Traveling can be an enriching experience for every family. However, it can also pose significant financial hurdles especially if unplanned. Many families find it hard to enjoy quality time while worrying about overspending. It's not just about the expenses incurred during the trip, but also the implications of unforeseen costs that can blow your budget. That's why we created this extensive guide, especially for budget family travel.
General tips for family travel on a budget
When planning a budget family vacation, budgeting effectively can make the difference between a stress-free getaway and a financial strain. Balancing costs while ensuring a memorable experience for everyone can be challenging. Here are some general tips.
Off season vs. high season
In the travel industry, the year is divided into three categories: high season, off-season, and shoulder season. Typically, high season refers to the time of year when a particular destination experiences the highest influx of tourists, characterized by high prices and larger crowds. This is in contrast to the off-season, which generally experiences a decrease in tourism activity, reflected in lower prices and less crowded tourist attractions.
Choosing to travel during the off-season can offer substantial cost savings for your family. However, keep in mind that certain attractions, restaurants, or transportation modes might be closed during this time (due to weather or low demand), so it's always wise to check before booking. An image, such as the one below, shows an example of a vibrant cityscape during high season compared to its more tranquil appearance in the off-season. Favorably, fewer tourists often mean better chances for unique, non-touristy experiences.
Skip school holidays
If you have flexibility, try to avoid traveling in peak season for the destination. As traveling parents or educators, it's tough to synchronize travel plans with school holidays. Such periods often coincide with high season when travel costs—flights, accommodations, and popular attractions—skyrocket.
So, how do you dodge school holiday travel? A popular strategy is homeschooling. If feasible, homeschooling can convert the entire world into your child's classroom. Shed the traditional school holiday schedule for the freedom to travel whenever it suits your family (and your budget).
Remember, it's not easy, but the reward is an enriching, worldwide educational experience you can share with your kids. Think of it as creating budget-friendly, on-the-go history, science, art, and even gym classes for your kids!
Slow travel is another excellent way to cut down travel costs significantly. By moving at a slower pace, you'll not only decrease your significantly expensive transportation costs, but also enjoy richer, more immersive experiences.
There's a tendency to cram as many activities or destinations as possible into your itinerary. But as Cameron Wears from the acclaimed blog TravelingCanucks.com suggests, it's best to "slow down". Don't rush from one destination to the next in a quest to see everything. Instead, spend ample time in one place to truly experience it.
Particularly, when traveling with children, a slower pace can be far more enjoyable and less stressful. This slower pace leaves room for unexpected adventures and allows everyone to absorb and appreciate the experiences and surroundings.
Remember, the goal of travel is enjoyment and enrichment, not ticking off a checklist.
Prepare for your destinations
Proper planning helps you save money and mentally prepares you for your destinations—avoiding any unpleasant surprises. Being aware of the prevalent scams, transport facilities, and prices make you less vulnerable to overspending. Also, understanding local customs and manners can truly enrich your family's travel experience.
If you're planning for a foreign destination, think about the costs associated with visas and immunizations, too. In fact, ensure your family's passports and visas are up-to-date well in advance to avoid any last-minute–and often expensive–rush.
Also, pay attention to the general safety and medical facilities available. Take copies of all essential documents–passports, visas, medical cards or documents which will prove useful if medical attention is needed.
Your thorough planning, research and preparation will ensure you're not derailed by hidden costs and are equipped to make the most of every penny.
Choosing your destinations wisely
Traveling on a budget doesn't mean you have to compromise on the quality of your experiences. One of the most effective ways to maximize your travel budget is by choosing your destinations wisely. This involves considering factors such as the cost of living, accessibility, and the variety of budget-friendly activities available.
Off-peak travels and shoulder seasons
Traveling during off-peak periods or shoulder seasons (the time between high and off-peak seasons) can save you a significant amount of money. During these times, airlines, hotels, and even attractions lower their prices to draw in tourists as the crowd sizes dwindle.
For instance, Park City, Utah's peak season is winter, whereas Orlando, Florida's peak season is during the summer. However, if you choose to visit these places during their shoulder seasons, you'll find cheaper prices and fewer crowds. According to a 2021 study by NerdWallet, plane tickets booked for the shoulder season were an average of 23 percent cheaper compared to peak travel season.
