Do you ever catch yourself thinking, “I wish I had more money to spend on travel”? It may never happen, UNLESS you decide it’s time to prioritize it. Below you’ll find practical ways to take the first steps to budget-friendly family vacations!
In this post, I’ll cover:
- Setting a Family Travel Budget
- Money Saving Air Travel Tips
- Stretching Your Family Travel Budget at Your Destination
- Dining to Fit Your Family Travel Budget
- Retaining Cash Value with Foreign Currency Conversions
- Increasing Your Family Travel Fund
Setting a Family Travel Budget
It’s impossible to prescribe what your family travel budget should be, but some like to use a fixed portion of their annual income, i.e. 5-10%.
What is the number you’re comfortable with? If it is $1500 for the year and you want a 7 day trip, knowing that amount will determine whether you should fly vs. drive, camp vs. resort, dine vs. picnic, etc.
Money Saving Air Travel Tips
Avoid Wasting Your Family Travel Budget and try these money saving hacks.
- Use Kayak’s Anywhere feature or Skyscanner to choose your next destination based on airfare deals.
- The more flexible you are on your destination and travel dates, the higher the potential you have for saving money on flights and accommodations.
- Book your flight with an airline credit card with a free bag benefit.
Delta’s SkyMiles cards, for example, cover the first bag for EACH passenger on the reservation. This alone could save a family of four $400 round trip if each person would check a bag.
- Don’t blow your budget in the airport! Pack lunches at home and be sure you have a reusable water bottle to refill after security. (Same goes for theme parks when carry-ins are allowed.)
Stretching Your Family Travel Budget at Your Destination
Below are 7 cost conscious ways to save money while on your family trip.
- Use public transportation. Several cities offer free bus/train/ferry rides for children. Even better, in Helsinki, Finland a child under 7 AND one parent rides free!
- Pack your own sunscreen (even if you have to split it into 3 oz. containers to carry on). Sunscreen is sold at a premium in most tourist destinations and foreign countries.
- Fly with your own car seat. You can check or gate check it for free, or (if an approved model), use it in the airplane seat. This way you don’t have to rent one from the car rental agency. (It’s peace of mind too, as car rental companies do not guarantee availability.)
- Invest in memberships with your local zoo, children’s museum, nature center, natural history museum, or science center that has national or global reciprocity.
- Make playgrounds, libraries (perfect for rainy days), and ball fields part of your daily activities.
- Visit fresh markets or stock up on food and beverages at a grocery store vs. eating out for every l.
- Purchase a prepaid local sim card for your phone to use cellular data so you don’t blow up your phone bill outside your home country.
Allison from @wanderingholm and I shared a post and an entire reel series with lots more tips!
If you’re traveling with kids for the first time, start small and learn where surprise expenses tend to creep up. Take a local trip for a long weekend to get your rhythm and introduce your children to the altered routines that come with travel.
Dining to Fit Your Family Travel Budget
It’s easy to blow your family travel budget on food and beverage if you’re frequently dining out. Here are 9 ways to save money on restaurant bills while also getting the opportunity to try some local favorites. 🍽️
- Skip alcoholic drinks at the restaurant and buy them at a store for a fraction of the price. Enjoy them instead while watching the sunset in a park or after the kids are in bed.
- Dine out at lunchtime instead of dinner. Entrée prices are more affordable and still well portioned. Plus if your kids are anything like mine, their moods are better earlier in the day.
- Ask about lunch specials which are sometimes not advertised (especially in high tourist areas, word of mouth saves deals for locals who know the inside scoop). It doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Order an appetizer and share a main. – Snack a little beforehand to curb your appetite before your eyes are set upon a tempting menu. This prevents over ordering and food waste while still giving you the chance to try local cuisine.
- Consider carrying out your meal. Especially when you’re in a tipping culture like the US, you can save a hefty amount by ordering out. We like to setup a picnic at a nearby playground and enjoy our dinner as a couple and let the kids play as soon as they’re finished eating.
- Feed the kids before sitting down at a restaurant. As @wanderingholm and I shared on Instagram, little kids are just going to want a few fries at the restaurant, so feed them ahead of time and bring them activities to do while you try the local flavors.
- Review your bill for accuracy so you don’t blindly swipe your credit card for an inflated amount or mischarged item.
- Know the tipping customs of the country. In several countries, simply rounding up is appreciated and 20% is unnecessary.
- Ask your hotel concierge if the restaurant you’re heading to offers coupons or promotions in any of the travel brochures/magazine they can share.
Retaining Cash Value with Foreign Currency Conversions
Make sure you have a credit card that doesn’t charge you foreign transaction fees.
Never use currency conversion desks when abroad. Use your credit card where possible and if you must have cash, take your debit card to an ATM for a withdrawal in local currency. (Do not allow the ATM to calculate the conversion for you. There is still a fee, but it is much smaller than the exchange charges at a desk.
Remember to count your change! We have been short changed twice in foreign countries where we had our hands full with the kids and didn’t notice until we left the store/restaurant.
Increasing Your Family Travel Fund
If you can save just an average of $10 per day over the course of the year, you could have $3,650 for an extra family getaway! 🤑
Here are some simple ways to cut back spending on a regular basis so you can watch your travel fund grow.
- Make your coffee at home.
- Thrift shop kids clothes or leverage Facebook Marketplace/Kidscycle groups.
- Cancel subscriptions you aren’t using. (Streaming services, meal kits, magazines, etc.)
- Limit food waste by keeping produce in the fridge doors and sauces/less perishable items in the back of the fridge.
- Pack your lunches.
- Don’t throw away money on interest payments. Pay off your entire credit card bill each month.
- Use a site like Mint to track where all your spending goes and consider setting monthly budgets.
- Buy generic, avoid brand name products when you can.
- Unsubscribe from deal emails that tempt you to make impulse buys.
- Look for coupon codes when making online purchases (try the Honey add in) and clip grocery e-coupons.
- Paint your own nails or try ColorStreet!
Want to earn bonus cash for fun splurges on your trip? Start selling unused items on Facebook Marketplace. I consider all marketplace earnings fun money in my family travel budget. 💰
Of course, if you throw some credit card point hacking into the mix, and you’ll open up even more possibility for budget-friendly family trips! I’ll get into that in an upcoming post. Follow us on Instagram for more.
There you have it! 35 Ways to squeeze every penny out of your family travel budget!
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