Disclosure: “Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. The commissions earned helps me offset the costs of running this blog so please support if you choose to purchase, it is much appreciated.”
Don’t Set Your Heart on a Specific Destination
Have an open mind for the location of your next vacation. Instead of having your heart set on a particular place keep a running list of destinations your family wants to visit and when you see a deal for one of those places book it! For instance Australia has been on my list for some time now but with plane tickets averaging $1800 from the US I was in no rush to go. In April United Airlines had a flight deal for $580 RT to Sydney for travel from September to November from multiple cities including ATL, SFO, LAX, DET, ORD. Five hundred and eighty dollars round trip, yes you read that correctly! For a family of 4 you are basically flying for the price of 1. An amazing deal is an understatement but that’s not even the best deal I’ve seen, Christmas Eve 2014 the Etihad Airways error fare of $187RT to Abu Dhabi broke the internet.
I’d be naïve to neglect the fact that parents with school aged kids have restrictions on when they can travel but don’t be discouraged these deals come up for travel year round. Believe me there is ALWAYS a deal to somewhere and you can find them by following websites like www.theflightdeal.com, www.airfarespot.com, and www.travelpirates.com. Don’t sit on these deals, they typically last for no more than 48hrs. Act fast and plan later, remember you usually have 24hrs to cancel after booking if you determine those dates don’t work for you.
If your situation isn't flexible enough for flight deals Skyscanner is great website for searching flights. There are many search options including searching the cheapest flight anywhere in the world from your home airport to specific dates you can travel or searching a specific destination and finding the cheapest time to travel there. They also have a mobile app you can download here if you're on a mobile device.
Consider Flying Into A Neighboring Country (Added February 2017)
When we traveled to Thailand we actually got a flight to Singapore. For the same dates we had off Thailand would cost us $1,100 per ticket. Flying into Singapore on Qatar Airways was only $450 and a flight from Singapore to Phuket cost us only $29 on Air Asia. Yes we had to have an additional layover which I usually try to avoid when flying with the kids but for a savings of $500 per person this was a no brainer. The flight was Singapore to Phuket was only 1hr and 30mins.
This same practice can be used throughout Asia and Europe. Most times it is extremely cheap to fly within these continents once you get to them. In Europe you can even travel by train which is also very inexpensive.
Use Credit Sign Up Bonuses and Frequent Flier Miles to Cover or Offset Flight Costs
We used the sign-up bonus from our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card to pay for our flights to Thailand completely eliminating that cost. We also used miles earned from previous flying to take pay for our one way tickets from Aruba back home, only having to pay for our one way tickets there. For more information on using credit card sign-up bonuses and frequent flier miles check out this post I wrote.
Where to Stay
Ditch a traditional hotel and opt for a vacation home or Airbnb. Why? For starters your kids will have more space to play and be out of your hair while you guys are relaxing in the morning or late evening. Budget wise it can be a huge cost savings on many fronts. Through my travels I have found Airbnb to be significantly cheaper than hotels. When I traveled to Italy last year with a group of 15 family/friends we each paid $384 total for an 8 night stay. Our Airbnb in Venice had 6 bedrooms, 8 beds, 2 pull out couches, 4 full bathrooms and 2 half baths, along with a kitchen and common areas. If we had stayed in a hotel we would have needed 8 rooms which for the month of August were priced at an average of $200/night for 3 star accommodations. For one room my family alone would have ended up paying over $1600 but instead we paid less than half of that. In Colombia we paid $50/night for a 2 bedroom, one bathroom apartment. Try Airbnb now and receive a $35 credit towards your first stay.
How to Cut Costs on Dining Out
Another benefit of renting an Airbnb or vacation home is there is usually a kitchen and cooking supplies. You can save money on food by purchasing groceries your first day and making breakfast every morning. In addition to saving money I find this makes it easier to get out the house and start your day. If you are early risers you don’t have to struggle to find a restaurant that is open at the crack of dawn and while one parent is cooking the other can get the kids ready. If you have picky eaters in your family this is also great as your favorite hometown breakfast items may not be available in the country you are visiting. With that being said an alternative to grocery shopping when you get to your destination and if you really want to save money is bringing some things with you. When we went to Colombia I brought oatmeal and complete pancake mix in ziplock bags and packed them in my carry on back pack. If you aren’t staying for an extended period time this and/or depending how much your family eats can help you avoid buying something at your destination that you may not finish and waste. If you already have these items at home because they are a regular on your grocery list you really aren’t spending any more money than you would have if you were home.
Don’t stop at breakfast! If your itinerary for the day allows you to easily make it back to your place for lunch and dinner you can save more by skipping on eating out for those meals too. If you can’t make it back for lunch, pack sandwiches and eat at a park. The kids can play or nap and you can rest for as little or long as you want to. Always back an abundance of snacks for you and the kids, this not only prevents unnecessary breaks but you don’t have to buy an overpriced granola bar. Again you can buy these once at your destination or bring them with you.
Now don’t get me wrong I love trying the local food in every destination I travel to, but realistically I don’t need to have it 3 meals a day for my entire vacation. Have one of each meal at a restaurant spread out throughout your stay or whatever your budget allows.
How to Save on Attractions
Research to see if the city you are visiting has a multiple attraction pass. When we visited Chicago I bought the Go Chicago Card which granted us unlimited access to multiple Chicago Attractions for one price and it definitely saved us a ton of money. See if the city you are headed to has one by visiting Smart Destinations. Before you buy anything direct from the company’s site check websites like Groupon or Living Social to see if you can get a discount as many of these attraction passes can be found on site like these. In addition to Groupon and Living Social whenever you are about to buy something that says enter promo code here you can most likely find a promo code by a quick Google search. Take the time to look for one as you can usually find anything from a 5-20% savings.
How to Save on Transportation
Immerse yourself in the local life of the city and take public transportation. Renting a car or Ubering everywhere can be costly. See if the place you are visiting has an unlimited public transit pass for the bus and/or subway system. If you live in a big city you may be used to taking public transportation on a daily basis anyway. If you are baby wearing you don’t have to worry about elevators but if you are traveling alone with a stroller see if the train stations have elevators or determine if you can manage carrying the stroller up the stairs. In Puerto Rico a taxi to the Bacardi Factory cost $50 but the local bus and ferry totaled $2.50 round trip.
Travel Where Your Dollar Will Stretch
When we traveled to China (pre-kids) we felt like a King and Queen. Everything was so cheap, from $7 1hr massages to $5 3-course meals at high end restaurants and $20/night for 5 star rentals we were living the life and at little cost to us. There are plenty of places you can travel to for $50-$100/day and they are quite beautiful.
How do you save money while on vacation? Drop a line in the comments below.