Stretching Your Family Travel Budget

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Published Feb 23, 2015

Tips from a pro! If you love to travel but find yourself cash strapped, here's some great advice for stretching your family travel budget.

Tagged in Interesting Stories, Deals and Smart Shopping

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Thinking kids would hold us back from travel, my wife and I decided to take one last big trip before having children. We grabbed our backpacks and headed for Thailand without any firm plans on where to visit and what to see. Those were the days. We did what we wanted, when we wanted. Lazing on the beach one day and riding elephants in the jungle the next.  We slept in beach huts and spent our evenings drinking vodka infused Redbull's and dancing on the beach until 2:30 in the morning.

We thought that having kids would mean we wouldn't be able to travel. Fortunately, we were wrong. We won't be going to Thailand's famous full moon parties in the near future (thankfully), but having kids has not slowed us down. It has, however, changed the way we travel. We've traded Thailand for Disneyland and mopeds for minivans. Our trips are less spontaneous and more well thought out (where to stay and eat, coordination with school calendar, etc). And of course, having kids means traveling is more expensive. Case in point, on a recent trip to Florida, we spent over $1500 on theme park admission alone.  

If you love to travel but find yourself cash strapped, here are some great ways to stretch your travel dollars.


Airfare

There are many great credit cards that will give you frequent flyer points for credit card purchases. The right card for your family will depend on where you live, your family size, how much you spend annually, and where you like to vacation. HackMyTrip.com is a great source for trying to figure out the best credit card for you. In Canada, check out RewardsCanada.ca

My family uses is the Alaska Airlines credit card. Card holders get an annual $99 'companion fare' voucher, which means your companion can fly anywhere for just $99 on Alaska Airlines (including Mexico and Hawaii). To ensure we rack up as many points as possible, we charge absolutely everything we can to this card and automatically pay it off in full each month to avoid interest.

Another strategy for cheap flights is to search nearby airports, alternate dates, and one way flights. Although I live in Victoria BC, we found a $69 flight from Seattle to Orlando, and a $79 return flight from Fort Lauderdale back to Seattle. For under $200 per person after taxes and fees, it was worth the extra time and cost of driving from Victoria to Seattle.

Hotels

Hotels with vacant rooms often sell off excess inventory to 'blind booking' websites like Hotwire and Priceline. Although you can often get great hotel rates, there is a catch: the hotel name is not revealed until after you make your purchase. Because these reservations are non-refundable, there is some risk getting a hotel you are not happy with. Fortunately, there is a way to mitigate some of the risk. HotelDealsRevealed.com is an online community that makes it possible to figure out what hotel you might get before you book, eliminating some of the risks with blind booking.

Another affordable alternative for family accommodations is AirBnB. AirBnB is a website where home owners rent out their homes, condos and vacation units. Not only is this an affordable alternative to hotels, but you can often rent condo units with a full kitchen and multiple bedrooms for around the same price as a hotel room. If you are planning on an extended vacation, you may even consider renting out your house on AirBnB to offset the travel costs.  

Food

When my family travels, we really try to get a hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette. This way, we can buy our own groceries and make our meals.  In the absence of a kitchen(ette), most hotels have mini-fridges available for free or for a small fee ($5 to $10 per day). This is great for keeping milk, sandwich supplies and other items fresh. Even in the absence of of a fridge, I still recommend families visiting a grocery store to stock up on fruit, snacks and bevvies.

Theme Parks Admission

Theme parks are very strategic in their pricing. Attending 1 day at a theme park is quite expensive but gets cheaper the more days you attend. For example, at Disney World in Orlando, a single day ticket costs $100, but adding 1 day to a 4-day ticket costs just $10. If you are going to be visiting theme parks, I recommend visiting just a single resort (e.g., Walt Disney World or Universal Studios) instead splitting up your time across multiple parks.  Here's an example:
 - 4 days at Walt Disney World Resort: $294
 - 3 days at Walk Disney Resort ($274) + 1 days at Universal Studios ($136): $410

By the way, Walt Disney World in Florida has 4 theme parks.  We spent a week there and only saw about half the attractions.

Another great way to save on theme park admission is to buy tickets from resellers like Undercover Tourist. Undercover Tourist is a legitimate reseller (I've personally used them) and they provide shipping throughout the United States and Canada.

Most theme parks do not allow guests to bring outside food into the park. This is a great money maker for them: they have you trapped in the theme park and charge outrageous prices for meals, snacks, and drinks. An exception to this, however, is Disney parks in both California and Florida, where they do permit you to bring outside food into the park. My family spent a week at Walt Disney World and only paid for 3 meals and the odd snack here and there. The rest of the time we enjoyed our own food and snacks and saved several hundred dollar in the process. 

Souvenirs

We give our kids allowance of $5/week each. In the weeks before a vacation, we highly encourage our kids to save their own money to buy their souvenirs. They usually bring between $20 to $40 each, and with a little guidance, are generally free to spend it how they like. On a recent trip to Orlando, we were pleased to discover the enormous Disney souvenir section at Walmart! Prices were a fraction of the theme park cost for many of the same items.

Rental Cars

We almost always rent a car when we travel. We enjoy the convenience and avoid expensive taxi fares. The secret to cheap car rentals: say no to all the extras. Car seats, GPS, insurance, etc. can easily be 2 or 3 times the basic cost of a car rental.  Simply say no to all of these at the rental desk, even if they are a bit pushy. Bring your own car seat and GPS (cell phone). Another great tip: your personal car insurance is probably transferrable to your rental car. After years of renting a car and paying $10 to $20 per day for insurance, I found out that for just a $24 annual upgrade, my personal vehicle insurance was transferrable to rental cars. If your personal vehicle insurance does not already cover rental cars, you can probably upgrade for a small fee.

Comment below if you have more money-saving tricks to share. Happy traveling!


Written by Randy Greencorn

Randy Greencorn is a Victoria dad with 3 young daughters. He is a co-founder of ChatterBlock and creator of the travel website, HotelDealsRevealed.com. In his spare time, Randy enjoys gardening, working on home improvement projects, and listening to Bob Dylan.

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