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13 Awesome Tips for Saving Money While Traveling with Kids

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Kids are expensive. There are groceries to buy, bodies to clothe, birthday parties to host, and college funds to save for. It's enough to make you consider skipping this year's family vacation. But traveling together helps parents and children connect with each other and create lifelong memories. Besides, what's the point of working so hard if you can't enjoy life? You deserve AND can afford that much-needed vacay. Just follow these 13 tips for saving money while traveling with kids!

saving money on traveling with kids

1. Travel off-season to score great deals.

If you've got young children or you're willing to pull older kids out of school for a few days, you can take advantage of bargain pricing simply by traveling off-season. This means skipping popular travel times like spring break, Thanksgiving, the last two weeks of December, holiday weekends and summer. Instead, plan your trip for mid- to late-September, October, the first two weeks of December, or January. (Psst…take advantage of Kids Free San Diego savings every October!)

Prices dip drastically during off-season in many popular vacation destinations. Bundle up for January fun in big cities with chilly winters, like Minneapolis or Chicago, where you can take the kids sledding and ice-skating. Or, stay warm at indoor attractions like the Mall of America in the Twin Cities or the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.

Alternatively, skip the snow and visit a ski resort like Vail during the summer. Your family will enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, and zip-lining. You could also spend plenty of time poolside at deeply discounted luxury resorts in desert locales like Phoenix and Palm Springs during summer months.

You can often save big money at luxury resorts like JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix when you visit in summer

You can often save big money at luxury resorts like JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix when you visit in summer (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Sign up for Scott's Cheap Flights newsletter.

I know what you're thinking…you don't need more emails. You need this one, though, I promise. Basically, they'll send you fare alerts when flight prices drop drastically. Thanks to Scott's Cheap Flights, I scored roundtrip air tickets from Phoenix to Paris with my kids for less than $400 per person, including tax, fees and baggage! I often see deals for flights from North America to Asia for less than $600 per person. No joke! I signed up for Scott's Cheap Flights paid newsletter with even more targeted flight alerts, but there's a free version that's great, too.

Scott's Cheap Flights has saved my family tons of money on air travel

Scott's Cheap Flights has saved my family tons of money on air travel (Screenshot of ScottsCheapFlights.com)

3. Enroll in every reward program.

Always enroll in free rewards programs offered by airlines, hotels, car rental companies and restaurants. Some brands don't make it abundantly clear that they offer a reward program, so be sure to ask, even if you don't think you'll use that brand again. You might be surprised by how quickly you rack up points for freebies and discounts. Often hotels provide free WiFi and other goodies to reward members and sometimes you'll even receive an award just for signing up!

Get goodies like free hotel WiFi just for signing up for rewards programs

Get goodies like free hotel WiFi just for signing up for rewards programs (Photo credit: Syda_Productions, Depositphotos.com)

4. Earn airline miles for shopping online.

Once you've enrolled in an airline rewards program, activate your account to receive points for shopping online. Simply log into your frequent flier account with a particular airline and then shop for things you would purchase anyway through their shopping portal. With every purchase you make from one of their approved vendors, you will receive airline points. And, no, you don't need to have a rewards credit card to take advantage of this benefit!

Some airlines have made earning points for shopping online even easier with a browser extension that allows you to shop and earn miles at partner stores without needing to start at the airline website. Once you've activated the extension from within the airline's shopping portal, you will receive an alert from the airline every time you access one of their partner store websites, showing how many miles per dollar you'll receive for purchases made there. These mileage rates even display directly in your Google search results for easy comparisons between stores. I have this activated for both American Air and United Airlines so I can easily choose whichever airline offers the most miles for a particular purchase.

Get to your next flight faster by shopping online

Get to your next flight faster by shopping online (Photo credit: 06photo, Depositphotos.com)

5. Use a travel rewards credit card.

As long as you can trust yourself to pay off the entire balance every single month, rewards credit cards provide a fabulous way to save money and earn travel benefits. Often these cards come with an annual fee but the benefits outweigh that cost. In addition to earning points for future flights (or hotels and other travel expenses), airline credit card holders often get priority boarding and waived baggage fees.

