21 Ways to Save Money on Family Vacation

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There is nothing more fun and stressful than family vacations. Unlike our children, (the most adorable freeloaders ever lol) we cannot be entirely care-free during our vacation. If you are like the rest of us, you are not swimming in cash, so here are a few ways to save money while on a family vacation.

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Open fee-free bank account/credit card

There is nothing worse than being charged a fee for using your own money. Several bank accounts can be used internationally that do not charge international fees or reimburse ATM fees. The cards that we use while traveling are the Chase Preferred and Charles Schwab (great exchange rates and ATM fee reimbursement). Travel credit cards are one of the best ways to take a vacation, without spending money.

Consolidate - Pack less

With airlines charging an average of $40 for checking your bag it pays to pack less. Traveling carry-on only is not for everyone but packing less can save you a lot of money. Using a packing list to organize yourself is a great way to start. Once you have everything ready to pack why not share a suitcase. When we travel we only take 1 suitcase that can fit everyone’s items. Compression packing cubes make it easier to organize everyone’s items and maximize all of the space in the suitcase. All of our other items are packed in our bag (backpack) onto the plane. We have a rule that if you bring it you have to carry it. This deters us from packing unnecessary items, if you have to say “we may need it”, then odds are you do not need to pack it.

Buy attraction tickets in advance

The old saying “it pays to plan”, is a true statement when it comes to popular tourist attractions. You can save time and money by purchasing tickets in advance. This is one of the best travel tips I learned after arriving at a destination only to learn it is sold out. If you are planning on going to a specific attraction, museum or excursion look into purchasing your ticket in advance to avoid long lines or being denied entry. We got lost trying to purchase tickets to Forbidden City in Beijing and ended up paying for a tour. It would have saved us $64 if we purchase the tickets ($9) online before arriving.


Research transportation before arriving

Research the average cost of transportation. We paid more than triple the average when we arrived in Beijing ($40) because I did not want the hassle of waving down a taxi. The cost of our hotel to the airport when we were leaving Beijing was $10. If I would have looked at the average cost of a taxi I would have never pre-booked a car for 4x the average cost.

There is no doubt that Uber and Lyft changed the game when they launched their ridesharing apps. This has made transportation easy and hassle-free around internationally. Many places have a service similar to Uber such as Grab in Thailand or Didi in China, that can get you around safely and cheaply.

A great alternative for major metropolitan cities in the U.S. And Europe to a rental car is using Get Around. This innovative way of renting cars allows you to rent by the hour for as low as $5 when needed. Simply upload your license and payment information and you are on your way. I was a little skeptical of this service but I tried it in San Diego and it was so easy to use.

Public transportation can be a great way to get around. Japan, for example, is a city that relies heavily on public transportation. The cost of a taxi is often 3x that of public transportation and can take longer due to traffic. If you have smaller children public transportation may not be ideal but using a carrier may make it easier. It is important to look into the best transportation method for your destination and that will fit your family.

Travel insurance

I know you may be thinking, how can we save money by spending money? Insurance is one of those things that is great to have “just in case”. We all know that sometimes things happen such as flight delays, trips to the hospital, baggage delays, and lost items. Travel insurance will take care of some of those "unexpected expense", that you may encounter while on a family vacation. It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Find a hotel that includes breakfast

This can be a real cost saver with a family because you can eat as much as you would like, and have some fruit throughout the day. Hotels usually have fruit and breakfast bars available that you can take to eat throughout the day. This saves you the cost of at least one meal a day, which can add up to a pretty penny over time.

Rent apartment instead of a hotel

Airbnb is a great alternative if you are traveling with a large family. You can rent the entire place for a set price without all of the added fees from hotels. Hotels have so many added charges such as resort fees, additional taxes, and parking fees that can pad your bill. If you are renting a car this could save some cash because parking is usually included. With the money, you save on the parking and fees you can enjoy other family activities. This also allows you to be immersed in the local culture and neighborhood. You’d be surprised by the things you learn from being a local tourist.

