Traveling with Kids But on a Tight Budget? Here’s How to Save Money on Your Trip!

The benefits of traveling with your kids are enormous. In fact, we’ve written extensively (*see bottom of post) about the importance of bringing them along. It teaches them empathy, it creates joyful memories, and it gives them a thirst for adventure among other things. I’m of the opinion that going is always better than staying home, which means that often my children are a necessary addition.

However, it’s also no secret that traveling with kids is not a cheap activity. It’s estimated that it costs roughly $13,000 a year to raise a child in the United States, so shelling out any extra money to travel with kids can feel impossible — or at least, impractical.

Fortunately, there are ways to save when traveling with children, especially when they are young that can help you minimize travel costs so bringing them along is much more affordable.

How to Save When Flying with Children

Once children turn two years old, you’re required to purchase them their own seat on an airplane. One of the ways my husband and I traveled so much with our eldest was by taking several trips before she turned two. Often, especially on international flights, there were extra seats on the plane and the flight attendants were more than eager to help re-seat us so we could bring her car seat aboard and free up a little more space. While this only works until they are two years, you can really maximize your time during those two years if you plan it right.

Shorter trips are also a good option. Travel doesn’t have to be luxurious or exotic. Children just love to go on airplanes, and shorter getaways are much more manageable for parents (I’m still recovering from taking our 18-month-old to Australia on an 18-hour flight!). But if you’re traveling internationally, call the airline and ask them for a kid discount. Most airlines do not advertise child discounts, but they do have them up for kids up to 11 years of age — especially non-American carriers. Simply asking can save you a lot of money.

Signing up for alerts on flight deals is always a good idea, as is traveling during the offseason. While the latter gets harder as children get older and are in school, taking advantage of the years when they’re not in school and are more flexible can really work in your favor.

Lastly, pack as light as possible. Paying an extra $50-100 for each piece of luggage can add up quickly. Plan to do laundry if necessary while traveling to avoid those extra fees.

How to Save on Lodging When Traveling with Children

How to Save When You're Traveling with Kids: Photo of loving family of four lying on white bed in morning.

One of the best ways to save on lodging when traveling with children is to opt out of hotel stays. Apartment rentals and home swaps are the way to go when traveling with a crew, because paying for more than one hotel room can add up fast (not to mention, children sleep better and therefore parents sleep better when they have their own space).

Bonus points if the apartment rental has a washer and dryer because heaven knows you’re going to need them when traveling with children. In addition, having a kitchen where you’re staying opens up a world of possibilities that are closed when you stay in hotels. Cooking meals instead of eating out three times a day is a huge money-saver, especially for children who tend to order a lot and eat a little (I’ll never forget paying $15 for a plate of spaghetti from the kids’ menu in Switzerland that my daughter took just one bite of).

If hotels are your only or best option, there are ways to save with children as well. First and foremost, call ahead and reserve a crib or pack-and-play. There have been trips when we did not do that, and the hotel did not have any left for us. We have also requested a rollaway bed for our older daughter now that we have two, and most hotels will provide one free-of-charge.

If you have more than two children, hotels can become tricky. Many of them only allow two adults and two children before they begin charging more or require you to buy a second room. If you have older kids this may be preferable, but not with young children who are unable to stay in their room alone. If this is the case, look for all-suite hotels or extended stay properties that include a pull-out sofa.

When you’re paying a premium for a hotel, make sure you ask the hotel for any extras they may provide for children. In my experience, many offer baby essentials such as lotion, baby wash, and blankets at a minimum. Some offer white noise machines. One hotel in Amsterdam gave each of our children a tiny robe to use and take home and a small stuffed animal, eliminating the need to buy them any souvenirs.

How to Save on Food When Traveling with Children

How to Save When You're Traveling with Kids: Happy family is enjoying pasta in restaurant.

