You don’t need to spend a fortune to travel with your kids. There are plenty of ways to see the world without breaking the bank.
We’ve lived in Mexico for over a year on less than $1,000 per month. If we know anything, it’s how to stretch a dollar (because my wife is very cheap).
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We’ve been asked over the years how we afford to travel with our son, so we put together a guide to how we save on travel. These are all things we use to save money while traveling, so feel free to ask us questions if you are struggling with your travel plans.
tips for traveling with kids on a budget
Over the last 2.5 years, we’ve had some amazing adventures with our son, without spending a lot of money. We’ve walked on The Great Wall, crossed a rope bridge in Guatemala, rode a cable car up a mountain in Colombia, and watched the sunset in Hawaii.
Here are a few tips on how to travel with kids without spending a fortune:
Travel while your kids are young
One of the best ways to save while traveling with kids is to travel while they are young. Toddlers under three tend to get into most places for free. We went to Disney World a few days before our son’s 3rd birthday and saved hundreds of dollars.
Babies under two years old can fly on your lap, so that could save thousands of dollars. We flew over 20 times before our son was two years old. I couldn’t tell you how much money we saved. That included a trip to Beijing, Los Cabos, Oahu, Colorado Springs, and Ohio.
One of the best ways to save money when traveling with kids is to be flexible. I know it may be difficult for most people because of school, but missing a few days a year isn’t the end of the world.
That doesn’t mean just being flexible on travel dates. You may need to be open to flying into or out of different airports. I understand this may not be realistic for some people, but if you are in an area with multiple airports, this may work for you.
When we lived in Oceanside, it was cheaper to take the train to LAX for our flight to Bangkok. It was $1,500 cheaper to fly from LAX instead of San Diego.
We’ve saved a ton of money by being willing to travel on weekdays and holidays. We’re not opposed to driving an hour or two to save a couple of thousand dollars.
Tip: September and October are (usually) cheap times to travel with kids. If you have little ones, take advantage of this time and travel!
Finding affordable flights
The first step when it comes to traveling with kids is finding affordable flights. We know the cost of flying as a family can add up quickly, so here are a few tips for finding cheap flights for families.
Scott’s Cheap Flights
If you don’t know about Scott’s Cheap Flights you are missing out. This is our number one tool when it comes to getting affordable flights.
Oftentimes we work our travel plan around the deals we get from Scott’s. Trust us, this is a game-changer for families, especially if you live near an international airport.
Our first time using Scott’s, we got a flight on ANA airlines for $469 from LAX to Bangkok. That wasn’t even the best part of this deal. We turned it into a free trip to Tokyo with a four-day stopover to go to DisneySea for my wife’s birthday.
The premium membership for Scott’s Cheap Flights is worth every penny. We’ve been using this service for five years and it’s paid for itself 100x over in savings.
Use Budget Airlines
I know budget airlines can be frustrating. As a mom that’s taken over 30 flights on different budget airlines (in different countries), I can understand the eye rolls.
Budget airlines can be annoying, but they have saved us thousands of dollars over the last 2.5 years. Honestly, after paying for everything they nickel and dime you for, it still ends up cheaper than other airlines. We flew from Cancun to Orlando (roundtrip) as a family of three for $450.
I am surprised many people do not know about Google Flights. This is a great tool for finding the best time to go to a specific place.
All you have to do is type in your travel dates and Google will show you the cheapest flights available. We’ve found some amazing deals using Google flights. It gives us an idea of where to travel when to go, and what airlines to use.
We used Google flights when we found phenomenal tickets to Oahu for $150 (round-trip) a few years ago. The best time is when airlines get into a bidding war for a specific destination. This allowed us to find a flight to Tokyo from Dallas for $99.
Tip: Be sure to set an alert to keep an eye on a flight. The price just might go down, so you want to grab it when it does.
Use Skyscanner to Find a Destination
This is my absolute favorite tool for finding cheap flights when I do not have a destination in mind. If you are flexible with your destination, Skyscanner is the perfect tool for finding affordable flights.
It’s easy to use Skyscanner. All you need to do is put in your departure city and find the cheapest places to travel.
There have been a few occasions that we’ve saved so much on our flight that we can splurge on a nicer hotel when we get to our destination.
Remember to set your price alert to keep an eye on the ticket price.
Tip: I highly recommend purchasing directly with the airline, so use this to search for cheap flights and book with the airline direct. Dealing with a third-party party can get frustrating if you need to make a change.
Use Price Calendars
If you have a favorite airline, check their price calendar. There is usually an option to have flexible dates, which oftentimes can save you a few hundred dollars when traveling with kids.
I know United Airlines, Delta, and Southwest have a price calendar that shows the cheapest day for your flight. If you have the flexibility, this may be the perfect option for larger families.
I used the price calendar with Delta to purchase tickets to Costa Rica from Los Angeles for $138. Our schedules are very flexible, so I didn’t have a problem taking the flight a few days later.
After purchasing these tickets, I canceled the reservation (within 24 hours for a full refund) and rescheduled the same flight at a better time with United Airlines for $20 less per person, so I saved $60 and used travel credit. Overall, I saved $350 on our flight from Los Angeles to Liberia, Costa Rica in November.
Timing is Important
Make sure you’re booking your tickets at the right time. For domestic travel, the best time to book is usually around six weeks in advance. You’ll want to start looking three or four months in advance for international travel.
Of course, there are always deals to be found, so it’s essential to keep an eye on prices. You can use Google Flights or Skyscanner to track flight prices and get alerts when they change. This has been a huge help in finding the best deals.
Saving on Accommodation with Kids
When traveling with kids, accommodation can be one of the biggest expenses. However, there are several ways to save money on accommodation without compromising on quality or comfort.
