As travel is kicking back into gear, here are 25 family travel budget tips to help save money as you explore with your family! I'm grateful to receive so many helpful tips from great family travel bloggers around the world. I've organized the tips by category and each tip has a specific story from the author.
Table of Contents:
- Saving Money on Flights (2)
- Budgeting Tips for Meals (3)
- Save on Accommodations (3)
- Transportation (3)
- Budget Activities (10)
- Before Your Trip (4)
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Family Travel Budget Tips for Flights
Credit card signup bonuses
By JJ Haglund from The Minivan Bucket List
One of the best ways to save money traveling is to earn a large amount of credit card points through the initial sign-up bonus. If you’re like me, you can easily meet the minimum spend required just by using a credit card for regular everyday expenses. Once you’ve identified your dream destination, go to various airlines’ websites and select a) flexible dates and b) shop with miles to find the option that costs the least amount of points. Then search for the credit card option with the best sign-up bonus.
With airlines all fiercely competing for business during the pandemic, many airlines are offering their best sign-up bonuses ever. For parents, you can both sign up for a card and double your bonus, but we only recommend this if you can easily meet the minimum spending requirements and still pay off the entire balance when it comes due, otherwise, the travel isn’t free! We did this and got free flights to Hawaii for our entire family of six. Because we saved so much money on flights, we were able to take a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter flight over the Na Pali Coast in Kauai.
Traveling on off-peak times
By Brodi Cole of Our Offbeat Life
Travel during the school year or at other non-peak times of the year can save families hundreds of dollars in airfare costs. A flight to Cancun from Chicago over Christmas week might be $600/person while that same flight path in late January might only be $80/person. Having travel flexibility can provide huge savings, even by flying on a Wednesday rather than a Saturday.
Before we started traveling full time, our son was enrolled in a Chicago public school. We vacationed every February. Essentially, we just told the school in advance that we were going and that he would not be doing homework while we were gone. I also explained what educational opportunities our son would have during the trip.
From Spanish language practice and wildlife excursions to learning local history and trying new foods, he always experienced more in our week away than he would have in class.
Saving Money on Meals
Staying in a Rental
By Catherine Brady from Traveling with the Littles
Embarking on family travel on a budget? Consider renting an Airbnb (or from Homeaway.com). After accommodations, the next highest cost on a family vacation is eating out. The real money savings in renting an Airbnb for families comes from preparing food at the rental and not eating out.
Even if you prepare breakfast and lunch at the rental and eat out for dinner- you will save a ton of money. If you make dinners at home, you’ll save even more!
We’ve used property rentals on several occasions. After we arrive at the rental, the first thing we do is hit the grocery store. We buy breakfast food, lunch fixings, snacks, and maybe food for dinner (depending on our mood).
By visiting the grocery store first, we don’t feel as though we are missing out on dining out because we pick up a bunch of novelty items at the grocery store.
Some hotels have small kitchenettes to prepare lunches or snacks; however, we are less likely to cook or prepare food if we stay in a hotel. Staying in a property rental makes it easier to keep food costs down rather than staying in a hotel.
Note from Jennifer: This is how we saved money on our Switzerland budget travel! I wrote about our 10 tips from our most recent trip in August of 2021. Nine days in Switzerland cost our family of 4 less than 5 days at Disney!
Cost of Food
By Cosette from KarsTravels
When going on travels with our family we like to include one or several countries where the cost of food is cheaper than in our own country. This saves a lot of money and can result in making it easy to stick to a budget and/or more meals out than cooking meals ourselves.
We did this on several trips, for example on our 6-week European road trip, we added Slovenia and Croatia with lower prices to counter also visiting Switzerland and Germany. Or going to the snow in Czechia instead of Austria or Switzerland, which saves a lot of money. Last Summer we went on a road trip to France Spain and Portugal. We stayed the longest in Northern Portugal since prices are not that high there.
Affordable on-the-go meals
By Jiayi of The Diary of a Nomad
Eating while traveling can get expensive, especially if you’re sitting down for every meal during your trip. However, even in countries that aren’t so budget-friendly, you can still find local eateries that offer cheap and delicious takeaway meals that are easy to eat on the go.
