Almost everyone I know that has kids barely travels. They say they can't afford it and only go on short trips close to home. Little do they know (until I tell them) that they can spend just a bit more - and in some cases less - and go on a "real" great vacation. I know kids are expensive and so is travel, but if you know where to cut your costs and alter your vacation strategies, then it can be very affordable and fun!
I have tips for kids of any age, so your vacation can recharge you instead of making you worry the whole time that you are spending more than you have. It might even bring your family closer together, because it's so much easier to bond when you are doing things you all like. Check out some of these ways to save on all your family trips!
Travel in the off-season or during winter break
If you have smaller children, you have the luxury of traveling all year long. With this in mind, avoid traveling in the summer. Summer is easily the busiest and most expensive time to plan a vacation. If a beach or other warm-weather location is your destination of choice, plan a trip in the spring. Springtime is always less crowded and one of the best times to find sales on both airfare and hotel rates. If your children are in school, wait until Christmas break to make your journey. If you fly on Christmas Day, you can get rock-bottom airfare, since most travelers want to be at their destination by that day and it’s one of the lightest travel days of the year.
Trade in the ocean for the lake
If you are longing for a beach getaway, you can do many of the same activities at a lakeside destination as you can oceanfront, but with the upside of vast savings off your vacation total. You can still build sandcastles, go boating, snorkeling, diving, fishing, parasailing and more, but at a lower cost.
Buy souvenirs ahead of time
If an amusement park is your final destination, chances are your kids are going to want shirts and toys and anything else they see for sale. These items can add up quickly and bust your budget. Many theme parks, like Disney, have a lot of surrounding stores with discounted items. Local grocery stores, Target and special souvenir shops can be a lifesaver. Purchase many items for the price of one and then either dole them out before you head out to the parks or secretly pack them in your day bag to give to children throughout the day when they start to get cranky or having a case of the “I wants”.
Rent baby equipment at your destination
This doesn’t sound money-saving at all, but it can be. Dragging around a stroller and other cumbersome products can be hard, cost you checked baggage fees and may even damage your own items in the process. Sites like BabiesTravelLite have lists for worldwide locations that rent baby equipment from strollers to baby baths. These places often rent equipment for an entire week for less than you would pay to rent them for a day at amusement parks and other places. You can pick them up on your way to your hotel or vacation rental and then drop them off on your way to the airport. You don’t have to juggle extra things at the airport and you won’t have to worry about damage to any of your own gear.
Rent an apartment, condo or house
When you travel with your whole family, even if it’s just four of you, a hotel room can feel claustrophobic. Hotels rarely offer more than just one room and an attached bathroom, so if you’re planning to be in your room for more than just sleeping and changing clothes, nobody has any personal space. Check sites like HomeAway, Airbnb and FlipKey to reserve a vacation rental for your stay. Not only will you have more room to spread out, but you’ll also save money over a bigger hotel room and have a kitchen, where you can make some of your own meals reduce your dining budget.
Avoid ordering off the kids’ menu
When you go out to eat, almost all restaurants have the dreaded kids’ menu that usually has the same five food items to choose from. Sometimes your kids are just not going to be happy with anything but chicken nuggets, but for the rest of the time you’re out, you can be more frugal and get your children to try new foods (and eat some vegetables!) by splitting an entree with them or between children. They will have options that are more nutritious than pizza and hot dogs and if they don’t finish what’s on their plate, you haven’t wasted money on a separate dish.
Purchase a City Pass
Many cities worldwide offer what is called a city pass. You pay one price for a pass that includes many different activities and attractions and it enables you to bypass the ticket lines and go straight to the front gate. Not only does this cut your entertainment costs, it is also very convenient and enables you to do more things on the same budget. I've used CityPASS, Smart Destinations, VisiTicket, London Pass and Paris Pass.
Use your zoo membership
Almost every family I know has invested in a zoo membership, because for one price, they can go to the zoo and aquarium all year long. This helps when money is tight and they have to get out of the house, and I don’t know any kid that doesn’t love fish and other animals. If you have a membership, you can use it to visit other zoos and aquariums across the country and, in some cases, in other parts of the world. It can be fun for kids to feel like the day is totally about them and they can learn about new animals in different parts of the world that your zoo might not have.
I know that with kids it’s hard to do this, but it’s not impossible. Each of your children can bring their own carry-on for the plane and help spread around the weight. Whether it’s a small rolling bag that can fit under the seat or a backpack they can wear, they can share the load. While their clothes can be fairly lightweight, everything they want to take from home may not be. Pack as much of their clothes as you can in your own carry-on (Spacebags or Pack-It cubes may help) and then have them carry any spillover and a few things from home in their own bag. This may be a few (or a combination of) small toys, a coloring book and some snacks. Anything that will make traveling less of a chore. If there is more than one adult in your party, this may be done more easily, and you will have everything with you when you land, saving you checked baggage fees and time waiting for your bags on the carousel.
Traveling with kids can give you a whole different view of your vacation destination and cause you to be more creative in planning and traveling around each day. Children can be great world travelers, if given a chance, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to learn about new cultures, food and countries.
It might take a little extra effort and planning to travel with children, but it can be very rewarding in the end. It’s possible to save on many parts of your trip, making it just as affordable as before having kids when you didn’t worry (as much) about your budget. Your destinations are as open as ever and kids can only add to the fun of a new place with their excitement over things you may have long forgotten were exciting.
How do you save when traveling with kids or what is your biggest challenge when planning a trip with kids?