few other airports in the area we don't generally consider, but you can find some super cheap flights! For example:
Travel Writing, Content Creation & UGC:
My final "hack" is something anyone can do but not on a whim, per se. It's takes a lot of work to score free or even paid travel as a freelance travel writer, travel creator, or UGC (user generated content) creator. Outsiders sometimes belittle us "influencers" like we're just running around trying to get free stuff. But it's not like that at all. The value we offer (and hours we put in) is more than equal to the value of goods or services we receive (whether that's a comped week at an all-inclusive resort or a 2-hour glassbottom boat tour). It's always a very fair exchange of goods and service, or service and service. We spend hours filming, shooting, editing, and/or writing - spending much of our "vacation" behind the screen in order to deliver high quality content and "earn" our "freebies".
As travel creators, we provide a personal point of view, helping potential travelers feel better about booking their trip, giving our communities and followers inspiration about activities, hotels, you name it! We also help the destination have a more varied and relatable marketing approach. Having a photoshoot and running an ad in a magazine, filming and running a commercial on Netflix, and hosting an influencer or content creator for a few days at your hotel all have vastly different budgets and goals in mind, but they all have value and ROI (return on investment).
Whether you want to publish yourself or sell your content for someone else to publish, you have to spend a LOT of timing growing your skills, building a portfolio, building a following (if posting yourself), and be able to pitch yourself, your skills, and your content to people in the travel industry. When I'm planning a trip for my family, I sometimes end up pitching 20+ hotels, tourism boards, and activities.
I've worked with Discover Puerto Rico, Hilton, LEGOLAND Resort, Crystal Springs Resort, Woodloch Resort, just to name a few. Back in October, tagged along my husband's business trip to Hawaii and was on my own. I pitched and was able to get comped tickets to 3 luaus, and aquarium, and 2 boat tours! When we went to Arizona for Spring Break last year, we were provided 5 nights accommodation, comped a week long rental car, and several amazing activities!
But to get these amazing "free" activities, meals, or full on vacations, I spend HOURS and hours researching and pitching before the trip, spend a good portion of the trip behind the camera (and evenings editing and uploading daily coverage to Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube), and DAYS after the trip organizing everything in a blog post and 10+ minute youtube video. Furthermore, the days spent editing and publishing content after the trip are days I cannot be working earning actual money, which is its own cost to consider. This is a reason that selling your UGC for actual money in hand comes into play.
So... yeah... it's all WORK! But it's fun work, and work that can help my family (and yours, if interested) to travel for less, potentially get paid to travel, or even have some adventures that you might never have had the chance (or budget) to take otherwise.
Have any tips on saving money while traveling? Want to know more about how we save or anything mentioned in this blog post?? Leave a comment below!!!
The breathtaking four diamond Crystal Springs Resort in northwestern New Jersey is THE spot for the ultimate high end luxury vacation. From golfing and spa treatments to gourmet dining and tastings in a $10 million value wine cellar, you can really go all out for a destination wedding, girls getaway, or family reunion. You may be thinking Crystal Springs is out of reach for your family, but think again. I'm going to show you how Crystal Springs can be your perfect multigenerational family vacation, even on a budget!! Watch my highlights video from our summer 2023 hosted stay below, and read on for my tips and tricks for enjoying paradise, without even leaving NY/NJ!!
If your budget has no limit, go ahead and book 1-2 weeks in a huge suite (or house) and get excited to enjoy ALL the amenities without a second thought. Massages at Elements Spa, and tons of fee-based amazing activities like rock climbing, teddy bear stuffing, mixology class, 3 or 7-course Chef's Tasting menu at the adult-only Restaurant Latour, a private goat yoga class, tee time one of their 6 golf courses... sky's the limit!
If you're like the rest of us, you may need to justify vacation expenses and feel like you got as much as possible for your hard earned money. And I'm so excited to be the one to tell you, Crystal Springs has SOOOOooooo many free activities and amenities, if you plan your trip well, you will feel like you got an incredible deal, lived like the rich and famous, and come home with incredible memories (and photos)! Let's get to it!!
1. Book a Suite
I know I know, a suite doesn't exactly scream "budget friendly" but hear me out! For less than $100 extra per night you can upgrade from a standard room to a studio suite, and get yourself a full kitchen (no microwave but it has an oven, fridge, stovetop, coffee maker, and dishwasher), with dining table and sleeper sofa! If bringing kids, I highly recommend leveling up to a one or two bedroom suite - kids can watch TV or play quietly in their room while you sleep in. Now THAT'S how to vacation... so you don't get home and need a vacation after your vacation!!
2. Breakfast Credit
All rooms and suites come with $40 breakfast credit per night, and breakfast at Crystal Tavern is delicioussss!!! From french toast and fritata to acai bowls and cereal, you'll put that breakfast credit to good use!!
