Living well on less-how to save money on entertainment and travel

It's a new month, and another opportunity to share with you how our family is able to live well on less.
In case you missed the previous posts you can find them here:
Save money on clothes for the whole family
15 tips to save money on your food bill
saving money on your cell phone
how to survive without cable
If you are a family with children still living at home, many of you will be having spring break in the next few weeks.  This is a time of travel for many, and for others a time of scheduling activities that your family doesn't usually have time for when school is in session.

This month our focus is on saving money on travel and entertainment.
Our family has taken some amazing vacations.
We have visited all inclusive resorts in Ixtapa, Mexico, visited Disneyland not once, but three different times, gone to Legoland, taken a 7 day Mexican Riviera cruise and skied the slopes in Whistler, BC to name a few.  
My husband and I have had time to get away to Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, and taken a Mexican Riviera cruise (yep, 2 cruises, 10 months apart).  We hope to spend a relaxing week away in November this year to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary.  
With friends {with flight benefits} I have been able to travel to Maui, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Washington DC.
Santa's Arrival by Canoe
I mention these trips, not to make you jealous, but to let you know that you too can travel with your family on a budget.  I will also take this time to make a disclaimer.  
We have been fortunate enough to travel with our extended family, with them covering some of the travel expenses for us.  Several of our family vacations wouldn't have happened without their financial support.  My  dad had a job for years in Southern California, so a visit to his place always included a trip to Disneyland.  We love to travel and appreciate the times that we get to experience a family vacation with more than just our immediate family.
The easiest way to save money on travel is to not go anywhere or do anything.
But then life would be pretty boring now wouldn't it?
One way that we are able to travel is to plan ahead.
We may not always know where we are going, but if we plan ahead for a time period {say June of 2014}, we can spend time searching for the best flight and hotel deals and then can narrow our search from there when we find a good deal.
With three kids and a dog, it's hard to be spontaneous, but I will often times search last minute travel sites {it's how we were able to book a cheap family cruise on Royal Caribbean}.  If you find yourself itching to book last minute travel you can check the last minute deals on expedia.  I've also used vacations to go 90 day ticker to look for resorts and cruises.
Another tip to saving money when you travel is to
  go when no one else is going.
Spring break is not only an incredibly busy time to travel, it's also quite expensive.
Airfare to many locations usually doubles if not triples over breaks and popular travel holidays (Christmas, spring break, Thanksgiving).  
I know lots of families tend to head to Disneyland for spring break.  In our experiences, I would rather take the kids out of school then face the lines and long waits that occur at popular destinations like Disney.  If we are planning a trip to a popular destination like Disney or Legoland, we try to book our trip when no one else is going to be there.  It makes our visit more enjoyable with less waiting and we are able to experience more of the park and attractions making more bang for our buck.
This graph is a great indicator of lower crowds at Disney World (and I find it true with what I have seen for Disneyland as well).  Go in the green, not in the red.
Disney World 2013 Crowd Calendar
Try an all inclusive
I know hearing the term all inclusive may sound expensive, but you can often times get great deals at all inclusive resorts and sometimes kids stay and eat free.  Last year, I wrote a few tips on how to make the most of your all inclusive vacation.  My husband and I love visiting all inclusive resorts because you don't have to worry about food costs and going out for all of your meals.  You can eat as much as you like and you don't have any hidden costs while at an all inclusive.

Watch for the best deal, even after you have made reservations.
Many airlines and hotels are offering the best price guaranteed.  A few years ago, we booked a trip to Puerto Vallarta months in advance, but when we saw that the flights had decreased in price, we were able to get a refund on the difference of the price we paid and the price that was available.  With the internet, many hotels will match the best price that you find, even if you have already booked your reservation.  Just know that after you have booked your vacation, your job isn't done yet!  Keep checking on those prices to make sure you get the best deal.
If you are flying, travel light
Most airlines charge an extra fee for checked baggage.  Learn to travel light and save yourself some money.  Lets be honest, you probably over pack anyway.  When I took my two younger kids and myself to San Diego for four days, I managed to get everything that we needed packed in a carry on and a backpack.  It is possible!

Plan your meals
If we are traveling, we try to book a hotel that provides a free Continental breakfast.  When I went to Maui with friends, I brought along bowls and instant oatmeal.  I also packed protein filled snacks to keep me full until dinner, which was the only meal that we would eat out.  When we travel as a family, I try to pack as much food as I can or we visit a grocery store while we are in the area so that we can keep food costs low.  If you can, stay at a hotel that has a few conveniences like a mini fridge and microwave to make life easier.
Be creative
When we took our cruise, we found that the bus transfer for our family of five from the airport to the cruise terminal was actually more expensive than hiring a limo.  When we are traveling this summer for two weeks, we looked into hiring a shuttle to take us to the airport, but actually found that it's cheaper {and more convenient} to leave our car at a nearby lot for the time that we are gone.  When we travel to Mexico, I do lots of research about the average van transfer rate to our resort so that I know how best to negotiate for prices, because as we have learned, everything is negotiable in Mexico!
Be flexible
If you are flexible with your travel days, you can often book cheaper airfare and hotel rates.  Leaving mid week usually saves you some money on travel.
When you travel, you probably are visiting somewhere people have been before.  With the power of the internet, many people are writing about their experiences and are happy to give you their tips and tricks.  Many resorts and cruise lines are happy to book your excursions for you, but these will cost you.  Spending some time doing research ahead of time will save you lots of money and will sometimes give you a better experience.  I've found a wealth of knowledge on cruise forums {even if you aren't going on a cruise} and tripadvisor.
If traveling too far isn't in your price range, or if you just want to save some money by being a tourist in your own city, consider subscribing to groupon and living social.
Since we try not to travel when most people travel, we usually stay at home during spring break.  I try to find things to occupy our family and groupon deals are great for that.  As a side note, if you do plan on traveling and have plans to be in a certain area, signing up for notices for the areas that you are traveling in and buying living social deals or groupons for the city could save you tons of money as well.
Our family doesn't spend a lot of money on entertainment.
When we first got married, we redefined date night.  Most of the activities we do as a family now are because we have a groupon deal for them.  Just last week we went bowling as a family on a deal we bought at a school auction.  We go out for ice cream, but only with a coupon or groupon.  Movies at the theater?  Not unless it's at the dollar theater!  The deals are worth it.  Just make sure you read all of the fine print and are aware of expiration dates before you click buy.
How does your family save money on travel and entertainment?
Any tips I didn't mention?

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