Pack food 

Food is a huge expenditure while on vacation, especially with kids. It is a great idea to pack food, not only for the flight and airport (boo for airport prices) but for the overall trip. Pack food in your checked bags for your family to eat throughout your vacation. Kids tend to be hungry throughout the day and can get expensive stopping to buy food/snacks frequently. Some great snacks can be taken on the go such as bread, peanut butter, jelly, tuna, crackers, oranges, apples, and bagels. This is a great money saver if you have a larger family.

Hit the Grocery Store

I know cooking during your vacation can be a drag but it can also save you so much money. Flight, accommodation, and food are the big three when it comes to expenses while traveling. Taking some time to cook 1 or 2 meals a day can keep some cash in your pocket. Purchasing food items and snacks that are versatile and can be used for multiple days is a money saver.

7-11 is quick, easy, and convenient but also comes at a cost. You usually end up paying 2 or 3 times the price you would pay if you purchased at a grocery store. While in China I became addicted to milk tea and purchased 2 of each flavor at 7-11 (please do not judge me). I ended up paying 80RMB for 8 cups ($11) at 7-11, during a trip to Wal-Mart I purchased a pack of 6 for 28RMB ($4).

Tip: If you are going to dine out frequently, going to lunch instead of dinner can be a cost saver. Lunch menus are often the same as dinner at 3/4th of the cost. Also, take advantage of happy hour, the same drinks at half the price.

Skip the tour....wander independently

“Sometimes we have to get lost in order to find ourselves” - Unknown

Tours are a great way to learn about your destination. It is great to have someone who knows the area and can answer questions. Google maps have made it a lot easier to navigate the unknown without being completely lost. Wandering around can be a great way to become immersed in the culture. You never know what you may stumble upon (we ended up at a beautiful Japanese wedding in Tokyo).

Ditch the souvenirs

Souvenirs are often tourist traps, which just end up somewhere lost in your home. The items are marked up far more than their worth, and end up being a hassle to try to fit into your luggage on the way home. Some great alternatives can be purchased or used instead.

  • Keep a single bill of currency or coins if applicable
  • Mail a postcard home
  • Take a picture with a welcome to (city)… or I love (city)…

Skip the mall and head to markets

Markets are a great way to find unique items and save some money while doing so. Malls are full of name brand stores that already have billions of dollars, why not help locals and buy direct. Even if you do not buy anything it is great seeing everything that is being sold.

Take advantage of deals

There are websites that you can take advantage of and receive discounts on activities. Use what you have to save money on tickets, rental cars, hotels, and other travel needs. AAA is a great resource for saving money as well as Groupon and Living Social. You can always find additional discount codes for Groupon and Living Social. I was able to get a tour of Oahu, scuba diving and parasailing for 2 for less than $300 (score!!).


Depending on the location negotiation is almost expected. Tourists are easy targets for overpriced products and souvenirs. If you are shopping at a market try to negotiate with the seller. You can often pay half of the asking price if you stick to your guns. The key to negotiating is knowing when to walk away. If the seller is not willing to come down on the prices, chances are there are 10 other sellers in the market with the same item who is willing to take what you offer. Remember to be reasonable when offering a price, people are trying to make a living.

Take some “ALONE TIME”

We all love our children but we deserve a break sometimes. Take a break from your vacation and venture our alone without your partner and kids. Each one of you takes some time to yourself and do an activity that you would enjoy alone. This can be anything that you enjoy but you must do it alone. While in Beijing I went on a tour of the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Summer Palace while my wife and son went to the museum. The next day my wife went for a walk through the neighborhood while our son and I took a much-needed nap. We were able to save money by only paying for one person to attend the tour and was able to enjoy some time alone. Don’t feel guilty you’ve earned it, just remember to go back to join the family.

