How to Do Family Travel on a Budget
It’s summer! Summer is the perfect time to make memories with your kids, especially while they are young! The older they get, the more summer camps, fundraisers, and other commitments they will have.
A few years ago when my oldest was in high school, we realized how fast time was going and that we needed to make family vacations more of a priority. I read once on a mommy blog (not sure where) that one of her biggest regrets in parenting was that they did not vacation while her kids were young. I decided that I didn’t want to have that regret, so we’ve changed our ways!!
I am guilty of this! When I hear the word vacation, the first thought that pops into my mind is the COST. Vacations can get expensive! But, in today’s day and age, traveling on a budget as a family is not as hard as you might think!
My desire is that you don’t look back and have the same regrets I do, so I’ve decided I would put together a little list of ways you can stick to your budget and go on vacation ALL at the same time.
13 Tips for Traveling on a Budget as a Family
I feel like when you travel it changes you a little bit. More than anything, I want my kids to see something other than Idaho. It is so important that they learn tolerance and how to appreciate difference and that is what travel does to someone.
But, at the same time, it is hard to pack up and go! More than anything, the biggest challenge is money. Many of us are barely making ends meet, when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it’s hard to imagine fitting a family vacation in the budget.
Because I’ve had to learn this on my own, I want to share some tips, resources, and suggestions so that you can do family travel on a budget. And always be sure to check out our travel deals section OR if you’re dreaming of a vacation, check out our vacation deals database!
1. Don’t Have A Specific Location in Mind
This is one of the biggest secrets… sounds weird, huh? But hear me out… When you have a location in mind, or if you are dead set on one location, you just simply have to pay the transportation fees to get there.
If you instead choose where to go based on how good of a deal you can find for flights, you’ll end up saving a lot of money. Check out our Vacation Deals section for some of the best travel deals!
2. Travel Light
While we are on the subject of flights, there is no need to pay $25-$50 a bag just to go somewhere. Pack as light as you can and carry all that you need on your back.
As a parent (especially if you have very little ones) this can be hard because kids go through SO much and you want to always be prepared. But, your kids can carry their own weight. Have each of them fill a backpack with 3 outfits, socks, their toiletries, a game/activity, and they are ready to go!
That won’t be too much weight for them to carry and that will avoid you paying to check their bag! Mom and Dad might have to have little heavier backpacks because they will need to bring the sunscreen, medicine, laundry soap, documents, etc. but it is 100% worth the savings that you will have.
Just think about it, if an airline charges $25 per checked bag and you have 4 kids. Including you and your spouse, that is 6 people. 6 x $25 = $150!!! Carrying a backpack is so worth it.
It might also be worth considering Southwest Airlines since your first two bags with Southwest are FREE!! They often have good sales too! See our other tips for finding airline deals.
3. Skip the Resorts and High-End Hotels
I know that it is so appealing to stay in a fancy resort or a high-end hotel, but you can save SO much money by not doing so. I have 3 recommendations:
- Kid & Coe; and
Let me explain.
If you don’t know what Airbnb is, let me tell you! People who live in that area just simply rent out their house/apartment! You can rent the entire house or just a room. You will have a host who is a local there and can give you the ins and outs to the city.
Some of my best adventures have been activities my Airbnb hosts have suggested me to do!
TIP: There are some scams out there so I always go with Airbnbs that have a lot of reviews! And another idea is while you are away, you could put your home on Airbnb and rent it out to get some extra revenue to add to your trip budget!
USE MY INVITE AND YOU CAN GET $40 OFF YOUR FIRST STAY!
You can find available homes all over the WORLD and the US. On the other hand, if you have little kiddos running around, then you could put your home on Kid & Coe! If your home already is kid proof, why not make even more money renting it out here!
Let’s do a little math! Let’s say you own a 2 bed/2 bath home in Seattle. You want to go on vacation with your family so you decide to rent it out for a week while you are gone. You can rent out this property for $495.00 a night, for a week the total is $3,465.00.
Once you subtract the 10% fees, you will make a profit of $3118.50 while you are on vacation! That could double or even triple your vacation budget.
When most of you read this, I am sure you immediately thought “NO WAY!” but, hear me out. Many hostels are wonderful!