A good place to start is with a credit card for the airline you use most often. For me, that's American Airlines. As for my husband, he earns miles quickly with his frequent business trips on Southwest.

I'm not a credit card point aficionado, but my new favorite rewards card is the American Express Platinum. It has a hefty annual fee but you get a slew of perks in return. One is entry to Amex airport lounges, which offer free meals, drinks and even spa treatments. You can bring up to two guests with you and, yes, I have seen plenty of parents with children in the lounges. According to the Points Guy, Amex Platinum consumer awards points are worth 1.9 cents each, which is generous compared to other cards.

Use a travel credit card to accrue miles

Use a travel credit card to accrue miles (Photo credit: minervastock, Depositphotos.com)

6. Get compensated for delayed or cancelled flights.

You might be eligible for compensation for a delayed or canceled flight in the form of airline miles, a flight voucher or money. If you don't have time to figure out how to file a claim (and who does?!), there's an app for that. It's called Service and you've got to get it ASAP.

Once you download the app and create an account, Service will scan your emails over the past 12 months to see if you may be eligible to submit a claim with an airline. This whole process took me less than two minutes. Then, every time your flight is delayed or canceled, Service will automatically reach out to the airline for you to see if you're eligible for any remuneration. There's no fee, either. Rather, Service will take a small cut of any compensation owed to you. Learn more about how to use the Service app.

Don't despair if your flight is cancelled or delayed -- get compensated instead!

Don't despair if your flight is cancelled or delayed — get compensated instead! (Photo credit: ArturVerkhovetskiy, Depositphotos.com)

7. Eat breakfast in.

Kids wake up hungry and don't have the patience to wait for parents to shower, dress, and pack a day bag before heading to a restaurant to wait some more for food to be prepared. That's why hotels with included breakfast are a family's best friend.

If you're not staying somewhere with free breakfast, save precious vacation time and money by packing or purchasing breakfast foods to eat in your hotel room. Fruit, nut butter, whole grain bagels and juice are just some affordable and easy options.

Stock your hotel fridge with easy breakfast items to save money when traveling with kids

Stock your hotel fridge with easy breakfast items to save money when traveling with kids (Photo credit: rojoimages, Depositphotos.com)

8. Do a home exchange.

A home exchange is when you swap homes (or condos or apartments) with another family either simultaneously, or as the case may be with people who own vacation homes, at different times. You get lots of room to spread out and potentially separate rooms for each family member, which allows for better sleep. Families also enjoy the conveniences of home like a fully equipped kitchen, all for no (or almost no) money. Plus, if you exchange with a family with children, your kids will be treated to a slew of toys with which to play during your stay.

Exchange with faraway friends, family members and acquaintances, or pay a minimal fee to join a site like HomeExchange.com or to trade with other travelers hailing from locations around the globe. My family has successfully done three home exchanges. Learn more about why and how to do a home exchange or sign up for two free weeks with Love Home Swap now!

Save big money on accommodations by doing a home exchange

Save big money on accommodations by doing a home exchange (Photo credit: SashaKhalabuzar, Depositphotos.com)

9. Search smart for deals with travel aggregator sites.

Aggregate travel websites like Travelocity and Booking.com provide an easy way to check pricing for multiple travel providers at one time. Nowadays, the Mac Daddy aggregator for air travel is Google Flights, which allows you to see at glance the cheapest dates to fly to a destination during a given month. Keep in mind that fares for some airlines, like Southwest, may not be included on these search sites.

Kayak takes it a step further by allowing you to search multiple aggregators at once. As soon as I know where and approximately when I want to fly somewhere, I sign up for a fare alert with Kayak. This option allows you to easily track fluctuations in pricing for airline tickets to your desired destination.

