Travelling is expensive, and has only gotten more so. If you’re wondering to save money travelling with kids, then you’re in the right place. As a parent of 2 who’s travelled quite a bit with my kids, I’ve learned some good family travel on a budget strategies.
If you’ve seen friend’s vacation trips pop up on social media, as you see their smiling squinting faces having fun on the beach with palm trees around them and fancy drinks in hand, and wondered how in the world they afford this? Then you’re in the right place.
Truth is, I can’t speak for other people, but I can give you some tips that have helped me travel to 10+ countries as a parent with my kids, and made plenty trips around my own country, Canada with children. I’m going to share some secrets with you that will make your next trip much more affordable, and allow you to travel more often with your family.
So, let’s jump in – family travel on a budget tricks!
How to Travel on a Budget with Family
Here are some budget travel tricks to help you have fulfilling trips with your family without spending their college fund
1. Chase the deal, not the destination
I once looked at where a roundtrip flight for $500 or less could bring me. That’s how I ended up going to Nicaragua, which ended up being one of the most incredible places I’ve been to. The more set you are about where and when you travel, the more you’ll end up spending. Looking for deals, sales and trends in travel costs can save you thousands.
I use Skyscanner to search for all the flights travelling to different destinations, to get an idea of where I can go cheaply.
2. Find the cheapest time to book your trip
You can save so much money from booking in advance. There are tools to help you determine exactly when you should book your trip. Costs go up, but sometimes they go down to, and you can benefit from waiting. Booking as early as possible isn’t always the answer.
I use the Hopper app. It helps predict when the flight prices will increase, and tells me the best time to book.
3. Score FREE accommodation
Accommodation eats up a large fraction of your budget when you’re travelling. There are a few ways to stay somewhere completely free of charge.
- Trusted Housesitters connects you with people (who often have nice homes) with house sitters. Not all homes accept families, but some do. You need to pay a yearly membership to join Housesitters, but the membership costs less than 1 night accommodation.
- Consider WOOFING (World Organization of Organic Farming) which allows you to stay on a sustainable, organic farm, and volunteer in exchange for free accommodation. Its a unique way to explore a country and make a memorable family experience. Many of the farms accept families. To participate, you’ll need to pay an annual membership fee based on the country you want to WWOOF in, but like housesitting, the money you save on a trip far outweighs the membership cost
- Couchsurfing. I’ve done Couchsurfing quite a bit before I had kids, but couchsurfing is popular with families too. The same rule applies about finding hosts that accept families, because some do (especially since some of of the hosts are families.)
4. Carry only some cash on you
When you’re on vacation, you relax. It doesn’t matter whether you’re travelling with kids, or where you go. The realities of home (including your budget) go out the window for that short while you’re away. If you carry your credit card around while you’re travelling, you’ll put way more on it than you intend to.
I recommend keeping your credit card somewhere safe, and having cash with you, so that you can stick to the budget you want, and not spend money on things that you probably don’t need. Either that, or just keep your budget in mind during the trip and try not to stray too far from it.
4. Save money on accommodation
Not all of the ideas mentioned above for scoring free accommodation appeal to everyone, which I can understand. There are still several ways to stay somewhere for cheap.
- Camping. I wanted to see Rome with my daughter, but instead of staying right in Rome (which would have been pricey) we stayed at a family camping resort 45 minutes outside the city (pictured above.)
- Loyalty programs. Booking.com for example, rewards loyalty. Right now, I’m headed towards Genius Level 3 on Booking.com, which would offer me 15% off any accommodations that I book in the future.
- Sleep on the road. I took a ferry to Sardinia with my daughter, from mainland Italy. Sleeping while on transit can be uncomfortable sometimes, but its one way to get a night’s worth of accommodation plus transportation
5. Rent places where you can cook your own meals
Food also eats up a lot (no pun intended) of our budget. Its one of those things that we don’t consider when we book our trip, but can make the numbers on the credit card bill much more shocking when we get home. Its worth it to consider cheap ways to feed yourself and family while on the road.
Food in touristy places (where most of us want to travel to) can be very expensive, so shopping at grocery stores and making some of your own meals can save hundreds of dollars – even thousands if its a longer trip. When we went to Great Wolf Lodge with our kids, some of the families saved hundreds of dollars by preparing their own breakfast in the hotel room!
6. Think outside the box
Travel doesn’t have to be by plane, and it doesn’t have to be a luxury. When it’s not a luxury, it’s a lot cheaper, which means you don’t eat into savings, and you can travel more often. For me, I travel not necessarily to relax and be on vacation, but to explore.
