The summer after Dan and I got married, we spent two months traveling extensively across 3 continents. It was incredible! We knew we wanted to have kids, so we figured it would be tricky to save money to travel with more bodies.
Then, after our oldest was born, I needed to travel to South Africa for a business school project. Since he was only 4 months old, I took him along, and Dan came along to help out with him while I had commitments. He did great and we loved having a tiny travel buddy! And it was great having him tag along almost for free since he traveled as a lap child.
We loved that perk so much that we decided to head to Australia and New Zealand a few months before he turned 2 as a last hurrah before we’d have to buy him a seat on a plane, and before his sister was born. We figured traveling with 2 kids was just out of the question.
Well, we now have 5 kids and have traveled to 43 countries with kids in the last decade. While traveling is never without cost, we’ve found ways to continue to save money on family vacation, including international travel. Here are some of the ways we’ve been able to save money to travel with kids!
30+ Ways to Save Money to Travel with Kids (Without Being Rich)
SAVING MONEY BEFORE TRAVEL WITH KIDS
While there are so many tips and tricks for saving money at home, these are a few that have been especially helpful for us for saving money with kids. All of these savings then go straight to our travel fund!
Track your spending and cut expenses.
This is one of the most basic tips that you will hear absolutely everywhere, but that’s because it works. Think about what your daily and weekly expenditures look like, and consider whether you can do without some of them. Can you cut out Netflix? Did you really need all those Amazon Prime purchases? Can you make coffee at home or make one more meal at home instead of eating out? Can you reduce the number of times you get your haircut in a year? Or work out at home instead of at the gym?
Also, simply tracking your spending can go a long way in helping you figure out where your money goes. Keep a budget and write down every single expense. Make sure you return things you mean to return. Make sure you don’t sign up for services that you forget to cancel. Return library books on time. Create a meal plan and a grocery shopping list and stick to them.
There are hundreds of ways to cut expenses; see if you can implement just a few of them.
Save money on everyday expenses.
This website is one of my very favorite, super simple ways to save money every day. There are literally thousands of stores connected to it. It’s completely safe and secure (I’ve been using it for over a decade) and just gives you a commission back for every purchase you make. You always buy from the actual online store, but it just gets tracked through this website so you get a click through commission. I’ve saved thousands of dollars this way.
Allow every family member to contribute to the household.
This might seem a strange suggestion for saving money to travel, but bear with me. Think of all those things that we often outsource – house cleaning, gardening, washing the car, etc. What if those got built into how everyone in the family helps out? When we can help our kids learn to contribute while they’re young, they feel accomplishment in actually helping the family. And then you can use the money saved to reward the entire family with travel! Definitely a win/win.
Here’s our family economy kids’ chore chart if you’d like to see how our family members contribute.
Do experience gifts.
In the last few years, we’ve done an experience gift for our kids’ big Christmas gift, and it’s usually a trip. The first year was the hardest in terms of them knowing what to expect and feeling excitement for it. But once they realized how exciting that was the first year, and how they preferred that to just getting more stuff, it got a lot easier. (5 Tips for Giving an Experience Gift to Kids)
And when you’re not spending money on a bunch of other gifts, it’s easier to put that money toward a trip the whole family will enjoy.
Consider additional income streams.
Maybe you have a side hustle. Perhaps you can create a course or a blog or a small business. Maybe you can teach or tutor on the side, or open an Etsy shop. There are so many possibilities for opening up extra income streams!
This blog has been a huge gift to our family so that I can do some work from home while also caring for our kids. Dan is a realtor on the side. Those income streams go directly into our travel fund.
Buy secondhand, use hand-me-downs, and limit your stuff.
Before you buy a brand new high chair, check your local thrift store or Craigslist. Is someone selling or even giving one away? Do you have a local parents’ group? Those are often places where people give away gently used clothing and other kid supplies.
Also, if you have more than one child, use those hand-me-downs! Don’t be afraid to reuse, or to accept things from a friend or acquaintance who is passing them on.
Finally, limit the overall amount of stuff. While I need to purchase certain brands to fit my kids (they’re all long and lean and many brands fall off of them!), we hang onto anything in decent condition and also limit the overall number of items each child has. For instance, my boys each have 7-8 pairs of pants, which is plenty for the winter season since we do wash once per week. Similarly, do you really need that extra serving spoon or dish towel? Can you make do with something else you already have?