While savings are a considerable advantage of off-peak and shoulder season travel, it comes with the additional perk that tourists won't have to deal with the off-season closures, still getting the chance to enjoy the majority of attractions.
Therefore, doing a little research into the peak seasons of your chosen destination and opting to travel shortly before or after can lead to significant savings.
Best budget family destinations
Identifying a family destination that fulfills everyone's interests without being overly expensive is a challenge. Yet, believe it or not, the United States is teeming with cost-friendly vacation spots with something for everyone.
To start: these are the best destinations for budget family travel.
- Asia: Nepal, India, Vietnam, Laos, Northern Thailand, Cambodia, The Philippines, Malaysia and Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
- North- and South-America: Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
- Europe (or near Europe): Romania, Hungary, Poland, Greece, The Baltic States, Turkey, Czech Republic, Bulgary, Georgia, and Croatia
How to find affordable family trips
Travel doesn't have to break the bank. With a little bit of research and creativity, finding an affordable family trip becomes more accessible. Here are a few strategies to explore:
- Deals and discounts: Websites like Groupon, Expedia, and Kayak offer fantastic deals on flights, hotels, and even packaged holidays. Subscribe to their newsletters to get alerts about discounted rates.
- Package holidays: Many travel agencies offer package deals that include flights, accommodation, and sometimes even meals and activities.
- Plan and book in advance: Last-minute deals can be great, but booking well in advance ensures you get the best deals on flights and accommodation, particularly during peak seasons.
- Fellow traveler recommendations: Travelers are the best source of information. Blogs and online travel communities (like TripAdvisor) are usually filled with budget-friendly ideas from seasoned travelers.
Remember, cheap doesn't mean lousy. Be flexible, keep an open mind, and you'll discover that affordable family trips can be just as fantastic!
How to save on accommodations
Navigating the world of accommodations while traveling can be a tricky and often expensive part of trip planning. However, with the right strategies and knowledge, you can significantly cut costs without sacrificing comfort and convenience. Some tips.
Look for alternatives like home exchange, camping, house sitting
Hotel accommodations can take a chunk out of your travel budget. So, why not explore cost-effective alternatives? Here are a few that might interest you:
- Home exchange/ House swapping: Home exchanges or house swaps offer you an authentic way to experience a destination like the locals do. Websites like Trusted Housesitters and Home Exchange connect you with like-minded travelers willing to switch homes during specified travel dates.
- Camping: Booking accommodations in holiday hotspots can leave a deep hole in your wallet. Instead, consider camping. You'll enjoy under-the-stars sleep, waking up to spectacular sunrises, and cooking meals on campfires, all without spending much. Plus, it's an unforgettable experience for kids.
- House- or pet-sitting: House-sitting involves taking care of someone's house (and sometimes their pets too) while they're away. In return, you get free accommodation. It gives you a chance to live like a local and enjoy the comforts of a home.
Remember, these alternatives save you money and provide an authentic experience, making your trip even more memorable.
Book in advance
Booking your trip in advance can be a real money-saver, especially for family travel. Not only does it ensure you secure the best deals on flights and accommodations, but it also gives you a broader range of options to choose from.
Most hotels and airlines provide early bird discounts and promotions. When you know your travel dates well in advance, it allows you to snag these deals as soon as they become available, resulting in considerable savings.
A study carried out by cheapair.com indicates that the sweet spot for booking flights ranges from 21 to 112 days in advance. Similarly, according to a report by the travel technology company Amadeus, the best hotel deals are generally found 30 days in advance.
Additionally, pre-booking reduces the chance of a last-minute scramble, ensuring you aren't left choosing from the most expensive or least desirable options.
Use price comparison websites
Price comparison websites should be your go-to tool when hunting for the best travel deals. They compile prices from numerous sources to give you a comprehensive overview so you can select the best option for your budget.
Websites like Kayak, Skyscanner, and Expedia are great for finding the best deals on flights and accommodations. These platforms pull data from multiple airlines and hotels, giving you a snapshot of all the available options. Some even give the option to set up alerts for various departure and return dates to boost your chances of nabbing a fantastic deal.
For accommodation, consider sites like Booking.com which offer a plethora of options ranging from luxury resorts to budget hostels and even residential stays like vacation rentals, apartments, or bed and breakfasts.