Through these types of travel sites, you can bundle your travel options by booking your flights, hotel and car all together to take advantage of a discount. I always recommend checking directly with the provider, though, before finalizing your reservation to make sure that you are getting the best deal. Often, the best price is the one offered directly from the hotel, for example. Learn about travel scams to avoid when booking a hotel online.

Use travel search aggregator sites to find deals on hotels, flights, rental cars and more

Use travel search aggregator sites to find deals on hotels, flights, rental cars and more (Photo credit: Daviles, Depositphotos.com)

10. Go camping with kids.

Camping is a wonderful way to connect not only with each other, but also with nature. Campsites are available to rent at affordable rates throughout the world. You can opt for RV-camping, tent-camping, or cabin-camping. Often campsites come with added extras for kids like arcades and organized family activities. Don't own camping gear? You probably have a friend who would be happy to lend you theirs.

If you're intimidated by planning a family camping trip, many U.S. parks offer family sleepovers for a nominal fee so you can get the feel for camping before braving the wilderness on your own. When my family camped in a local park one summer, we paid a total of $25 for the whole family, which included a spaghetti dinner, s'mores and campfire stories, and a pancake breakfast.

For additional information on camping as a family, take a look at these expert tips for camping with kids.

Camping is an affordable way to travel with kids

Camping is an affordable way to travel with kids (Photo credit: JuliaSV, Depositphotos.com)

11. Do a search for Groupon and LivingSocial discounts available in your destination.

Of course you use Groupon and LivingSocial at home to save money, right? They provide so many discounts on travel goods and services from luggage and travel pillows to restaurants, spa treatments, family activities and so much more. You can even book entire vacation packages through these discount websites! It just makes good sense to Groupon and LivingSocial for your destination to see if you can save money on your trip.

Do a search for Groupons in your destination to save money during your travels

Do a search for Groupons in your destination to save money during your travels (Photo credit: Casimiro_PT, Depositphotos.com)

12. Buy a CityPASS.

If you're traveling in North America, you may be able to save big by buying a CityPASS. Bundle together a bunch of activities and attractions in one easy-to-use pass that provides all sorts of discounts. Destinations include: New York City, Southern California (including Disneyland and San Diego!), San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

CityPASS provides greats savings while traveling with kids

CityPASS provides greats savings while traveling with kids

13. Save on souvenirs.

Consumerism takes hold of children at a young age, as any parent who has ever visited a zoo or theme park gift shop knows too well.

Rather than spending a bunch of dough on expensive souvenirs, encourage children to start an affordable collection to remember their travels. Flattened pennies are a cheap and easily packed option. You know the kind — you put one penny and a few quarters into a machine and your child gets to pick which design to imprint into the coin. A penny “passport” provides an easy place to store and display the treasures.

Postcards make excellent souvenirs, too. Encourage children to choose one postcard for each day of your journey. At the end of each day, help kids write a summary of the day's activities. Then pop the cards in the mail. When you return home, a stack of fun memories will be waiting in your mailbox — with a postmark from your various destinations. You can easily turn these into a scrapbook or post them on a bulletin board.

T-shirts are a good choice as well because not only are they are reminder of your family's travels, but also they are useful articles of clothing. Whatever you do, avoid buying bulky items that will require yet another expense — checked baggage!

Postcards provide a fun and affordable way to remember your family's travels

Postcards provide a fun and affordable way to remember your family's travels (Photo credit: pakmor)

For additional advice for traveling with children, be sure to take a look at my book, The Travel Mamas' GuideYou'll learn how to keep other passengers from hating you on the airplane, where to stay for optimal sleep and play, what to feed picky eaters on the road, and lots of other handy travel tips.

Keep these Tips for Saving Money While Traveling

Be sure to keep these money saving travel tips. Just pin the image below to Pinterest. Go ahead and follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you're at it!

13 Awesome Tips for Saving Money While Traveling with Kids

What's your favorite tip for saving money while traveling with kids? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. We often stay with friends or family members when we travel – even if only for a day or two. It breaks things up, saves us a little money & gives us a chance to enjoy a good meal. 🙂

  2. My family never did a home exchange before, but it seems to hold a lot of promise.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Frances – We have had great luck with our home exchanges. I hope you’ll give it a try sometime!