Wait before upgrading technology, or avoid it altogether.
My phone is nearly 4 years old. It works fine so I haven’t felt compelled to upgrade it. Likewise, I shot with the same travel photography gear for years before I finally felt justified in upgrading even though I’d far outgrown my old gear. Try not to jump on the bandwagon of constantly upgrading, but wait to see whether it’s something you really need.
And if you can, avoid certain forms of technology altogether. Kids tend to want more and better once they’ve experienced a bit, so sometimes it’s nice to just avoid it. We don’t have a video game console in our home, for instance, so there’s no need to spend additional money for more games.
Do free activities.
While the zoo is wonderful, it’s also expensive where we live. $25-30 per person adds up! Instead, we do a lot of totally free activities. We love going on family hikes and to the beach, or we’ll check if we can get free passes to attractions through our library. While they may seem like small sacrifices, every bit helps when you’re trying to save money for travel.
Diversify the food you eat.
Local food is almost always cheaper than chain or tourist food. So as much as you can, see if you can try out or at least learn about some of the local foods before you arrive. Expose your kids to a wide variety of flavors so they’ll be excited and open to trying new things on arrival and create more affordable travel with kids.
Do you know what form of transportation within a city is totally free? You got it – walking! Try to practice walking around your own hometown and going on hikes to build up stamina. (Tips for getting started with hiking.) That way, your kids (and you!) won’t immediately turn to the subway or a taxi when you need to get somewhere on vacation, but will be prepared to walk instead.
Watch flight deals.
This is a given, but try to keep an eye on when fare sales happen and jump on them. There are a few sites that I like for alerts or just to compare flight prices: Scott’s Cheap Flights, Skyscanner, Google Flights, Airfare Watchdog, and more.
Be willing to fly with a lap child.
While it’s certainly not the most comfortable thing in the world, I would generally rather save hundreds or thousands of dollars by having my infants fly as lap children instead of buying them their own seat. Sometimes we luck out with an extra seat, but sometimes not. I figure, it’s only a few hours and the flight will end eventually.
Don’t dismiss budget airlines.
While it can be great to travel on nice airlines that have fancy seating and meals, I’d much rather be able to visit more destinations and stick to cheaper airlines. Even the budget ones have been comfortable enough for us and get us safely to wherever we want to visit. It’s worth a few hours of less leg room to have our trip budget stretch a bit further.
And frankly, I generally prefer to bring my own meals instead of eating airplane food, anyway!
Consider road and RV travel.
Road trips are often an incredible way to see an area and tend to be much cheaper than flights! You can also consider renting from RV Share or buying an RV. Then you won’t have to pay for separate accommodations, and you’ll be able to prepare all your own meals. Your variable expenses will drop considerably!
Practice flexible sleeping arrangements.
One tricky thing with kids is they can get used to separate and specific sleeping spaces. Which can often be more expensive, especially if you’re in a place where renting a place with more than one room is pricey. Try practicing sleeping in the same room or having siblings share a room for a little while.
If everyone can get used to being flexible and sharing sleeping rooms, it can be a lot easier to find reasonably priced accommodations. This is a huge help to save money to travel with kids.
Use points or book through your credit card.
A helpful aspect of saving money when visiting those notoriously expensive places is to use credit card points to help you out! When we were in London, we stayed at this gorgeous hotel – completely for free! We had accumulated enough of these credit card points that we didn’t have to pay a dime. (See how we visited London for a week for only $700 here.)
The trick with using credit card points is you have to be super diligent about always paying them off in full each month, otherwise it’s not worth it. So make sure you behave responsibly!
Additionally, many credit cards allow you to book through their system at a discount. Find out what yours offers to see if you can book something at a lower cost.
Book early or late.
While this may seem contradictory, sometimes there are deals if you book way in advance…or if you book at the last minute. Keep an eye out for both!
SAVING MONEY WHILE TRAVELING WITH KIDS
Now that we’ve gone over a few ideas to save money before traveling with kids, here are some tips for saving money while traveling with kids!
Rent out your home while you travel.
Speaking of additional income streams, one of the most effective ones for us is to rent out our home while we travel. Accommodations are always one of the biggest costs, especially with a larger family. But renting out our home often covers that cost!! It’s an incredible way to travel cheaply with kids without feeling like we’re on a total bare bones budget.
Consider free accommodations.
