After twenty years of traveling the world with kids, we’ve learned quite a bit about family travel on a budget. Whether you’re planning a trip on your family travel bucket list or a local staycation, there are endless options for reducing your travel expenses. Here’s how we plan family travel on a budget. These are money-saving travel tips everyone can use.
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How to save money when you’re traveling with family
Sometimes we get caught up in everyday life and forget to set aside money for our family travel fund. There’s no need to worry if you haven’t stashed away extra money in the past year because you can always find ways to save when traveling with family.
We tell you how to find free things, reduced admission, and travel discounts so your family can enjoy the trip without the stress of blowing your family travel budget. These are some of the best ways to save on travel.
Use travel credit cards to save money
1. Before traveling, put all of your purchases on a credit card that will earn you miles or points (be sure to pay them off every month or the headache won’t be worth the effort).
Use credit card points to pay for your flight, accommodation, and/or rental car. This is one of the easiest ways to book free travel.
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.
3. If you’re making a purchase in a foreign store and they ask if you want to pay in US dollars or the local currency, always choose the local currency. There can be a big difference between their conversion rate and the bank’s conversion rate, so it’s always best to use the local currency option. This is one of our top travel tips for families traveling to Europe.
Tips to Save Money on Flights
Clear your browser before you book tickets because airlines can track your previous searches and price flights accordingly.
5. Find the airline rewards program that is right for you. Figure out if you will be rewarded for miles flown or dollars spent or a combination of the two.
If you are a frequent traveler and upgrades and waived baggage fees are important, consider these things when researching your options. Travelers who know that most of their points will be earned through purchases should find a program that rewards accordingly.
Note: If you plan on checking your baggage, we highly recommend using Apple AirTags for tracking your bags.
6. Don’t rule out flying on a budget airline 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 of add-on costs, such as baggage fare and preferred seat assignments because those can add up quickly. Here’s a great comparison of budget airlines.
7. 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.
8. 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. This helps keep clothing weight to a minimum so we can avoid luggage fees.
Another trick is to bring a zippered pillow case on the plane and stuff your extra clothes inside it. It’s one of the most creative ways we’ve seen to get around baggage limits.
9. When booking airline tickets, shop around, two one-way flights may be cheaper than a round trip.
How to Save Money on Family Hotel Stays
10. One thing we look for when booking a hotel is whether or not they serve breakfast. When everyone in our family eats breakfast, 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.
Don’t be afraid to call a hotel and ask for a better deal. Often they will match what you find online, and they might even throw in extras such as free breakfast and/or overnight parking.
12. Sign up for hotel chain loyalty programs. Similar to airline rewards programs, find one that offers accommodation discounts, free nights, and upgrades.
13. If you can wait until the last minute, you can find a hotel room 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).
Save on Your Family Travels by staying at Vacation Rentals
14. Don’t be afraid to try online rental accommodations such as VRBO and Plum Guide 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) and Glamping Hub (glamping and cabin rentals).
15. Do your research when it comes to booking a rental home. 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 to help your family travel on a budget.
16. Staying in accommodation with kitchen facilities can save money on food when traveling. We will often make a stop at the local grocery store and stock up on snacks to make our own meals. Here are some of our favorite meals to make on vacation.
Street food is always an option if you feel comfortable with this and food allergies aren’t an issue. Also, consider packing a reusable water bottle for everyone. All of these will help keep your travel costs in check.
17. Consider staying on the outskirts of a larger city. In many places, the most expensive properties are in the center (I’m looking at you New York, Chicago, and San Francisco), and prices drop the further they are away from local attractions.
If you plan to do this, be sure there are good public transit options or you may end up spending more money than you save.
18. 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.
19. Housesitting while traveling is also an option, but it requires a different level of commitment. Here are some ideas for finding housesitter jobs to help you find the right match. A housesitting service we like is TrustedHousesitters.
How to Save Money on a Cruise
20. Consider booking a cruise using travel agents. They have access to perks from the cruise company and often pass those along to you at no extra charge.
21. Make travel plans in advance when it comes to shore excursions. It is often cheaper to arrange them on your own.
22. If you have flexible travel dates, wait until the last minute to book your cruise. You can find great rates at the last minute (typically 60 to 90 days ahead of time) which can save a ton of money. Find last-minute deals on Cruise Critic.
23. Don’t travel in high season. There’s a huge difference in pricing between peak times and off-season. Look at hurricane season in the Caribbean or after the holiday break in early January. If your children are younger, you might want to consider taking the kids out of school to save a bit of money.
24. Shop around for the best deal. Often cruises will throw in incentives if they’re trying to earn your business. You can always call and tell them what you’re considering booking on another cruise line and see if they can do better.
Don’t miss these other money-saving tips: 10 Things to Know Before You Go On A Cruise.
How Social Media Can Help Your Family Travel on a Budget
25. 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. Instagram and Facebook).
26. 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.
27. 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 Tours and Activities
28. 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.
29. Head to the local library if you’re traveling close to home. Many offer discount cards for museums and other attractions in the local area.
30. Look for tourist or travel discount cards for the city you are visiting. These can be a great deal if you plan on visiting most of the sights included on the card. Look for CityPASS 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.
31. Consider booking an experience with the company WithLocals. These are locals who provide local travel experiences like cooking classes, city tours, and more.
We also find a way to set aside some of our family travel budget for guided tours from companies like Viator or Get Your Guide. Sometimes we use that extra money for family photos from Flytographer and we’ve never been disappointed. Click HERE to see what they’re all about!
32. Try public transportation. Better yet, walk everywhere. It’s great exercise and will always be cheaper and more efficient than a taxi.
33. If you’re heading to the theme parks, check before you go because many allow you to bring in your own snacks and/or water. This can save a lot of money.
34. A great way to save on souvenirs is to set a budget before your family trip. We used to give our kids a “souvenir budget” they could use at the end of each trip. This helped keep costs to a minimum. If you just can’t resist, these are the Disney souvenirs that are worth the money.
35. If you’re planning your next family vacation a little bit in advance, consider asking for gift cards from family members. So if you have young children who like to shop at the theme parks this could take a bit of the financial burden off of the parents.
36. If your family is heading to the National Parks, be sure to invest in an annual National Parks pass. It will save a ton of money on admission and pays for itself after the first visit.
Invest in Travel Insurance for Family Travels
37. As we all know, travel insurance can save us a lot of heartaches. I would highly recommend purchasing especially if you are traveling to or from a destination that could have weather issues. We recommend doing a travel insurance review before committing to a service.
We carry a policy with Allianz since we are often traveling with three kids and you never know what could happen. Another good option is MedJet which will provide global air medical transport if needed. Of course, there are other reasons to have travel insurance, but sometimes it just makes sense.
How to Save Money on Rental Cars
AAA and military discounts are also available at most car rental agencies. Taking a road trip instead of flying is usually the cheaper option.
39. 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.
40. 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.
If you’re looking for other ways to add to your family travel budget, check out our post How to Travel Europe on a Budget, The Cheapest Cities in Europe, and How Large Families Can Save Money on Travel.
We have found all of these trips to be very useful throughout our twenty years of traveling with kids. With a little research, you can create an affordable family vacation, spend less money on travel, and avoid the extra cost of unplanned travel expenses. And that makes everyone happy!