When you are young and single, travel does not seem that expensive because you are just covering yourself. Then you partner up, and it almost feels cheaper as you have someone to split the cost with. But then you add on a few free loaders (albeit very cute) who required paid tickets but do not contribute economically. Suddenly, family travel does not look so cheap. I decided long time ago that I would not let having kids slow down our travel. Over the years, we have developed some tricks to help keep the cost down and keep up our traveling lifestyle. Check out the tips we use to help save money and keep up the traveling lifestyle.
One of the best ways to understand how to save money is to begin with how much you want to spend. Understanding what you want to spend will help you figure out where you can save and have money for other parts of your trip.
Tips for Budgeting:
- Maybe you save a certain amount per paycheck. Maybe you know how much spare money you have. Maybe you got a windfall. We put aside a specific percentage of our paycheck into a savings account for travel and that is our travel budgets for the year.
- How much do you have to spend: Figure out how much the vacation you want will cost. Maybe you want an all-inclusive, or a trip to Hawaii. Use an Expedia or Kayak to price out a package to get an idea of how much what you want may cost.
- Do not forget to factor in points: We currently have a points strategy with different credit cards to help with cover flights and hotels. Check your points balances and check to see what you can use for the vacation you want. Follow Geobreeze Travel to understand more around how to get started with a points strategy.
Flights can sometimes be the most expensive part of travel, especially when your children get older than two and are no longer a lap child. Here are some tips that we use to help reduce the cost of the flights.
- Fly Midweek – Flights from a Tuesday to a Tuesday, or Wednesday to a Wednesday are generally the cheapest flights available. Flying on Friday, Sunday, and Monday mornings are almost always the most expensive. Monday mornings is when the business travelers try and get out for the week.
- Check all the airports – Sure, the regional airport might be closer, but it likely does not have as many options and is more expensive to fly out of. Are you willing to fly out of a bigger airport further away? Or maybe you can cobble together a deal by flying out of an airport that is much further away but has cheap flights between it and your local airport. For us, sometimes there are deals out of LAX, and then you can get a cheap Southwest flight from SFO or OAK to LAX.
- Saver and Basic Economy – but with a warning – Saver and Basic Economy is great if you have a short trip or a very efficient packer. But remember that some airlines (United and Spirit) only allow a personal item for free at that base fare. And you will not be able to have your choice pick of seats. The airlines generally recommend that you pick the higher fare class if it is important to have seats next to your young child (yes this is a tax on families). I find that Alaska will work with you to get you seated by your child, even at that saver fare. I have found that United will not help you and their flight attendants will not either.
- Carry On Only – Carry on only allows you to not only avoid those checked bags fee, but also ensure that all your items make it to your destination. Many people say it is impossible with kids, but I have been doing it since my little one was four. With planning, it is possible.
- Airline Credit Cards – Is there an airline you fly a lot, or has a hub out of your home airport? It is generally worth it to get that airline’s credit card. Not only will you earn miles toward your next trip, but you also generally get benefits such as free check bags, and even discounts on food purchased during the flight.
The next biggest upfront cost of your vacation will be lodging. Before looking for savings with hotels and vacation rentals, first understand the type of vacation you are looking for. Do you expect to be spending a lot of time in your room? Or is the room simply a place to sleep and keep your stuff while you are out exploring during the day? How important is being close to everything to you? These things are all important to understand before you go looking for lodging. When you do, here are some tips to help save some money.
- Consider Vacation Rentals – The rise of Airbnb and VRBO have created ways for families to have a great place to stay at a generally cheaper cost. These places usually have the added benefits of a kitchen, some laundry, and separate bedrooms. However, understand they usually come with rules and do not have daily housekeeping (though most hotels do not these days thanks to COVID). Be sure to check the reviews when choosing a vacation rental, that is where the truth is.
- Travel Shoulder Seasons – Summers are almost always going to be the most expensive. January and February will be the most expensive time at a ski resort. But shoulder season is where you will find the deals. Just at the beginning or end of the key seasons is where you will find the deals. If you can swing the timing with the kids, it is a great time to get some hotel deals.
- Hotel Credit Cards – Like airline loyalty cards, if you have a hotel chain you stay in often (maybe for work travel, maybe because you like it for certain features) then you should consider getting the hotel credit card. Besides earning points towards free nights, some come with benefits such as free night certificates, status upgrades, etc.
Food is one of those sneaky things that can end up costing more than you expect (especially if you are a foodie family like us). To save money on food, it sometimes requires a little bit of planning, but it can end up being the biggest savings if you are smart.
- Keep easy meals in your hotel/vacation rental – Do you have a fridge or mini-fridge? Bring some yogurts, some box milks, some cereal, or granola bars for easy breakfasts in the morning. Not only do you get started and out the door faster, but you save a lot on eating out at expensive restaurants. Also, make sure to pack your favorite snacks for the kids. Having a few granola bars in your bag can keep hangry kids happy and keep you away from spending an obscene amount at the museum gift shop for a snack to appease your hungry kiddos.
- Hotel Breakfast – Picking a hotel that offers breakfast can greatly save as well. But before to review what is offered because not all hotel breakfasts are alike. I like to check the photos of the breakfast area when reviewing hotels, that usually tells me if the free breakfast is cereal and yogurt, or if it includes hot items such as eggs, sausage, and a waffle maker.
- Picnic Lunches – Especially on road trips, this trick works really well. I like to pack some bread, meat, cheese, and a small container of mayo. Sandwiches are easy to make on the go, and lets you get a lunch break at a fraction of the cost.
- Go Grocery Shopping – Many grocery stores have delis, and a selection of ready to eat foods available. You can get an inexpensive lunch from the grocery store, and pack it for a picnic as you head out for your day. It is also a place you can stock up on those easy breakfast items, snacks, of sandwich making items for the trip.
- Choose your splurge meal – When we are trying to stick to a strict budget, we will choose a splurge meal for the day. We will intentionally eat some meals later, smaller, or cheaper so we can enjoy the one splurge meal. Forcing yourself to pick your one splurge of the day, makes it easier to pass up the other enticing options during the day.
Activities when you are traveling can often cost more than you expected. When I gave my son a budget for his 10th birthday trip, I remember that he had a hard time paring it down, surprised at the cost of the activities he wanted to do. I always want to see a ton of museums, but when I then see how much each museum entrance costs, especially for a family of four! But there are some surprising ways to save money on activities when planning
- City Pass – If you are visiting a major city, investigate City Pass as a way to save. We recently went to Seattle and wanted to see the Museum of Pop Culture, the Space Needle, and the Chihuly Glass Garden. The City Pass included that and more and saved us more than $100.
- Groupon – Check out Groupon for experiences in the city or location you are going to visit. You can usually find unique or interesting tours, especially ones that are trying to get established, at a fraction of the cost.
- Download Walking Tours – One of the best museum tours I have ever done was Rick Steve’s Louvre walking tour, and it was completely free. We downloaded it onto our iPods (This was 2008) and listened as we walked around Paris. Look and you will find all sorts of podcasts and audio tours that people have available for free or cheap on the internet. Download it onto everyone’s smart phones and get a guided tour when you are on vacation from an expert.
- Google Free Activities – Ok, this sounds obvious but it is true. Go to Pinterest or Google search for “Best free things to do in X.” You will get the list of the best local parks and free attractions in the places you are visiting. It is a great way to fill in days with fun things to do that don’t cost anything.
Vacation Budgeting can be overwhelming. Especially when you want to make sure your money will go as far as possible. And who does not! But remember, sometimes the splurge is worth it. The best way to save money is to pick a number you want to spend, and plan around that. Then not only are you saving, but you are splurging in the areas that really matter to you. Then you get a family vacation that makes everyone happy, and you remember. And isn’t that the point?
Need help setting a budget? Fill out this form to download a free Vacation Budget Planner Google Spreadsheet. (Note: submitting the form will enroll you onto the Around the World with Kids email list)