Traveling With Kids? These 10 Tips Will Save You Money — and Your Sanity

Family vacation
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Traveling in your kid-free early adulthood was easy and relatively inexpensive.

You could book a last-minute, discounted flight to anywhere, overstuff a single carry-on backpack with “necessities” like books and take off. You’d figure out where you’d sleep and eat later — all you had to do was pick up and go.

But all these years — and a couple of kids — later, traveling is a whole different ball game. A whole different ball game broadcast on an entirely different TV station in a totally different universe.

Now, you plan your trip meticulously to make sure that work schedules, school schedules and, well, life schedules all line up perfectly. You book flights and hotels months in advance (no more $10 hostel stays for you), and you’re suddenly responsible for procuring more substantial daily sustenance than a single soggy street hotdog and a pack of peanut butter crackers can provide.

10 Tips to Help You Save Money When Traveling With Kids

Traveling with kids is expensive and more than a little stressful. It’s costs double (or more) to fly, eat, sleep, sightsee — and everything in between now that you’re sharing your world — and your travels through it — with tiny people.

But there are some tricks you can use to make traveling with kids cost just a little less (and even be a really great experience) while keeping your sanity intact.

1. Learn How to Pack for Every Member of the Family

Learning how to pack efficiently will save you money in more ways than one: fewer bags means paying less in baggage fees, and making sure to have everything you need before you reach your destination means you aren’t stuck purchasing a $12 bottle of sunscreen at an overpriced beach shop.

Recently, Tampa Mama visited The Penny Hoarder HQ to share her best tips and tricks for packing for the whole family. Check them out!

2. …And Don’t Forget the Carry-On

The quickest way for a vacation — and a budget — to go south? Delayed luggage.

Make sure you pack enough necessities in your carry-on (toothbrushes, extra diapers and a full change of clothes for each person) that you won’t have to go out and buy them if your luggage is delayed for some reason.

Also, be sure to pack any favorite toys or blankets in the carry-on — nothing’s worse than dropping an extra $25 on expedited shipping to get that replacement blankie STAT.

3. To Check, or Not to Check

Babies come with a lot of gear, but those baby-gear makers don’t seem to have any respect for narrow airplane aisles or mad dashes between terminals on a particularly brief layover.

In the moment, you’ll be tempted to strap that child to you with duct tape (just kidding, maybe use a wrap or a carrier) and ditch the car seat — but don’t.

Your kid has to ride in something when you get to your destination, and renting a car seat with your rental car can run as much as $15 per day per car seat (with a maximum cap of $70 per seat). If you have two car-seat-sized kids on a four-day trip, that could mean paying as much as $120.

AAA offers one free car seat rental per car rental through Hertz, but keep in mind that there’s no way to guarantee safety — or availability — when renting a car seat.

Instead, most airlines allow you to check one car seat and one stroller per kid for free. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons on flying with car seats, along with some important safety info.

4. iPads Save Lives (Also Your Money and Sanity)

Don’t empty your wallet for in-flight Wi-Fi and movies. Instead, download movies, shows and games onto whatever devices you have handy, make sure they’re fully charged and then (important) don’t forget the chargers.

And if you’re really not into the whole kids-with-devices thing, check out this list of keep-a-kid-entertained perks that these airlines hand out for free.

5. Snacks on a Plane

Food is the silent budget killer when it comes to vacations. Instead of dropping big bucks on airport food and plane meals, pack enough snacks to hold the family over for the entire flight — and during those prolonged airport hangs.

Dry snacks, such as fresh or dried fruit, nuts, pretzels and chips are allowed in your carry-on. (Pro tip: You can even bring full meals if you can fit them in your bag — they just can’t contain liquids over the usual 3.4 oz.)

Have a few refillable water bottles handy so that you can fill them up after you pass through security. You can also carry on juice, formula, baby food and breast milk in “reasonable quantities.”

Read the TSA’s full list of carry-on food rules, and then read the agency’s guide to making it through security with kids and their gear.

6. Time is Money

Peak season for travel (peak = pricy) is during school breaks. And while I know it’s not ideal to pull your kids out of school for a few days in the middle of the year, if you’re looking for cheaper airfare and off-season attractions pricing, try to be flexible with your travel dates.

7. Decide How You’re Getting There

While a road trip is almost always less expensive than airfare for the family, it’s not always the most convenient (or even realistic) option.

An early morning or overnight flight is often less expensive, and, with any luck, your kids will sleep through a good portion of it. If you’re looking for even bigger savings, check out the infrequent flyer’s guide to getting the cheapest flights and learn how to get the most out of your frequent flyer miles.

(Bonus: Did you know that your kids can collect frequent flyer miles, too? There are even family frequent flyer accounts that will let you collect them all in one place! Here’s some info to get you started.)

8. Plan Accordingly (But Don’t Limit Your Trip)

Don’t blow your entire vacation budget for the next five years on one trip to Disney World just because you feel like you have to. (Although if you’re set on going the theme park route, check out these tips for saving money along the way.)

Not every family vacation has to be kid-centric from here on out. Pick a destination that you’ll love to explore and then do a little extra research before you leave, making note of any nearby attractions that the kids will enjoy.

Every city has free parks, and most have fun things like children’s museums and splash pads — just be sure to take advantage of child pricing and kids-get-in-free days!

9. Book a Kid-Friendly Place to Stay

Hotel stays with kids are usually both expensive and impractical because, unless you’re shelling out for a suite, a single hotel room turns into a silent prison after the kids’ bedtime.

Look, it’s one thing no longer to be able to enjoy a foreign city’s night life, but it’s another thing entirely to have to learn to communicate in Morse code solely by blinking for fear of waking up a fussy and overly-exhausted baby.

Instead of spending the hours between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. refusing to so much as flush the toilet, opt for a roomier (and cheaper) Airbnb.

You can even select “family friendly” under the amenities filter when you go to book, which will often return houses and apartments that already have toys and games handy.

Another bonus? If you secure a place with a kitchen, you can save even more by picking up ingredients and cooking your own meals.

10. Get Outdoors

The great outdoors is always free — or at least pretty cheap.

Instead of paying for another structured, generic tour, get out and explore nature. Activities like hiking, biking and canoeing can all be family-friendly and are inexpensive ways to see parts of your destination that you’d never encounter on a sightseeing bus ride.

And sure, it might not be wise to take your kid on a Class 5 whitewater rafting expedition (please don’t), but pushing them a little on a long hike to a hidden waterfall will pay off when they get to spend the day exploring and playing in the water.

All of a sudden, it’s the best vacation ever — for you and for them — and it didn’t cost an extra cent.

Enjoy Your Trip

So, sure, traveling with kids is a bit more of a hassle (on both you and your wallet) than your post-college backpacking trek through Europe.

But, with enough preparation and the right attitude (read: adjust your expectations), vacations can be fun — and totally doable — once again.

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.