For instance, the last time I spent a weekend in Rome, most of my lunches were affordable on-the-go pizzas and paninis from authentic local eateries. Rome, in particular, is known for its delicious pizza al taglio, which is essentially pizza cut into small rectangles. This type of pizza is especially easy to eat on the go, and very cheap too.
In fact, a regular meal at a restaurant in Italy would cost around €15 per person, whereas a pizza or panini to-go can be as cheap as €3 from local eateries. Even if you’re hungry and would like multiple slices, it’s unlikely you’ll spend more than €7 per meal.
So next time you’re traveling with your family, keep an eye out for delicious on-the-go local eats!
Family Travel Budget Tips for Accommodations
Accommodations with Free Cancellation
By Bec from Poland Travel Expert
One of our very best family travel tips is to always book accommodation with free cancellation.
When you book through some sites they offer a certain amount of time where you can cancel for free. This gives you a backup place to stay with kids and also a window to shop around to find a better place at a cheaper price. It can also allow you to research what are the best areas to stay in the city
You do need to make sure you know how long you have and that you do actually cancel the booking before the allocated time has passed so you are not charged for the room.
Note from Jennifer: Booking.com has been our go-to for hotel bookings over the last 4 years because most of their properties have free cancellations policies. I set a calendar alarm for the "cancellation by" to make sure I cancel if I have found another property I liked in the meantime!
Use Home Exchange
By Asha from Home Travel Guide
Traveling has a cost and the bulk of the cost is usually accommodation. A great way to save on this is to try a Home Exchange. There are many different platforms where you can find this. Homeexchange.com is one option; they use a system where you accumulate guest points and can use them to exchange your home with others. The great thing is that you do not have to exchange your home simultaneously as there are different types of exchanges.
There are also a few groups on Facebook where you can find home exchanges. It is a great way to save on accommodation costs especially if you are traveling as a family and visiting an expensive city like London. You also have the added benefit of staying in a house rather than a hotel which can be cozier and gives you more flexibility towards your travel plans.
Saving Money By Camping
By Stefanie from Open Road Odysseys
A fun way for families to travel on a budget is to go camping. One of the great things about camping is that you can make your experience as rustic or as modern as you'd like. You can go all out and stay in tents or hammocks and cook all your food over a campfire, but you can also go the glamping route and rent a cabin, yurt, or camper with amenities and a kitchen.
My husband and I try to camp as much as possible when we travel. Not only does it save us a lot of money, but we really enjoy being out in nature as much as possible and spending time in the evenings cooking over the campfire and just relaxing.
Give camping a try on your next vacation. You can find great campsite options on national & state park websites or on apps like Campspot or The Dyrt.
Destination Transportation Tips
Renting Cars Outside the Airport
By Corritta from It’s a Family Thing
One of the budget tips that I have been using for years is renting cars outside of the airport. During Carmageddon when rental cars were nearly $100 per day, I was able to get a rental car for $400 (for a week) in Orlando to visit Disney World with a toddler.
Once we arrive at the airport, my wife stays back with our toddler to get food in the airport. I typically leave (without grabbing our luggage) and take a Lyft to the rental car company. Most of the time it’s less than $20 for a Lyft, which when factored into the price of the rental is still less. After getting the rental car, I return to the airport and pick up my wife and our son with the luggage.
This way our little guy gets to eat so he isn’t cranky, we don’t have to insert the car seat into the Lyft, and I can get the car without trying to wrangle an energetic three-year-old. We’ve been using this strategy for years and have saved several thousands of dollars on car rentals.
Saving Money on Gas
By Theresa Goodrich of The Local Tourist
The GasBuddy App is one of the easiest ways to save money while traveling. It’s a free app that shows you gas prices near you. You can filter based on your preferred brand, whether or not a station has a restaurant, and how clean their restrooms are.
It also will help you find stations with convenience stores, in case you need some snacks or some essential item while you’re on the road. My husband and I use it at home, but we love using it on the road. It’s saved us tons of money over the years, and if you use the Pay with GasBuddy Fuel Saver card, which gives an additional discount. It particularly comes in handy when you’re in a less populated area and you need to know where the next gas station is. That happened to us in South Dakota, and we were about to run on fumes before finding a station in the Badlands.