Don’t get me wrong- luxuries are nice, and we wall want to feel pampered and relaxed sometimes. The most I ever spent on a family trip was taking my then-5 year old on a Disney Cruise as a single parent. It was an amazing trip, and I can see why people love cruises and resorts. But taking trips like these might mean that you travel less frequently.
7. Check your local buy and sell groups for used items
It’s pretty common that we need to buy stuff for our trips with kids – swimsuits, kid’s hiking shoes, beach towels, blow up toys, activities to entertain your toddler on the plane, etc. You could save a lot of money by trying to get some of these items used. Kids items are often given away dirt cheap or even free on Facebook groups, Garage sales, and Marketplace. Look into your local buy and sell groups and Facebook Marketplace before hopping on Amazon to spend money you could otherwise save.
8. Bring your own (reusable) water bottles
Buying plastic water bottles over and over can add up in expenses (it also isn’t the greatest for the planet.) Bring reusable water bottles – just make sure they’re empty before going through security. Then, you can fill them up whenever you get a chance for free, instead of having to spend money on water bottles.
8. Consider pubic transit
Public transit is more feasible in some countries than in others. If you’re heading to mainland Europe, take advantage of being able to take the train almost anywhere. Public transit always works out to be cheaper than renting a car, or going on tours. It takes a bit more time and planning, but it can save a lot of money.
Wherever you’re going, look into the option of using public transit to see if its doable.
9. Avoid airport snacks and food
When you fo find yourself at the airport, ready to embark on your journey – avoid the temptation to grab snacks or food at one of the restaurants by the gate. Airport food is very pricey, and avoiding having to buy something there can save you some extra cash. One time, I spend almost $100 just on some food and drinks at the Reyjavik airport in Iceland.
If your flight doesn’t provide a meal, then eat a big meal beforehand and pack extra snacks in your carryon, like fruit, or sandwiches. Cutting little expenses out where you can can burn much less of a hole in your wallet after the trip is over.
9. Eat where the locals eat
The more targeted something is at tourists, the more expensive it will be. Find out where the locals hang out, and where they tend to eat. The prices will come down when you do this. Anything right next to a tourist attraction is going to very pricy, just as something ‘made for tourists’ is.
In Costa Rica for example, there are two types of restaurants: those geared towards the comforts of Western tourists, which are more high end and expensive; and “sodas” which are the Costa Rican restaurants where locals tend to eat. We enjoyed eating at both types of restaurants in Costa Rica, but it was always much cheaper to eat at one of the sodas. They are less fancy, but the food was as good as anywhere else, and so much more affordable.
10. Choose locally-sourced wines and beers
If you want to treat yourself to a glass of wine or pint of beer while on vacation with your family, keep in mind that locally-brewed beers and wines are more affordable than something that has had to be imported.
Costa Rica beers in Costa Rica are cheaper than trying to find American beer. The same goes for Italian wines, French, California, and so on. So stick to the locally-sourced drinks while on your holiday.
10. Exchange money at your bank before you leave
Exchanging your money at your bank will give you a much cheaper rate than waiting until you’re at the airport, or in some very touristy spot in the city. Those currency kiosks in airports and touristy areas don’t usually need to offer the best rate because they’re in high demand as it is. You can save a good hundred or so dollars by planning ahead and exchanging your currency at your bank.
11. Consider not exchanging your remaining money back
Let’s say you’re from the US and visiting Europe. Rather than exchange your remaining Euros at the end of your trip, why not put them somewhere for safe keeping until your next trip to Europe? Every time you exchange, you lose money. So if you can afford to hold on to the foreign currency until your next trip (unless you’re 100% sure you’ll never go there again of course) then I advise doing it. This is what I do.
Whenever we’re going to go back to the US or Europe, I look in the special spot where we keep our foreign currency. Its extra pocket change that we forgot we had!
12. Travel during off-season
This is harder for some than for others (which I appreciate as a teacher who always travelled in the summer), but if you can – try to go during the low-season. Things will be so much cheaper. If you want to go to Europe, consider going in autumn or spring, rather than the summer months.
Going to to the Caribbean or Costa Rica anytime between December and March is the priciest time to go. Consider going to these destinations during the months of June and July. Yes, it is technically rain season in those places at that time. But it doesn’t mean it rains all day, every day. I saved a lot of money going to Central America in July.
13. Use your social network
You may have family or friends living in faraway places. This could be a great opportunity for a place to stay, or even get some insider, local advice about the place you’re visiting to save you some money.
Even if you don’t crash at their place, they might be able to tell you some local’s secrets about getting good deals in the destination or avoiding tourist traps. We were very lucky to stay with my grandparent’s siblings when we visited Sweden, and with my brother when we went to Lake Tahoe.
