While planning my family vacation I tried to save money on every possible thing I could. Some of the things we did were specific to themeparks, but here are some suggestions for your vacation planning!
To me, the most expensive part of vacation is food. So, we planned on taking most of our food. We took bottled Vitamin-Waters, three 4pks of Starbucks Doubleshots (for the drive!), a case of Mt Dew, and two cases of bottled water so we didn't have to buy drinks as well as food for lunches and snacks: cheese sticks, lunchmeat (veggie :) ), yogurt tubes (frozen), carrots, Crunchpak apples, peanut butter, jelly, bread, chips, crackers, Lance cracker packs, trail mix, Gerber Graduates snacks for my 19 month-old, etc. All these things I bought over time, using overage, so very little out of pocket expenses.
This is what my van looked like after I packed the double stroller, cases of water and food/snacks. I still had to load in the luggage. ;) The banker boxes are labeled "snacks", "lunches" and "road food". There's also a small bin of sunscreen. lol.
We own a cooler that plugs in to the outlet in the back of our van (you can see it on the left in the above picture, which was purchased for DH when he was an over-the-road trucker), which comes in very handy for trips! If you do a lot of driving, I highly recommend one. The one we have is a Coleman PowerChill Thermoelectric Cooler (40-Quart)
and while it doesn't keep things ICE cold, It is waaay better than continually buying ice and worrying about things getting ruined by sitting in water when the ice melts. It kept our drinks, yogurt tubes, cheese sticks and fruit cold enough, and was perfect for our road trip. :)
The first portion of our trip was planned at a Bed and Breakfast, so a pancake breakfast was included, and we specifically chose a Bed and Breakfast with a large kitchen for the guests. We were able to use the stove/fridge to cook/heat anything we brought! Once there, we shopped at Publix for eggs and fresh fruit to add to our breakfasts. Of course I used overage at Publix to buy those things. :)
For dinner, I purchased several Restaurant.com certificates at 80% off. I didn't know if these restaurants would be good, or even open, but the idea was at $2/ea, even if we didn't use all four, we still came out way ahead! We ended up using one of the four, and saved $17, after factoring in the cost of the four certs. The first B&B we stayed at was in a fairly touristy town, and they gave us a booklet of coupons when we checked in- we were able to use several coupons out of that booklet for meals while there.
We also bought a BOGO coupon for one of the restaurants on Tropicana Rewards, which, if you haven't signed up for, I highly recommend.
When we ate out for dinner, we had plenty of leftover, enough so that one evening, we all had repurposed leftovers in the B&B Dining Room/Kitchen for dinner.
For activities, in the first city, St Augustine, we did a lot of "tourist" attractions and walking around. I used a bogo trolley coupon at Tropicana Rewards to save $22, and that was our transportation for the entire time we were there! The trolley took us anywhere we wanted to go and the kids loved riding the "train". (entertainment in itself).
Of course, the beach was free. :)
Once we moved onto Orlando, we stayed at the Doubletree on the Disney resort. I signed up at Mousesavers.net for the monthly email, which has discounts. I was able to get a 35% discount on the room, and free breakfast. Included at the hotel was a bus to the Disney properties, so we saved money on parking at the themeparks ($12 a day!!).
We weren't able to find discounted Disney tickets, so that was the one thing we paid full price for *gasp* but had we been buying 5-7-day tickets, we could have gotten a discount, but we weren't there that long.
Again, food was the most expensive item, so we packed in all our food to the parks. All the Disney parks allow you to bring in food (Hollywood Studios does not, but as far as I can tell, all others do). We filled a large backpack, packing frozen bottled water in the bottom, then a container on top of that with cheeses, yogurt, lunchmeats, etc. On top of that were pb&j sandwiches and crackers and other snacks. We splurged on a few treats, like popcorn and an ice cream/smoothie, but we saved a TON of money by not buying park food. (Plus we ate way healthier!) (A bottle of water is $3.75 at the park!)
For dinner the first night in Orlando, I went over to a salad/sandwich place across the street to get a large takeout salad, while the kids and DH swam at the hotel pool. I paired the salad with leftovers from an Italian restaurant we ate at in St Augustine, for a cheap meal! I paid under $7 for the salad, and we all ate off that and the leftover spaghetti.
Another thing I would watch out for are any deals offered by gas stations, and Facebook deals. At the beginning of April, Pilot Gas Stations had a "Free" 32 oz drink coupon on Facebook. I printed a few of these and took them with us- that way if we needed a drink, or wanted a treat, we could stop at a Pilot and get a fountain drink (and we did a few times) for free.
The other expense incurred on road trips? Fuel. So over the course of a few months, I purchased BP gas cards at Publix when they offered the deal on those (with overage in some cases) and took those with us. We didn't pay a penny on the trip for fuel. We used four $50 gas cards on the trip and still had one leftover when we got back. Yes, we paid for the cards, but we paid in advance, so I didn't have to worry about having enough money for fuel on the trip (plus I used some overage for a couple of them, so was able to save a little bit more!).
I hope this helps give you some ideas about thinking outside the box when planning your vacation! If you have any questions about our trip, shoot! :)
Oh, another idea would be to go sign up at Entertainment Book.com - when you sign up, you can print out coupons for things in all cities, not just your city (which is what you'd have if you purchased a book for your area). Right now, it's $4.95/month, and you'd only need one month to print coupons for your trip. ;) Go HERE to get an online membership. And, when you buy a book, you also can sign up for free to print out deals from other cities. HERE to activate your book. So that might be worth checking out. :)