My family didn’t travel much when I was younger, but when we traveled, my parents jumped on the rings to cut costs.
On a trip to Disney World, for example, our family of six moved to a hotel. Every. Gabii. My mom works at a hotel chain and gets one free night per property.
Did my parents save? Yes. Did it add to the mental stress of traveling with four kids? Perfectly.
As an adult today, planning a trip with my own child, I fully understand how expensive – and difficult – it is to travel with children. Planning and packing requires accounting for naps, snacks, tantrums and blowouts. And you’re budgeting for more fare, a bigger rental car and more accommodation.
You can save money on family travel and still have peace of mind. To find out how, I consulted two experts. Here is what they have to say.
PAYMENT WITH POINTS
The secret of wise travelers? They never pay for airfare and lodging. Instead, they use reward credit cards to make daily purchases of free flights and hotel rooms.
“Make your money work for you,” says Preethi Harbuck, a San Francisco Bay Area -based travel writer behind the Local Passport Family blog. Harbuck’s family of seven (soon to be eight) will travel mostly on credit card points. “There are a lot of expenses when you have kids, but you can use that to even more benefits.”
Jumping on the card can get you big points thanks to signup bonuses but can be difficult to manage, says Jamie Harper, mother of four and author of the travel blog Fly by the Seat of Our Pants. To keep things manageable, keep one or two primary cards. Harper and her husband rotate between Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton cards, offering benefits like free breakfast, Wi-Fi and anniversary nights.
PACK LIGHT – AND SMART
Overpacking can be a disaster in many areas. First, you need to take all the items with you and keep them on the road. The probability of a missing blankie is high. Second, checked bags are expensive – about $ 30 to $ 35 per bag, per way.
Harbuck and his family kept a checked bag or a few small carry -ons. Instead of a new garment for each person, every day, they re-wear the clothes and usually wash each trip.
“Wrapping clothes that are lightweight, pack and well and dry quickly,” he says, saying wool items are great for cooler weather.
Having layers is also important. Forget it and you can stop spending $ 50 per child on souvenir sweatshirts to keep them warm, says Harper.
CHOOSING ACTIVITIES THAT MATTER
Pack your itinerary with free things to do, like local parks, hikes, beaches or free museums.
You can also tap into the benefits included with memberships you already have – at your local zoo or children’s museum – or invest in passes that you can use again.
When you pay for experiences and excursions, consider the stage of your family’s life.
Instead of taking your little one to an art museum, for example, choose an outdoor sculpture garden where they can run or a museum tailored for children with lots of interactive features at their level.
Your family’s travel priorities should also guide you, says Harbuck.
Learning about the culture and history of a place is important for his family, so they spend money on activities to achieve that goal and skip the more popular tourist attractions.
“We’ve been to London a lot of times but we’ve never been able to ride the London Eye,” he said. “It doesn’t help me feel culturally connected, and it’s more expensive.”
PACK SNACKS, GROCERY SHOP
There’s no rule that says you have to dine out with every meal when you’re on vacation.
Instead, choose one meal each day to eat out. Lunch is a good option, as it’s usually cheaper than dinner (which in some countries starts later than most children’s bedtime).
By packing your dinner or meals at home, you can avoid overpriced food where kids are melting or sleeping on the table.
Harbuck’s family went to local markets to stock up on food when they landed in a new town. Take a road trip? Store a cooler with food for rest-stop picnics.
“If we don’t eat twice, we can save $ 100 a day – and that’s the cheapest food possible,” says Harper, who says his children are picky eaters. “We spent $ 7 per child on buttered pasta once. It was the worst experience ever. They didn’t even eat it.”