Save Money By Skipping The Pricey Rental Car
By Cortney of Tin Can Living
Traveling with your family can be a lot of fun, but it can also be expensive. If you're looking to save money on your next family vacation, consider using public transportation or walking instead of renting a car.
When visiting a large city or destination, you can save tons of money by skipping the fancy rental car and opting for taking the bus or other public transit, using free shuttles from your hotel, or walking. Not only will this save you money, but it's a great way to see the local sights and get some exercise too!
Typical rental cars range in price from $30 to $100 per day, depending on the model and type of car you choose. If you're renting a car for three days during your vacation, that could cost you anywhere from $90 to over $300! Using public transportation (a bus or train), on the other hand, can cost as little as a few dollars per person, per day.
If your destination is smaller or more rural, consider exploring on foot. Not only is walking a great way to burn off some of those vacation calories, but it's also free! Plus, if you're visiting a historical area, walking is a great way to learn about the history of the region.
We walked and explored the beautiful town of Charleston, South Carolina recently. By doing so we were able to not only see the beautiful parks and historical buildings, but we also found unique dining options that we may have otherwise missed.
Even if you have a large family, this tip can save your budget. Consider splitting up when sightseeing or using different transportation methods – it'll save you money and give everyone a chance to see more of the destination.
Note from Jennifer: There are tons of free Kids Car Activities, as well as under $5 and under $20 to keep your kiddos entertained on those longer car trips!
Activities Family Travel Budget Tips
Activities on Non-Peak Times
By Jessica from Uprooted Traveler
Are you interested in trying an activity but it’s a bit out of your budget? Check to see if the organizer provides any discounts on non-peak times or days. For example, booking an evening slot at the famed Blue Lagoon in Iceland can save you up to $20 per person. And as an added bonus, you’re more likely to have the hot springs to yourself (and if you’re visiting in winter, maybe even see the Northern Lights!).
Recently, I booked a Maui whale watching cruise at sunrise- mostly because it was approximately 20% off the normal price. Not only was the boat not nearly as crowded as a later tour, but I also got to see the first golden light of the day touch the Pacific Ocean and had awesome lighting for our photos. And did I mention that, between my husband and me, we saved about $30 on the tour? I’d call that a budget win!
Choosing low-cost activities
By Linn Haglund of Andalucia Hiking
One of the best free things to do when traveling is to go hiking. This is a great way for the whole family to get out in nature together and explore the country from a different perspective. But a hike can also give historical background, like the Roman Heritage Trail that I recently did in Malta. This is a 1.5-hour long hike that can be done even with smaller children that takes you through a number of Roman remains, like Roman baths and several caves you can enter that are fun to explore. Each site has information signs that give information about the history.
The trail is easily reached by public bus from St. Julians, Sliema, or Valletta, and only costs 1.50 Euros. When going out in nature, make sure the whole family is familiar with the 7 Leave No Trace Principles to protect the natural spaces you visit.
Book Activities In Advance
by Keri of Bon Voyage With Kids
One of our family's best tips for family travel on a budget is to book your activities in advance to save money. In some cases, booking an activity in advance can save you money, as often you may get a better price online than at the door. This also can help if there are special deals, say for example if you are booking a trip to London with kids. You may be able to shop around for the best deal for an activity like visiting the Harry Potter Studio Tour or a Tower of London Tour where you can bundle the tour with another activity like a Thames River ride.
But the biggest reason we recommend booking activities in advance is that you can make sure you spend money on your "must-do activities" first, and then can have "if we have money left over activities" for which you can book on your trip. This makes sure you both have the vacation and experiences you want as well as stay within budget. Our bonus tip for staying on budget for family travel is to have kids bring their allowance money or Green Light Cards to spend on souvenirs. This way you don't blow your budget on souvenirs and kids will learn important money management skills as well as get something special to remember your vacation.
By Claudia Laroye of Claudia Travels
Saving money while traveling with family can be a challenge. If you’re on a family travel budget, it can get expensive to pay for three square meals out at restaurants every day. An economical and practical solution that has the added benefit of learning to live like the locals, is to shop local, at the neighborhood grocery store and farmer’s market.
