Family Travel on a Budget: 75 Ways to Save on Your Next Vacation with Kids
Family travel on a budget? Yes, it is possible!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that there’s not just one little secret to budget travel with kids. Truth be told, it’s a million little hacks that all add up to savings when planning a family vacation.
And what works for one family’s budget and travel style may not work for the next.
So I’ve compiled a list of the top 75 ways families can save while traveling on a budget, from booking flights and accommodation, to once you’re actually on the ground.
My hope is that you’ll find a few nuggets in here so you can make travel just a little more affordable for your family.
Read on for 75 ways to save on your next family vacation:
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Ways to Save While Planning Family Travel
1. Bring your own baby & toddler gear | While gear rental services are convenient, we almost always bring our own. Why rent car seats when you can check them for free?
2. Book airport parking in advance | Long-term parking costs can really add up if you’re going to be gone for a week or more. If you must park long-term, check websites like Park ‘N Fly or Park Ride Fly to see if a local option offers discounts for pre-booking long-term parking in advance.
3. Get a ride to the airport | Want to skip airport parking altogether? You can still avoid an expensive Uber ride by asking a friend or family member to drop you off. If you must, offer them a gift card as an incentive – still cheaper than a taxi!
4. Travel in the off- or shoulder-season | It goes without saying that traveling when everyone else is will hurt your wallet. So save those big trips for the shoulder-season (that’s spring and fall in the US and Europe), or better yet, take a chance on off-season travel and you could save nearly half what you would spend during peak season.
5. Visit lesser-traveled countries | Spain, France, and Italy are on everyone’s list for good reason. But have you thought about Portugal, Poland, or Croatia?
6. Stay in “second cities” | If you want to experience a new country without paying tourist prices, consider basing yourself in the second (or third, or fourth) most populous city. This means Lyon instead of Paris. Chicago instead of New York City. Chiang Mai instead of Bangkok.
7. Make it a road trip | Sometimes the journey is just as much a part of the trip as the destination. So if you’re traveling on a budget, it may be worth it to make it a road trip. Not only will you save on flights, but you’ll also have your own transportation once you arrive.
8. Know how much things cost before you go | There’s nothing worse than feeling like a ripped off traveler. So be sure to do your research in advance. Know how much a taxi to your hotel should cost. Or the going rate for a guided tour. Having this knowledge will not only help you feel more confident, but your wallet will thank you to.
Ways to Save on Travel with Credit Card Perks
9. Built-in travel insurance | Sure rewards credit cards are great for the points and miles. But an added feature of many travel rewards cards? Your travel purchases are covered against trip delay, cancellation, lost luggage, and more. (And when it comes to travel medical insurance coverage, don’t skimp and shop around for the best price.)
10. Avoid paying exchange fees | Exchanging currency can be spendy, and even using an local ATM will incur some costly fees. So we keep some cash on hand but most use a rewards credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve whenever possible, and pay no foreign transaction fees to do so.
11. Free lounge access | On long travel days, we try to utilize our Priority Pass membership as much as possible. It’s free with the Chase Sapphire card and gets us access to lounges for not only a quiet place to wait, but free food and drink (no paying airport food prices!)
12. Additional rental car coverage | Renting a car and not sure if you should take out that extra insurance? Don’t worry. With many travel rewards credit cards you don’t have to, since Collision Damage Waiver is already included.
13. TSA Pre-Check + Global Entry reimbursement | If you are really serious about upping your travel game, TSA Pre-Check + Global Entry are a must. Many travel credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Expresss Platinum Card will reimburse you for your enrollment fees.
Ways to Save on Flights for the Whole Family
14. Search ‘Everywhere’ on Skyscanner | Sometimes it’s not about when you go, but where. And Skyscanner‘s flexible search too makes finding the cheapest place to fly a little easier.
15. Find cheap destinations with Kayak Explore | Similar to Skyscanner, Kayak Explore will show you all the cheapest destinations. But what I like about Kayak is they don’t just show you the major cities you’re flying into. They’ll also give you options for more cities within driving distance to help spark your creativity!
16. Fly during the week | No doubt, if you want to save on flights, you’ll want to adjust your travel schedule a bit. Moving your travel dates by even a day or two could literally cut the cost of each ticket in half.
17. Sign up for flight alerts with Scott’s Cheap Flights | If you’re eyeing international flights, join a flight deal alerts group like Scott’s Cheap Flights. A premium membership costs under $50; a price you’ll quickly make back when you book your first cheap international trip for the family!
18. Search for flights in another currency | Sounds crazy, but flight prices vary so much, even from place to place! There’s nothing wrong with a little currency arbitrage to save a buck or two (and remember, if you use a rewards credit card, there’s no foreign transaction fee to pay in a different currency)!
19. Book flights with points | Obviously, one of the best ways to save big on your next family vacation is to book with points. We like Chase because they make earning points easy, and even give you more value for them if you book directly through their system.
20. Fly budget airlines for short trips | If you can sacrifice a little comfort and do your research on fees, budget airlines are a great way to get from point A to B quickly (and save some money in the process).