For the first several years of our travel, we did a lot of Couchsurfing, both with staying and with hosting. It was a wonderful way to get to know locals and also have free accommodations. When we coupled that with renting out our place at home, we managed to travel almost totally for free! It allowed us to do other activities with our travel budget with kids.
Similarly, when we visited France with 4 kids a few years ago, we were able to stay 100% for free by using HomeExchange. And while we couldn’t make money by renting out our place back home since the other family was staying there, we didn’t have the hassle of managing it, either. And again, our accommodations were totally free!
Rent an apartment instead of a hotel, or choose a hotel with perks.
If free accommodations aren’t an option, consider renting an apartment or vacation home instead of multiple hotel rooms. Not only will you have more space to spread out, but you’ll also likely have a kitchen and refrigerator to store and cook your own food. That way, you can prepare your own meals without having to subsist entirely on peanut butter sandwiches.
On the other hand, sometimes a hotel might be the way to go. Some of them have perks that are great for families (getting upgraded to a suite and free breakfast are some of our favorites). Check out this guide to family accommodations while traveling for tips on how choose the best place to stay.
Pack light but don’t forget things (use a list).
With so many airlines charging even for carry on luggage now, it literally pays to pack light. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper for us to pay to check in one large suitcase instead of paying for several carry ons, so check into your airline’s pricing. This also might mean it’s worth it to invest in good, lightweight gear that packs down small if it will save you from paying extra fees repeatedly.
On the other hand, try to not constantly forget things since they’re often expensive to in a hurry. Always bring a swimsuit just in case. Consider whether you can bring specialty gear from home (hiking backpacks? goggles? sunblock?). Some things might be cheaper to purchase at your destination than paying to bring along (e.g., diapers), so be sure to check.
Here’s our minimal packing list to help us take everything we need and nothing we don’t. It’s a great way to save money while on a family vacation!
Look up hidden gems and free activities.
There are often a number of incredible activities in an area that are totally free. Check out the local library to see if you can reserve passes, or find free outdoor activities. Find out if there’s a beautiful mosque or cathedral you can visit, or if there’s a free walking tour available. Or you can look into whether any museums offer free admission days (many do on certain days of the week or month). These are all memorable and fun ways that will also help you save money while traveling with kids.
There are often plenty of things to do and see in a place without spending extra money, and sometimes they’re even better than the major tourist attractions. It’s an easy and fun way to cut costs while traveling with kids.
Carry snacks and cook your own food.
While it can definitely be fun to try out local cuisines, there’s no need to eat out 3 meals per day to get a cultural experience. Consider making or carrying your own breakfast and lunch, and eating out for dinner (or for a different meal). Or go back to your accommodations and cook dinner some of the days, too. Perhaps you can just go out for appetizers or dessert to get a taste of the food, and head home for dinner.
And don’t forget to carry a reusable water bottle (I love this one for adults, this one for kids, and this one for toddlers) so you don’t keep buying drinks. There are lots of options to cut down on food costs while traveling!
Eat out locally for lunch and eat family style.
If you do decide to eat out, lunch can be a great time to do it. The prices are often lower, but the portions are usually the same. Plus, there are fewer people vying for tables and you can still get a wonderful experience. Be sure to check out little local neighborhood restaurants in order to save money while traveling, or consider just picking up picnic supplies from the local farmer’s market and eating it en plein air.
Also, when ordering, try to do it family style instead of ordering special kids’ meals. Those are often small and overpriced for the amount of food, so it’s almost always more economical to get another adult portion. And always take home any leftovers!
Choose accommodations away from the town center.
While it can be so fun to be right in the thick of things, you can often find much better deals by being willing to commute in a bit. And often, attractions and activities are spread across the city, anyway, so you may not need to be right downtown.
Be open to different forms of transportation within a city.
You also may want to find accommodations that are close to public transit so you can easily get to activities without needing to take a taxi. A rental car may be economical if there is parking downtown. Or if public transit isn’t good and a car isn’t an option, you may want to look for accommodations that allow you to walk everywhere!
And don’t immediately dismiss a taxi as being too expensive. When we were in Estonia, it was actually cheaper for our family of 6 to use a ride share service than to pay for public transit for everyone. Try a few different iterations and see what works best.
Travel to cheaper places.
Some places just are expensive no matter what. Tokyo is one of them. Sydney is another. Even little expenses add up in these places.