Remember, booking directly from airlines or hotels may not necessarily offer the best prices since most will automatically default to their standard rates. Comparison websites, however, will always provide the most competitive rates.
Stay outside the touristy areas
Choosing to stay in locations away from the main tourist hubs can significantly reduce your accommodation expenses. These areas often provide a more genuine and exciting glimpse into the local culture and lifestyle.
Not only will you likely get bigger, more comfortable accommodation for less, but the food, transportation, and entertainment costs are likely to be cheaper too. Proximity to locals also means you'll get firsthand insights into the best local spots, events, and meals, often not discovered by regular tourists.
A recent study highlights an average of 30-40% cost savings when staying outside the central touristy areas. Thus, this is a fantastic money-saving strategy that doesn't sacrifice enjoyment. Be sure and do your research, as it can vary for different destinations. Therefore, check our article with the worst tourist attractions.
Negotiate for longer stays
If you're planning a longer trip, don't hesitate to negotiate the price of your accommodation. Many hotels, vacation rentals, and even some home-swap sites are more than willing to reduce their daily rate for guests booking a more extended stay.
The reality is simple: the longer you stay, the more economical it gets. This is because additional logistics such as cleaning fees, or administrative costs are easier to absorb over a longer duration. We've found time and time again that renting a condo for two weeks often costs the same amount as a full month!
Therefore, don't be shy about negotiating the costs of your stay. Remember: every penny saved on lodging is money you can spend on other experiences during your vacation.
How to save on transport
Transportation costs can quickly add up and eat into your travel budget, but with a bit of savvy planning and some insider knowledge, you can make significant savings. Some tips on how to save money.
Use local transportation
One of the best ways to cut down on travel costs is to use the local transportation system. Not only does it save you money, but it also provides an excellent opportunity to experience the local way of life. This can range from trains and buses to rickshaws and shared taxis in some countries!
For example, in London, the bus and tube systems provide a cheaper and more interactive experience of the city compared to car rentals or taxis. Similarly, in Switzerland, you could opt for the Swiss Pass, which provides unlimited travel on the Swiss Travel System network - a more cost-effective solution to navigating around the country.
However, be aware that comforts such as air conditioning might not always be available on public transport, dependent on your destination.
Also, consider installing transport apps such as Uber or Grab, which can help you book cheap and reliable travel alternatives. They can be especially cost-effective if you’re traveling with family. Before you leave on your trip, make sure these apps are installed to save yourself from pricey airport taxis.
In essence, planning your transportation can reduce costs significantly while adding a layer of cultural immersion to your trip.
How to book cheap flights
Booking cheap flights can significantly reduce your travel costs, particularly if you're traveling as a family. Here's how you can snag those affordable fares:
- Compare prices: Websites like Kayak and Expedia aggregate fares from various airlines, giving you the best price options.
- Set up alerts: Set up fare alerts on comparison websites so you get notified when your chosen routes have a price drop.
- Book in advance: Generally, booking flights 2-3 months prior to departure can help you get the best deals.
- Be flexible with dates: Flight prices inflate during weekends, and on school or public holidays. If you have flexibility in your travel dates, you could save a lot.
- Use incognito mode: Always use incognito mode or clear your cookies when searching for flights. Some websites apply 'dynamic pricing', where prices rise if you've searched for the same route multiple times.
- Consider budget airlines: Opting for budget airlines can be a wise choice, provided they have a good safety record and are booked via reputable websites.
Remember, the better deal you get on your flights, the more you can allocate to enjoying your destination!
Tips for renting a car
Renting a car can sometimes be a necessary expense, particularly for families or groups, or if you're visiting locations where public transport is insufficient. Here are a few money-saving tips for renting a car for your trip:
- Compare: Just like flights and hotels, compare car rental prices on websites like Kayak or Expedia. They often have cheaper rates due to their contracted rates with the car rental companies.
- Avoid airport rentals: Renting at the airport can be very convenient, but often costs more due to added airport fees. Consider renting from a city location instead.
- Reserve the car for longer than needed: Oddly enough, if you reserve the car for a weeklong rate, it's usually cheaper than daily rates.
- Decline the insurance: Before automatically adding the insurance offered by the rental car company, check if your own vehicle insurance or credit card benefits cover rental cars.
