If you ask kids what they remember most about their childhood, chances are it’s not going to be an action figure they got for Christmas or a book they read for school, it’s going to be experiences. I love traveling with my family because it creates those memories that last a lifetime.
Travel can teach more than any classroom ever hoped to and brings siblings closer together through hours in the car, exploring new places, and staying up late talking and playing games. However, traveling can be expensive, but with a little planning, saving, and budgeting, you can travel comfortably year after year without breaking the bank. Here’s a few tips to travel on a budget (and have fun doing it).
Driving will always be the cheapest way to travel. You may be surprised all the things you can see when you start to research places that are within 12-24 hours away from you. Make traveling part of the journey with stops along the way and games in the car. If you’re looking to travel longer or further, there are a few tips and tricks to find cheap flights. Be willing to travel on Tuesdays, they are typically the cheapest day to fly.
Be willing to travel REALLY early in the morning or late at night. This can be tricky with little ones, but might be worth offsetting the cost. Also consider flying into smaller, nearby airports. Most major airports have a small airport within 20 miles that can be cheaper to fly into. If flying is most often your travel method of choice, hop on a credit card that accumulates miles, you can start gathering miles throughout the year just by grocery shopping.
Where to Stay
Obviously, the cheapest lodging is with family or friends. However, with hotels, there are simple ways to get a cheap room. If you’re not picky on a specific location, use a site that offers secret hotels like Priceline.com, you’ll get a hotel in a general area for much cheaper than list price.
If you want a specific hotel, call and ask if they are willing to match nearby hotel rates, most will and it’s always worth calling and booking with an actual person who may be able to offer you a price you won’t find online. Last, if you’re traveling with a crowd, or for an extended period of time (more than 5 days), consider a vacation rental home. Staying local definitely has it’s perks because you have the kitchen, living, and bedrooms of a regular home which makes it a great choice for kids who get cabin fever in a hotel room.
What to do
Once you get there, the costs can pile up quickly as you decide how to spend your day. This is where coupons come in handy. Groupon is a great way to find local activities at a serious discount. If you have a Costco membership, check the local Costco for theme park and passes to local attractions. Also keep in mind military and AAA discounts.
If theme parks and tourist attractions aren’t in your budget, consider other activities like museums, local parks, and national parks which are all inexpensive options.
This can be either the best or worst part of traveling. For me, I love to eat out and try new foods, but my family is full of picky eaters and a week’s worth of restaurant mac and cheese can add up quick. Always choose a hotel with a free breakfast, or plan to purchase a few boxes of cereal and a gallon of milk when you get there. Then, decide which meals you’ll eat out and which ones you won’t.
Make a meal plan for the week just as you would at home, and make a trip to the grocery store as soon as you get there. Even if you’re staying at a hotel, stocking up on sandwich makings, snacks, milk, and juice can save a bundle.
For most places, a picture is worth more to me than the trinkets in the gift shop, but still kids think they need (want) everything. For my kids, I budget a strict (small) amount and they can choose what they’d like. They have strict rules ahead of time that their choices are set and I am not dishing out money every stop we make. If they waste it all on candy, that’s their choice.
For me, it’s much more difficult. I never know what I’ll find and fall in love with, especially in places you may never travel to again. So I set an estimated budget, and I only buy something if I love it and I am still thinking about it days later. Also, I always check online before I buy anything to be sure it really is something unique that I won’t find somewhere at home or on Amazon.
When to Go
Staying in the off season can get you some real perks in high-ticket areas. For example, Disneyland is packed all summer, so consider going in January when hotels are cheaper and parks are less crowded. Ski resorts are booming in the winter, but most have summer activities too and the lodging is significantly less expensive.