We all need a vacation from time to time to disconnect from our routines, recharge our batteries, and reconnect with those who are nearest and dearest to us.
But as a mom of a large family, I know that vacation expenses add up quickly if I’m not paying attention. In this post, I share how we plan a family-friendly and budget-friendly vacation.
Budget warning – this isn’t a post about how we spent next to nothing on a two-week vacation with five kids. It is a post about how we align our spending with our values and bond with our family while we do that. If that works for you, read on.
How we plan a family-friendly and budget-friendly vacation
Plan Ahead – Activities
I’m grateful that my husband loves to plan out our itinerary ahead of time. He researches multiple options and gives us a short list of activities that look interesting, exciting and challenging. Since we love the great outdoors, many of our holiday activities include nature, hiking and even extreme sports.
It’s critical to plan an itinerary in advance. It ensures that you have the time, space and peace of mind to make choices that align with your family values and budget. It also gives you the opportunity to search for discounts to the national parks and various other attractions.
We schedule times to hang out and relax – which is part of why we’re vacationing. But we limit our chillaxing so the day doesn’t get away from us and so that we don’t end up with a bunch of bored, fighting children.
We like to get an early start on the day – hitting the road by 8:30 or 9:00 am, after morning prayers (שחרית) and a hearty breakfast.
For this vacation, one of our big expenses was rappelling and caving with a hired guide. This financial choice totally aligns with what we love to do and our values-based spending. It’s part of how we set our family financial priorities.
Our trade-off for more money spent on activities is less money spent on food.
Plan Ahead – Food
We also plan out our meals. Traveling with young adults and adults (my boys are ages 11 to 21), means lots of hungry humans. Well-fed and well-nourished people make happier and more agreeable traveling companions.
This is how we do it:
BREAKFAST – the boys prepared three kilos of granola the day before we left. We packed that up together with many liters of cow’s milk, almond milk and oat milk (we have various food intolerances) and some other boxed cereals. We also packed hard boiled eggs and lots of fruit.
LUNCH – We never really had lunch. After a satisfying breakfast, we’re good to go for six to eight hours, even when we’re exerting ourselves hiking. Apples, plums, cucumbers and granola bars packed in our day packs give us enough energy to carry us through till we get back to base in the late afternoon.
AFTERNOON SNACK – When we got back to our tzimmer (see my explanation of our accommodations below) some of us jumped straight into dinner while others had a slice of cheese, a hardboiled egg or a toasted cheese sandwich. We packed lots of bread and sliced cheese but forgot the sandwich maker at home. My boys improvised by warming foil-covered sandwiches on the electric burners.
DINNER – This is where the real planning happens. Luckily, I have a great two-week menu that I created when we took a family vacation to England three years ago. I chose three dinners that I knew everyone would like and which could be made on the barbeque or in the crockpot.
Day 1 – Marinated chicken cutlets and hotdogs prepared on the barbeque. We keep the vegetables simple – canned corn, plus sliced cucumbers and peppers.
Day 2 – Spaghetti Bolognese. Before leaving on vacation, I sautéed two kilos of ground meat with lots of onions and garlic. I split the meat into two containers – one for Day 2 and one for Day 3 – and froze it overnight. I also boiled up a kilo of whole wheat spaghetti noodles.
On the morning of Day 2, I put the meat from one container plus tomato paste, spices and water into a crockpot. I set the crockpot on low and the electric timer for six hours. We were greeted by the enticing aroma of a home-cooked meal when we returned to our tzimmer late in the afternoon.
Day 3 – Crockpot beer chili. On the morning of the third day, I put the second container of meat, two cups of lentils, three tomatoes, spices and two bottles of beer into the crockpot. Like the day before, I set the crockpot on low and the electric timer for six hours. I served the chili over noodles and/or bread. Everyone chose what he wanted most.
Bring your own snacks
We packed potato chips, pretzels, rice crackers, granola bars, peanut butter, and fruit. Since we ate wholesome, filling meals, no one was really searching for snacks. We brought home most of what we packed – other than the fruit.
There’s nothing better for you than water, especially when you’re hiking in the heat. We drank lots and lots of water!
Since we don’t own a car, this is another area where we spend a lot of money. My husband drives a company car that seats five, but that’s not enough for our family.
We save money all year round on transportation costs – we don’t pay for gas, insurance, registration, repairs …. nada – and splurge when we go on holiday. We rented a 7-seater SUV so we could all travel together.
I must admit that I got a bit of sticker shock when I saw the price. It took some deep breathing, patience, and understanding to work my way through it. Renting an economy car and splitting up the family would have been much less expensive. But this is one expense that’s really important to my husband. I know it can’t always be my way and I know we can afford the expense. So I choose to quietly accept it.
Fancy hotels don’t do excite us. In fact, we prefer more homestyle accommodations that feel more relaxed and encourage family bonding. In Israel, we can choose from a variety of tzimmers located throughout the country. A tzimmer is a type of private, self-catered accommodation unique to Israel. They’re often situated in pastoral and rural areas and many of them are built like log cabins. Tzimmers are similar to an Airbnb, except that they’re purpose-built for vacations rather than being someone’s real home.
The tzimmer we rented this year had a private pool, which the kids and I really enjoyed.
Even when you plan your itinerary in advance, it’s important to be flexible. Four days before our vacation, a good friend told me that she had recently visited the Open Museum at the Tefen Industrial Park in the exact area where we were planning our holiday. We quickly reorganized our schedule to take advantage of her recommendation on the first day of our holiday.
After hiking, rappelling and caving in Park Adamit on the second day, we all agreed that we wanted to do more hiking. We switched out our plans for day three and did a full day hike alongside the Kziv Stream and then up the mountain to the Montfort Castle – a ruined Crusader castle in the Upper Galilee.
Breakdown of our Vacation Expenses
Here’s the breakdown of our expenses. Remember, that transportation was a big expense. If we owned a car, I would have listed only the cost of the gas.
Guide for Rappelling and Caving – 2,000 shekels (US$ 540)
Tip for Guide – 200 shekels (US$ 54)
Rental Car – 3,570 shekels (US$ 965)
Gas – 324 shekels (US$ 87)
Entrance fee to Open Museum at Tefen – 173 shekels (US$ 47)
Entrance fee to Beit She’arim National Park – 116 shekels (US$ 31)
Tzimmer Accommodations – 5,760 shekels (US$ 1,585)
Food – I didn’t include the cost of food since we ate meals similar that we would have eaten at home.
Total Cost – 12,143 shekels (US$ 3,309)
What about you – how do you plan your vacations? Does your holiday spending align with your values? Let me know in the comments below.
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