But some places are significantly cheaper. While Indian and Southeast Asia are often expensive to get to when coming from the US, they’re very cheap once you’re there. Especially if you’re staying for an extended period of time, this can be worth it, and you can save money to travel to other nearby places.
And then there are other destinations that are surprisingly affordable that you may not expect (London is on this list!). So don’t write off a place just because you think it will be expensive – do a little research to compare all the factors to see if you can travel cheaply with kids to a certain place.
Consider alternative modes of transportation between cities.
Even with budget flights, when there are a lot of you, the cost can still add up. Other modes of transportation not only can be less expensive, but often charge less for children. Many trains in Europe charge half price or less for children, and bus and subway fares are similar. When we traveled to the Baltics, it would’ve cost hundreds of dollars to fly between countries, but cost about $10 to take a 4-hour bus. A way better option!
Renting a car can sometimes be really reasonably priced, as well. They also allow you to more easily choose those accommodations that are further from the center of town (and often less expensive). Plus, you only have to pay one flat fee even if you use every seat! Be sure to check if your credit card covers any of the insurance. You’ll also need to determine if it’s better to bring your own car seat if needed or rent one there. (Should I bring my car seat while traveling with kids?)
And walking a lot of places allows you to really experience a place, and is the glorious price of free!
Not only are souvenirs generally expensive, they add bulk and possibly extra fees to your baggage. Plus, then you have to carry them all around and add clutter! Take some photos or maybe one memorable item (we like to purchase a Christmas ornament or children’s picture book in each country we visit) and leave the rest behind.
I mentioned our family economy system above, but this is also a great way to avoid kids constantly asking for souvenirs. They can use the money in their accounts to decide for themselves!
Look for family discounts.
When we were in Denmark, it was actually cheaper to visit one of the museums WITH kids than without, even with more people! We were so surprised. Look for incentives for families at museums, attractions, and even restaurants!
Travel with other families.
While sometimes renting a larger place can be more expensive, there are times when it can actually be cheaper! Especially if you’re headed to somewhere like a large beach house, it can actually be great to have another family or two to split the cost.
This could mean traveling with parents or grandparents, or with family friends. Consider if there’s a way you can share accommodations to save money to travel for everyone.
Try out camping.
Have you camped before? Whether you’re tent camping or RV camping, it can be a great option to save on costs and still have a magical family travel experience. My kids think it is so fun to sleep outside and even now that we have the RV, often ask to tent camp.
If you do have an RV, try to boondock as much as possible so you do/
n’t need to pay for lots of campgrounds (tips for boondocking here). Or here’s a printable backyard camping checklist if you want to practice tent camping at home, and here are our favorite vegetarian camping meals.
Combine with business travel or work remotely.
Do you travel for work? Is there a way you can extend the trip and take the family along so at least one person’s transportation and food is covered? Or can you work remotely so you can travel during off season or stay for a longer period of time to get long-term stay discounts?
Consider a longer stay.
Strange, right? But especially when it comes to accommodations and flights, sometimes there are discounts for staying longer. We’ve seen places that cost much less per night (and sometimes less overall!) for a month-long stay than for a 1- or 2-week stay. This is one of our favorite tips for saving money for family travel!
Be flexible with timing and travel during off season.
While there are certainly benefits going to a place during peak season, it can be incredible to travel during the off season, too! We’ve visited places like Iceland, Zion, and the Grand Canyon during the winter and they’ve all been uniquely magical.
And one prime benefit of traveling during the off season is that costs are often far lower! This is true for accommodations, tours, food, and more. I highly recommend finding out whether there are special aspects to the off season of any place you’re considering that will also help you save money while traveling with kids.
It can also be helpful to be flexible with which days of the week or month you travel. Certain days usually are cheaper than others, and you can often snag better deals by being a bit more flexible. Consider whether you can homeschool or if your school district has an independent study program to allow you to avoid the busiest times when everyone else is on school holiday. Or decide whether you’d be okay with just missing one or two days of school to leave before others or return home after.
Act like a local.
More than anything, trying to behave as a local would in any place you visit will generally help you save money to travel. Instead of shopping at the big supermarket, go to the neighborhood market. Avoid the chain restaurant in favor of a family-run favorite. Try to avoid a bunch of souvenirs and take memories instead. Check out libraries and parks and hiking trails.
Not only will doing these things save you money, but it will also make for a much more authentic, fulfilling, rich travel experience for you and your kids.
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