I love, love, love to travel with my family. The planning and anticipation of our next trip is often as much fun for me as the trip itself—making lists, researching for hours on end and compiling the perfect itinerary gives me so much delight it’s shameful to admit! However, with three kids, a limited budget, an incurable case of wanderlust and one little that loves to spend ALL his money on souvenirs, I’ve learned how to cut costs where I can. Below are a few of my savviest money-saving tips for traveling…Basically what you can skip out on and still have a once in a lifetime experience!
1. Skip the food & currency exchange at the airport
Just like you pack home-lunches for school and work each day to save money (and be healthier) stick with that program on your travel days too. Just because you’re going on a trip doesn’t mean you should waste your vacation money on icky airport food – Save it for those lobster nachos at the beach! Not to mention the fact that it’s beyond reason how airport restaurants seem to create their own little food economy with inflation at like 1,000%. Allow yourself to save at least $50 right out of the gate by packing food at home for your family’s big travel day.
Also, if you’re planning to fly internationally where a different currency will be needed, do not, let me repeat – DO NOT – exchange your money at the airport. Shady airport currency converters somehow reduce the dollar’s true value to like 50% of what you can get if you simply exchange your money outside the airport. What I’ve found works best (for our family, anyway) is to arrive with a bit of the local currency on hand. If you travel to the same place frequently enough, just tuck away a few bucks (Euros, for example) from your last trip. Or make a stop at your local bank before you leave and exchange some greenbacks. In my hometown, if you have an account at a particular bank they will exchange money for free (or pay a $5 fee if you aren’t a customer). This will ensure you aren’t vulnerable to airport trickery. Instead, you can just bee-line it out of Baggage Claim and to the nearest bank’s ATM machine to pull out your cash (large amounts are preferable as you’re still susceptible to ATM fees).
2. Skip the car rental
Unless you’re planning one heck of a road trip, you might want to consider skipping the car rental. Most of the time other forms of transportation are much more economical. For hotel dwellers, it’s worth seeing if your hotel provides a shuttle to/from the airport (typically for a minimal cost) and to popular tourist destinations (often free) in the area you’re visiting. For those who don’t plan on venturing too far, consider Uber as an option. We recently used Uber on a trip to San Francisco and not only was it cheaper than taking an airport shuttle through a transportation service, but it was quicker and much more relaxing as there was only one stop on the route—ours! There’s also public transportation…gasp! While this is typically very practical in big cities and destinations like Europe (where they’ve got public transit all dialed in), you too can give it a go stateside. Who knows, you just might learn a few tricks of the trade from the locals and enrich your vacation experience by taking the subway or a ferry (more exciting options than a bus). And last but not least, you could actually walk, which will allow you to justify all those delicious calorie-loaded meals you’re planning to enjoy!
3. Skip check-on luggage
For the blog’s faithful readers, you know this is a big one for me! For those of us who have a few trips under our belts, traveling light (and not having to succumb to those outrageous checked baggage fees) is so liberating! Self-reflect just a bit and admit that you didn’t wear half the clothes you packed in that ginormous suitcase during your last vacation. And if you do forget something, you can probably live without it, or as my husband likes to say, “You can always buy what you forgot at Walmart.”
4. Skip full-price hotels
Another of my soapbox lectures…use points, baby! There are countless ways to do this and it’s pretty fun if you approach it like a game. You can find affordable hotel packages at a discount on numerous online travel website (Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia). Or use credit card points to book your room for free. (Presently I’m focused on using my Chase Ultimate Reward points to cash in on Hyatt hotels at only 5,000 or 8,000 points per night). You’d also be surprised what you can learn from friends, family and travel blogs. Years ago, we made a trip to Disneyland, our one and only trip to the Magic Kingdom. (Yes, my youngest will be in therapy someday because he was too young to remember this epic event and therefore has no memory of The Happiest Place on Earth!) I read on a travel blog that if you purchased a specific entertainment card/coupon book, there was a hotel that honored 50% off room bookings, and it was within walking distance to Disneyland. (Consequently, I gorged on churros in the shape of Mickey ears because of all the extra calories I burned off walking to and from our hotel).
5. Skip paying for breakfast
This actually ties in with my previous point. On top of getting a sweet deal on your accommodation, make sure your hotel includes free breakfast, even if you have to pay a little bit more. This will easily save your family a significant amount of money each day (we all know that a quick trip to Mickey D’s will still cost a minimum $20). And be sure everyone stuffs themselves silly to keep lunch light — just snacks and water bottles (also brought from home and/or purchased at a local grocery store) so you can truly enjoy the wining and dining of only one purchased meal each day.
6. Skip the last-minute scramble
As Victor Kiam said, “Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.” So to help minimize your costs, a little planning ahead will ensure you seize opportunities at the best available price! Listed below are a few of my tried-and-true strategies:
- Avoid tourist traps. If you’re willing to walk just a few blocks in the opposite direction, food and souvenirs will be a lot less expensive.
- Plan ahead and buy your tickets for local attractions online. Not only can this be cheaper, but you avoid lines and the risk of them being sold out (on the one day, in your entire life, that you’re there).
- Research which attractions offer free days or kid discounts and use that knowledge to plan your itinerary.
- Try to anticipate the little extras you might need and purchase them ahead of time to avoid exorbitant prices at the gift shop (e.g. sunscreen in Hawaii, rain ponchos in Costa Rica).
Travelling as a family, while awesome for building character, creating lasting bonds and creating memories (who can’t recall toasting marshmallows around the campfire as a kid), isn’t usually cheap. However, knowing what to ditch when on the road or overseas can help to save you money! You definitely don’t need a $9 bag of potato chips or three giant suitcases of clothes to make a trip special, but allocating your limited funds (and hey, we all have limited funds or we wouldn’t be reading this blog) to the important stuff will ensure you enjoy yourself and are travel savvy!
How does your family save money when you travel?