Affordable Family Travel: 10 Mistakes You’re Making (and what to do instead)

Think affordable family travel sounds like an oxymoron? See other families traveling to Europe and think, “how do they afford this??”

Well, you’re not alone.

When it comes to booking a family trip, affordability is often the biggest roadblock families face. But I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Our loves to travel. A LOT. Like “once in a lifetime”, but multiple times per year.

And while, yes, we’re very fortunate to have well-paying jobs and open access to nearly every part of the world, a lot of it has come down to being savvy in our travel choices and knowing where to find cheaper alternatives.

Don’t fall into the myth that travel is this expensive luxury that only the 1% can afford. Because for the most part, if you’re willing to make some sacrifices and prioritize travel in your life, nearly any family can afford it.

Still not convinced affordable family travel is possible? Read on for the 10 mistakes you might be making, and what you can do instead to afford to travel more as a family!

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1 | You Choose Your Destination First

It’s the way we’ve always been taught to plan our travels: pick a destination, pick a date, then see how much it’ll cost.

Makes sense, right? Well, if you’re planning your travels this way, you’re almost always going to be paying too much!

Instead, you’ve got to plan your travels in reverse. Before you even decide where and when to go, use Kayak Explore or Google Flights to see what’s affordable in the next 6 months. From there, you can narrow your search down by exact destination and the most affordable dates to fly.

Planning your travels this way will ensure you’re always getting the best deal, no matter where and when you travel.

2 | You Don’t Have a Dedicated Travel Fund

I wish there really was a way to travel for free, but sorry, no matter which way you slice it: travel = money.

So in order to “afford” travel, you need to set aside the funds for it.

Having a dedicated savings account for travel (and travel only!), is the only way you’ll be able to make sure you have funds ready as soon as you want to get away!

So instead of procrastinating or waiting for a lottery win, start saving a little each week. I recommend auto-transferring a set amount each week to a dedicated savings account so you never even have to think about it. Before long you’ll be so used to saving for travel, it will just be another part of the routine.

Free Travel Fund Savings Tracker

Start building your travel fund today, little by little, with the help of our Travel Fund Savings Tracker. Subscribe to our newsletter via Grow to get your free download.

Thanks for being a subscriber!

PS. You can also find this and all of our printable family travel planning tools exclusively for subscribers in our free resource library.

Laura points up at a beautiful Italian church, Evelyn on her hip, in Orvieto, Italy.

3 | You Go Where Everybody Else is Going (When Everybody Else is Going)

Sure, there are plenty of reasons to love Barcelona, Rome, and Paris, and you’re certain summer will be the only time you can pull the kids out of school to go. Problem is, that’s what everybody else is thinking too, and your wallet will certainly feel the hit.

Instead, if you must travel in peak travel season, opt for alternatives with less tourists and lower costs. This might mean Lisbon instead of Barcelona, or Croatia instead of Italy.

And as for those iconic cities like Paris and Rome that you just don’t want to miss, plan to visit in the off- or shoulder-season, when prices will be much more reasonable.

4  |  You’re Paying Full Price for Flights

Friends don’t let friends pay $1000 for flights to Europe.

There are far too many tools out there today that can help you easily fly to Europe for $500.

If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend signing up for flight deal alerts with Going. With our premium Going membership, we receive multiple cheap flight deals per day to various locations around both the US and internationally! It takes the guesswork out of knowing when to book and has literally saved us so much money over the years.

It more than pays for itself with one cheap flight booking. And better yet, it’s free to try!

Stop Overpaying for Flights!

We use Going to help us find the cheapest flights to anywhere in the world, domestic and international. Trust me, the premium membership easily pays for itself after one cheap flight booking!

Evelyn stands on a bridge peeking over her shoulder in the Muir Woods, San Francisco, California.

5 | You’re Paying for Flights in Cash

If you haven’t started using a travel rewards credit card, you guys, you are missing out on free money!

I know it seems counterintuitive. “Go into debt to save on travel? No thanks.”

But using a credit card that rewards you with free travel money isn’t irresponsible: it’s a game-changing way to make family travel affordable!

The key is to use your card for all of your everyday purchases you would normally buy anyway, and then pay it off in full each month. If you can use it responsibly, you’ll be able to save thousands on flights, hotels, and rental cars each year!

