There’s nothing like a getaway to enjoy some quality family time—but let’s face it: Vacationing with children can get expensive fast. (More mouths to feed! More beds to book! More tickets to buy!) Luckily, with a little bit of planning and savvy sleuthing, you can stick to your budget and still have boatloads of fun. Here, our best tips for how to save money when traveling with kids.
1. Fly When They’re Young
Children under 2 years old typically fly for free, as long as they’re sitting on a parent’s lap and not in a seat of their own. Airfare can use up a good chunk of your vacation budget, so book trips that call for air travel while your little ones are young enough to qualify for free flights.
2. Be Flexible With Your Flights
It can be difficult to avoid traveling over the weekend once your kids are in school, but consider pulling them out of class for a few days so you can fly mid-week. Traveling on off-peak days can save you a ton on airfare, especially around popular school breaks.
3. Keep Your Eye on Exchange Rates
If you’re thinking of visiting a foreign country, opt for one that has a favorable exchange rate—you’re guaranteed to get more bang for your buck. You can get a real-time breakdown of places where the US dollar is strongest at x-rates.com.
4. Download Entertainment Ahead of Time
Movies are usually free on international flights, but if you’re headed to a domestic destination, in-flight entertainment fees can be steep. Want to avoid swiping your credit card? Download your kids’ favorite movies onto your iPad before you leave the house—just remember to bring the charger.
5. Pack Your Own Snacks
Whether you’re on the plane, in the car or adventuring around town, the last thing you want to hear is “mommy, I’m hungry” when you’re fresh out of food. After all, buying snacks can get pricey, fast. Pack a bunch of quick eats from home or your vacation rental to have in your bag. Pro mom tip: Stock up on new kinds of treats that’ll get your little one excited.
6. Consider Bringing Your Car Seat
Planning to rent a car once you get to your destination? Most companies offer car seat rentals, but the convenience comes at a cost: Daily rates can range from $10 to $15, with a max price of around $70. Thankfully, most airlines let you check a car seat for free. When you do the math, it might just be worth the hassle.
7. Book Accommodations with Kitchenettes
Food is often the biggest line-item for any vacation budget. An easy way to save on meals is to stay at places with some basic kitchen equipment, like a fridge, microwave or stove, so you can prep your own breakfast and lunch (and maybe even dinner). Some hotel rooms come with kitchenettes—or you could rent an entire apartment or house with Airbnb.com, vrbo.com or Vacationrentals.com.
8. Hunt for Hotel Deals
Picture this: You’ve already booked your hotel room—or maybe you’re even half-way through your stay—when you spot an amazing deal advertised on the resort’s website. Talk to the hotel manager and ask if they’d retroactively apply the discount to your account! The answer will often be yes, and it can save you lots on accommodations.
9. Rent Baby Gear On-Site
Don’t feel like schlepping baby’s stroller, portable crib and car seat with you on vacation? Thanks to baby gear rental sites like Babiesgetaway.com, you don’t have to. A couple days before your trip, plug in your trip details and select the baby essentials you’ll need, and the company will deliver them to any city in the US (and pick it up when you’re done).
10. Dine Where Kids Eat for Free
Plenty of restaurants market themselves as family-friendly, but the prices on kiddie menus aren’t always such a bargain. Instead, look for places where kids (under 12) actually get a free meal, usually with the purchase of an adult entree. Ask the hotel concierge for recommendations or check local listings, like Timeout.com.
11. Book Activities Online
Instead of standing in long lines only to pay exorbitant prices, figure out what attractions your family wants check out and then head to the website to buy tickets in advance. It’ll save you both time and money; not only are online prices usually lower, but you might also unearth special discounts advertised on the site.
12. Buy Family Passes
If you have a big brood, forget buying individual tickets to museums, zoos, theme parks and more—family passes or even memberships can be a way cheaper option. Getting tourist cards can be another money-saver; CityPASS, for example, gives you access to a package of top tourist attractions at a reduced cost.
13. Ferret Out Those Free Activities
As expensive as exploring cities can be, they’re also great places to find stuff to do that’s family-friendly—and free. Maybe you find an aquarium with a pay-what-you-want day, or stumble on a public concert in the park. Check local listings for a rundown of seasonal offerings.
Published February 2018
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