Here are some tips that will save you money when traveling with kids.
Travel during shoulder season/low season
The shoulder season is the time between high and low season. This is when travel is cheaper and there are fewer crowds. We love traveling during shoulder season when we plan on visiting an expensive place.
Accommodation tends to be less expensive during these times too. That’s the one thing I remember from economics 101. It’s all about supply and demand, so head to a destination when demand is low.
A good example for us was when we traveled to Oahu. We went in mid-September, right when kids returned to school. Although prices were somewhat high (it’s Hawaii after all), we found a very affordable place in Waikiki.
Get Breakfast Included
We don’t usually stay in hotels, but when we do we’re always on the lookout for breakfast. Having breakfast included in your stay means you will spend less on going out to eat.
Cutting out breakfast for a family of four over a week could save you hundreds of dollars. Even if we only get a simple breakfast, oatmeal and coffee are enough to hold me over until lunchtime. Plus, you can grab a few pieces of fruit for snack time. This sounds like a win/win to me.
Airbnb, hostels, or inns
Our first choice when traveling is Airbnb. It is practical for families traveling with babies or toddlers. We love having the extra space, plus we save money by cooking a few meals instead of dining out.
We’ve stayed in Airbnbs all over the world and it’s been a great way to save money, especially when traveling with kids. Plus, you aren’t stuck in a small room with your kids for days. We know you love them, but there’s nothing wrong with a little privacy.
Another option, especially when traveling in Europe is hotels. Hostels are the perfect alternative for families with older kids. You don’t have to worry about disturbing other guests with a fussy little one.
An alternative we’ve come to enjoy while taking a road trip throughout the Southeast US is inns. We mean Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn, and sometimes Red Roof Inn. Of course, all of these places aren’t created equal, but we’ve enjoyed our time at Comfort Inn & Suites (in four different states).
Avoid the weekends
We’ve stayed in a lot of hotels and Airbnbs over the last 2.5 years. Something that I noticed when making our reservation is the cheapest days to make your reservation is Sunday – Thursday.
Anytime we go to a resort, we always make our reservations starting on a Sunday or Monday. Most people start their vacation on a Friday, which is one of the most expensive days of the week to book a hotel.
Trust us, we’ve been doing this for years and it’s never failed us. Plus, there tend to be fewer crowds these days, so if you are heading on a beach vacation, you don’t have to fight the crowds.
Many hotels offer discounts for guests who stay multiple nights. We’ve stayed at some hotels for three days and got the 4th day for free, so that can be a great option for some families.
Another way to save money is to stay at a vacation rental for a week. Many hosts offer a significant discount for stays of at least 7 days. If you have the time, 28-day stays on Airbnb usually offer a significant discount.
We had a three-bedroom 2.5 bathroom in Medellin, Colombia for less than $750 a month. It was a great deal and we didn’t have neighbors, so we didn’t have to worry about our toddler bothering anyone by being loud.
This also worked out for us when we lived in Playa Del Carmen. We got the landlord to reduce the price because we decided to stay for at least six months, instead of three. It saved us nearly $300 a month for over a year and a half.
Use Reward Points
We do not travel exclusively with points, but we do use them to splurge at times. If you aren’t into travel hacking with credit cards, don’t worry we aren’t either.
On the other hand, if you have travel rewards points, use them! Make your money work for you and upgrade your flight, get a bigger room, or enjoy some free activities.
The same goes for credit card sign-up bonuses. Many cards offer great travel perks, so be sure to take advantage of them when booking your trip.
Tip: If you travel internationally, I highly recommend the Ink Chase Business Credit Card. I love this card because there are no international fees, offer a great sign-up bonus, and their customer support is amazing.
Having Fun on a Budget
You don’t always have to do something grand when traveling with kids. A trip to Disney is fun, but there are plenty of other things to do in Orlando with toddlers and big kids.
You can visit historical sights, parks, indoor play facilities, and many other things without spending a fortune when you travel with kids. Here are some ways we save traveling with our little one.
Take advantage of free activities
There are plenty of free activities that the whole family can enjoy while traveling. Visit local parks, take a walk around the city, or go on a hike. Many museums also offer free days or discounted rates for families.
We like to find a few parks for our little one to enjoy. A playground is always a good option for toddlers.
Walking tours are also a great way to see a city while saving money. Some tours only require a donation, so you can learn from locals without spending a fortune.
We took a 2.5-hour walking tour in Colombia for $20 (double the requested donation price). The same tour was advertised online for $15 per person (we had 3 adults and 1 toddler).
Travel where your money goes further
Some destinations are just more expensive than others. If you’re on a tight budget, travel to countries where your money will go further. Southeast Asia, for example, is an affordable destination for families.
When we moved to Playa Del Carmen, the exchange rate was 25 pesos to $1, so we only paid $350 for rent. That’s a steal for an apartment 15 minutes away from 5th avenue and the beach.
Europe tends to be one of the most expensive places to travel for families, especially if you have more than two kids. If you are looking to travel on a budget, I recommend skipping Europe and heading to Southeast Asia or Central America.
Skip Organized Tours
Taking a $40 tour as a solo traveler isn’t too expensive, but as a family, that price can easily quadruple. Instead of $40, your cart will likely be $160 plus tax.
I recommend skipping organized tours when traveling with kids. You don’t have to deal with complaining, rigid schedules, and other people getting frustrated.
The best way to see a city is to it yourself when you have little ones tagging along. You can adjust your time based on their mood, or impossible toddler logic.
We typically research walking tours online, write down the best places to see, and head there ourselves. This is a much cheaper option than spending nearly $200.
There are times when tours make more sense, especially when it comes to historic sites. We took a tour when we visited Chichen Itza and it was amazing.