I’m excited to share with you the wisdom of one of our readers! Krystal has some great ideas for frugal family travel that I know you’ll enjoy! Feel free to share your own best frugal travel tips in the comments.
While I love to travel, I’ll be the first to admit sometimes it is a little more challenging with kids. Longer car rides are more difficult. We need to stop more frequently for “potty” breaks. And it takes a little more forethought when it comes to feeding a huge family on the road without spending an arm and a leg.
For those of you who will be traveling with kids this summer, here are ten tips that will help you save your money and your sanity, while creating a memorable experience for all.
1 – Plan ahead.
The farther out you plan your trip, the more prepared you will be. Give yourself time to think about what you will wear, what you will eat, what types of things will you do, etc.
2 – Pack snacks.
Hungry kids never make for good times. Bring snacks that will keep them from getting too haaaaangry between mealtimes. This will save a ton of money since grabbing a snack at the airport or gas station is so expensive. Talk about highway robbery.
3 – Stop for picnic lunches and let them have a break to run around.
Plan a picnic at a rest area where the kids can run and play, or stop for a bathroom break at a park or visitor’s center that has a built-in play area. You save money by not eating out, and you keep your sanity intact by letting the kids tire themselves out BEFORE they get in the car.
4 – Make travel fun!
Play Travel BINGO, a licence plate ABC game, 20 questions, etc. In the past, I have printed out little images of toy cars and taped them to the side windows, one car for every hour. If my kids went a whole hour without whining or arguing or any other behavior issues, they got to tear down a little car and got a treat. Sometimes it was a snack, or a cheap dollar store toy, or a piece of gum or candy. They LOVED it, and it has become a tradition every time we have a road trip planned.
5 – Save electronics for when you are desperate.
Instead of starting a trip with electronics in hand, my girls play games, read books, or listen to music. Then when they are starting to lose it, I pull out the Kindles. They are easily distracted with a movie or games and we have ourselves another two hours of uninterrupted travel time. The less you have to stop, the less you will be tempted to buy snacks or fun little knicknacks.
6 – Bring an extra outfit or two.
It is always a good idea to overpack. If someone gets sick or extremely dirty or you have last minute plans, you will have fresh clothes for the occasion. Don’t break your travel budget by having to run to the store for an extra outfit because you forget about dear Aunt Suzie’s dinner party and the kids are filthy from exploring in her backyard. Always overpack to avoid buying last minute clothing needs.
7 – Have 2 or 3 days’ worth of clothes in your carry-on.
I have heard horror stories about airports losing luggage, and I can only imagine how horrific (and expensive!) it would be to arrive for a week’s trip with only the clothes on our backs. Can you imagine how much money it would cost to buy a whole week’s worth of clothes for the family? A lot! Whenever we fly, I always pack 2 or 3 days’ worth of clothes and toiletries in my carry-on. If the unthinkable happens, we will still be clothed.
8 – Give the kids ownership in the trip.
Before you leave, do some research together on what there is to do around your destination. Let them point out some of the things that interest them. Or if your itinerary is already set in stone, allow them to pick where you will eat for dinner. However you do it, make them feel important and valued, and let them have a say. Encourage them to save their money for the trip. Or earn extra money around the house to save for an outing of their choice. Find a way to teach them the value of a dollar while also instilling in them an age-appropriate appreciation for sticking to a budget, even on vacation.
9 – Reward good behavior.
Long trips can be stressful on everyone, little ones included. Find a way to be proactive and reward their good behaviors. Hopefully this will cut down on negative behaviors, such as whining or bickering. Different things will work with different age groups. In the past, I have done a goodie bag filled with new treats for each hour. In our most recent trip to San Francisco, my girls earned money. For each hour of good behavior during our airport travel (15 hours total!) they earned a dollar. Even though we took a red-eye and had a ridiculously long layover, they were angels.
10 – Give them their own spending money.
By giving kids a little bit of their own spending money, it enables them to make their own decisions about what is important to them. They can spend it on a tangible memento or a cool experience. But, most importantly, that decision is up to them. Will they probably make some poor choices at first? Absolutely. But they will learn from their mistakes, recognize the value of a dollar, and learn to wait on some things so they can spend on what is most important to them. This also allows you to save money because you aren’t buying little things left and right. Giving kids their own money to spend helps you avoid nickle and diming yourself (or your budget) to death.
And there you have it. Ten tips that will hopefully help you keep your sanity and your budget intact when you travel with kids. Happy travels,
Krystal is a teacher turned homeschooling mama of two. She recently paid off over $80,000 of debt with her husband, and now writes about making family finances simple.