9 Best Ways to Save Money on Family Vacations
There’s nothing like travelling with kids. It’s magical, exciting, memorable – and a ton of work. It’s worth it for the memories created and time spent together, but saving money on family vacations makes all of the effort that goes into it a bit easier to stomach.
I grew up in a family with four kids. We were fortunate to take regular family vacations, which is no small feat when you have six people to pay for. My parents prioritized family travel, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I became aware of the simple things they did to save money on family vacations. These habits are ingrained in me, and now that I’m the chief vacation planner for my own family, I’m glad they are. The money-saving hacks I learned from my parents – and a few that I’ve added along the way – help us maximize our travel budget, to get the most out of our family vacations.
Here are nine of the best ways to save money when travelling with kids.
1. Determine Your Travel Priorities
Before you start planning any trip, sit down and figure out what your priorities are. Is the priority to maximize your time away? Visit a certain destination? Do a particular activity? Have space to spread out in your accommodation? Get a break from cooking? Have a chance to reconnect as a couple? Determining your priorities will help you plan your trip and budget accordingly.
If visiting a particular destination is the priority, you may need to save on accommodation or activities to make it work for your budget. If getting a break from cooking is a priority, you may want to consider an all-inclusive. If you’re looking to reconnect as a couple, you’ll want to prioritize a place with a kids’ club or childcare (or leave the kids at home!). Deciding what’s important to you can help you figure out where you should save, and where you should splurge.
2. Travel during Off-Peak Times
This is my number one tip for saving money on family vacations: travel during off-peak times. You can get considerable savings – and bypass crowds – by avoiding the school holidays, such as winter break and spring break. We regularly take a family road trip in May, which is shoulder season in the destinations we’re visiting. When compared to doing the same trip in July or August the savings are significant.
The day of the week makes a difference too. Most airlines give you the option of doing a “flexible date” search. If you have the flexibility to travel midweek, instead of on the weekend, you can score cheaper airfare and (depending on the location) cheaper accommodation.
3. Use Air Miles and/or Companion Fares
Rewards credit cards and airline credit cards can be a great way to save money on family vacations. We use a rewards credit card for almost all of our daily expenses (and pay it off monthly), in order to accumulate as many points as we can. We regularly accumulate enough points to fly at least some of our family members for free.
Many of the major airlines offer their own credit card which comes with the perk of one free companion fare annually. If you’re strategic, this can be another smart way to save money on airfare.
4. Fly With An Under 2
Children under 2 can fly for free as a lap baby on most major airlines (you may have to pay a reduced fare on some airlines, or if you’re travelling internationally). If you’re comfortable flying with a lap baby, and can schedule your trip for before your little one turns two, this can be a significant savings.
5. Choose an Airbnb or VRBO
These days, there are so many options for accommodation. We are huge fans of VRBO and Airbnb. You usually get more space, and amenities that make a big difference when you’re travelling with small kids – like a kitchen and laundry – for far less than you’d pay for a comparable hotel room. Not only that, staying at a condo or house lets you experience your destination more like a local, and your hosts will often have great insight on things to do and see.
6. Eat In
When we travel we choose to eat most of our meals at our vacation rental. Dining out with our three kids at the ages they are right now isn’t exactly a relaxing experience, and I hate throwing away money on food that the kids don’t eat. Eating in saves us money and is usually a more enjoyable experience for all of us.
If you’re out and about for the day, pack snacks or a picnic lunch. My parents give me a hard time about this because as a kid I always wanted the over-priced fast food instead of the picnic my Mom had packed. Now that I’m the parent I absolutely see the wisdom in my parents’ ways. Picnic lunches cost less, taste better, and are way more nutritious than what we would buy on the go.
Related: The Best Road Trip Snacks for Kids
7. Shop Around for the Best Price on Car Rentals
Back in the day, when we could get away with a compact car, it wasn’t hard to find a good deal on a rental car. It’s a bit more challenging now that we’re restricted to a minivan or SUV. That said, there are still deals to be had, so it’s worth your time to shop around.
I always check each car rental company’s website directly, as well as discount sites like Hotwire and Expedia. If you’re a Costco member, we’ve found some great deals on the Costco travel website. If you’re headed to Hawaii, we almost always find the best price at Discount Hawaii Car Rental.
Related: Road Trip Activities for Kids
8. Save Money On Activities
There are so many ways to save money on activities when you’re travelling. First, do a bit of research to figure out which are the must-see attractions and activities at your destination. I always research free and cheap attractions as well – parks, beaches, pools and recreation centres, and even play areas at malls. My kids need time to run around and play, so working that time into our schedule makes all of us happier.
If you have a membership to your local zoo, museum, or science centre, find out whether reciprocal passes are available. Our family membership to our local science centre is worth it for the reciprocal passes alone.
Look up whether a CityPASS is available for your destination. The CityPASS bundles admission for some of the most popular attractions in certain cities, saving you up to 50% off the regular price admission. They can be a great way visit the must-see attractions for much less than you would spend otherwise.
9. Avoid Souvenirs
I don’t know about you, but my kids love to collect random trinkets, which are cherished for a few days, and then completely forgotten. To avoid throwing away money on souvenirs that are discarded a few weeks later, we usually skip souvenirs altogether. The only exception is a Christmas decoration, which we will choose together to commemorate our big family trips.
I’m sure in the future there will be trips where souvenirs are a much bigger deal (i.e. Disney). For those trips, I plan to give them a small amount of money, which they can spend on whatever they want – but when it’s gone, it’s gone.
I hope you’re able to use some of these tips to save money on your next family holiday. Do you have a money-saving travel secret that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments!