12 Ways to Save More Money When Traveling with Kids
If you and your partner traveled quite a bit before you had kids, you might find yourself in a travel slump now that the youngsters are around. Kids can make it difficult to head out on an impromptu weekend getaway or snag that last-minute flight.
And beyond the extra work that goes into traveling with kids, there’s the extra cost. Kids result in extra plane tickets, extra hotel rooms, and a near-constant need for entertainment while traveling. You might find that your travels now require twice or even three times the budget previously needed.
But despite all these challenges, if you still want to travel with your kids, it is possible — especially if you take a little care to save some cash. We have a few ideas as to how you can do just that. In the end, travel can be such a rewarding experience that results in memories that will last both your lifetimes.
Table of Contents
Saving Money on Your Destination
Before you can start planning that dream family getaway, you have to pick where you’re going. Where you’re going can impact how much you pay for your entire trip, not just transportation and accommodations costs.
1. Be Flexible
Sure, you’re flexible about where you go and when… but could you be even more flexible?
You say you’ll go wherever’s most affordable for Labor Day weekend. However, what if you took off Tuesday through Thursday for a trip post-Labor Day. And, then you worked it out with your boss to work over the holiday weekend?
You say you don’t care where you go for the kids’ summer vacation, but what if you skipped the expensive summer season altogether? And, instead, went somewhere during the fall shoulder season?
You’re fine with any destination, so long as it has a beach — but are you considering lake beaches as well as ocean locales? Big money can be saved by going to destinations on the Great Lakes (Lake Chautauqua, in New York, is one example of a great family-friendly destination) or Lake Champlain, or any inland lake versus going to a beach resort.
Consider how you can be even more flexible with your travel plans, to save some cash.
2. Tap into the “Bleisure” Trend
The “bleisure” trend came on the scene a few years ago. It is a way for hard-working business travelers to enjoy a little more work-life balance. Essentially, a bleisure trip combines business and leisure — and saves you a little money in the process.
So, if you or your spouse travel frequently for work, you can simply take the family along. Or, you can extend your trip by a few days and have the family meet you at your destination for some fun. The former will likely require your boss’s approval. However, as long as you’re paying your family’s way and they’re not interfering with your work, chances are likely it won’t be an issue.
You can save a significant amount of money this way, as the company pays for your flight and/or rental car, but also your hotel room. You’re essentially just paying for the rest of the family’s flights (if you’re flying, not driving), and then their food and entertainment. If you are flying, our guide about How to Find Cheap Flights will come in handy.
Saving Money on Your Transportation
You might think that you’re stuck paying exorbitant airfares or high rental car costs, but that’s not necessarily the case. There are a few ways that you can save cash on your transportation while traveling with the kids.
3. Fly with a Lap Child
If you have an infant or toddler on your hands, opt for flying with them in your lap versus purchasing a separate seat. While this isn’t possible once your child reaches a certain age, it’s worth exploring while you can. This is especially advisable if your flight is only a few hours long or when you’re flying with two other people You can book up a whole row and have a little room to spread out. Even if you’re only flying with one other person, such as your partner, you may luck out with an empty seat in your row.
Flying with your toddler in your lap isn’t exactly comfortable, but it could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars. And, if you are bringing your young child, you may find our Tips to Reduce Air Travel Stress helpful.
4. Go for the Economy Car
A family vacation is not the time to rent the flashiest sports car on the lot or the largest SUV. Opt instead to rent an economy vehicle. This will save you money upfront with your rental fees. However, it also will save you money throughout your trip with great gas mileage. The smaller you can go, the better.
5. Bundle Your Transportation and Accommodations Together (if you can)
If you’re going on a road trip or just driving to your destination in general, consider bundling your transportation and accommodations costs by renting a small RV. Campgrounds are much more affordable than hotels, especially if you choose to stay near a beach or national park. Plus, the experience of staying in an RV with the family is one you won’t soon forget.
Worried about driving a motorhome? You can find small RVs that are comparable to driving a U-haul or box truck. These are not only more affordable than renting a full-size motorhome, but also more suitable overall for families with only one or two children.
Saving Money on Your Accommodations
One of the biggest travel costs, for many travelers, is accommodations, but it doesn’t have to be.
6. Don’t Fall for this Risky Money-Saving “Hack.”
Any guide to saving money on hotels will likely instruct you to look for hotels that are not in popular neighborhoods. Or to find hotels that are just outside of a city’s downtown. But that’s some advice that you want to take with a grain of salt. While this advice sounds well and good on the surface, it could cause you to end up paying more for your trip overall. It could also give you a few good headaches.