21. Watch for airline fare sales | It’s not just points and miles that can score you cheap fares. Following a website like The Points Guy will help alert you when airlines (like Southwest, for example) are offering special sales on certain destinations.
22. Avoid airlines fees by being prepared | There’s a fee for everything nowadays, so make sure you know the fine print before you get to the airport. Can you check a bag for less by pre-paying in advance? Will you have to pay to have your boarding pass printed? With cheap fares and basic economy being the way most airlines are going, don’t assume anything is included.
23. Pack light to avoid baggage fees | Yes, you can do it! Even with two kids under 4, we have managed to travel carry on only to avoid those dreaded baggage fees. If you need help, check out this post for tips!
24. Buy airline gift cards at a discount | Website likes Raise.com are dedicated to helping people sell their unwanted gift cards. And while the savings aren’t huge, 5% saved is 5% saved.
Ways to Save on Accommodation with Kids
25. Book hotels with points | Points aren’t just for flights! If you’ve been eyeing a particular hotel, it may make more sense to book your stay with points instead!
26. Housesit | Really want to slash your budget and stay somewhere for free? Consider giving housesitting a try. Websites like Trusted Housesitters pair families with other avid travelers in need of house or petsitters while they’re away. It’s a win-win!
27. Work for your room and board | If you’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves and get dirty, WWOOFing or a Workaway assignment may be the key to your free accommodations. Traditionally these have been manual labor projects, but needs are branching out to domestic help and clerical work too.
28. Stay longer | It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes a longer stay can really equal more savings! It’s part of the reason our trips are longer than most. Longer stays = bigger discounts. And if you’re staying in an area where the cost of living is considerably lower than at home, you’ll save on your everyday living expenses as well!
29. Ask for a discount | Yes, really. Both hotels and private rentals like Airbnbs have room open for negotiation. Especially if you can offer something extra beneficial to the owner, like a long stay or filling a gap in their otherwise empty booking calendar.
30. Book whole-room hostels | Hostels: they aren’t just for backpackers anymore! Families are jumping into the market as many hostels offer no-frills, whole-room rentals. HostelWorld is a great place to check out and compare all of your options.
31. Stay in a residential neighborhood | Getting outside the touristy city centers can seriously cut your accommodation budget. And bonus, you’ll also receive a much more authentic travel experience!
32. Stay loyal to a hotel group | Each hotel chain or group typically offers their own reward program, giving members free nights and other perks for their loyalty. So find one group you like (BonVoy, Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, etc.), and stick with them everywhere you go.
33. Homeswap | Swapping homes with another family is another great way to ensure a family-friendly place to stay, for free! Sites like Home Exchange and Love Home Swap are two of the most popular platforms for coordinating a swap.
34. Book a new Airbnb listing | Airbnb listings with zero reviews will often make travelers look the other way. But if you do your due diligence, they can be a great way to score deep discounts on stellar new properties!
35. Join Hotels.com rewards | If you can’t stay loyal to a particular hotel brand, at least stay loyal to a platform. Hotels.com‘s rewards program offers you a free night’s stay after 10 booked nights!
36. Buy discount Hotels.com gift cards | And if you’re going to be booking anyway, you might as well get an extra 5-6% discount buy purchasing Hotels.com gift cards from Raise.com in advance.
37. Buy discount Airbnb gift cards | Likewise, Airbnb gift cards are also available at a discount on websites like Raise.com.
38. Earn cash back on your travel purchases | Are you a member of Rakuten (formerly eBates)? Download the browser extension and start earning cash back on travel booked online. It’s not a huge amount, but every little bit helps!
39. Ask for travel gift cards for special occasions | Hint, hint to my friends and family. Everybody loves an Airbnb gift card. 😉
Ways to Save on Transportation While Traveling
40. Weigh all of your transportation options | Rental car vs. train vs. flight. Uber vs. public transport. Sometimes the unlikely choice may actually be cheaper, so be sure to check all options. (Rome2Rio is a great help for this!)
41. Walk as much as possible | I know, this is rich, coming from a mother of a 1 and 3 year old. But walking is not only always the cheapest option, it also allows you to see small corners of a city you might otherwise miss.
42. Use public transportation like a local | It’s tempting to go the easy route and buy the “tourist card” for unlimited public transportation. But most of the time, a pay-as-you-go card like the locals use will come out cheaper in the end.
43. Book a refundable rental car | That way, if prices go down, you can cancel it and rebook at the cheaper price!
44. Book car rentals off-airport | Some cities tack on seriously high airport taxes for car rentals picked up at the airport. If you’re willing to Uber to a nearby location off-site, you could literally save hundreds (like we did in New Orleans)!
45. Skip the GPS rental | Even if you don’t have cell service, you can download an offline version of Google Maps for free turn-by-turn directions.
46. Join a car rental loyalty program | Nearly every company has one, and can not only save you time with priority check-in, but also money by way of waived fees.
47. Book train tickets early | For major city-to-city routes, train tickets generally get more expensive the closer you get to your travel date. So be sure to book them at least a month in advance to ensure a good seat and price.
