Planes, trains and automobiles: 20+ tips for planning a fall family vacation on a budget

Just because school is back in session, your travel plans don’t have to come to a halt.

For many families, a vacation or getaway in the fall — even if it’s only for a day or an extended weekend — is ideal for spending quality time with your family.

And some holidays in October and November, like Columbus Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving — or even a long weekend due to a teachers’ conference — give you a vacation head-start with the help of a three-day weekend.

As a bonus, you’ll spend less money on lodging and travel compared to summer travel. Hotels, motels and the airlines are eager to earn your business and typically offer discounted rooms and less expensive airfares in the fall.

No matter how you get there, here are some tips to get the most mileage out of your dollar.

Automobiles — family road trip tips

The good old-fashioned fall family road trip is prime for memory making and bonding with your loved ones.

Make a day of it

Plan local daytrips if time and money are tight. A trip to the orchard to pick your own apples or pumpkins is ripe for making scrapbook-worthy memories.

Live in an area of the country where fall foliage is vibrant? Take a day trip and check it out. Local pizza farms are popping up throughout the country as well. This farm-to-table experience culminates in a delicious pizza — what’s not to love?

Weekend road trips

Have a long weekend and want to go further? Do a little research on prime locations within a five-hour drive from home. That distance is just enough to get away and see something new, but not long enough to make the road trip unbearable.

When planning the destination, check to see where prices are increasing and decreasing. If you're not set on a particular destination, take a look at online services that provide information on where hotel prices are increasing and decreasing.1

Take advantage of reststops, scenic byways and historical markers along the way for picturesque picnic spots. Pack your own lunch and enjoy the crisp air.

Put down the electronic devices and play games like “I spy” during the trip.

Pack the tent

And as for accommodations at your final destination, if it’s not too chilly at night, look into camping.

State and national parks are not at peak season and oftentimes have availability in the fall. The smell of a campfire, the gooeyness of a s’more and the coziness of a sleeping bag can help create long-lasting family memories.

Tips for traveling by train

Ride the rails. A trip on a train can harken back to a time when life went along at, what some could say, a more leisurely pace.

If you’re looking for an adventure just outside your backdoor, do some research on local offerings.   Some regions offer historical trains rides that may include dinner service or a narrated tour about the stories of the locale.

Want to go farther? A train ride can be a relaxing way to see a new part of the country in a comfortable setting. Some train companies have sleeper cars and lounge/cafe/dinette cars that crisscross the majority of the United States. Look for vacation and regional tour packages that may include discounts on lodging and meals.2

Fares can be lower in the off-season, which typically runs from Labor Day to December 15. Be sure to check for discounts as well. Special rates may exist for members of affinity organizations, such as AAA.2

What to do along the way

Make memories while you pass the time by enjoying the scenery, playing card games, collaborating on a crossword puzzle, sharing stories or reading books. 

Once you get to your destination, see what the local community has to offer. While exploring cities, parks and other areas, be sure to take advantage of fall festivals organized by hundreds of local communities, towns and cities. Many of these occur close to Halloween and often include hayrides or corn mazes.3

The sky’s the limit — tips for booking a flight

Have you been planning and budgeting for your fall getaway for a while now and want to go even further? Hop on a plane!

Seek out a new city. Go see those mountains or canyons. While you’re planning travel and accommodations, take advantage of bundling opportunities to get the best deal on airfare, car and hotel. Many travel sites offer such bundles.1

Here are a few other tips when looking to score inexpensive airfare:4

  • Sign up for alerts on price drops
  •  Book early-morning or late-night flights
  • Use search tools
  • Look into perks and rewards from your credit card company
  • Mix and match airlines

With powerful tools like these just a few keystrokes away, you can book your family fall vacation in a matter of minutes. You can explore the hundreds of other options with your family and find the best fall vacation for you — and bank some memorable memories.

Make a vacation budget

No matter how you get there or where you go, be sure to stick to a pre-determined vacation budget.

Here are a few categories you should include in your budget:5

  • Transportation while you’re there
  • Accommodations
  • Food and drink
  • Must-do activities
  • Discretionary spending

Be careful not to rely too much on credit cards. And if you do use them, be sure to pay off the full balance each month.

Stick within your budget when you’re not on vacation as well. As fun as it can be to go places, take care of the fundamentals first and prioritize needs and wants accordingly. Don’t put your family’s financial future in jeopardy for a few extra days in the sun.

Enjoy yourself!

Unplug, unwind and reconnect with nature, your family and yourself.

Research has proven vacation has both mental and physical benefits. People who take vacations have lower stress, a greater well-being, are more productive once they return to work, and have improved family relationships.6

So get out there. Enjoy your time — and don’t forget to pack a camera!

  1. Abadi, Mark. 22 things you should definitely do the next time you book a hotel if you want to score the best deals, Business Insider, February 26, 2018.
  2. Brown, Angela. How to plan a train vacation, USA Today, February 21, 2017.
  3. Rowan-Kelleher, Suzanne. “Fantastic Fall Getaways Your Family Will Love,” TripSavvy, July 22, 2018.
  4. Avakian, Talia. 20 tricks you can use to score a cheap flight, Business Insider, February 24, 2016.
  5. Choi, Barry. How to create a vacation budget, MoneySense, July 22, 2016.
  6. Torberg, Shannon. Importance of taking vacation, Allina Health, June 14, 2017.
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