Let me recommend an app called Hostelworld! What you can do is search the city you are going to and look for available hostels. It will tell you if a hostel is suitable for a family right in the description.
There are rooms available for families that can fit anywhere from 3-8 people, depending on the hostel. You can pick to have a bathroom in your room or use a communal one, depending on your budget! It honestly is no different than a hotel! The only difference is the price.
You can pay $20 a night to stay in a hostel with your entire family! That is AMAZING compared to the almost $200 you could be paying in a hotel. Hostelworld is an awesome app to navigate and it will make finding the best hostel available as easy as pie.
4. Space Out Meals
Growing up my dad had one rule when we were on vacation and that was, “We get 2 meals a day!” What we did was we would always eat a late breakfast and an early dinner. That way we weren’t paying for 3 meals a day.
If we got hungry during the day, we would find a fruit stand, a convenient store, and WATER. Bring with you granola bars, nuts, and power packed snacks so that you can just eat out 2 meals a day!
A huge blessing with Airbnbs/Kid & Coe is that you usually have your own kitchen so you do not have to eat out all the time. In super touristy places, that can be a huge weight off the budget.
5. Explore then Tour
When we go to a place, we often want to do EVERY SINGLE THING that place is known for and while that is great, entrance fees can add up.
Take a day just to explore. Walk down streets. Don’t have a plan. Jump on a random bus when the kids get tired so they can take a little nap.
It is free just to walk and explore. Some of my greatest memories with my family have been when we have found random markets, parks, or community gathers. Of course, you need to explore the well-known places as well, but don’t jam pack your trip with tons of activities that will require entrance fees upon entrance fees.
6. Take Public Transportation
I realize some places do not have adequate public transportation BUT the majority of the places around the world have awesome public buses, subways, trains, etc. I know it sounds so appealing to rent a car, but that can add up!
Taking public transportation can cut costs down by a ton. Sometimes that is super intimidating when you do not speak the language, so my advice is to invest in a phone plan where you can get international data. Many companies offer upgrades that you can do just for a short amount of time to make it so you have data abroad. DO IT!
You can use Google Maps and it will tell you exactly where to go! It will show you the bus stop, how many feet till you need to get off, as well as which entrance to go out of at the subway! It shows you everything.
I have a friend who navigated all over Mainland China for 5 months just with a smartphone! You can totally do it and it will save you so much money just by taking the bus! Plus, your kids will love the adventure.
7. Do Your Homework
Before you leave on your trip, do your research! Look up the FREE things that are available in the cities you are going to. Look up affordable restaurants!
I personally love the app Yelp for food and TripAdvisor for the activities. I learned a lot from others comments, and on trip advisor, you can build an itinerary. This feature is great for planning and making a wishlist AND great to help you remember what you do each day!
Make a day by day itinerary so you are not wasting time and money on traveling completely out of your way. Be sure to know the opening and closing times so you don’t show up somewhere and it is closed!
I am not one who likes itineraries, but if you aren’t prepared, there will likely be more hiccups in the road and you will have to spend money you weren’t planning on spending. Your itinerary doesn’t need to be step by step. Just know the route you’re going and your goals for that day!
The times we have spent more money than we should was when we did not eat, the kids got hungry, the meltdowns began, and we happened to be at an amusement park or an area where the food was super expensive!
If you plan for those kinds of things, you won’t be caught off guard and will be able to take advantage of the more affordable items when they are available!
TIP: Also pay attention to when buses quit running. Taking taxis home can get quite spendy!
8. Limit the Souvenirs
As awesome as it is to bring back parts of your vacations and the places you’ve been, it can really add up. One thing that’s free, is pictures! Trade souvenirs for pictures!
What I like to do is let my kids pick out one thing the whole trip. Give them a budget before you go and whenever they decide to spend it, that’s their one thing!
OR you could have them do little jobs so they can earn money before you go so they have their own money to spend. I do this and have also offered rewards to incentivize good kind behavior while driving/flying.
Also, as awesome as it is to bring a gift home for grandmas, friends, and teachers… the money will add up so just send them a picture to let them know you are thinking of them! A beautiful picture and a heartfelt note is all your loved ones will want!
If you are wanting to send gifts while you travel you NEED to check out this awesome app! It is called Postagram and what you can do is make postcards, WHILE ON YOUR TRIP, using the pictures you take and send them to your loved ones! Right from your phone! And they are super affordable, just $1.99(including post)!
9. Bring A Water Bottle
The thing about traveling is that you HAVE to stay hydrated. Your kids have to stay hydrated or they will get sick. If you head to your vacation spot without a water bottle, you will have to be buying water everywhere you go.
In top touristy spots, they can charge up to $5 just for ONE bottle. For a family of 6, if all of you need a water bottle.. that is $35!! Bring a water bottle, fill it up at restaurants, and don’t pay for water!
10. Apply for a Charles Schwab debit card
I don’t know what kind of banking you use, but the majority of Banks (Bank of America, Chase, etc.) charge $5 PLUS currency exchange fees each time you take out cash. The Charles Schwab debit card won’t charge you ATM fees!
Honestly, even if you don’t switch entirely over to this bank, do it just so you can use this card abroad! Put the money that you will be spending on your trip on this card so you can withdraw from any ATM at any time. Those $5 will add up and just by having this card, you won’t have to pay those fees!
11. Track Your Expenses with Trail Wallet
I have had the problem of not really noticing how much money I spend, especially when it is in cash. I know how it is to have whining kids and you completely forget how much you paid for the entrance fee OR for dinner. That is why I love this app!
Trail Wallet does all the budgeting for you. When you spend money, enter it quickly into the app (in whatever currency) and say what it was (ex: accommodations, food, transportation, souvenir, etc.).
At any time, you can get on and see just how much you’ve spent. My favorite thing is that it puts it in a pie chart so you can see where you’re spending the most money!
You can set a trip budget as well as a daily budget and it will let you know if you go over. This helps keep me, my husband, and even my kids accountable and we find ourselves throwing away less money!
12. City Pass
If you are planning to explore ANY major city in the States, City Pass is your go to if you are looking to save money. Their guarantee is that you will save up to 50% on entrance fees to attractions.
They have hand-picked the best cities in the nation as well as the best attractions in each city as well! All you have to do is SHOW UP. They give you the list, a map, and a little ticket book that will be used as your entrance ticket to each attraction.
Also, they know how awful it is to rush through your vacation, so they give you 9 days to see all the attractions on the list. I went to New York recently with my daughter and we used City Pass and I saved over $20 per attraction at 3 different attractions. Times that by 2 people and that is $120 in savings!
So, if you are planning on going to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, Tampa Bay, or Toronto… CHECK THIS OUT!
13. Explore, Explore, Explore. No Matter Where You Are
Although $200 round trip flights are INCREDIBLE, that still might be completely out of your budget, and that is okay. What is wrong with going to the national park that is just down the road that you’ve never been too?
Or maybe you could drive one state over and explore all around there, stay with a family member, and then head back. You can vacation anywhere. Don’t forget to explore your own backyard! I
have seen numerous countries, but honestly, I haven’t explored my entire state! (But if you live in the Boise Area I have an awesome post about Things to Do in the Treasure Valley).You don’t have to go all the way across the world just to travel. So make the best of what you have to work with and let your kids explore. That is the most important thing!
Now, those are just 13 of the top tips I have on traveling on a budget as a family. I am sure you all have some of your own and I would love to hear them.
Comment below and let me know how you stay within your budget while traveling!
Like I said before, traveling is so important and it will make a huge impact on your children. Do the best with what you got!
Make those little sacrifices just to save a little extra cash and take your kids out to see the world. They will appreciate it when they are old. Traveling will help them be more of a well-rounded person and they will learn to love things that are different.
It is so important in today’s day and age they learn that it is okay to be different! And in order to know that, it is helpful for them to see DIFFERENT places!
So, where are you going to go? Let us know the next vacation you have planned for your family!
Check out some more of our money saving tips in other posts:
If you’re planning a family trip to Disneyland, this post has all the best tips for saving money!
Find out how saving your $5 bills can add up to thousands and thousands of dollars of savings!
Follow my guide on how I saved $1000 just by cutting monthly expenses!
Check out these 50 simple ways you can change and end up saving $50 a month!
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