48. Price out train passes vs. individual tickets | Like the public transport tickets, an unlimited Europe or country pass might not actually be worth the expense unless you plan to do some serious moving around. Be sure to price out both options and compare.
Ways to Save on Food & Drink for the Family
49. Load up on breakfast | No shame in our game. We almost always eat breakfast at home. And if we’re staying at a hotel, we’ll fill up on the continental breakfast (and maybe even take a few snacks to go)!
50. Eat lunch out instead of dinner | Let’s face it, dinner out with kids is hard enough. But choosing to swap a nice dinner out for a nice lunch will also save you considerably!
51. Consider grocery shopping a part of the experience | We love grocery shopping because it gives us a chance to eat like locals and try a little bit of everything without busting the budget! Plus, a quiet dinner in is always appreciated after a busy day of sightseeing.
52. Carry lots of snacks | Fact: kids are always hungry. And granola bars are a heck of a lot cheaper than a mid-afternoon stop at the coffee shop.
53. Make street food the meal | We’re major foodies, so we like to eat out. To keep from blowing our budget, we’ll swap restaurant dining for a quick street food or market bite any day of the week.
54. Ask for local recommendations | Airbnb hosts, Uber drivers, or tour guides are great for this. Locals will always know the best spots to go for great food on a budget.
55. Picnic in the park | We try to plan at least one or two picnics if the weather is nice. Load up on easy finger foods like meat, cheese, and grapes from the grocery store, and you’ve got yourself a cheap (and relaxing) lunch for less.
56. Dine off the beaten path | If you’re in a touristy area, walk several blocks away from the crowds, down a quiet street. It usually only takes this long before you’re away from tourist prices and back to real, good food.
57. Drink at home vs. the restaurant | We like to skip the cocktails at dinner and opt for a bottle of wine at home after the kids are in bed.
58. Bring your own water bottle | I am admittedly terrible at remembering this one, so I can personally attest to how much money I’ve thrown away on bottles of water. Save that money for gelato instead, and fill up your own!
Ways to Save on Activities with Kids
59. Book attractions in advance | You’ll often receive a discount for pre-booking major attractions online.
60. Check for free entry days or times | Many museums offer free entry on certains days or in the evenings. These are great times to take little ones who you question how good they’ll be or how long they’ll have any interest.
61. Search “free things to do in…” | There are soooo many bloggers out there dedicated to traveling on a budget, you’ll find no shortage of advice on free things to do in nearly any city.
62. Skip the tourist traps | You don’t need to go just because everyone else is going. If it doesn’t interest you, don’t do it.
63. Join a free city tour | Nearly every city has them! And Free Tours by Foot is one of my favorite places to find them.
64. Book a city pass | You can probably tell by now, I’m not a big fan of the “unlimited” type passes. But in some cases (especially if you’re going to be packing in a lot of museums and monuments in a short amount of time) a city pass can really be a great deal! Just be sure to price out what you actually want to see vs. what the pass covers to make sure it’s worth it.
65. Create your own walking tour | One of our favorite things to do is simply meander a new neighborhood. If you’re visiting a particularly historic or notable area (like South of Broad, Charleston or the Garden District, New Orleans), do research in advance to find the best points of interest, and then design your own walking tour to make a day out of it!
66. Book experiences with points | Nope, they’re not just for flights and hotels, either! Chase Travel offers experiences you can purchase with points as well, like guided tours, day trips, and adventure activities.
67. Seek out nature | A hidden path, trip to a beach, or hiking trail costs nothing, and can often lead to some of the most rewarding discoveries!
68. Learn local tipping etiquette | Let’s face it, Americans are notorious over-tippers. Be sure to know what’s appropriate where you’re going so you’re not tipping for service that’s already essentially included in your bill.
Ways to Save Everywhere Else
69. Take out cash at the ATM | Even if you have a no-fee credit card, you’ll want to have cash on hand for places that don’t take cards. Skip the airport currency exchange counter and get money directly from an ATM instead, where the exchange rate will be more favorable. Some banks will even allow you to withdraw money without a fee!
70. Use Skype for local calls | It’s super cheap and reliable, so long as you have a wi-fi signal.
71. Buy kids travel gear second-hand | There are plenty of families who have gone before you and are ready to give their favorite travel gear new life. So instead of shelling out for new, check the Facebook Marketplace or Craiglist for gently used baby carriers, travel cribs, hiking packs, etc.
72. Buy a local sim card | So long as your phone is unlocked, buying a sim card at your destination will be infinitely cheaper than paying for your cell carrier’s expensive international coverage.
73. Do your own laundry | We could never travel carry on only if it weren’t for wearing and re-wearing our wardrobe. So I’m always sure to book an Airbnb with a washer and dryer, or research a nearby laundromat in advance.
74. Know basic phrases for negotiating | In some countries, it’s just inevitable, so being able to ask “how much?” or “would you take…” can help so you’re not paying more than you should.
75. Opt for simple souvenirs | We try to stick to practical items that we need or can use at home. And if nothing strikes your fancy, don’t buy just to buy. We’ve had plenty of trips where we’ve brought nothing home but our memories.
Do you have any favorite budget family travel tips? Share them in the comments below!