It's fall and my family and I wanted to get away for Thanksgiving for many reasons but mostly because I didn't want to be sad. It's been almost a year since I lost my father to Covid-19 and Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday.
Living in New Jersey, just 20 minutes from New York City I wanted to find a decent getaway that felt like I was truly away, away from the city, away from the traditional Jersey shore, and after googling a few destinations, Stowe, Vermont seemed like a pretty good option. Now, going on a budget? That's a different story, but I'll share with you some tips and options of what you can do to save yourself some money.
Winter Family Vacation to Stowe, VT or Anywhere in Fact on a Budget
1. Save Money with theGas Buddy App
If you're in the NJ/NYC area, a drive to Stowe will take you about 5.5 hours. We filled our gas tank once to get there and once on the way back. I ended up with almost half a tank left upon my return. My suggestion if you want to save money on gas is to download the Gas Buddy app. (Do this way before you go anywhere). Gas Buddy will let you earn money towards gas and reward you with points on challenges like reviewing gas stations, confirming gas prices, or similar.
Once you actually earn money to use on gas you'll be sent a gas card that works like a debit or credit card and is accepted at many gas stations. Oh and one quick tip, save your gas receipts as you can get money back after scanning your receipts at some gas stations.
As far as what to do on the car ride? Yes, pack a tablet, but also pack non screen activities like a travel journal for kids filled with activities, a magnetic bingo game, and a travel pillow that stops their heads from falling over cause I promise you they will sleep at some point!
2. Save Money and Travel Off Peak
There are many nice hotels in Stowe with lots of amenities. I suggest you look around for deals and try booking off peak or during slower days. We ended up staying at The Stowehof for almost 50% off because we went during Thanksgiving week.
We also chose this hotel because it was dog friendly and it offered a low cost of $25 per night as opposed to some hotels that were up to $100 a night. We made sure to bring Hope's faves like her bone embossed blanket, her elephant pet pillow, and her pink flamingo toy.
A side note. I've saved up to 75% on luxury hotels traveling off peak. Just check out Villa Roladi where we stayed for $125 a night, an unheard of deal in Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
I love staying at nice hotels and I emphasize love. I love feeling pampered and giving myself a taste of luxury without the high prices or high spending. Back to Stowe, The Stowehof was a lovely hotel, family friendly but with a more romantic vibe, I'm sure the husbands will love it, lol.
There are other hotels and resorts in the area that offer on site skiing and other family amenities but if you want a quieter experience with the option to do those activities elsewhere this is a nice hotel with a beautiful view.
3. Save Money on Food
For me, one of the easiest ways to save money while traveling is on food. It's also one of the biggest expense. Opt for hotels that include breakfast. For a family of 4 a breakfast can cost at least $60 at a hotel when it's not included.
Our hotel did not include breakfast so I made sure to pack enough stuff for 3 days worth of hearty breakfasts. A quick trip to Trader Joe's with croissants, toasts, cheeses, deli meats, lots of fruits, and snacks in tow and I had my mornings and snacks covered.
We ended up having a lovely Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel and went out for pretty decent pizza at Piecasso. Another money saving tip is to opt for a later lunch or what my family and I like to call "linner." You can order a pretty big lunch between 3 and 4pm (some places have lunch specials only til 3pm so double check). Take to go boxes and if you get hungry later you can always have a bite.
4. Save Money on Drink (if you drink)
If you're like me, you may enjoy a glass of wine in the evening or with your meal. Bring a bottle with you and don't forget the travel wine bottle opener. Even if you don't drink the whole thing it'll still be cheaper than 2 glasses of wine at your hotel or restaurant. I packed my favorite bottle of Josh (a good casual red wine easy on the palette) and opted to enjoy a glass of a local Vermont Fiddlehead beer on one day for $6 (which I couldn't even finish). The rest of our stay I enjoyed a glass of my wine by the hotel's lounge where you can just sit, relax, and enjoy the atmosphere.
5. Save Money on Activities
This is another area where you can save quite a bit of money especially when you're traveling with kids. Remember, kids don't need a lot to be wowed or excited so take the pressure off of having to pack your schedule with to dos and keep it super simple!
Take advantage of nature, parks and playgrounds.
Many parks are free and when you have stunning views or something as exciting as snow, making snow angels is about as much as you need to keep the kids entertained.
If it's warmer you can make play fun game of scavenger hunt and have a specific list of things to look for. You can also take advantage of playgrounds and even during pit stops during your drive. We found this fun music themed playground on our drive to Stowe at Capital Region Rest Stop in NY.
Take advantage of your hotel's amenities.
You paid for your stay, well you might as well take advantage of everything your hotel has to offer for free. Our hotel had an outdoor pool (it was freezing and very much closed) but it also had a small indoor pool that we took advantage of and because we went off peak, well we had the whole pool to ourselves. We also took advantage of the hot tub, sauna (adults anyway), and the pool table in the lounge. Bottom line, if it's there for you to use, use it.
Take advantage of free lifts, trains, monorails, or shuttles.
One fun thing that we came across was a gondola or lift that took you from one ski slope to another totally free at the top of Mount Mansfield. My daughter was eager to ride and I figured it'd be a few dollars, but when we found out it was free, well my daughter ended going on twice.
It didn't take much to appreciate the view, ride, and my pocket most certainly appreciated it. You can also take advantage of different cities' transportation systems. While some may not be free, you can still opt for a few dollars as opposed to tourist buses while can run anywhere from $20-$40.
Take advantage of the town.
Go explore the local shops around town. If you're in Stowe, make sure to get a cup of cafecito at Black Cap Coffee & Beer and chocolates at Laughing Moon Chocolates on Main Street.
Many places have photo ops or even free tastings or activities to do.
Many towns or cities have a guest center with a full list of free things to do or discounts that you can apply. Make sure to go there early in your trip so you can take advantage of these and don't be afraid to ask for them.
For a fun trip for the kids, take them to the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. While tours were closed due to Covid restrictions when we went we were still able to get some cold ice cream treats!
6. Save Money and Bring your own gear.
If you do plan on going skiing or ice skating bring your own gear. It'll save you tons of money on rentals. Another option is to find a local place where you can rent your gear for the season. We rented (well when I say we, I mean my husband and my daughter, because yo ni loca me pongo on skiis or snowboard, lol) our gear from Ski Barn.
For less than $150 you can rent your snow gear for the whole year, a bargain compared to a single use rental of $60-$80 at any given resort. The only gear I bring is my Mama Needs her Cafecito travel tumbler, a super warm beanie that covers my ears, and pair of super warm snow boots because well, while they're doing their freezing cold activities, this Latina is keeping warm!
Final Thoughts on Saving Money on Family Trips
Getting away as a family doesn't have to cost a fortune and you can do so without feeling like you're at a cheap motel. You also don't need to spend on expensive activities for your kids. Sometimes the free things bring them the most joy, um can you say cardboard boxes during Christmas, lol. Creating a legacy your abuela would be proud of includes being smart about your money while prioritizing what's important in your life, like your family.
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