Get active

Taking a taxi, using Uber or Lyft, can add up quickly for roundtrips to several different attractions or activities. A great alternative to transportation is walking or riding a bike. There are apps and websites such as Spinlister, Jump, Donkey Republic, and Lime that can be downloaded and used to rent a bike. This can be a great way to explore your area so not only are you saving money you are also getting in some great exercise. Public transportation is a great alternative and can save money but let’s face it, do you want to try to wrangle your kids in a busy train or subway station? (I don’t know how but our son manages to move his little legs pretty quickly to get away and I cannot imagine looking for him in a train station)

Eat local food

When traveling internationally it is far cheaper to eat like the locals than to buy western food. There are always places such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Subway available in different countries but why not try something new. I take the easy approach of following the crowd. If there is a street vendor or restaurant with a crowd, I make the assumption the food is good. If the food is not good, I chalk it up to experience. Why not live a little and try something new, you’re on vacation.

Hydrate (Metal/Filtered water bottle) 

It is important to stay hydrated, not only for health but staying hydrated can keep your hunger at bay. We try to avoid single-use plastic bottles and travel with a metal water bottle. Metal/filtered water bottles are great because they keep water cold and are a personal filter. It can also be cheaper to continue to refill the bottle throughout the day. Many hotels provide water that you can use to refill throughout your stay. Plus, a little known fact is we often believe we are hungry when we are thirsty. Yes, you can save money by just drinking water and keeping your body hydrated. Are you hungry or thirsty?

Use your kids

One of the perks of having adorable little ones it that they can get into a lot of different places free. Attractions from museums to temples allow kids under a certain age to enter for free. This could be a great way to begin planning activities. An extra tip is to look for places where this works in reverse. Many attractions allow adults to enter for free with paid child admission. This is a great way to sit and relax while the kids play (tire themselves out) and interact with local children. You’d be surprised how well children can communicate, even if they do not speak the same language.

Interact with the locals

The best way to get to know the area is to ask locals. Locals are proud of their country and culture which makes them happy to help.  Asking locals can save you a lot of time and money. There is only so much information available on Google. Sometimes you have to explore the old fashion way, pounding the pavement and asking questions. For example, while in China we unknowingly traveled during a national holiday (Qingming Festival). This festival lasts for 3 days and honors their ancestors. It was beautiful to watch the flying of kites and understand something too sacred for them.


Vacation is about rest and rejuvenation. Spend the day at your hotel, apartment, park, or beach and enjoy the change of scenery. I know you want to make the best out of your vacation time, but do not create an itinerary that is so jammed that you forget to relax. Sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all.

Do you have other awesome money-saving tips? Please leave them in the comment section below.

Disclosure: Itz a Family Thing is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com and its partners. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. Thank you for supporting my site and helping me make it the best family travel resource on the internet!

8 thoughts on “21 Ways to Save Money on Family Vacation”

  1. Great read. I travel alot with my family (all 10 of us) and we always make sure to do book a house through airbnb so we can cook our own meals throughout our stay. It definately cuts down our costs alot ????

  2. Very nice! Most important is travel light, and stay in local accommodation, and avoid the super busy places. Staying in guesthouses and using local transport is always cheaper than package tours except in the most remote places.

  3. Such a comprehensive list of money saving idea. I have signed up for a Citi credit card. We use our rewards points toward travel as well as gift cards. We can get a gift card for a restaurant and therefore save money on dinner.

  4. You have some fantastic tips here. I was surprised to hear you could rent a vehicle in the U.S. by the hour. This would solve a dilemma I have now where I’m debating about renting a car but I don’t need it for the entire time

  5. Really good advice. I prefer ditching the tours and the “touristy” places whenever possible, which just leaves saving up for flights and accommodation. As a money-saving tip, I use public transport 99% of the time. Its so well developed in Eastern Europe and parts of Western Europe, and costs a fraction of the price of private transport.

  6. I enjoyed reading your post on 21 ways to save money on a family vacation. A few of the things I would definitely put higher up in the list. I’ve added some additional comments to your list for your viewers.

    * Open fee-free bank account/credit card: find a no foreign transaction fee card. The 3-5% fee adds up.
    * Buy attraction tickets in advance
    * Research transportation before arriving: when you’re traveling as a family or groups of 4 or more, it might be cheaper to Uber.
    * Rent apartment instead of a hotel: Airbnb is also a great option

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