A definite requirement when staying in hotels with kids is to find a hotel that provides free breakfast. We take full advantage of the free breakfast, and often take a piece of fruit or a small box of cereal for our children to snack on later in the day. If your hotel does not provide free breakfast, visit your local grocery store in advance and purchase bread, bagels, fruit, yogurt, or other foods you can keep on the desk or mini-fridge. You’ll save a lot of money by not paying for breakfast at a restaurant every morning.

We also bring a lot of our children’s food with us in our suitcase, especially when traveling abroad. Not only does it save us money, but we can rest easy knowing that we have food our children will actually eat. We usually pack fruit and yogurt pouches, snacks like Goldfish and granola bars, and fruit leather/snacks. As a general rule, I never buy any snacks from the airport because of the crazy prices. My children know this and accept it … although it doesn’t keep them from asking!

When visiting a restaurant, plan around “Kids Eat Free” nights — which many chain restaurants have. And always check online review sites to see if a restaurant is kid-friendly. Often they’ll tell you whether or not it’s okay to bring your kid there, and sometimes have discounts for children or just for checking in on an app.

How to Save on Transportation When Traveling with Children

How to Save When You're Traveling with Kids: Family traveling in a train and looking through the window

Unless we’re visiting a big city, it’s almost always cheaper for us to get a rental car rather than rely on public transportation. Taking cabs, Uber, or even public transportation when you have to pay for four individuals can really add up. However, in a big city sometimes we rely on our stroller and walk as much as possible since parking can be expensive. Consider both options, since the number of people you have in your party can greatly influence how much it costs.

One way to save money when renting a car with kids is to bring your own car seats. Yes, it can be annoying to lug them around but airlines do not charge extra for them, and you can check them with your luggage so you don’t have to carry them far. Car rental companies charge more than $10 per seat per day, so with two, the bill can get very high. If you have a toddler at the right age, think about a portable light-weight booster seat.

If taking public transportation, most of the time young children ride free. Or you can get a week- or several-days-long pass that will save you money. One problem we’ve run into traveling with our kids and taking public transit though is that the route is not always the most direct and sometimes involves waiting for a new bus/train, which can lead to meltdowns and missed naps. Weigh the pros and cons and plan your routes in advance so you can know what to expect.

Bring it, Don’t Buy It

 How to Save When You're Traveling with Kids: Woman packing her bag with child stuff

One of the best ways to save money when traveling with kids is to bring whatever you need — don’t plan to buy it when you get there. The one exception to this I’ve found is diapers, as they generally cost the same wherever you are and can take up a lot of space in the bag, especially for a long trip.

If you think you might need it — bring it along. Tylenol, sunscreen, a thermometer, snacks, hand sanitizer, etc. are all items I have had to purchase when traveling with kids. Most often it is cheaper for me to buy at home than at a hotel gift shop or at a shop near touristy areas. I always bring noise-canceling headphones for each of my children on flights (the plane announcements are so loud!) and blankets, so I don’t feel like I have to buy them aboard.

How to Save on Activities When Traveling with Children

How to Save When You're Traveling with Kids: family plays soccer in park

You may be more limited to what you’re able to do when traveling with children, but it’s not always more expensive. Many attractions provide free admission for children, especially museums. And many museums have one or two free days a month. Check-in advance to see when those days are so you can plan your itinerary around them (keep in mind, they may be more crowded than usual, but if you get an early start you’ll be able to see quite a bit).

Talk to your hotel concierge and see what they recommend in the area with children. They’ll also be able to give you the prices of most attractions and let you know if there is a child or group discount. We always take advantage of free walking tours when traveling with kids, because we can push the stroller, leave when we need to, and cover a lot of ground in a short time.

Parks are your friend when traveling with kids! We always plan our day with multiple park stops. Parks are also where we have met local parents who are eager to share advice about what to do in the area with kids. This alone has saved us money and provided entertainment for our kids!

Traveling with kids may not be easy, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Be creative, be flexible, and most of all — don’t be afraid to ask about child discounts! Remember that people raise children in every part of the world. Traveling with them doesn’t have to feel impossible.

Have any money-saving tips when traveling with children we missed? Let us know in the comments below.

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