10 tips for traveling as a family, for less

Now that you’re a family, traveling is more expensive. We get it.

It’s not just that prices for flights and accommodations spike during school breaks. (This is a constant, and it sucks.) It’s that the ongoing bite of inflation has made food, attraction tickets, gas, babysitters…everything ever-more expensive for everyone. For anyone traveling with children, these increases especially bite.

Yet even in an expensive moment, hope springs eternal. If you’re determined to explore the world with your little ones, let us help. Here are 10 tips for saving money and getting the most out of your next vacation together as a family.

1. Take your family off the beaten track

It’s basic economics: the higher the demand, the higher the price. One solution? Get off the beaten track by avoiding tourist hot spots in favor of less-trendy destinations. Think rural Lazio over Tuscany, Adelaide over Sydney or Colombia over Costa Rica. With a bit of research, you’ll find fun things to do with the kids and enjoy the luxury of not having to battle through masses of other people to get ice cream or a family selfie. 

A mother and young child hiking across a suspension bridge in Costa Rica
Less-visited destinations have fewer people – and lower prices © Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

2. Turn the journey into an adventure

You can save money on accommodation and create memories you’ll all treasure by turning an overnight leg into an adventure. An overnight train or ferry (or, if you’re brave enough, even an overnight bus) will be a huge event for kids – and a story they’ll retell again and again when they get home. Alternatively, a family road trip using your own vehicle avoids hefty airfares and rental-car costs.

3. Use your parenting networks

If you’ve had a text chain or email list to help you through the first months of parenthood, it’s surely been a lifeline. But this collective wisdom extends far beyond advice on the best gear, tips for calming a fussy baby and diaper-changing techniques. Since you’ve established a tried-and-true connection with these folks, quiz your fellow parents about trips they’ve taken, how much they cost and what they would do differently to save money next time. On less personal online forums, there are plenty of bloggers and Redditors eager and willing to share tips on how to create exciting, budget-travel itineraries. The Lonely Planet Traveler Facebook group is also a great resource. 

A father an son enjoy an affordable family vacation, on the steps of a temple Bali
Since you’ll know school-break dates long in advance, book early to save © Elizaveta Galitckaia / Shutterstock

4. Timing is everything

When you’re used to traveling on a whim, planning around school leave can be confining, and last-minute deals don’t really happen during these periods. Still, if you have kids in school, then you’ll know their term dates far in advance. Use this to your advantage by booking months (or even years!) ahead, when prices are still relatively low (before those traveling on a whim drive them up). If your kids aren’t in school yet or you educate them at home, make the most of traveling outside the peak periods, when costs are low and crowds fewer.

5. Family discounts are your friend

Even without the discounts big groups enjoy, there are many subtle ways families can use the power of numbers. You may be able to get a discount pass for local transport, for example, or find family coupons online for the attractions you want to see. Do your homework to take advantage of marketing campaigns, such as kids-go-free weeks for theaters, or identify big exhibitions that don’t charge entry for children.

A mother and daughter hiking in the mountains of Norway
Picnicking, hiking and camping let your kids savor the outdoors – and let you keep costs low © everst / Shutterstock

6. Embrace the great outdoors

Kids almost always love spending time in the fresh air: great news for penny-pinching parents. Plan day trips that involve nature walks rather than expensive attractions, find the local playground so your little ones can meet other children and take a picnic to avoid restaurant prices. Another great way to save money while exploring the great outdoors is to embrace camping. This option allows kids to be truly immersed in nature while also getting involved with some basic chores (like post-BBQ clean-up). It’s a full win-win, really – and worth trying at least once, even if you think you won’t like it.

7. Make the most of other people’s toys

A hotel lets you skip the cooking and cleaning, it’s true – but such self-catering options as HomeExchange and Airbnb are often much more cost-effective options for families. Renting a house or apartment also provides more space for those who need it (teens in particular welcome this extra privacy). You can often find places with toys, games, high chairs or whatever else your family may need. Youth hostels with family rooms are also an affordable alternative to hotels and provide the added bonus of introducing kids to other travelers.

8. Stick to the essentials

Anyone trying to save money knows it’s all those little extras that really add up. The same applies when you are traveling with kids. Take refillable water bottles. Buy ice creams by the pack in a local supermarket. Read up on the sites you are visiting before you go to avoid paying extra for audio guides, activity packs or special exhibitions. Having an “eyes only” policy for gift shops can also help keep extra spending at bay.

A girl and her father on the beach in a city in South Africa
Consider traveling less frequently – but more meaningfully © wilpunt / Getty Images

9. Change your family’s travel habits

Instead of trying to get away every time the kids have a break from school, consider going less frequently – but for longer. This can make your (less frequent) trips more meaningful, as well as more cost-effective. If you’re able to work remotely, you might consider traveling for months rather than weeks.

If this isn’t possible, consider the appeal of a staycation. Switching off and pretending you are on holiday while exploring your local area can be a fun family challenge. Other out-of-the-box ideas? Reconnecting with a family member who might just love to have your whole family descend on them for a week, or convincing grandparents that the perfect way to spend quality time with their grandchildren (and help you out in the process) is to join you on vacation.

10. Manage your expectations

If an all-inclusive luxury resort or long-haul trip is beyond your financial capability, then it’s time to rethink what you want out of a vacation with your new family. Could you swap a pricey villa with an infinity pool for cheaper digs and the city beach or public pool? Remember: kids are pretty easy to please and most will embrace any adventure you take them on, big or small. While it may take more planning and patience to travel on a shoestring with kids in tow, it is more than possible – and the satisfaction of meeting the collective challenge will benefit the whole family.

This article was first published Dec 12, 2018 and updated May 8, 2024.

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