- Be fuel-Wise: Fill up the gas tank yourself before returning the car instead of opting for the prepaid gas option. You’ll pay a premium for the convenience of refilling at the rental firm.
So, with a little homework and careful consideration, you can hire a car without blowing your travel budget!
Food and drinks on a budget
Eating out while traveling can be one of the great joys of exploring new places, but it can also be a substantial financial burden if not managed wisely. Especially if you're traveling with a family. In this segment, we delve into practical ways to enjoy local cuisine and beverages without overspending.
Local restaurants and street food
Experience the authenticity of a region through its food. Why limit yourself to familiar (and often pricey) tourist-trap cuisine? Instead, venture out to local restaurants and street food stalls to satisfy your taste buds at a fraction of the cost.
Food trucks and local restaurants often offer a chance to sample authentic dishes at lower prices than high-end restaurants. Furthermore, they offer a glimpse into the day-to-day lifestyle of the locals. Following the local crowd is typically a good indicator of quality and affordability.
That being said, be sure to maintain good food safety practices—ensuring the food is hot, properly cooked, and that the vendor maintains good hygiene.
The bottom line is, delicious food doesn't always come with a hefty price tag. Unlock the local culinary magic to find affordable, unforgettable meals for your family.
Aside from eating local food, preparing your own meals is a great way to save money. Book accommodations with kitchen facilities, stock up on groceries from local supermarkets, and cook some of your meals.
Food preparation can even be a fun activity for the entire family. Experiment with local ingredients, try to recreate local dishes, or prepare your family's favorites.
Remember, cooking your meals does carry health benefits as you can control the ingredients used, making it possible to maintain a healthy diet even on vacation.
However, don't forget to indulge in local cuisine from time-to-time. It's part of the travel experience after all!
Packing snacks is a sure-fire way to cut down on impromptu, unnecessary, and often pricey food purchases. This is particularly relevant when you're traveling with kids, who may need to eat more often than adults.
Whether exploring a city, awaiting flights, or embarking on lengthy day trips, having readily available snacks deters hunger tantrums and keeps energy levels high. Grab fruits, cookies, biscuits, or local snack items from supermarkets. Their prices can be a fraction of what you might pay at tourist hotspots or convenience stores!
A study by Nielsen Holdings revealed that global consumers spent $374 billion on snack foods annually between 2014 and 2015. Imagine the potential savings percentage if you did a bit of snack prep!
So, remember, a bit of snack planning can give your family all day fuel and save more for fun-filled activities.
Cost-efficient activities and tours for the whole family
Planning family activities and tours that are both enjoyable and cost-efficient can be a key component of a successful vacation.
Free experiences & local attractions
Exploring free local attractions and experiences can be a highlight of any family trip. Many cities offer free tours of local attractions, while street festivals, public gardens, and outdoor playgrounds can provide entertainment for the entire family at no cost.
In cities like Berlin, Lisbon, and London, free walking tours explore the cities' history, culture, and landmarks. Many museums and galleries, like the British Museum in London or the Smithsonian in Washington D.C, offer free entry.
Often, areas of natural beauty like national parks, beaches, and hiking trails will also be free to access, providing enjoyable day-trip adventures for the entire family.
Lastly, check the local community events calendar or ask locals for tips. There might be free public events, concerts, exhibitions during your visit. A case in point is The Louvre in Paris—an iconic attraction that offers free admission on the first Sunday of every month!
Remember, the best memories from vacation often come from the experiences shared, not the money spent.
The best family tours
Family tours can offer memorable experiences and sights, tailored to entertain adults and kids equally. Although they might not always be the cheapest option, their benefit lies in the convenience, educational value, and unique experiences they provide.
Many popular destinations offer family-friendly tours such as wildlife safaris, cultural heritage tours, or adventure trips. In Rome, for example, you can take a kid-friendly tour of the Colosseum and its underground and upper levels—an experience that brings history to life for your little ones.
In selecting a family tour, it's crucial to ensure the activities suit your family's interests, fitness level, and age group. Companies such as Smithsonian Journeys, Backroads, or G Adventures offer a variety of family-oriented tours worldwide.
While aiming to save money, sometimes investing in experiences can add tremendous value to your family's travel journey.
