Traveling with a family to exotic locations may not be in your budget this summer, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have options for some great adventures.

I started planning this trip in February. One week, five people, two dogs and as many exciting locations as possible. My husband is a disabled veteran, so he receives a lifetime pass to National Parks and Monuments in the United States. We knew this would allow us to see “sites” without spending a bunch on entrance fees!

Over the next few paragraphs, we will go through how the pre-trip costs break down and the timeline for scheduling. This will help you be well on your way for a family vacation spending under $2,000 USD.

Where will I go?

The first decision you have to make when planning a vacation is location. Not all destinations are created equally. Some places may be incredible, but unfortunately the lodging is pricey. If you aren’t going to drive you will need to figure out locations that flights or train rides aren’t too pricey.  Our family lives in Colorado, so I came up with a handful of locations within about ten hours for possibilities. We selected the Southwest and the planning continued.

When will I go?

I like to pick dates right before the most uncomfortable time of year. July in the Southwest is pretty hot. Actually, it is very hot. So, we chose early June. The weather would not be quite as hot, there would not be as many tourists and yet we would still be able to see everything.

Where will I stay?

Have you ever heard of VRBO? It stands for Vacation Rental by Owner. Typically, these are homes or guest cottages available for rent by their owners. Homes have kitchens and kitchens mean you will spend less on eating out (and for the intents of this budget we did not include regular grocery expenses). Look for locations a little further out or that appear a bit simpler. We have never been disappointed and it is sometimes nice to get away from a touristy section and just let our kids and dogs breathe. I also like to find homes that don’t have large deposits as that can drive up the cost of lodging. I suggest spending the $45 or so on trip insurance as cancellation is typically steep at these spots.

What will we eat?

As I said above, I don’t count regular groceries in our budget for trips. When we pile everyone in the car, we start with a cooler and food for the first night or two. That plus sandwich supplies keeps the cost of eating at a normal rate.

So, where are we going exactly on our adventure?

For our family this summer we are starting in El Paso County, Colorado. Our first two nights we will stay in Yellow Jacket, CO near Mesa Verde National Park. We elected to take a longer route through Telluride and other beautiful mountain spots. It added about an hour and 20 miles to our trip but it was definitely beautiful!

Breaking Down our Costs so far…

  • National Park Pass                                                             free for some or $80 for an annual pass
  • 2 nights lodging in Yellow Jacket, CO                            $394 (with insurance and fees)
  • 4 nights lodging in Flagstaff, AZ                                     $616.68 (with insurance and fees)

Total Pre-Vacation Spend                                                            $1,090.68

Plan ahead… gas is about $40 per fuel up for our van. Each leg of the drive should be calculated at 1.5 tanks of gas to allow for safe budgeting. $60×3 = $180.

* road trips are an excellent way to teach your kids how to calculate miles per gallon and cost per mile for traveling.


Stay tuned for the Yellow Jacket cost break down and what we did.

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