Even if your kids don’t remember all of your family vacations, kids reap a lot of benefits from traveling at a young age. Of course, traveling with kids can get pretty pricey. So, we’ve rounded up tips to help you plan budget family travel that keeps the good times going without sacrificing any fun.
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Saving money while traveling with kids starts with the small stuff. From choosing a hotel that suits all of your needs (think: free breakfast) to planning your trips in the off season, all it takes is a little bit of prep. Like everything else these days, the cost of travel is rising. Check out these ideas for how to conduct family travel on a budget before your next destination.
10 tips for family travel on a budget
1. Be flexible about your destination
Who doesn’t love a seaside getaway? But, does it have to be tourist hot-spot? Consider smaller, lesser-known beach towns or one of the great lakes instead. You can find the magic combo of water, sun and sand in a lot of places that aren’t super pricey.
2. Points! Rack ’em up and use ’em
I am not here to tell you which credit cards you should apply for. What I can tell you is that a lot of credit cards have some kind of travel points system. If you know you have big travel plans ahead of you then try making big purchases on your travel credit card to rack up your points. Then, when it’s time to book your family’s getaway simply use your points to cover some of the cost.
3. Look for a hotel with free breakfast
Eliminate the headache of finding a breakfast spot every single morning. Find a hotel that suits your needs and includes free breakfast with your room rate. Not only will you be saving on the additional cost of a different restaurant’s breakfast each day but it’ll save time in your day that can be dedicated to exploring.
4. Book during off season
Sure, you might have a bucket list destination that you really want to experience with your kids. Consider traveling during off season rather than peak season. Summer travel is a big industry but what if your family stayed local during the summer and instead traveled during spring or winter? Depending on their age and school schedule, it might require a little more finesse but it’s worth it for your budget family travel needs.
5. Pack your snacks
No matter where you go, your child will tell you they’re hungry five minutes in. Instead of paying for an over-priced bottle of water or bag of chips, pack some snacks in a backpack. I’m talking homemade sandwiches, breakfast bars or other healthy snacks that your child loves. A hangry child will ruin everyone’s vacation.
6. Book a house or apartment
As your kids get older sharing one hotel room may not be everyone’s favorite way to travel. Booking a place with multiple rooms through sites like AirBNB gives everyone room to spread out. Plus, you can do your own laundry and grab ingredients for a home-cooked dinner rather than eat out every single night. You can also look into swapping houses with another family on sites like HomeExchange, HomeLink, and Intervac Home Exchange.
7. Do as the locals do
Paying for taxis and Lyfts can get really pricey really fast. Use public transportation to save those pennies. This is especially true for big walkable cities such as San Francisco or New York but you might be able to make it work anywhere. Take the bus, take the train, take the subway. Just be sure look into all of your options. You might even find that the price for a local transport card is cheaper than paying out of pocket each way.
8. Set a budget and stick to it
It’s true that there are only so many things you can plan for but it helps to be as prepared as possible. Set a budget for planned expenses such as the cost of certain activities you absolutely want to do. It would also be a good idea to give yourself a little wiggle room. Sticking to the budget (as much as possible) is key in not accruing more expenses than you accounted for.
9. Look for free activities
There are plenty of places that offer free entrance for children under a certain age. This doesn’t only apply to activities but also to dining. Research is your best friend here but if you’re staying at a hotel then it’s possible your concierge can also help. Look for places to eat and things to do that are completely free. Check local listings. Your hotel might also have contracts with nearby attractions. If you’re renting a place or staying at an AirBNB, you could even ask the host if they have seasonal passes your family could use.
10. Save for your trip as soon as possible
The moment you and your partner decide on taking a family trip should also be the moment you start saving for it. This can look different for every family but ideally you’d take a look at your finances and figure out where to start pulling back a little. After your important line items, keep your vacation on the forefront as the next place to allocate any extra dollars to. Another idea is to get the kids involved. Remind them that if they skip out on the stuffed animal at the grocery store checkout line then that’s a few more dollars towards their souvenirs on your upcoming trip.
Traveling with your family is a great way to bond and make special memories. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to do it. You don’t have to go far and it doesn’t have to be extravagant. Enjoy your time together and the experience of the journey.
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