Traveling with kids can make for a fun and memorable experience. Whether you take a road trip or hop on a plane, adventure awaits! As you plan your next family vacation, here’s what you can do to keep costs down without sacrificing your comfort.
How to Travel
How you travel depends as much on your location as it does the cost of the trip. If you’re going to Europe from the U.S., you’ll have to take a plane. If you’re traveling from one coast of the U.S. to the other, a plane will get you there fastest, but a car or train is also an option.
It’s useful to research different methods of transportation to see how long each one will take, the estimated cost, and whether or not kids can travel for free or a reduced price. Start your planning and preparation far in advance of your trip, if possible.
Once you have the basic transportation expenses, like airfare, rental cars, taxis, or train tickets, plug the data into a spreadsheet to compare the costs. You might want to make a list of pros and cons for each transportation option as well, or consider combining methods to get to your destination – such as a train and a taxi, for example.
It also helps to be flexible about the date you choose to travel. While you might want to avoid an overnight flight for the sake of your kids, changing the day of the week you fly can cut the cost of your tickets. Traveling on a Tuesday, for example, might be a lot less expensive than traveling on a Friday.
How to Pack
If you were once a carry-on-only type of a traveler, you might have found that your packing needs changed once you had kids. You typically need to bring more as a family when you’re traveling together, taking along diapers, games, snacks, and other items.
It pays to pack wisely when you’re planning a trip with your kids. Bring along a tablet that’s already loaded up with games and movies so that your kids have plenty of ways to stay busy on the flight or ride. Pre-downloading media to the tablet can help you avoid potential Wi-Fi fees or the need to use up a lot of your data on the go.
Don’t forget the snacks when packing, too. You’ll save a lot if you bring your own snacks rather than purchasing them at the train station, gas station, or airport.
If you’re flying, pick snacks that can get through security. Skip anything liquid, and check TSA guidelines to make sure what you’re packing is permitted through security. For example, don’t bring jars of peanut butter and jelly in the hopes of making some sandwiches at the airport. The TSA considers jelly and peanut butter liquids and will likely confiscate jars that are more than 100 mL. If you’re traveling with infants or toddlers, there are also exceptions to the liquid rule, allowing you to save money by packing your own drinks for your child, such as milk and juice.
Where to Stay
Hotels can be pricey, and the typical hostel doesn’t exactly cater to families. Your best bet when traveling with kids is often to find an apartment or house to rent for the short term. A short-term rental can give your family the space it needs without you having to pay an arm and a leg.
When choosing a rental, look for one that’s kid-friendly and that has a kitchen or kitchenette, so that you can save on food and drinks on your trip. Your family can eat breakfast at the rental and have dinners there, as well.
If you do decide to stay in a hotel, choose a kid-friendly option. Some hotel chains will let kids stay for free and will even provide complimentary cots or cribs in the room. A hotel with amenities that appeal to kids can also help you save money. Look for features such as a playground or swimming pool, so that your kids have free things to do.
Staying at a campground is another budget-friendly way to travel with the family. If your kids love the great outdoors, pack up a tent or two and book a reservation at a campground or in a state park.
Where to Eat
The more food you bring from home or buy from supermarkets on your trip, the less you’ll spend on meals. To make it special, try finding a local park and enjoying a picnic. If possible, look for a place to stay that offers free breakfast. At least one of your meals will be covered each day. Hotels, and even some short-term rentals, may include a free continental breakfast in the cost.
When it’s time to dine out with the family, pick restaurants that offer discounts for kids or that let them eat for free with a paying adult.
How to Plan Activities
The best way to save money on vacation activities is to do things that are free. You can spend time at a park or a free beach, for instance. It’s also a good idea to do some research to see if any museums or cultural institutions offer free admission days or pay-what-you-can days.
For activities that always require admission, look to see if discounts are available. Some cities offer tourist cards, which give you admission to multiple museums and tourist attractions for a flat fee. Depending on the length of the trip and how many places you visit, the card can be less expensive than booking each activity separately.
Also keep an eye out for discounted child and student rates, if your kids are over the child age limit. You might get a discount if you buy your tickets in advance online, too.
You don’t have to travel far to enjoy family time together. If a vacation is out of reach this year, you can always plan a fun and budget-friendly staycation. Visit our WalletWorks page to learn more about budgeting with your family.