3. Indoor & Outdoor Pools
With 7 beautiful indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs at Grand Cascades and Minerals, swimming is probably the favorite activity for both myself and my kids at Crystal Springs, year round, and it's included with your stay!!
The 10,000sqft Biosphere indoor pool complex at Grand Cascades is absolutely stunning. You feel like you're in the tropics, surrounded by palms. With a fun water slide, aquarium, waterfalls, and a little cafe with snacks, gelato, and more. Just outside you'll find a swim out heated pool, another pool, and a life size chess board. So fun!! Do note: the German Foiltec roofing material allows nearly 100% light transmission, so you'll still want to use sunblock** and/or UPF swimwear** (**as an Amazon Associate, I receive commission from purchases made after clicking those links).
At the far end of Grand Cascades, past Crystal Tavern, you'll find the gorgeous (unheated!!) Vista 180 pool complex featuring an infinity pool looking over the gorgeous Appalachian mountains, a fun swirling whirl pool, waterslide, and 180* Cafe for snacks and cocktails!
Just 3 miles from Grand Cascades you'll find Minerals Resort, and you are free to use their amazing indoor and outdoor pools as well, which includes a cliff jump outside, underwater aquarium inside, and an outdoor splash pad!
Some important things to keep in mind regarding pools at Crystal Springs:
4. Free Activities
There are SO many free activities to do at Crystal Springs during your stay, just check their event calendar here for things like petting zoo, glow golf, movie nights, marshmallow roasting, self-guided hiking, wine cellar tours, scavenger hunt, koi fish feeding, outdoor game deck (foosball, pool, and ping pong), splash yard games, and more!! And don't forget, guests can also utilize the Minerals Sports Complex gym and attend classes for free - see the gym schedule here!! We're talking aerial yoga, bungee floating, spin, barre, Zumba, you name it! There are also endless fee-based activities if budget allows, like stuffed animal building, archery, clay shooting, golf, mixology class, paint and sip, VR games, IWall Exergaming, rock climbing, etc.
5. BYO Snacks, Booze, & Food
While delicious and worth a splurge IMO, food and alcohol bills can really add up when utilizing restaurant dining exclusively. If you're on a budget, I've got a great tip for you here! Wine Country, Walmart, and ShopRite of Franklin are just 4 miles away, so you can load up on snacks, booze, and groceries! There are also several fast food options as well as a pizzeria in that one complex, in case you're looking for quick and cheap :)
And don't forget, you do get $40 breakfast credit per night, so definitely use that! And you can find relatively affordable (and quick) grab and go options like $10-$16 sandwiches and salads, as well as fruit, pastries, popcorn and more in the coffee shop on both Grand Cascades and Minerals Resorts.
If you have the budget, you should definitely have a meal at each of the restaurants at Minerals and Grand Cascades. Restaurant Latour is definitely my favorite, absolute decadence, for adults only, get a babysitter and have an unforgettable dining experience here!! I love Crystal Tavern, too, with a great variety of food and prices to choose from whether breakfast, lunch or dinner. Gorgeous views as well! Springs Bistro is also delicious, their pasta and pizza are *chef's kiss*!! Kite's Restaurant, over at Minerals, is more casual and never disappoints! We've been to Crystal Springs 4 times but still haven't had a chance to dine at Chef's Garden, an al-fresco garden to table experience, because it's not open daily (check the schedule and go if possible!!)
6. Come Early, Stay Late
I'll be honest, their 4pm check-in is painfully late, but you can come as early as noon and start enjoying all the fun on the property! Because both indoor pools have locker rooms and free lockers, you can even utilize the pools before check-in and after checkout giving you 2 FULL DAYS of fun with a 1 night stay, or 3 full days with a 2 night stay, which is our favorite bang-for-your-buck length of stay... or "staycation" if you're fairly local like we are! Ah-may-zing!!
7. Drive and Save!!
When traveling to a far away city or exciting location, you probably won't be spending much time at the hotel, so you can scrimp on accommodation and save your budget for other things such as tours, flights, and food! But when you come to Crystal Springs, the hotel IS the destination. It has EVERYTHING, with plenty of included activities to fill your entire day!
If you're in the TriState area you won't even have to worry about the cost of flights, the anxiety over delays and cancellations and whether or not they'll charge you for a carry-on, and you won't be spending half the day traveling!! Crystal Springs Resort is just a beautiful 1 hour drive from NYC, making it the perfect 1 or 2 night "staycation" getaway if you're short on time or budget, of course a week would be magical!! And... this is a "Condo Hotel" meaning you can actually buy a unit and they'll rent it out for you! I've been considering this for a while... sounds amazing!!!
8. Buy a Day Pass
A day pass won't make sense financially for a big family, but if you're coming up solo or with a few friends just for the day, it may be worthwhile to consider! Shop for Day Passes and other activity gift cards here!