  3. Claudine says:

    We took our first road trip last summer and brought food with us in the car so we had snacks/water and stopped at rest areas to eat our meals. We also stayed at a hotel with complimentary breakfast (a very good one I might add) so we never had to figure out where to eat in the morning. And, because we all had a great breakfast, we were able to wait until late afternoon/early evening to eat again (late lunch/early supper) so we only paid for one meal per day. This might not work well as well with smaller children, but it worked great for mine (ages 5-10). I recently took advantage of the special sale Entertainment Books was having around tax filing day ($10.40/book) and bought the book for the city we are visiting in just a few short weeks. Tons of coupons for food and visitor attractions. And, when we head home, I’ll leave the book behind with my brother and sister-in-law so they can use the coupons, too!

  4. Joann Woolley says:

    Love the eating breakfast in – that alone can be $20 for a family of 5 trying to even do an inexpensive fast breakfast to McDonalds – every little bit counts ; )

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      So true, Joann! It’s all of the little things that add up during a vacation that drain our bank accounts.

  5. Mary @ The World Is A Book says:

    Great tips, Colleen. We’ve never done a home exchange. I think I’m too paranoid of strangers being in my house. We usually try to rent apartments or aparthotels when traveling. It does cut down on eating out expenses. If it’s a hotel stay, we try to choose ones with ccomplimentary breakfasts. We used to travel in the off season all the time but it gets harder to pull them out of school as they get older. Happy Mother’s Day!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Happy Mother’s Day to you, Mary! Thanks for the great tip to rent an apartment to save money when traveling!

  6. We do many of the same things that your readers suggested, such as staying with friends or family, bringing our own snacks and drinks, and staying at hotels that have complimentary meals. Also, as you suggested, we always take advantage of internet specials. Since we’re big museum fans, we love reciprocal museum passes. Many of them are good across the U.S. and beyond. We’ve saved a ton with them!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Lori – Love the tip to use reciprocal passes for museums! Reciprocity is often available for other memberships too – like botanic gardens, zoos and aquariums.

  7. Yes! I should have mentioned that, Colleen! : ) We also make full use of our zoo & botanical garden memberships at reciprocal places as well. So worth the cost for us!

  8. Hi Colleen, Thanks for the info. I’ve been reading your site for a while now and am a fellow San Diegan…

    We just returned from a road trip across California and our toddler enjoyed many a breakfast made from that one-jar peanut butter and jelly concoction and bagels. I just brought plastic silverware so I could make it on the go. We also usually stay in hotels like Days Inn or Super 8 that have continental breakfasts so we can stock up on goodies for the day like cereal. It can be hard to travel cheaply but still stay in clean enough places for our toddler who touches everything.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Katie – thanks much for following Travel Mamas! Good for you for exploring with your young one – travel does not have to be expensive to be fun! Plastic sliverware is a great idea for trips – will have to remember to bring some along on our next vacation.

  9. These are all great tips. I’m totally on board with the rewards programs. I joined every one I could possibly find a long time ago, and I always look for new ones. You never know where the best deal is!

  10. Brianne Manz says:

    Thank you so much for these tips! I have three kids, and my husband and I love to travel with them. That’s five people. That gets pricey!

  11. Lora Frost says:

    Totally blown away by Scott’s Free Trips, thank so much for the suggestion. I signed up and just scanned though the prices, so excited!

  12. We love using reward programs to get free hotel rooms and discounted flights. As for souvenirs , we like to collect fridge magnets from our travels. My daughter will also grab a small snow globe from wherever we go to. These are all such wonderful money saving tips. Travel is expensive, so every little bit saved helps!

  13. I dont have kids but I know they are expensive. I think Groupons and Living Social are great ideas to save money and discover new things to do in your city.

  14. Autumn Murray says:

    This is a great travel list! I am always looking to save money on my traveling experiences and I learned a thing or two from this article.

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