5 Ways to Travel With Kids on the Cheap

Mother with three children and luggage silhouetted in airport.

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Traveling as a family can be expensive. Here’s how to lower your costs.

Traveling as a family can be expensive. Here’s how to lower your costs.

Traveling as a family is a great way to build memories and get closer. The only problem? It can be expensive. Here are a few tips you can use to travel with children, without spending a fortune.

1. Drive rather than fly

Last summer, my husband and I piled our three young children into our minivan and drove from New Jersey to New Mexico. In doing so, we easily saved ourselves more than $1,000 compared to what the flights would’ve cost us, even when accounting for food and lodging costs along the way. Now, to be fair, we wanted to take a road trip and explore different cities en route to our destination. But if you’re willing to get behind the wheel, you can reduce your travel expenses by not having to pay for an airline ticket for each member of your family.

Keep in mind that when you drive, you avoid other peripheral expenses, too. For example, you don’t have to worry about baggage fees, parking, or in-flight meals, which are notoriously overpriced. 

2. If you have to fly, fly smartly

Road-tripping to your destination won’t always work out, especially if you’re on limited vacation time, or have kids who are notorious for getting carsick. If you have no choice but to fly, you can keep your costs down by traveling at off-peak times. For example, leaving on a random Tuesday might be cheaper than flying out on a Saturday or Sunday. Better yet, if you have a travel rewards card with accrued air miles, you can cash them out to pay for your flight. 

Furthermore, if you’re traveling with kids, remember that not everyone has to check a bag. You can save some money by consolidating and checking just one or two pieces of luggage. Also, see what perks your credit card offers, because some travel cards allow for free checked bags on flights.

3. Rent a home instead of a hotel

Traveling with children often means having to get two hotel rooms, or having to upgrade to a larger room to ensure that there’s space for everyone. And that can get pricey. That’s why you may be better off renting a private home rather than paying a premium for a hotel. Generally, you’ll save money on your lodging costs, and get more space. And you’ll almost always have access to a kitchen, which allows you to prepare your own meals, for added savings. You can find rentals on sites like Airbnb, HomeAway, and Vrbo.

4. Pack your own snacks

In the course of traveling with kids, they’re likely to get hungry. The problem? A small bag of chips or popcorn at an amusement park might cost you $2.50, when you can buy a similarly sized bag at the supermarket for under 50 cents. If you’re looking to keep your travel costs down, go on a grocery run once you reach your destination, and load up on the kind of staple items your kids tend to consume. And, if you’re traveling when it’s warm out, buy bottled water at the store to avoid paying $5 a pop for it in touristy areas. 

5. Take advantage of discounts

Some attractions offer free or reduced rates for young children. Once you decide on a destination, do some research and see what your options are. At certain hot spots, you may also be eligible to buy a family pack of admission tickets, which will come out cheaper than buying them individually. Also, if you have AAA for roadside assistance, see what discounts that plan entitles you to. Saving a few dollars here and there on entry costs can really add up.

Traveling with kids can be a costly endeavor, so if you’re planning a trip, set a tight budget and stick to it. The last thing you want to do is rack up debt in the course of that vacation, because in doing so, you’ll risk turning a week of happy memories into months of stress-inducing payments. 

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