Family travel might not seem like something you can accomplish frugally, but with a little planning and a few budget strategies, you can get where you’re going as a group without breaking the bank or losing your sanity.
Take a careful accounting of your hotel’s amenities.
While we all want to get the best deal possible when traveling, going for the bottom-line price on your hotel room without considering the add-ons offered by the place down the street might end up costing you money in the long run. If there’s no grocery store nearby and your only other breakfast option is a fast-food drive through next door, you could end up dropping an easy thirty bucks for a family of six. If an extra fifteen dollars per night would have scored you free breakfast eats, it was probably worth the upgrade. Are there laundry facilities on site? They’ll help you pack light and avoid hefty baggage fees on the flight there. Free shuttle services offered by the hotel to nearby attractions cost only a tip, saving on rentals and cab fees.
There are a number of family travel apps to assist with entertainment, directions and free places to stop and play. Making sure your smart phone is charged and ready can keep you tapped into things like historical markers, roadside attractions, car bingo and the location of the nearest rest area. There are also apps for bird watching, and finding restaurants with kid-friendly infrastructure.
Consider alternative accommodations to save money.
Depending on the time of year or climate of your destination, family camping might be an option to shave costs and save money. Otherwise, participating in a home exchange or house swap might be the way you want to go. Who doesn’t love free digs? You can also save money by staying at family-friendly hostels or checking out owner-rented vacation properties which often offer a full cottage with kitchen access for further money-saving opportunities.
Don’t assume a theme venue will be too expensive.
Not every place is as expensive as the shrine of the mouse. Water parks and zoos can provide tremendous value on a per-day basis, especially if you’re in need of something to break up the museum monotony. Compared to multiple entry tickets at attractions costing $25 or more a pop, a thirty dollar day pass with access to a splash zone can bring sanity as well as fun to the family travel table.
Mother Nature is a bargain.
Seriously, kids love nature. Whether it’s a day of snowshoeing in a state park, or bird watching in Costa Rica’s Monte Verde cloud forest, there’s lots to love about the natural world. If you’re staying Stateside, consider purchasing an America the Beautiful pass from the National Park Service. One flat fee for the year gets you in to all of the national parks, reserves and federal lands in the country. That and a pair of hiking shoes per family member is a pretty cheap investment for fitness and travel.
Once you’ve dipped your toes in the financial waters of family travel, you may find that you not only enjoy it, but want to include more of it in your budget. If that’s the case, and the kids are on board, consider that by implementing a few budget strategies and sacrificing a few video games to pay for plane tickets you may be able to spend several months on the road per year for less than what you normally would have paid to articipate in a single hockey season. Just a thought.