Getting friendly with the local grocer and visiting weekly farmer’s markets offers both entertainment (for kids too) and an education in the cuisine, favorite foods, and specialties of the place in which you’re staying or passing through. Renting accommodation with a kitchen or cooking facility allows families to cook some meals (you are on holiday, after all) at home, which also helps to save money that can be used on special treats or fun things to do.
Find Free Things to Do
By Katja of Globe Totting
One of the best ways to save money on a trip is to find free things to do! It might seem obvious but often when traveling, it's easy to get fixated on the 'must see sights' and forget that there are often alternative things to do and other ways to enjoy the famous landmarks without spending a fortune. This is particularly true of cities.
Take London, for example. The UK capital has a (justified) reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in Europe but what a lot of people don't realize is that there are actually lots of free things to do in London. Many of London's museums are free to visit including the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the V&A Museum.
The Changing of the Guards, which takes place outside Buckingham Palace and which is the epitome of British pomp and ceremony, is absolutely free to watch. If you're looking for London views but want to save money then head to the Sky Garden, the city's highest public garden with 360-degree views. Entrance is completely free but you must book tickets in advance.
When researching your destination take a look at the website for the local tourism office and search for blogs written by locals and you'll soon find that there are plenty of things to do that won't cost you a penny.
By Lanie from Make More Adventures
Every member of the family does not need to participate in every activity. Sometimes we split up to save money. Of course, we spend a lot of time together on family vacations, but occasionally we will split up to save money. Not only is it good for our budget, but it is nice to get one-on-one time with the kids, or alone time in the middle of a vacation.
We have split up so that the girls attend high tea at the Plaza in New York City while the boys go to lunch, my husband has taken the kids to a museum in Tasmania while I stayed outside and read a book, and most recently, my daughter and I wanted to go on a tropical fruit tasting tour that the boys weren't interested in. I am taking the kids to see Frozen the Musical and we saved money by not getting my husband a ticket.
Free Walking Tours - Great for Family Travel on a Budget!
By Sinead with York with kids
We always travel on a tight budget and one of the money-saving activities we like to do at each destination is to join a free walking tour. Many cities offer free or tip-based walking tours which are usually run by enthusiastic local volunteers. These tours are a great introduction to a new city and help with initial navigation as well as showcasing sites to return to.
As the tours are free to join and leave when you want to, families can leave the tour once children get tired. However, in our experience, we find that our children are so engaged they usually want to complete the tour. In addition, as the tours are run by locals, we find that we learn a lot about local culture, customs, and history as well as some valuable insider tips. Some of the destinations in which we have enjoyed free walking tours include the U.K, Hawaii, and Iceland.
Research is Key for Family Travel on a Budget
By Mark from Wyld Family Travel
When planning our family gap year with our daughters there were some activities that we did not want to miss out on or have the money come out of our daily budget. Traveling for 12+ months was our aim and we had a strict budget to allow the maximum amount of time on our trip.
To make sure we could enjoy all of the top attractions on our gap year there were some that we researched and saved for before we went on the trip like a Halong Bay cruise, an overnight stay at Elephant Nature Park, Terracotta Warriors, an ATV tour in Thailand and Angkor Wat. This helped us see the big-ticket items in some countries and not affect our daily budget.
Saving Money With a City Pass
By Caroline from Veggie Wayfarer
Brussels has plenty of things to see and visit sprawled out across the 19 different boroughs of the city. Many travelers choose to spend a weekend in Brussels, hopping in and out of museums and – on rain days – on and off public transportation. With the prices of museums hovering between €8 and €16 euro and a ride on tram starting at €2, this can become pricy very quickly.
Whenever relatives come to visit me in Brussels, I always encourage them to get the Brussels Card (valid for 24, 36, or 72 hours and starting at a mere €29). The card can be bought online and offers free entrance to a ton of museums, the use of all public transportation in Brussels, and a host of other discounts to local restaurants and pubs.
National Parks Pass - Great for US Family Travel Budget
By Candice of CS Ginger
One of the best tips for traveling on a budget as a family is enjoying time in our beautiful national parks. The National Parks Pass is an annual pass costing $80 that will get you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites including the national parks.
From the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone National Park to national monuments around the country, this pass will save you so much money as you travel.
