Unexpected (and Totally Necessary) Costs of a Family Vacation


Next month, my husband and I will take our 2.75-year-old to Disney World for the first time. We celebrated our honeymoon, 5th anniversary and my 29th birthday at Disney, so we’re familiar with the Happiest Place on Earth. You might say I’m a little excited completely over the moon to walk around the World again this May. But along with choosing our FastPasses and booking our meals for the week, I’ve also had to spend a shocking amount of time and dollars preparing for our first real family vacation.

It’s no secret that Disney World is expensive. Like, crazy expensive.

Sure, there are lots of ways to cut down on travel costs. Plenty of blogs exist that offer advice about saving on everything from food to souvenirs. I knew going into the planning process that Disney itself would require some financial finagling. What I didn’t expect, or just blocked from memory, was how much it would cost to prepare for the trip. Over the last few months, I’ve been stockpiling trip essentials like a frenzied magpie.

Perhaps, like me, you forget when you plan a vacation just how much goes into the planning portion. I’m here to help you out, fellow Disney enthusiasts and other vacationers. Here are some hidden costs that you may not think about when you’re crunching the numbers on your trip:

Car Checkups

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t treat my car well. Oil changes, tire pressure checks and other routine maintenance rank pretty low on my list of priorities. But we’re about to take a 10-hour drive (including stops) to Orlando, and my car needs a checkup to make sure we don’t hit any unexpected (and expensive) speedbumps. Factor car maintenance in with your vacation budget, particularly if it’s been a while since you rotated your tires or checked the fluid levels.

New Shoes and Other Gear

The average Disney-goer walks about 10 miles a day at the parks, which definitely calls for some good footwear. Whether you’re hitting a theme park or chilling at a remote Caribbean isle, you’ll likely need some new shoes, clothes, or other gear to accommodate a change of setting. This goes beyond the standard things you’ll pack, like sunscreen or hats, and heads into territory like stroller fans, ponchos, backseat organizers, and other stuff for comfort and convenience. Consider where you’ll be, and plan accordingly.

On-the-Road Incidentals

If you’re roadtripping to your destination, you’ve probably already planned on stuffing a bag full of treats to keep boredom-based snacking at bay. No matter how many snacks I bring in the car, my desire for gas station goodies usually results in a chocolate milk or pastry on the road. Don’t forget to budget for spur-of-the-moment treats and other incidentals, like the cost of admission to roadside attractions. Those giant balls of string and museums of dragon figurines don’t pay for themselves, you know. In all seriousness, make room in your budget for legit on-the-road costs, like highway tolls or that box of Band-Aids you were so sure you packed.

Tipping and Gratuities

How much you tip depends on your own beliefs and conscience. Regardless of where you stand in the how-much-to-tip debate, you will likely need to tip the service people who make your life easier on vacation. That includes servers, housekeeping staff, and anyone else whose wages depend on customer gratuity. Looking for a good guide on tipping? Check out this handy chart.

Time Off

You may not need to factor in time off from work if you have a job with paid vacation time. For the self-employed, like me, taking time off can be a pricier gamble. As my own boss, I set my own schedule. But I don’t get paid when I take a vacation. If you work as a freelancer or run your own business, remember to figure in lost wages ahead of time when calculating the cost of the trip.

Small expenses add up. You might break the bank without proper planning. As you make a budget for your next family adventure, don’t forget to tally up the hidden costs. What did I miss? Share your must-haves for travel so we can build a better vacay budget together.