We take multiple trips per year, and the question I get from friends and family a lot is, “How do you guys afford to travel with your kids?” I get it! Having children really cuts into your disposable income and we are not immune to that. We live modestly–my husband is in the military and I am more or less a stay-at-home mom. So, here are 10 budget-friendly tips on how we make it work that might help you travel with your kids more too:
- Make travel part of your regular budget. When traveling becomes a big part of your life, you make room for it in your everyday budget. What can you cut back on to make room in your budget for traveling? Do you really need a big fancy car payment or other big ticket item that you pay for every month?
- Be a minimalist. I know, this is way easier said than done. We really made an effort to lead a more minimalist lifestyle–initially to avoid drowning in toys and baby gear–and it’s had a huge effect on our spending habits. At least from our experience, there is a shopping culture in the U.S. and we consciously choose not to partake in it. Do you need extra things, more clothes, an excess of toys or the latest decor? We spend our weekends outside and not at the mall, which really helps our wallets.
- Rent your house/flat when you’re away. This is truly the one big thing that enables us to travel, provided you own your property and can commit to keeping it guest-ready. We Airbnb our home and have had nothing but positive experiences! We essentially get paid to travel! Be realistic about your expectations, however. Do we really profit from it beyond traveling? Not really. But it definitely pays for our hotel stays elsewhere when we want to travel. It’s really nice getting a direct deposit when we’re taking a train across Europe from a couple of lovely guests who are in town staying at our house for a conference or concert. While it requires some initial purchases (second sets of linens, towels, toiletries, breakfast items) and can feel like a lot of work getting ready for each guests’ stay (frantically cleaning and hiding toys in the basement), the payoff has been amazing.
- Have a travel rewards card. While I’m usually the type to stray away from credit cards as they can become a slippery slope for many of us, having a travel reward card can really benefit you if you travel frequently. We use the Bank of America Travel Rewards, but I know many people in our community swear by Chase Sapphire. Before our most recent trip, we cashed in hundreds of dollars as statement credits that we had accumulated simply by flying. These are flights we would have had to book anyways, so why not earn points? If you tend to fly one specific airline a lot, you can earn lounge access, in-flight perks and miles with airline credit cards. (We have an extensive article on travel hacking.)
- Book with hotels directly. Stay with friends when you can. I love reading reviews on TripAdvisor, Booking, and the like, but I usually score the best deals booking directly through the hotel. You never know what kind of deal they might offer you when you contact customer service and mention you’re thinking about staying there with your family. Many hotel websites offer deals like stay 2 nights, get the 3rd night free, complimentary breakfast with booking directly, and more. Also, chatting with customer service via email or telephone has never failed to give me an accurate representation of whether the staff is exceedingly friendly and willing to go above-and-beyond to accommodate us. It helps me make snap decisions about where the best place to stay is. First impressions are everything! Reconnecting with friends and family is an even better reason to travel. Having friends that live far away really means that you have friends wherever you go! Our friends and family are always happy to accommodate us whenever we can come see them and it makes for a fun, easy and cheap trip for us.
- Take public transportation. You’ll save a ton of money on cab fare by taking the bus, train, metro, etc., whenever possible. I also highly recommend using Uber, Lyft, and similar services when available. A regular taxi in Paris can run as high as $57 to the airport whereas an Uber might be $35. Yes, you might spend extra time taking the bus once you land, but you’ll have a more authentic experience getting around like the locals do.
- Use cash to avoid over-spending. It’s easy to lose track of how many times you swipe your bank card. If you withdraw a set amount of cash for a set number of travel days, you’re really forced to stick to a budget. We exchange cash upon arrival at the airport and then have to make smart choices about what to eat and what to buy over the next few days. Needless to say, we never end up with touristy knick-knacks or other stuff we don’t need!
- Have a picnic or dine in. Aside from how much it can cost, eating out for every meal is otherwise generally not feasible with our two young boys. It takes too much time and frankly they can’t sit still for that long repeatedly throughout the day. We always grocery shop soon after we arrive at a destination. You’d be surprised how many yogurt cups, fruit bowls, and mini milk jugs you can cram into a hotel mini fridge! You can even ask the hotel staff if they will remove the mini bar items to make room for your baby/toddlers milk. It’s easy to give the kids a croissant and a yogurt while we get ready in the morning and head out the door for the day. We always pack a picnic and try to have lunch outside at a nice park or playground. Dinnertime is reserved for a nicer meal out at a local restaurant. After extremely tiring days, we use the kitchenette stovetop to throw together a simple pot of pasta and veggies. You’ll be amazed at how far your money can stretch this way.
- Some of the best sites cost next-to-nothing. Kids love being outside, and many parks and playgrounds are free! Sometimes we joke that we travel just to see different playgrounds, but strolling around and letting the kids burn off energy satisfies everyone.
- Shop around for deals on flights. We have gotten some crazy awesome deals by using airlines with stopovers, like Wow Air and IcelandAir. We were able to fly into Amsterdam and out of Paris with no extra fees. This enabled us to do a multi-stop trip for the price of any other single destination. You can track flight prices on Google Flights and apps like Skyscanner. It will notify you if the prices start to rise, so you’ll know to act on booking tickets ASAP.
Traveling with kids requires a lot of planning and preparation, but it’s always so worth it! Each trip brings us quality time spent together as a family and tons of memories. It’s become a huge part of our life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I hope these budget-friendly tips help you pick a dream destination and plan your next trip as a family!