It can be expensive traveling as a family, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little bit of time and effort, travel can be affordable, from exploring your backyard to traveling overseas. After fifteen years of exploring the world as a family, we’ve learned quite a few tips for saving money when traveling. Over the years we have had countless free flights and hotels, and we have found many resources to help keep our costs low. Today I’m sharing with you some of our favorite tips for keeping travel expenses to a minimum.
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Best Tips for Saving Money on Family Travel
How to save money on travel using Credit Cards and Reward Points
1. Before traveling, put all your purchases on a credit card that will earn you miles or points (be sure to pay them off every month or then it is not worth it). Use those points and miles to pay for your flight, accommodation, and/or rental car. The Points Guy knows the ins and outs of earning travel rewards and Trips with Tykes has come great resources too, so definitely use their sites as a reference.
2. When traveling internationally, be sure to use a credit card that does not charge you for ATM withdrawals or foreign transaction fees. When in doubt, ask before you travel.
How to Save on Air Travel with a Family
4. Find the airline rewards program that is right for you. Know if you will be rewarded for miles flown or dollars spent or a combination of the two. If you travel often and upgrades and waived baggage fees are important, consider that when researching the options. If you know your points will be earned mostly through purchases, find the program that rewards accordingly.
5. Don’t rule out budget airlines because they will often have the cheapest airfare. Just because the price is less, it doesn’t mean the plane isn’t great (well sometimes it does, so do your research). Be mindful however of add-on costs, such as baggage fare and preferred seat assignments. If you want to a great comparison of budget airlines, check out this article from We3Travel!
6. If you need help packing for carry-on only travel, we highly recommend using packing cubes to organize luggage and keep everyone’s clothes separated. Be sure to roll everything to maximize the space. Color coordinate outfits so everything can be mixed and matched easily.
7. In order to accommodate carry on baggage rules, I make our kids wear their heaviest pair of shoes on the plane and pack the rest. All of these things help keep clothing weight to a minimum so we can avoid luggage fees.
8. When booking airline tickets, shop around, two one way flights may be cheaper than a round trip.
How to Save Money on Hotel Stays
9. One thing we look for when booking a hotel is whether or not they serve breakfast. If everyone in our family eats in the morning, they are less likely to ask for mid-morning snacks. If the hotel offers cereal boxes, granola bars, or apples, grab those as you’re walking out and take them for snacks later in the day.
10. Use online sites to compare and find the best hotel prices. Some of my go to websites are: Travelocity, Hotels.com, and Booking.com. Don’t be afraid to call a hotel and ask for their best rate. Often they will match what you find on-line, and might even throw in extras such as free breakfast and/or overnight parking.
11. Sign up for hotel loyalty programs. Similar to airline rewards programs, find one that offers accommodation discounts, free nights, and upgrades.
12. If you can wait for the last minute, you can find hotel deals at Roomer and HotelTonight.com (which actually allows you to book a room a week or more in advance as well depending on the destination).
How to Save Money by Staying at Vacation Rentals
13. Don’t be afraid to try online rental accommodations such as VRBO, AirBnb, and FlipKey which match owners and potential guests. We have tried all of these and have experienced varying levels of success with each. A couple you might not know about are Vacatia (resort residences with the space of a home and amenities of a hotel), Clanventure (rentals specifically for families), and Red Apple Apartments (European rentals).
14. Do your research when it comes to vacation rentals. I would never recommend booking somewhere that has less than 15-20 positive reviews and one that doesn’t show a lot of pictures. Communication is key when renting someone else’s home. Ask questions and if you don’t get the answers you want, don’t stay there. Check out our other tips before booking a vacation rental.
15. Staying in an accommodation with kitchen facilities can save on dining out expenses. We will often make a stop at the local grocery store and stock up on snacks and a few meals. This comes in handy for a family and we will often eat one or two meals a day in the apartment to save on expenses.
16. Consider staying on the outskirts of a larger city. In many places the most expensive properties are in the center and prices drop the further they are away from attractions. If you plan to do this, be sure there are good transportation options or you may end up spending more money than you save.
17. Consider doing a home exchange but do your research. Find a reputable company like Home Exchange that charges a membership fee so you know that users are committed to the service.
18. Housesitting while traveling is also an option, but requires a different level of commitment. Here are some ideas for finding housesitter jobs to help you find the right match.
How to Save Money on a Cruise
19. Consider booking a cruise through a travel agent. They have access to perks from the cruise company and often pass those along to you and don’t charge you for them.
20. Research shore excursions ahead of time. It is often cheaper to arrange them on your own.
21. Buy travel insurance. I would highly recommend purchasing especially if you are traveling to or from a destination that could have weather issues. We carry a policy with Allianz, since we are often traveling with three kids and you never know what could happen. Of course there are other reasons to have travel insurance, but sometimes it just makes sense.
Don’t miss these other money saving tips The Sophisticated Life shared, 10 Things to Know Before You Go On A Cruise.
How Social Media Can Save Money on Travel
22. Follow your favorite airlines, hotels, cruise lines and travel related businesses on social media. They will often post discounts and deals on social media before they post them elsewhere. (ie. Twitter and Facebook). Sign up for their newsletters, or industry newsletters that share the latest travel deals. I like Travel Zoo and The Flight Deal.
23. Use Skype and What’s App to connect with loved ones back home. Turn off your cellular service when you travel (set your phone to airplane mode) and stick to free wi-fi frequently found in airports, hotels, and restaurants.
24. Another option for saving money on international calls is to buy a SIM card for your phone once you reach your destination. These are often available from local cellular providers, grocery stores, or kiosks. Switch it out with your existing SIM card and then you are able to make phone calls paying the local rate instead of international rates. This also allows you to use your GPS on your phone when you are out exploring instead of paying roaming fees.
How to Find Discounts on Activities When Traveling
25. Find free activities in the city you are visiting. Stop in at the local tourist office or check with them before you visit. Often you can find a free concert, festival, or museum, or just walk around. Hiking, playgrounds, and relaxing at the beach are usually free.
26. Look for tourist or travel discount cards for the city you are visiting. These may be a worthwhile investment if you plan on visiting most of the sights included on the card. Look for CityPASS, City Cards, and Go City Cards in various destinations. They offer discounts (and often free admission) on some of the most popular attractions in a city. A few of the passes include free transportation and dining discounts as well. We have used these often as they have proven to be money savers time and time again.
27. Consider trying an Airbnb Experience. These are locals who provide local experiences like cooking classes, city tours, and more. For some Airbnb experiences you might enjoy, check out this post.
28. Try public transportation. Better yet, walk everywhere. It’s great exercise and will always be cheaper and more efficient than a taxi.
How to Save Money on Rental Cars
29. Use a site like Costco Travel, Hotwire, or AutoEurope to help you find the best deals on rental cars. They can compare different companies, and help find the best rates. AAA and military discounts are also available at most car rental agencies.
30. Check with your credit cards and car insurance and see if they offer rental car coverage. This will save paying the car insurance fees to the agency.
31. Consider renting at a location that isn’t the airport. We will often book a car off-site, then take a cab to the rental car agency. This saves us a lot on daily airport taxes and fees.
We have found all of these trips to be very useful throughout our fifteen years of traveling with kids. We hope you’ve found something to use as well!
*This article originally appeared in January 2015, but was updated in January 2019.