How to Afford Family Travel: 10 Mistakes You’re Making (and what to do instead)
Do you see other families traveling all the time and wonder, “how the heck do they afford this??”
Well, you’re not alone.
When it comes to booking a family trip, it can sometimes feel like you have to sell your firstborn just to be able to afford it! You figure, either all these traveling families are either super wealthy, or they’ve sold everything they own just to be able to fund their adventures.
Well friends, I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be one way or the other.
Because truthfully, there are loads of families just like ours that travel several times a year…and guess what: we’re not super rich!
Yes, we’re very fortunate to have had many doors already open for us: from well-paying jobs to open access to nearly every part of the world. I’m not so ignorant as to think we haven’t been given a leg up when it comes to our access to travel.
But still, for the most part, we’re a pretty typical family living in surburban America.
So I don’t want you to fall into the myth that travel has to be 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, I truly believe nearly everyone can afford it.
If you want to adventure more with your family, read on for the 10 mistakes you might be making, and what you can do instead to afford consistent family travel!
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.
Seems harmless enough, right? But if you’re planning your travels this way, you’re almost always going to be paying too much!
Instead, 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.
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 when 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.
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 favorable.
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 or less.
So if you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, sign yourself up for free notifications from one of the many flight deal services out there. We love Scott’s Cheap Flights, but others swear by Jack’s Flight Club, Next Vacay, Secret Flying, Airfare Watchdog…the options are endless!
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 game-changing!
The key is to use your card for all of your everyday purchases, and then pay it off in full each month. If you can use it responsibly, you’ll be able to save hundreds, if not thousands, on flights for your family every year!
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, it’s hard to take time off from school and work for a big family trip, 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 travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the very best deals, but use Google Flights‘ flexible fare calendar to compare options at glance and see what the cheapest options are for the particular route you’re eyeing!
7 | You Check Your Luggage
It’s 2019. Baggage fees aren’t going away. If you’re not already flying carry on only, it’s time to start!
At an average $30 per bag, one-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!
PS. One 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 for US domestic flights 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 Airbnbs. 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 private home with our desired amenities (think, in-unit washing machine, rather than a free breakfast). As long as it looks clean and comfortable enough for our family of 4, we’re not too picky on the rest.
We find that because of the sheer number and variety of Airbnb properties available, we can find something that fits our exact needs without sacrificing our budget. On average, we aim to spend around $100/night (+ taxes & fees)…not bad when you consider having your own home with plenty of space and cooking essentials.
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 on more adventures.
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 part of the time we 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 have to mix in other food experiences to save money. We spend plenty of time buying our own groceries and cooking at home, visiting local markets, having no-frills picnics in park, or grabbing a quick bite of street food on the go.
And if it also means occasionally eating nothing but gelato for dinner, so be it.
10 | You Overspend on Attractions
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”.
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 that’s just the same for 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 most excited to have.
Free Printable: Travel Savings Goal Tracker
Are you ready to make this the year your family starts adventuring?
We truly believe the first step towards more family travel is getting right with your finances and having a solid travel fund in place.
Download our free printable savings goal tracker and start turning your travel dreams into a reality!
What are your favorite ways to make family travel more affordable? Share below in the comments!
Liked this Post? Pin It!