5 Ways to Make Travel With Kids More Affordable

Traveling as a family can be complicated—and expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. These tips will save you major money while vacationing with kids.

Mom and kids board a train with luggage for a trip.

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When I was a single parent, traveling with my son was easy (and cheap) enough. We shared a plane seat and a hotel bed, he breastfed and/or seemed to live off of crackers…and what was my alternative to bringing him along on work trips, anyway? I certainly couldn’t afford an overnight babysitter. Now that I have a partner and another kid, though, traveling as a family of four can feel a lot more complicated—and a lot more expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. 

Just a few tricks of the trade have saved me a lot of dollars when it comes to traveling—yes, even internationally—with little children in tow, and these tips can save you major money too. Here are five ways to make travel with kids more affordable.

When you book—and when you travel—matters.

With travel, timing is everything. This means plan ahead! Good things come to those who wait…except when it comes to booking flights and hotels, whose prices can skyrocket when you’re in a jam and planning last-minute.

And when you travel is just as important as when you book: Single mom travel pro Crissy Whalin explains that “traveling off peak—especially for your first trip overseas—is always more cost-efficient and usually more enjoyable for everyone involved. Don't go booking a July/August vacation in Europe when it's extremely hot, extremely crowded, and peak rates. It's a recipe for disaster."

Book a budget airline.

Traveling parents, lean in to budget airlines. Seriously, don’t be scared of them! My family of four just traveled to Iceland on Play Airlines which has round-trip flights from Boston to Reykjavik for as low as, I kid you not, $269 dollars, and we had a really easy experience. Even the snacks were good.

Another flying-with-kids-for-cheap tip? While “most people know that children 2 and under fly free on most airlines…don’t sleep on child fares!” urges travel writer Tanay Howard. “Many airlines offer discounted tickets for children aged 2-11. Take the extra step to call customer service when booking because these fares don’t always show up online. The child fare is sometimes up to 35% cheaper.” On Play, for example, children ages 2-11 incur a standard child fare that’s even cheaper than the already-cheap adult seats—and you can bring along a stroller and/or car seat free of charge. 

Carry-on only.

I mean it. Checked baggage usually comes with added fees, and carry-on means you won’t be too tempted to buy too many souvenirs to squeeze into your baggage. “Pack as light as possible—it reduces stress and costs,” agrees Whalin. If we managed to get four of us through 17-degree Iceland for a week with two carry-ons only, then you, too, can re-wear your sweaters!

But aiming for few/small souvenirs is not to say zero souvenirs. “If you love souvenirs, give each kiddo a cash budget and let them spend it as they’d like,” suggests Monty Hudson of The Spring Break Family. “It keeps your budget fixed, teaches financial literacy, and kids of all ages love the opportunity to choose and spend on their own.”

Seek out kid deals and alternative dining options.

Many museums offer free admission for kids under a certain age. As for food, I love a good local food hall or cafeteria that has many options for lower prices than a restaurant—in Reyjkavik we ate at the VERA mathöll Grósku food hall probably five times. Hudson is on the same page: “I’ve heard people say not to eat food on vacation that you can have at home. I disagree," she says. "There’s nothing wrong with eating a little McDonald’s on vacation! It’s usually cheaper than other options and sometimes has regional items you can’t get elsewhere.”

Of course, the availability of these kinds of cheap and kid-friendly food options might influence where you choose to travel in the first place, and that’s OK. You’re not likely to find chicken nuggets in the middle of, say, the Serbian countryside, so maybe that’s a trip for when they’re a bit older (and more flexible eaters). Whalin agrees, urging traveling families on a budget to choose “places you know your child has food options available at all times, and you feel comfortable navigating as a parent,” says Whalin.

Rent an apartment.

This way, you can do laundry and save hotel fees. This is a go-to travel tip from both me and Hudson, who says: “Go for a vacation rental instead of a regular hotel. It’s usually a more affordable way to give everyone space to spread out. This is especially true for blended families that have step kids that may not feel comfortable sharing a bed or a room. Bonus: they usually have a kitchen, which also saves money on food!”

That said, if you’re a hotel diehard, get the most out of any included offerings—many hotels offer daily breakfast and/or happy hour, a fitness center, even tours or a spa. While we were in Reykjavik, I noticed there was no shortage of fancy and expensive geothermal spas, but Thingholt Hotel, for example, has a perfectly lovely one that offers included admission for hotel guests and even runs daily “family hours” the kids can enjoy too. And what better way to end a beautiful and budget-friendly trip than with some well-deserved multigenerational relaxation?

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