How do you travel as a family on a budget? With gas prices and airline prices soaring how can families afford a family vacation? Today we are sharing our tips for family travel on a budget.
Family vacations can get expensive and if you are like me you have to figure out ways to save money to make it happen. I love to travel but my budget does not always allow for the amount of travel I would like to do.
This year is especially difficult because prices are at least double what they used to be. Even taking a family road trip is costly.
I’m going to be honest though family travel on a budget is not easy. The best way to do it is to prioritize where you want to go and what you want your family vacations to look like, and then plan from there.
We have done Disney World on a budget, Universal on a budget, and plan a few trips a year using these tips. I also want to be upfront and admit that what we consider a budget vacation may be different than you.
We are a family of five with teens and tweens. Costs will be higher for accommodations, food, and basically all travel necessities. Despite the cost differences for families these tips for traveling with a family on a budget can be applied to all families planning their next vacation.
Family Travel on a Budget
Brainstorm a Few Destinations
In the brainstorm stage no idea is too big or small. We meet as a family and list out a few ideas for where we want to travel next. This is a good time to think big and write all the ideas down. Don’t worry if you think it is too expensive.
In the researching stage you want to start pricing out what the five main spending areas are and get a ballpark for what these would cost at each destination.
The biggest spending areas are:
- Transportation: rental car, flights, getting around your destination, parking, gas
- Accommodations: hotel, airbnb, rental house
- Food: Daily sit down meals, breakfast in room
- Activities: Free activities, museums, theme park tickets, etc.
- Extras: Souvenirs, etc.
During the research stage you want to spend time checking different accommodation options and considering what your priorities are for visiting.
Time of Visit
The difference between a July family vacation and a September family vacation can be upward into the thousands. We are traveling for the first time this July because it is the only time we can and the price difference is shocking.
If you have flexibility in your travel dates plan a vacation during the off-season. Avoid school breaks and July. If you must travel in the summer we find good deals mid to end of August.
If your dates are not flexible try to cut the budget in other places.
Tips to Budget for Family Travel
Take Advantage to Memberships and Annual Passes
We have purchased Universal Orlando annual passes 3 times because of the savings. Not only do we save on tickets for another trip we also save on hotel stays on-site. We used this to stay at the Hard Rock Hotel which was over 50% discounted to pass holders.
If you are visiting a theme park for 4+ days it is always worth checking the cost of an annual pass.
If you have a membership to your local museum or zoo go to their website and check out the reciprocal list. This has saved us a lot of money visiting other cities. Usually the discount is 50% a ticket but some places offer free admission. With a family of five this can be a tremendous savings.
If you don’t have a membership look into purchasing one and stretch your dollar for the year. We have a membership our local children’s museum the Strong Museum of Play and use it often. It helps during weeks we are trying to save money but still allows us to spend some time together as a family.
Sign Up for Clubs
Signing up for clubs for places you want to visit can also save you money on family travel. We did this a few years ago for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We signed each kid up and they each received a free game ticket and free kids meals at a local restaurant! Be sure to do this well in advance of your trip because the packets are mailed out.
I am still learning the ins and outs of using points to travel but we have used the Southwest Credit card for a few years now. Using this has earned us free flights for our family and can save a lot of money for travel.
Find Free Things to Do
Some of the most interesting things about visiting a destination are discovered by walking around an exploring. A great city to do free things is New York City. It is costly to stay and eat but there are many free things to do that can offset the costs.
If you have young kids find local playgrounds. I always look for one that is close to our hotel. It is nice to let the kids get their energy out after a long day in the car.
The best place to start is to search the town you are going to or check out the cities park and recreation department. This will lead you to parks, playgrounds, and often local free events. The beach and hotel pools are also a great way to unwind, unplug and enjoy each other on vacation.
Deals, Coupons and Groupon
We do a lot of searching for the best ticket options and pricing before we leave for vacation. There are some places that offer great deals but you have to spend time to do the research to save.
I always recommend shopping for the best travel deals when planning a trip! This takes time but can help you SAVE! Our favorite places to check: Theme park tickets and hotels check out Undercover Tourist and Get Away Today. Theme park and attractions check out CityPass. Hotels and other travel needs check out TripAdvisor and Bookings.com. Always compare prices because they often have specials and deals during the year.
This is not a short term saving tips but if you are planning any family travel in the future start saving now. We started a family travel fund shortly after our first trip to Disney World.
After that trip we knew we wanted to make family travel part of our lives and knew we had to save to make it happen.
Decide on What Matters to You
This tip can save you a lot depending on what matters to you on your trip. We like to save on food and going out to eat because we don’t mind getting take-out. This saves us money each time we eat and the savings add up.
We also pack snacks and breakfast for our visits unless breakfast is included with our stay. We would love to go out for breakfast each day of vacation but we know by staying in our room we can stretch our dollar more.
If going out to eat for each meal is something you love and don’t want to give up find something that matters less to you. Maybe it is souvenirs or accommodations that you don’t mind doing on a budget.
Consider Walking to Save at Your Destination
If you are in a city or a place you can walk for most of your trip consider skipping the rental and using public transportation or walking.
Follow Social Media pages and Sign up for Emails
Often times emails are sent with discounts and promotions. I always get Great Wolf Lodge emails that notify me of promotions and sales but most places offer specials during the year that you can take advantage of.
Pack Food, Snacks, and Drinks
When we go away we always pack food for the first day of driving. It saves us money and prevents us from feeling sick eating fast food all day. Typically I pack bagels, sandwiches, pretzels, goldfish, trail mix, etc.
I always cut up fruit and put it in a gallon ziploc bag. Bring spoons and cups and you can scoop out a healthy yummy snack. When the fruit is gone you can toss the bag and have one less thing to take care of in the car!
If you want to save even more money on the road pack lunches and only got out for dinner. Most hotels have a fridge that you can store a small amount of food.
Related Post: Road Trip Food List for an Awesome Family Road Trip
If you are flying you can save money and time at the airport and pack snacks for your flight. Remember to follow the TSA guidelines for what you can bring on an airplane.
We also save money by ordering pizza in the hotel room on our travel days and enjoying a night in watching tv and swimming in the hotel pool.
Don’t Cut Everything Out
Find the places you can be frugal and save in those places, but don’t take out all the fun!
You don’t want to cut everything out of your vacation and be so frugal you don’t enjoy yourself. Plan a trip that works for you and your family and doesn’t break your travel budget.
Family travel on a budget can be done! We have used these tips and saved on theme park vacations, road trips, and weekend getaways to a city.
Read Next: 21 USA Bucket List Destinations for Families
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Leah has been traveling with her family of 5 since 2012 and sharing her expertise on planning family vacations and visiting theme parks since 2016. Leah has been featured in Visit Rochester, Undercover Tourist, and Home Publications. She has worked with brands like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Hersheypark, Toyota, and various Tourism boards and destinations. Leah creates family travel itineraries based on real trip experiences with her family. Her guides and tips help others plan great family vacations. Learn more about Leah and Five for the Road.