We personally love and recommend the Chase Sapphire cards for points and miles newbies. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a good starter card for those wanting to dip their toes in the travel credit card world at a lower annual fee.

For those wanting something more robust that will help you accummulate travel points faster, we have and love the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. I could go on and on about all the benefits of this card that easily outweigh the high annual fee, but I’ll save that for another blog post!

6 | You Fly on the Weekend

Fly out on a Friday, come back Sunday night?

Might as well double the price of your ticket.

I get it, the only thing harder than affording family travel is finding the time to take off school and work for it. But if you want to save big, you’ve got to get flexible with your travel dates, and that means flying mid-week!

We generally try to extend our trips 1 or 2 days past the weekend for the very best deals, and Google Flights‘ flexible fare calendar is a great way to compare options at glance and see what the cheapest options are for your particular route. If you could say $200 per ticket just buy flying back home on Monday instead of a Tuesday, surely you would do it, right?

Evelyn strolls down the moving walkway, stuffied animal under her arm, at Denver International Airport.

7  |  You Always Check Your Luggage

We all know by now that baggage fees are never going away. In fact, they just keep getting higher and higher.

If you’re not already flying carry on only, it’s time to start!

At an average $30 per bag, each way, baggage fees can add up quick. What you thought was a cheap flight can quickly turn into hundreds more than you had planned to spend.

So don’t fall into the trap. Take some time to strategize and learn how to pack for weeks at a time with just one carry on suitcase per person. Trust me, if we can do it with a baby and toddler, you can too!

One Important Caveat: if you need to bring a travel crib, stroller, car seat, etc., there’s no shame in checking it; almost every airline will check baby items for free. Or better yet, fly Southwest and skip the baggage fees altogether!

8 | You Splurge on Accommodations

Every now and then, it feels good to stay in a nice hotel with a pool and room service and housekeeping. But, we know if we want to travel more often, we’ll have to lower our standards a bit.

So, for the most part, we stay in vacation rentals or budget hotels.

I’m not saying you have to go for the cheapest thing out there, but for us, we aim for the lowest possible price for a clean, comfortable stay.

While hotels are nice for short stays in big cities, we prefer a vacation rental where we have extra amenities to help us keep us on budget, like a washing machine to make up for our lightly packed carry on, or a kitchen to prepare some of our own meals.

And while the prices for vacation rentals have certainly gone up over the years, on average, we aim to spend around $120-$150/night…not bad when you consider having your own home with plenty of space and amenties.

Does that mean sometimes staying in places that don’t have the fanciest decor or are on the outskirts of our desired neighborhood? Sure. But we’d much rather spend that money saved for more adventures.

Evelyn slurps up a noodle from an asian soup spoon, with a chopstick in her other hand, at Elizabeth Street Cafe in Austin, Texas.

9 | You Eat Out for Every Meal

Trust me, I know the struggle is real when it comes to eating out while you travel. Our family loves food, so for us, it’s a big part of experiencing a new city!

But still, we know that at least some of the time we’ll need to get creative with meals if we’re going to keep our budget in line.

This means that for every nice meal we order from a restaurant, we’ll mix in other cheap food experiences to save money. Whether buying groceries and cooking at home, visiting local markets, having a no-frills picnics in park, or grabbing a quick bite of street food on the go, there are so many ways to experience food in a new location without dining at the fanciest restaurant.

And if it also means occasionally eating nothing but gelato for dinner, so be it.

10 | You Overspend on Attractions & Tours

One of the best things about travel is that you could literally adventure your whole life and never run out of new places to see!

So why do we visit a new city and think we have to see and do it all? Especially when it comes to spending your money on things just because “you have to”.

Don’t be afraid to be selective with your activities, attractions, and tours, but also savvy about how you spend your money to experience them. Sure, a guided tour is nice, but could you put together your own walking itinerary or download an audio guide that’s free?

Is it really worth climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or could you get that same view from the Arc du Triomphe?

Treat travel activities as a splurge and only pay for experiences you are truly the most excited to have.

Free Travel Fund Savings Tracker

Start building your travel fund today, little by little, with the help of our Travel Fund Savings Tracker. Subscribe to our newsletter via Grow to get your free download.

Thanks for being a subscriber!

PS. You can also find this and all of our printable family travel planning tools exclusively for subscribers in our free resource library.

What are your favorite ways to make family travel more affordable? Share below in the comments!

xo laura

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