I was 19 years old the first time I set foot on an airplane. But by the time my son turned 1, he had been on six. As a travel enthusiast, one of my goals as a father is to shower my kids with new experiences rather than new things.
For Lee Huffman, a travel blogger at SoloTravelDad.com, traveling with his kids is an opportunity to introduce them to new cultures and ways of life.
“It’s great to be able to show them how others live and how their customs may be different than ours,” he said.
“This isn’t just for international trips,” Huffman added. “The U.S. is also full of cultures and customs that vary by region, so you don’t have to fly halfway around the world to experience something new and different.”
But traveling with young kids can be expensive, especially if you don’t know tips and tricks for saving money along the way. Here are just a few ways you can have memorable travel experiences with your children without breaking the bank.
5 ways to travel with kids on a budget
Finding ways to save while traveling can be as simple as knowing where to look.
1. Take the free tickets
Many theme parks and other attractions don’t charge for kids under 3 years old. What’s more, airlines don’t require you to pay for an extra seat until your child turns 2.
Over the last couple of years, my wife and I have traveled all over the country with our kids to take advantage of these freebies while we can. With most of our airline tickets costing hundreds of dollars, we’ve saved thousands by having our kids sit on our laps.
Of course, we realize our kids might not remember all these experiences when they’re older. But we’re sharing these experiences now and building a deeper connection as a family by spending quality time together.
Plus, we won’t stop traveling when the free tickets stop coming. We’ll just continue using other ways to save, such as:
- Booking hotels that offer free breakfast
- Using certain websites to find the cheapest flights
- Packing snacks to avoid paying for pricey airport food
2. Opt for travel insurance
Every parent knows kids are unpredictable.
For instance, the night before a trip to visit family for the holidays a couple of years ago, my son got sick. Although he felt fine the next day and we managed to make our flight, we know we won’t always be so lucky.
That’s why we usually buy travel insurance that includes coverage for cancellations and interruptions. We spent $63 to cover our last trip, but it would have saved us hundreds of dollars had we needed to cancel because of an illness or injury.
Travel insurance policies also can come with coverage for medical costs, lost or stolen belongings, emergency evacuations, and more.
3. Go for the golden sign-up bonus
Earlier this year, my wife and I took our two kids to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Disneyland. The estimated cost of the trip was around $2,800, but we spent only $437.
The savings came from different travel credit cards I’ve gotten over the past few years. With large sign-up bonuses, we were able to pay for our flights, hotel stay, rental car, and park tickets with points.
Using credit card rewards is also Huffman’s favorite way to save on travel. Four years ago, his wife wanted to visit Paris with their son and her mother.
“I didn’t want to pay several thousand dollars for airline tickets, so I did a lot of research,” Huffman said.
The result was that he scored enough airline miles to get free business-class tickets for four people to the City of Lights.
When you use credit cards for free travel, it’s important to stick to a budget. Budgeting helps my wife and me avoid overspending and pay off credit card balances in full every month.
Instead of applying for multiple travel cards in a short period, start with one. Although it might not be enough to cover your full trip, it can carve out a big chunk of the cost. If you feel comfortable applying for more, do so over time and be careful to avoid carrying a balance.
4. Take your kids out of school
Most parents with kids in school wait until holidays or summer break to take a vacation. The problem is the cost of travel typically rises during those peak travel times because of the demand.
The best time to travel is when most people aren’t. So, if you have kids in school, don’t be afraid to have them miss a few days to take a trip with the family. Just make sure it doesn’t become a regular thing or negatively affect their schoolwork.
5. Scout out the discounts
“Before a vacation, we like to search sites like Groupon, Goldstar, and Restaurants.com for deals on food and activities,” said Huffman. “We also bring along our AAA card and AARP membership for the discounts that these memberships offer.”
The 42-year-old pointed out that you don’t have to be 50 years old to join AARP. Non-senior citizens can sign up for as little as $12 a year.
Huffman also contacts the visitor center or convention bureau of the city his family is visiting beforehand. Doing so allows them to learn more about their destination and get additional discount offers.
Other tips for successfully traveling with kids
Even if you save hundreds of dollars on a vacation with your kids, it can be a bad experience if you don’t plan properly.
“Young kids don’t have the same endurance as adults,” said Huffman. “Be flexible and plan on having some downtime throughout the day where the kids — and adults — can just play.”
Huffman also recommends bringing along a lot of snacks, but you should avoid bringing your kids’ favorite toys or stuffed animals.
“It can be an absolute disaster if it gets lost on the trip,” he added.
If your kids still take naps, make sure to plan your activities around their nap schedule. Kids like to have routines, and trying to stretch them when they aren’t used to it can result in a public meltdown.
Above all, remember why you’re there. Be willing to adjust your schedule and try to avoid getting frustrated if things don’t go as planned. The point is to spend quality time together, and that won’t happen if you expect everything to go perfectly.
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