Custom family trip vs. independent travel
While independent travel might seem like the cheaper option, this isn't always the case. If you're comparing on a service-for-service basis, tailor-made travel can often be a cost-competitive option.
This is usually cheaper upfront—particularly if you're willing to book budget accommodations, use public transportation, and eat local food. However, the potential costs of language barriers, unfamiliarity with the area, or accidents can add up.
Tailor-made travel, on the other hand, offers a more curated, stress-free experience. It bundles transportation, accommodations, and tours while considering a family's unique needs and interest. Dealing with an expert can save money. Furthermore, a travel agency has access to special deals, insider discounts, and often include services that might add up if booked individually.
In the end, the decision between the two lies in what travel aspects hold the highest value for your family: cost, convenience, or experience?
Curious about how we can help you? Fill in our form and together we will craft the best family trip for you!
Planning and itinerary customization
Planning is essential to make your travel smoother, safer, and more enjoyable. It doesn't mean that every single detail needs to be micro-managed—instead, think of it as a guide that can be quickly adapted while on the go.
While you can certainly plan your trip independently, working with a travel agency can streamline the process, free up your time, and alleviate stress. The possibility to customize your itinerary according to your family's needs is a significant advantage when choosing tailor-made travel.
Be it including kid-friendly events, avoiding long-distance transfers, or accounting for leisure time and relaxation, itinerary customization is a sure way to increase your trip's enjoyment.
Flexibility and freedom on the road
"Travel is freedom and independence personified!" Whether you are backpacking solo or taking your family on a years-long adventure, the flexibility to change your plans is exciting.
Choosing "independent travel" enables you to be flexible with your travel dates, destinations and the daily itinerary. It permits spontaneity. You can linger longer in places you love and move on faster from the ones you don't.
On the other hand, "tailor-made travel" delivers a freedom of its own. It provides peace of mind that all logistical aspects of your journey are taken care of. Excursions are scheduled and organized, meals are arranged, and transportation is planned. All you need to do is show up and enjoy the experience, leaving plenty of space for leisure and unexpected adventures.
In essence, both independent and tailor-made travel come with their unique freedoms. Which one aligns with your family's travel style?
Sustainability and responsible travel
Sustainability and responsible travel have taken center stage recently. You can contribute to this global effort while also saving money on your budget family travel.
Firstly, consider overland travel instead of short-haul flights, which are more carbon-intensive per kilometer traveled. Overland travel such as trains, buses, or cars can be cheaper and offer scenic views of the landscape.Also, make your stay environmentally friendly. Choose eco-friendly accommodations that prioritize sustainability.
Lastly, respect local cultures, economies, and the environment. This may mean buying locally made souvenirs, treating wildlife with respect, avoiding single-use plastics, and adhering to local customs.
Additional money-saving techniques
Learn how to maximize your budget through savvy planning and insider tips, ensuring your travel experience is both enriching and economical.
Consider AirBnB for larger families
If you have a large family, staying in a hotel might rack up costs quickly. Instead, consider alternatives like Airbnb. An Airbnb allows you to rent an entire home, where you can get multiple rooms for the cost of a single hotel room. This means more space and comfort for everyone.
Airbnb’s and similar accommodation services often come with additional perks like a fully equipped kitchen, free parking, wi-fi and even a washing machine. This of course adds to the savings as you’ll be able to cook your own meals, do your laundry and won't have to fret over getting parking tickets.
Some Airbnb properties are even pet-friendly! According to a 2021 report by Travel Agent Central, around 20% homes listed on Airbnb allow pets, saving you from the trouble of finding a pet sitter.
In short, for large families, staying in vacation rentals via platforms like Airbnb can be economical and provide a more home-like environment.
Research local attractions and plan in advance
Correctly identifying which local attractions to visit can save you a lot of time and money. Each city or region has its own gems that may not be on everyone's radar. Start by researching online through travel blogs or tourism websites for your chosen destination.
When you know which attractions are top of your list, plan your days to visit as many of these attractions as possible. Many sights, especially in larger cities, offer 'combo-tickets' which include multiple attractions at a discounted rate.
Remember, not all attractions cost money! Many cities have impressive public parks, markets, and architectural feats that are completely free. According to a 2021 survey by Visit Britain, free attractions were the most popular type of attraction, with 55% of respondents choosing to visit them.
