Our family’s passion is travel. We love nothing more than packing a bag and taking our kids to a destination that we’ve never explored before. So far in 2019, we have trips booked to Portugal, England, and the Canary Islands in Spain, and we’re planning a few more destinations later in the year. In order to travel this much, we have to keep costs as low as possible for each trip. We’ve developed a routine for planning and booking vacations that helps us stay on budget, and I want to pass our tips and tricks on to other families who are planning to travel in the coming months. The destination and the means of transportation to the vacation spot doesn’t really matter, the following tips and tricks can be applied to any holiday, from a weekend getaway to Madeline Island to a week long excursion to Europe.
Tips for planning and booking air travel:
-Monitor the cost of flights over the course of several weeks to a month or two. Set up price alerts from different airline search companies so they email you when the price of a flight drops.
-Prior to booking flights, clear cookies on your computer or phone, whichever device you’re purchasing the tickets from. The idea is that your browser history from previous flight searches can lead to higher airfares. This was something that was suggested to us a few years ago by other travel families and we thought it made sense. I’m not 100% sure that it makes a difference, but it’s easy to do.
-Booking flights about 60 days in advance should get you the best price on tickets unless you’re flying at a peak time, like at Christmas or during spring break, then book as far in advance as possible.
-If your children aren’t in school yet, try to travel at an off-peak time. Flights will be cheaper, as will accommodation at your destination.
-Try to be flexible with days of travel, fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday and return on a Saturday. These are typically the cheapest days to fly in the US.
Tips for traveling:
-Pack reusable water bottles that you can refill as needed so you don’t need to buy bottles of water. Just make sure to fill them after you get through security if you’re flying. Expert tip: When opened, water will shoot forcefully out of a water bottle with a straw when under pressure on an airplane! That was an unfortunate (and wet!) lesson to have to learn.
-Pack plenty of snacks to avoid having to buy expensive airport food. We use containers with dividers and pack things like raisins, protein bites, chips, crackers, cheese, nuts, PB cracker sandwiches, and ham and cheese sandwiches. We also pack clementines, bananas and/or apples.
Expert tip: Customs agents will NEVER allow you to carry fresh produce from one country to another. Not even for adorable two year olds who are having an epic toddler meltdowns in the line for customs. Claire had been screaming for about 15 minutes while we snaked through the line at customs in Canada last year. She was strapped into her car seat which was on a dolly with wheels and she refused every attempt to quiet her down: stuffed animals, small toys, tickles, games… everything just seemed to make her scream louder. As we were approaching the desk, my husband located an apple in the deep recesses of our diaper bag and Claire was delighted (as were all the other passengers waiting with us in line). There was a nearly audible collective sigh of relief as she happily bit into her apple. Three bites later, it was finally our turn. The agent scolded Claire (and us!) for trying to bring an apple into Canada and told her she had to throw it away! The woman actually rose from her desk and walked her formidable self around to Claire and held the trash can in front of her until she dropped the apple inside. We were simply stupefied, all we could do was shuffle off with our again wailing child. As stressful as that moment was at the time, we absolutely love retelling that story now, and with each retelling the customs agent becomes taller and more frightening.
While on vacation:
-Book accommodations with a kitchen so you’re able to cook your own meals. We’ve booked with Airbnb several times and so far we’ve only had good experiences. We grocery shop on arrival to our destination and get what we’ll need for all of our breakfasts, snacks, a few lunches and most dinners. I usually create a menu of simple meals on my phone before we go so we’re not standing in a foreign grocery store staring at each other asking what sounds good to eat.
-Find activities that are free, like building sandcastles at the beach or playing at a local playground. We love to grab a coffee and head to a local park. We can sit and relax and actually have a conversation while the kids play. Bonus points if the playground has a nice view. Our coffee cups can double as sand toys later on.
-We tend to avoid museums and other places that charge admission. If something has particularly good reviews and is age appropriate for 4 year olds then we’ll schedule it in to our itinerary. Often times I book tickets for these activities in advance online as that usually saves us a small percentage.
-Go for short walks/hikes on scenic trails. The longest we can get our crew to walk is about 30 minutes at this point, but as they get older we’ll be able to expand that. Enjoy a hand-packed picnic lunch afterwards.
-If it’s available, take public transportation to get around instead of renting a car or relying on costly taxis. It’s fun and exciting for kids (and adults too)!
We love to travel as a family and these are some way that make it affordable for us to do it. I really hope some of these tips come in handy as you’re planning family vacations this winter and spring. Please comment if you have any other budget-friendly travel tips. I’d love to hear them. Happy trails!