Have any questions about Crystal Springs?? We've been FOUR TIMES (2019 & 2023 in summer with kids, 2021 in winter with kids, and 2020 on a "momcation") so I'm happy to answer any questions!!!
Here are some other posts we think you'll enjoy:
Ever feel like you need a vacation after returning from a family vacation? Have you thought traveling with kids is just parenting in another location? Join the club!!! The struggle is real, but there are some alternatives to just powering through. Today I've got 4 amazing tips for scoring FREE childcare on your next family vacation so you can feel like you actually ENJOYED the vacation with your family - both your kids, your partner, and maybe even some alone time!! Watch my video below for all the details including multigenerational travel, all-inclusive resorts with kids club, traveling and co-parenting with another family, and bringing along a babysitter on your vacation!
Have more tips for planning and carrying out the most amazing family vacations, momcations, or solo travels?? Leave a comment below!!
Each year we spend a good chunk of time and money going to my hometown to visit our family. My sister's family comes in from Montreal and mine from NYC. All of us are avid travelers and wanderlusters, so we sat down last year and unanimously agreed that we would start taking trips somewhere new rather than just going home, as much as budget allows.
This year marked our first attempt and it was, in a word, A-MAY-ZING!!! As word spread of our exciting plans, extended family jumped in and we ended up with a group of 19 adults and children joining from USA, Canada, and Japan!! And the location? Puerto Vallarta, Mexico!
Our requirements were:
Meeting all of our requirements was the Crown Paradise Club Puerto Vallarta. For my family of 5 (granted the 2 babies were free), one week including flights, hotel, all food and drinks, was $3,000. Awesomely budget-friendly!!
For us, 2 best things about the Crown Paradise were:
1) Their pirate-ship themed kids' pool, featuring a bunch of water slides (9?), which was SOOOOOO much fun for the kids and adults!
2) Their kids' programs. They have a "Baby Paradise" where you can drop off kids ages 18 months - 4 years, for free!! Unfortunately our son lasted all of 5 minutes in there before our pager went off and we had to run back to pick up our sobbing child. Ugh. Apparently another child wanted to share, and ours did not... But he did love the little ride-in car we got to borrow from them. He was riding in style around the resort!! They also have a "Kids Paradise" for kids ages 4-12, and this was great. During the day the leaders would walk around the pools collecting kids for games and contests, and in the evenings they had "parties" the kids could attend while parents went off to have romantic child-free dinners.
Also amazing was the food. Their buffet was great, TONS to choose from and even a kids' buffet corner. They had 3 a la carte restaurants which were great (Italian, Asian, and French), but a bit annoying because you have to call a day ahead, from your room, to make a reservation.
The beach was beautiful, though I'm not much of an ocean girl. Some of our party did the free kayaking, and my hubby and his family paid extra for parasailing!! It was really exciting to watch, maybe I'll get the guts to actually do it next time!
The rooms were nothing special, but they were clean and ours had a nice balcony with views of 2 pools and the beach. I enjoyed nursing my babies out there while people watching!! We got 2 complimentary pack 'n plays for our girls, and there was plenty of room to fit them, but they were very dingy and disappointing. Our babies are only 5 months so clean sheets fitted over the mat was fine, but if they had been older and standing and chewing on the rail of the beds, yikes, I would have been really upset... So, if this sounds like your situation you may want to consider bringing along your own baby bed (like a blow up Dock a Tot perhaps).
The free nightly entertainment was also a bit disappointing. First off because it was not quite the level of professionalism and excitement as I was expecting, but also because it was so late. Most shows didn't start til 9, and after bringing all the kids to 2 shows I quickly realized it wasn't worth it. For the rest of the week we all went back to the room after dinner, nursed the babies, and were in bed by 9pm.
The only other negative thing at all I have to say about the resort was that several underwater steps in the kids' multi-level water park were no longer marked. I tripped going up and down steps that I didn't see, and I witnessed several children unexpectedly going under water because they missed steps down. We had water wings on our toddler and he was never out of reach, but this seemed a bit dangerous. Also, there were no life guards. So, long story short, please keep a close eye (or hand) on your kids if they're not very good in the water.
If you start getting antsy to get out on some adventures, there are TONS of excursions you can book right from the hotel (and if you have the time to sit through time share spiels, you can free excursions or other goodies). We did a full-day city/tequileria/jungle tour which was pretty cool, but I would have been 100% fine with just staying on the resort property for the full week! With all of our family with us, they were so helpful with watching the babies while we swam or ate, it was so relaxing and one of the most amazing vacations of my life... so far!! I really hope we can visit the Cancun location of Crown Paradise sometime soon!!!
Here's a video montage of our stay in Puerto Vallarta, enjoy! We sure did!!!
I'm a NYC metro area mom blogger living in NJ with my Japanese husband & our 3 kids (twins plus 1), focusing on fun and honest product and travel reviews, saving moms time finding the best for their families! Find what you need in the menu bar or search section above!