Moreover, many major cities offer tourist cards like the Istanbul Tourist Pass or the New York Pass. These include free entry to a number of sights, saving you money if you plan to visit many attractions.
While planning, leave some room for flexibility for spontaneous discoveries and changes in plans. The best moments of travel are often the least expected!
Take advantage of free or cheap activities
One of the joys of travelling is that some memorable experiences don't cost a dime. Whether it's exploring a bustling city by foot, lounging on a sunset beach, hiking up to a vista point or watching a public performance, free can still be rewarding.
Travel doesn't have to blow your budget. Many cities host free or inexpensive activities, it's more about doing your research and finding them. To start with, try sourcing information from local tourism offices, travel blogs, and even suggestions from locals.
Also, consider investing in city tourist cards. They offer discounts, and sometimes free access to major attractions, local transportation and even dining outlets.
Sign up for rewards programs
Rewards programs are a gold mine for travelers. By spending on everyday purchases or bookings, you can earn points that you can redeem on flights, accommodations, car rentals, and more.
Many credit card companies, airlines, hotels, and even supermarkets offer their own rewards programs. By strategically using these programs, you can augment your travel budget.
According to a survey conducted by J.D. Power in 2020, 72% of airline loyalty program members and 71% of hotel loyalty program members said program membership influenced their booking activity.
The key here is to find travel rewards that align with your family's typical spending and travel habits. This can provide you with free or discounted travels without dramatically shifting your spending habits.
Just remember, these rewards programs are only beneficial if you pay off your credit cards every month. After all, any interest or fees might quickly surpass any travel-related rewards that you earn.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the cheapest way to travel as a family?
The cheapest way to travel as a family combines several strategies:
- Traveling during off-peak periods and avoiding school holidays
- Opting to stay in less touristy areas or booking accommodations with kitchen facilities
- Utilizing local transportation and bringing along snacks to avoid regularly dining out
- Reserving flights and accommodations in advance and using comparison websites
- Signing up for rewards programs
- Considering low-cost alternatives like camping, house-sitting, and home exchanges
How can I save on accommodation when traveling with kids?
- Book in advance: Secure the best deals on accommodations by booking in advance.
- Avoid hotels: Particularly for large families, booking an entire home or apartment on platforms like Airbnb can provide more rooms at less cost.
- Stay outside tourist areas: Choosing accommodations in less touristy locales generally results in cheaper rates.
- Consider alternatives: Options like camping, home exchanges, and house-sitting offer a unique experience and can significantly cut costs.
- Suites over standard rooms: Opt for accommodations providing separate sleeping areas. Though slightly pricier, it allows for more comfortable nights, a key ingredient for a successful family trip.
- Book longer stays: Most hotels and vacation rentals would be willing to offer discounted rates for longer stays.
Incorporating these tips into your travel plans can lead to considerable savings on your family vacation.
[Include a diagram illustrating the saving percentage of different accommodation booking strategies.]
Can you recommend budget-friendly family destinations?
Absolutely, here are ten recommended budget-friendly family destinations worldwide:
- Nepal: Known for its breathtaking landscapes, rich culture, and welcoming locals, Nepal offers an affordable and enriching family experience.
- India: With its diversity and vast array of attractions, India offers a unique travel experience and the cost of living is quite low.
- Guatemala: This Central American country is not only blessed with impressive biodiversity but also a low cost of living, perfect for budget family trips.
- Malaysia: Malaysia offers thriving wildlife, diverse cuisines, and a mix of modern and traditional culture, all in a budget-friendly package.
- Romania: With its stunning architecture, picturesque landscapes, and low cost of living, Romania is a perfect European destination for budget family travel.
- Vietnam: Famous for its cultural richness and delicious street food, Vietnam also provides a budget-friendly travel experience.
- Bolivia: With diverse cultural experiences and landscapes from the Amazon rainforest to Andean peaks, Bolivia offers an economical travel option.
- Cambodia: Known for its historical richness and cultural heritage, Cambodia is another Asian country where you can travel as a family on a budget.
- Mexico: Mexico combines beautiful beaches, vibrant culture, and historical sites.
- Laos: Renowned for its pristine landscapes and traditional lifestyle, Laos is another budget-friendly destination in Asia families can consider.
These locations each offer unique experiences while being kind to your pocketbook.