Traveling with a significant other is pricey. Traveling with children? That hit is downright obnoxious, and it could blast your savings into oblivion if you’re not careful. So how can you provide your family with a decent getaway without taking out a second mortgage? It’s easier than it sounds, actually. These 13 tips for cheaper travel with kids will help you create a family vacation to remember while keeping the repo man at bay.
Rule #1 when planning a trip: Always research available coupons and discounts before you finalize your plans. From hotels to airfare to rental cars, you can generally guarantee yourself significant savings if you do some legwork in advance by comparing original prices to the best promotional offers.
“Travelers can save money simply by checking to see if they qualify for any special discounts,” reminds Leah Preston, regional director of sales and marketing at Sky Hotels & Resorts in Florida. “Often, it's as simple as calling the front desk and asking if they offer deals for your group. Some things you can ask are, ‘Are there special rates for booking off season, paying in advance, or other unique situations?’ and ‘Are there discounts for in-state residents?’ If you're military or a AAA member, always ask about discounts. Many hotels will list the discounts outright on their website, but with some hotels customers have to be a little bit assertive and ask. It never hurts.”
One of the best parts of a road trip is stopping occasionally at local restaurants to stretch your legs, grab a bite to eat, and soak up the local character. Add a few more people to the mix, however—including your little ankle biters—and this serene scene can quickly turn to chaos… and eat up more money than you intended to spend before you even reach your destination. Consider this alternative suggestion from food blogger Laura Barajas.
“I love to pack sliced fruit, veggies with dip, sandwiches, and string cheese,” she says. “The only time we have to stop at a travel center is for gas. If we need to stretch our legs, we explore one of the many sprawling rest stops along the highway. Bonus: No line for the bathroom.”
Examiner.com contributor and mother, Tangela Walker-Craft agrees, and she takes take-along food to a whole other level.
“Most nice resort and hotel rooms have microwaves in them, and after all the sightseeing is over and dinner has been digested, packing snacks for late at night is a smart idea,” she explains. “Some easy-to-pack snacks include microwave popcorn and microwavable dinners. Instant oatmeal can be made for breakfast using the microwave. Tea bags can be easily packed if the coffee provided in hotel rooms is not to a traveler's liking.”
This is a limited-time circumstance, but if you have children younger than age two it’s a good money-saving travel opportunity to keep in the back of your mind. Travel agent Lori Jurans explains.
“Travel to celebrate your child's second birthday some place fun and only pay taxes on the air,” she enlightens. “Even though your child is age 2 on the return leg, the airlines will treat them as an infant for the entire trip if they are one when they depart. We squeezed in one more trip to Europe for my son's second birthday prior to forever having to purchase him an individual ticket. I plan to do the same for my daughter’s second birthday. Savings? We only had to pay taxes. On a trip to Latvia, that’s a savings of over $1,000.”
Quit playing the gas-price guessing game. Pull up the GasBuddy website or open its app on your phone, enter the zip code for where you’ll be filling up, and—voila!— browse the list of the cheapest gas stations in your vicinity.
“Gas is more expensive at stations located right off the interstate, so this will save you money,” says Money Crasher’s David Bakke.
Another one of Bakke’s tips help cut down on overall cost (this is an easy one to forget to budget, too) – and clutter – while you’re on your family vacation.
“For any form of travel, set a souvenir budget for each kid to keep those costs down,” he suggests. “When they know they only have $20 to spend (as an example), they’ll be a lot more choosy about what they buy and you’ll save money.”
Since you’ve packed a cooler and microwaveable snacks, it only makes sense to consider booking accommodations that include a kitchen. You’ll save an incredible amount of money by making most your vacation meals in – and it’ll help you avoid the dreaded junk food withdrawals.
“Hit up a local grocery store, and cook a few of your meals in room,” encourages Bakke. “The cost of eating out three times per day for a family can really take a bite out of your vacation budget.”
“When you do plan a visit to a restaurant,” he continues, “research the Internet for the ones that offer free or discounted kids meals. Also, use a website like Groupon for entertainment and restaurant discounts. Enter in the ZIP code of where you’ll be travelling to and you’ll get a list of restaurants and entertainment venues with discounts (usually in the 50% range).”
I gave up hotels and switched to home rentals for my vacations years ago—and I’ll never go back. A better value simply doesn’t exist, and you get a lot of bang for your buck.
“Kitchens make it easy to prepare food rather than eating out every meal, while access to washing machines allow travelers to pack less and avoid paying hefty bag-check fees,” says Erin Portman, PR manager at HomeAway – a site that helps facilitate vacation home rentals. “Many feature added perks, including private pools, hot tubs, game rooms and gathering spaces for everyone to join together and form special memories throughout their stay. Those are likely some of the reasons why 84 percent of those who stay in a HomeAway vacation rental plan to do it again on their next family trip or group getaway.”
Your kids don’t need separate suitcases. Wanna know why? Because they’re kids.
“When travelling with children by air, combine their luggage to reduce baggage fees,” Bakke suggests. “Also, start searching for flights during the beginning of the week; most airline sales run from Sunday through Thursday. If you can plan your trip to begin on a Tuesday or Wednesday, that should also save money because there’s less demand for seats. Make sure you sign up for the email newsletter of your preferred airlines – you might be alerted of a one-day sale.”
Tolls are a giant annoyance and can often be an equally annoying expense. I pay $20 in tolls just to get from my house on the Jersey Shore to my place in Manhattan (which is just 66 miles!); I can only imagine how much change you’ll need for a trip down to Florida in a vehicle.
“Tolls can be a significant expense, which can range from $.10 to $4.00 in some parts of the country,” according to Jason Arriola and Will Regan, co-founders of the Cardiff Travel Headrest. “Set your GPS to avoid toll roads when mapping out your route. Consider the cost of added gas to use non-toll roads and decide which route is more economical.”
I mean, really—what’s the point of staying in touch with anybody if you can’t bring your entire family and the dog to disrupt their quiet home for a night?
“If you have friends and family along your route, don’t hesitate to see if you can stay a night with them to cut down on travel costs,” Arriola and Regan suggest.
Personally, I think cruise vacations are one of the best values around – I like to eat and drink, and I’m sure your family does too – so it’s never a bad idea to look into these out-at-sea escapes. Staying at all-inclusive resorts also is a great option on a budget. Because everything is included, parents know how much their vacation will cost ahead of time and can save accordingly.
Nip all that in-store whining and temper tantrums in the bud before you ever pull out of the driveway with leadership parenting coach, Sarah Hamaker’s advice.
“Give each child a set amount at the start of the trip (such as $5 or $10) for them to spend any way they like when you stop for gas, bathroom breaks, etc. This was a huge hit when we did it on a two-day trip to Florida, driving from D.C. area to Fort Myers. We gave the kids the same amount for the return trip. Any money leftover could be spent during the trip as they liked. This cut down on the ‘gimmes,’ and it gave the kids a chance to make their own decisions.”
Are you running a dictatorship or a democracy? History has proven that the latter works much better, so it’s in your best interest (and the best interest of your bank account) to adopt this regime and let the kids help plan the vacation.
“Tell the kids you have X amount to spend on activities and then discussed the options for how to spend that money,” offers Hamaker. “For example, the money might only cover one, all-day activity (like an amusement park), or several, half-day excursions, so asking for a family vote on how to spend it can help keep you on the budget and get buy-in from everyone else.”