You can either purchase your pass online or at any of the locations that sell the pass. When going to the national parks, just purchase the pass instead of the weekly rate. In just a few uses you will have paid for your pass making all your entrance fees for the rest of the year free.
National parks are great destinations if you’re traveling on a budget because there are so many activities in the national parks that are free. You can go hiking, observe wildlife and participate in the junior ranger programs.
Family Travel Budget Tips BEFORE Your Trip
Saving Money By Packing Light
By Nicole from Go Far Grow Close
One of the more obvious tips to save money when traveling is to travel light. The more you can fit into hand luggage, the less money you pay for checked luggage. However, laundry may become an issue if you plan to be away for longer than a few days. You can hand wash a few small items in your hotel’s bathroom sink but that isn’t a long-term solution.
Accordingly, I plan my holidays so that I stay every 5-7 days at an apartment or private home with in-suite laundry or I stay at a hotel with nearby laundry facilities either walking distance or an easy taxi or uber drive.
When we went to South America for 3 weeks with my three kids, we were in Ecuador and had one night between leaving the rainforest and flying to the Galapagos Islands. We were at a nice hotel by the airport. The hotel would have charged us a small fortune to do our laundry. Instead, I located a local laundromat, picked up the laundry in a garbage bag, called a taxi, and headed out (after checking with the hotel that the laundromat was in a safe neighborhood). We ended up dropping off our laundry for literally a few dollars and then, finding a cool bar where we sat and had a drink. It was an awesome experience.
Note from Jennifer: Packing the right baby essentials for travel makes a world of differences when travel with an infant.
Saving Money on ATM Fees - One of my favorite Family Travel Budget Tips!
By Disha Smith of Disha Discovers
One of the best tips to save money while traveling is to use a debit card that doesn't charge ATM fees. Charles Schwab offers a debit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees and offers unlimited refunds for ATM fees even if they're out of network.
I was a full-time traveler for three years and my Charles Schwab debit card has saved me over $1000. It was especially useful in Thailand. Even though Thailand is home to some of the best islands in Asia, it's also home to some of the most exorbitant ATM withdrawal fees. If I didn't have my Charles Schwab card, I would have paid anywhere from $10-12 per withdrawal. Trust me, this card is a gamechanger and you do not want to travel without it!
Research Before Your Family Travel Budget Trip
By Nicholas from The World Overload
Finding out more about where you are going to visit is a good way to help figure out your budget for your travels. Set aside some time to go into a deep google dive and find out more about the specific cities or neighborhoods you will be staying in. This is a good way to find special deals or discounts you might not have otherwise thought of through other travelers or locals. Find out the current restaurants, bars, cafes, or hot food spots around where you will be staying. Go to their websites and see what kind of deals they may have to offer you. Maybe half price on Tuesdays or buy 1 meal get the dessert for free. That way you can stretch that dollar even further.
While spending time in London between trips I followed this rule and was able to cut my food budget in half, which I then was able to put towards other great opportunities on my travels. I found local dining with specials and weekday discounts just by looking online first. Sure I didn’t get the adventure of just walking the streets and picking a place at random but it was worth it more to use the extra money to fund more exciting activities like driving a Ferrari down the coast of France.
Saving Money with Packing - Simple Family Travel Budget Tip
By Deliliah from Our Travel Mix
When traveling, carrying extra bags becomes both a lot of effort and much more expensive. Add children into the mix and the challenges multiply. If you’re planning to fly anywhere on a budget, you can always reduce the cost of the flights by taking fewer checked-in bags. This could mean bringing only carry-on luggage or checking in one large bag for the entire family.
When flying to Queenstown, one of our favorite places to visit in New Zealand, we booked flights during a particularly busy time of the year (something we’d recommend avoiding where possible). This meant the prices were excruciatingly high, with each checked-in bag costing over $100 extra.
In this case, we opted to all fill our backpacks and go carry-on only for a 5-day trip. My husband and I were well over the carry-on weight limit but no one bothered to check our backpacks. This was despite pulling out all the packing hacks we knew - sharing toiletries, using packing cubes, and washing clothes during the trip. We easily saved over $200 this way.
When traveling internationally, or for longer periods, carry-on only can be next to impossible so we usually aim for one checked-in bag which has saved us money on practically every flight we’ve ever taken.