14. Cut expenses where you can, and put them towards your trip
Every time I feel a craving for something, like Starbucks, a donut, an ice cream … I say no as often as possible unless I really want it. I look at the price of that item, and instead, imagined that money going into my travel bank account, to be put towards a trip. By not buying the item, I’m giving that money back to myself, to go towards my trip.
Putting $5, $10 or $15 towards your trip instead of spending it on little impulses on a daily basis can make a huge difference in the amount you have to put towards a vacation later on.
15. A little bit adds up over time
Its amazing how much little differences amount to over time. Here’s a trick I read about once in an online forum. In your online banking account, add any extra cents in your chequeings account into your savings account. For example, if you have $427.73, take the .73 out and put it into savings. If its at $512.12, put the 12 cents into savings. You don’t need to do this on a regular schedule – just do this every time you happen to be in your online banking.
I did this as a single parent when I had very little ability to save anything significant. Yes, its only a little bit, and it doesn’t make much of a difference very fast. But in the long run, you’d be surprised at how much a few cents here and there can add up!
16. Plan the trip yourself
There are a lot of trip-planning services, and they can certainly be a lifesaver for those of us who don’t enjoy the process of trip and itinerary planning. But if you can plan your own trip, you can save quite a bit of money. It may take more time, but your wallet will thank you. I’ve planned all my trips single handedly, which over time has probably saved me 10s of thousands of dollars.
17. Consider ways to make some extra money
Here are some ways to make money on the side. For the record, I’ve done all of these things.
- Fill out online surveys
- Babysitting – its not just for teenagers. Many parents will be thrilled to hire a mature adult, especially one who’s a parent themselves. Can you you take in some school-age kids at your home after school, or babysit for other parents for nights out?
- Mystery shopping
- Teach your native language online (italki, Preply, or Cambly)
- Sell things in your home that you don’t need at a garage sale or Facebook Marketplace
- Start a blog. Learn how I grew my travel blog quickly here.
- Pet sitting or dog walking
18. Look into city packages
Many cities offer some sort of a package to see the top attractions in that city for an affordable price. In my hometown Toronto for example, the City Pass allows you to see 5 attractions for only $100 per person, but without the pass it would work out to be almost $200 per person. So for each member of the family, this is pretty significant savings.
Other cities have similar packages to Toronto’s City Pass. Paris and London both have one, so does New York City. Look this up before you visit any new city.
19. Consider going off the beaten path
The beaten path is almost always pricier than the less trudged path. Of course, we all want to see the famous sites -they’re popular for a reason. But when you insist on staying in the most popular cities, and following the typical tourist agenda, then its going to add up. The more popular something is, the more expensive it will be.
Staying in the less-touristy place doesn’t mean you won’t have a good time. You can find some true gems and unique experiences when you aren’t following the common path. One of the coolest experiences I had with my older daughter was glamping in a small town called Carrick on Shannon, which is less than 2 hours from Dublin, Ireland. We explored some towns and hidden gems nearby that aren’t on the typical tourist agenda, but added a lot of value to our trip.
20. Book far in advance… but double check cancellation policies
You can save a lot of money by booking in advance. One way to save on a Disney Cruise for example, is to be one of the first ones to book.
Plans can change, especially sometimes when young children are involved. Whatever you book, double check the cancellation policy. I always write it down. This could save you hundreds or thousands in the even that you need to change your plans.
Family Travel on a Budget FAQ
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about travelling with family travel on a budget
How can a family travel on a low budget?
There are many ways for a family to travel on a budget. First, look for sales. Then, plan your trip around the deal, not the destination. Use tools to help you find the best prices, such as when to book and which carrier to book it with. If you can, go during off-season if this is a possibility. Avoid unnecessary purchases before and during your trip, so that you can start planning your next trip as soon as possible.
How do you travel with a family of 4 on a budget?
There are a few recommendations for family travel on a budget with 2 adults, 2 kids. First of all, look at the deals first, not the destination. The less picky you are about where and when, the more money you’ll save. Consider our methods to score free or discounted accommodation and saving on food in your travel destination. Think outside the box and remember that ‘travel’ doesn’t have to look like a luxury vacation.
Family Travel on a Budget: Conclusion
I believe every family should have the opportunity to travel and make memories. How that looks for each family is different, depending on the destination and a lot of other factors. With careful planning, you can make trips happen with your family on a budget regardless of how many kids you have. Many of the tips I shared above helped me plan trips to Costa Rica, Ireland, Iceland and Italy – all with kids, and all on a budget.
I hope that this article has given you some inspiration and ideas for planning your next family travel on a budget!