My 5 Favorite Tips for Traveling on a Budget With Kids

My husband and I did a fair amount of traveling before we had kids. That’s because we figured that once they came into the mix, taking trips would become not only more difficult, but much more expensive.

Fast forward a bunch of years, and I’m happy to say that we haven’t really slowed down on the travel front.

Since having children, we’ve taken three cross-country road trips, plus a number of trips up and down the East Coast. But pulling off those trips without breaking the bank required us to get savvy and creative.

If you have kids and are on a budget, here are some travel tips worth employing.

1. Drive instead of fly

If you’re traveling overseas, hopping in the car won’t work. And you may not have enough paid time off at your job to take a lengthy road trip. But if you can reach your destination within a day or two of driving, then loading up the car will pretty much always be cheaper than booking multiple flights.

A couple of years back, I was looking to fly myself, my husband, and my three children down to Florida from New Jersey, and the cheapest flights I found were about $275 apiece, plus the cost of checked baggage. Driving, on the other hand, cost us less than $250 in total, and while we did have to stay at a hotel along the way, all told, we spent under $500 to get to and from our destination.

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2. Rent a private home instead of booking a hotel

When my family spent a week in Cape Cod, we rented a private home for about $1,500. On the other hand, a hotel would have cost more — $300 a night. This would have meant spending $1,800 for lodging (we stayed six nights) instead of $1,500.

But we saved a lot more than just $300 for one big reason — renting a private house gave us access to a full kitchen and outdoor grill. That allowed us to cook most of our own meals, thereby saving a few hundred dollars on food costs.

3. Go after free meals for kids

In some situations, you may have no choice but to stay at a hotel. But if you’re going to do that, search for hotels that offer free breakfast for kids. Similarly, if you need to eat at a restaurant in the course of your travels, find ones that offer a free child meal per adult entree.

4. Seek out attractions where younger kids are free

At this point, we’re generally stuck paying full admission fees for all of our children. But a lot of museums, fairs, and amusement parks offer free admission for kids under a certain age, so those are worth exploring. Sometimes that age is as low as two, but other times, you might score free entry for children under the age of five or six.

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5. Use the right credit card

Maximizing credit card reward points has made it possible for my family to swing extra vacations or add on to existing trips. One credit card of mine, for example, offers 4% cash back on gas fill-ups. That comes in very handy for our lengthy road trips. That same card offers extra rewards for restaurant meals so that when we do dine out in the course of our travels, we get additional money back.

Before you book your next trip with kids, take a look at your credit cards and see which offer the best perks for your plans. You may even want to apply for a new credit card before heading out on your next adventure if there’s an offer out there that could score you more cash back or provide other benefits. A travel rewards card, for example, could come with free checked bags that make flying less costly.

Traveling with kids isn’t always inexpensive or easy, but for me, it’s worth doing. With a little careful planning, you can pull off a terrific family vacation that doesn’t completely bust your budget.

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