When you’re paying off debt, vacations are typically a luxury you can’t afford. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the discipline needed to forego vacation. Luckily, I have tips for how to plan a frugal Gatlinburg family vacation without completely derailing your financial goals.
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Growing up, we didn’t take family vacations. When you don’t have the money for groceries, trips out of town aren’t even on the radar. That is why family vacations are so important to me. That is also why it is the area of our budget I splurge on from time to time, despite paying off debt.
If you follow me on Instagram then you know I recently kidnapped my family for an impromptu road trip to Gatlinburg. It is one of our favorite vacation spots and we hadn’t been in years.
Unfortunately, the condos we normally stay in were destroyed in the fires. They are rebuilding but until that happens, we have to find alternatives. Guess what. You can still plan a budget-friendly trip for a family of 5 easily!
Choose Your Lodging Strategically
While the Highlands Condos will always be my favorite, until they are rebuilt we have to find alternatives.
Cabin or Condo
These are a great budget options because you can cook your own meals and give your family a place to hang without being on top of each other. Cabins work best for longer stays. If you are only taking a weekend trip, they probably aren’t worth the cost.
When picking a hotel, there are a few things to consider for ultimate savings. Food and amenities should make the list in addition to location.
If you can go the cabin or condo route, do it. This is one of the most economical ways to eat while you’re on vacation. Cook all of your own meals with food that you bring down.
Try to choose hotels that have a hot breakfast included. This keeps you from bingeing on Pop-Tarts all weekend or worse, spending money on breakfast out.
Speaking of food, make sure your room has a mini-fridge and a microwave. Packing your own food saves you a ton of money. The microwave ensures your can have some hot meals instead of cold cuts or PB&J constantly.
Try to choose a hotel with an indoor pool. Then you will have a free indoor activity if you get rained out one day. Kids love spending time in the pool and won’t feel like they’re losing out, trust me.
Try to get something within walking distance of activities. You will still need to drive to some of the trails but you can also stroll the strip when you’re within walking distance.
This is our favorite way to save money in Gatlinburg. You can spend days hiking different trails and still not see them all. Make sure you are prepared for the day with sandwiches, snacks, and lots of water.
I also recommend having baby wipes on hand and some basic first aid supplies. Check out Camping Items You Didn’t Know You Needed for more ideas.
Did you know that a lot of the visitor’s centers have free museums you can go through. You can learn a ton about the area and kids will love getting up close and personal with the nature and wildlife.
Parks are another great way to enjoy free entertainment. There is a little playground right as you come into Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge. Our kids love stopping there every visit.
Don’t forget to check out the driving trail for more free nature-filled fun. There are plenty of spots to pull off and explore trails together. It is worth every minute.
If you are going to spend money on activities, bundle them. This will save you money and allow for multiple attractions.
Ordering online can also save you some money. Many of the attractions will scan the PDF of tickets on your phone if you don’t have printer access.
This is a big one for saving money. Instead of visiting attractions after the sun set, go back to your lodging and play some games. Card games are great for traveling. Here are a few of our favorites if you need some ideas:
The last tip for how to plan a frugal Gatlinburg family vacation is don’t do it alone. Consider vacationing with friends and family to split the cost of lodging and food. It also makes game nights a lot more fun!
This is especially great for cabins since you will have rooms that you can retreat to if you need space. It can also cut the cost of the cabin rental significantly.
Now, you can splurge on vacation without totally derailing your debt payoff goals. These tips for how to plan a frugal Gatlinburg family vacation will let your family create memories together and protect your bank account.
Don’t forget to pay cash for all of your vacation. No credit cards or loans. If you don’t have the cash upfront, wait until you do before going anywhere. Putting your family in more debt for a vacation is not an option.
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