Think about it.
Suppose you were to stay slightly outside New York City, to save on a hotel room. You then intend to take the train into the city each day. You’re going to end up paying for that train ride for every member of your family, every day, for however long your trip is. That’s a lot. Then, once you’re in the city, you’ll pay even more for rideshares or taxis to get you around Manhattan.
But, you say, what if I’m going to rent a car at my destination and then drive from the suburbs into the city? That’s a good idea — if you won’t be paying exorbitant parking fees every day to drive that car downtown.
So, before you book that hotel in the suburbs, do your research. Will the decision save you that much cash? Or will you end up paying an arm and a leg for public transportation and/or parking?
7. Look for Hotels with Kid-Friendly Amenities.
Before picking just any ol’ hotel, look for options that might be a little more kid-friendly. If you can find a hotel with a pool and/or theater, you’ve instantly covered some of your entertainment costs. But, the kid-friendly amenities don’t necessarily need to be inside the hotel. If you can find a hotel that’s next to or near a park, playground, or other free, kid-friendly attraction, that works just as well.
Saving Money on Your Food
Kids might not eat that much, in total. However, that doesn’t mean all those Happy Meals and ice-cream cones don’t add up.
8. Pick Accommodations with a Kitchen
Chances are likely you’ll go out to eat while on vacation. If you have younger kids, you’ll order them something “normal”, and your child will refuse to eat it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a grilled cheese, hot dog, or something they’ve eaten thousands of times before. If they’re not in the mood, they’re not eating it, and then that’s $10 down the drain.
If you have toddlers, consider getting accommodations with a kitchen. That way you can feed them at your hotel room or home rental before you go out. You can still feed them a bit off your plate, so they’re not left out. But, you won’t end up spending cash on food that goes wasted.
Similarly, if you’re going to a destination where the food scene isn’t exactly stellar, you might enjoy cooking for your family yourself more anyway. Make it fun and ditch the casseroles. Go for grilling out and barbecue, maybe a taco bar, and dessert every day. No one will complain.
9. Pick a Hotel with Free Food
If you aren’t able to book a room or apartment with a kitchen, look for a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast each morning. Even if you don’t actually sit down and eat breakfast there as a family, you can still swing by the breakfast buffet. Grab some snacks for the kids to enjoy later, such as bananas, apples, or even miniature boxes of cereal. Some hotels also offer happy hours in the evening. No one will bat an eye if your toddler chows down on some complimentary cheese, fruit, and crackers while you sip on a glass of cabernet in the lobby with them on your lap.
10. Eat with the Locals
If you go to chain restaurants or tourist eateries, you’re going to pay way more for your family’s meal. Ask the locals for restaurant recommendations and eat where they like to eat. Chances are, you’ll not only discover some amazing local flavors, but you’ll save some cash, too. Sure, it might mean skipping the burger bar on the beach, but it could mean scoring super-affordable and authentic tacos at a street stand further inland. Don’t forget to check Groupon deals for offers at local restaurants before your travel.
Saving Money on Your Entertainment
You gotta keep the kids entertained when traveling, so how can you do it on a budget?
11. Turn Your Entertainment into a Gift
Does one of your children have a birthday coming up? Great. The vacation trip to the zoo is their gift. Kid doesn’t care for the zoo? Then it’s the children’s museum, or the planetarium, or the science center.
Whatever it is that you’d likely plan into your itinerary especially with your child in mind, make it a birthday gift. They’ll get the coolest gift ever. While their friends received some toy that’s going to break in three days or less, they went and did something super-unique and made memories.
Experiences are becoming more and more popular as gifts for children. And, if you’re looking to save a little cash in the family coffers, bundling your gift cost and a travel cost into one can give you a little extra wiggle room in the budget.
12. Look for Free Things to Do
Yes, you likely already know this one — but are you looking everywhere for those free, fun things to do?
While parks and other outdoor activities are a natural given, you can also find free days at museums These typically occur at least one or two days per month. Also, look for free and kid-friendly walking tours. The local tourism agency can usually point you in the right direction to find those. You might even find free kids’ activities when you stop into the local library.
Take to the Road — But Save a Little Cash While You’re At It
Becoming parents doesn’t have to mean giving up your frequent travels, no matter what your budget. It just means slightly adjusting the way you do things to better fit your growing family’s needs. Whether you plan a bleisure vacation, a camping road trip, or a homestay far, far away, with the right choices, you can enjoy an awesome family vacay (or a few!) for less.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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