How to Travel on a Budget with Young Kids (and Still Have a Good Trip)


When you have kids, your priorities shift and change. It’s no longer all about you and what you want — you have these little humans who depend on you completely for everything they need.

No pressure, right?

Don’t get me wrong: being a parent is wonderful and the best thing in the entire world. At the same time, there’s no denying raising kids is exhausting and gives you even more reason to need your next vacation.

Which you can have, even when you have young kids and you want to stick to a tighter budget. Here are some of my favorite tips for creating a great trip for your family when you have young kids (and still want to enjoy yourself while traveling).

Beat High Prices and Crowds: Travel on a Budget with Young Kids by Using Shoulder Seasons

One of the easiest things you can do to plan a cheaper, more relaxing trip for you and your family? Travel in shoulder seasons rather than at the peak of the tourist season for the area you want to visit.

Shoulder seasons are the “in-between” times, usually in the spring and fall when they weather is decent but may not be the absolute best the region receives. These seasons are also usually when older kids are in school.

These times can both be cheaper and less stressful to travel within because there are less people trying to get to the same place. Less demand means lower prices for hotels and flights. And less people traveling means fewer crowds to hustle and bustle around with.

Our family is full of huge Disney fans and being located in Southern California means Annual Disneyland Passes are a part of our travel budget. Instead of heading up on the weekends, though, we tend to opt for trips on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the crowds are lighter and navigating around with a stroller is much easier.

Use Your Credit Card Points and Perks

If you’re a responsible credit card user, take advantage of rewards points that you rack up throughout the year. This will allow you to exchange points for travel, rather than cash.

And depending on what kind of card you have, you might also be able to enjoy other benefits or perks. Some cards get you access to special events or discounted tickets. Others could offer you sales and deals off normal prices — which may equate to a cheap spa day for you.

If you’re really into travel hacking and strategically using credit cards to accumulate lots of points, you might want to reach out to travel and money bloggers who can actually help plan a trip for you.

Some bloggers, like Holly Johnson of Club Thrifty, will help families plan specific trip itineraries and give suggestions on things like flights or hotels. The service is free, with the idea being you’ll sign up for a specific credit card as part of the process.

That credit card will help you get the rewards points you need for the trip — and when you sign up for the card through a blogger, the blogger gets a kickback from the credit card company. If you have any questions about how it works, ask. If the blogger doesn’t disclose how they get paid, look for another resources to help you.

Make Sure Your Kids Will Have Stuff to Do (and Time to Rest)

As long as you keep your kids engaged during the trip, traveling with younger children doesn’t have to be impossible. Think about all the stages of your trip ahead of time and map out solutions to potential problems.

Will your kids have places to get their energy out? Just as importantly, will there be time for them to rest and recharge so they’re not running on empty (and having meltdowns because of it)?

Plan your trip around what you want to do with your family and the realities about what your kids need and can or can’t do, rather than worrying about a specific destination. And then prioritize those experiences over things like shopping or buying stuff while you’re on your trip.

Not only will you save money this way — but you and your kids will likely have a better time, since experiences tend to bring us more happiness than material things.

Consider Extra Kid-Specific Costs or Gear

Sometimes, kids can get in free or for reduced rates at attractions, museums, and other locations during your travels (and if you can plan to visit those places, it might help keep your overall travel costs in check).

But other times, kids will cost you more when you travel. You can use various money-saving tips to help offset those added expenses (like using coupons, looking for deals, leveraging credit card points, and so on), or you can simply plan for it and budget appropriately.

The latter is a good option when spending a little more money means a lot more convenience, comfort, and simplicity — all key things you need when traveling with young kids. An example of how you can buy these for yourself might be renting baby and toddler gear rather than bringing your own with you.

TravelMamas explains the benefits of renting some gear instead of hauling everything along with you — and also provides a directory of suppliers for rentals by location.

We’re fans of renting car seats along with rental cars when we travel now, because honestly – who really wants to lug a carseat on an airplane?

Don’t Skimp on Your Own Research

There are a ton of blogs out there that can help you get started with travel hacking, traveling with kids, saving money, and more — so take advantage of it.

Google, read travel blogs, check out books from the library to figure out where the deals are or what touristy activities aren’t worth the hype or the cost, and so on.

My favorite thing to do these days is add “with a three year old” or “with a baby” after all the destinations we’re considering for a vacation. That lead us to realize (not so surprisingly), that a trip to Hawaii would not be as relaxing as we’d want and all of the activities we would be able to do are the same we have access to in San Diego.

Why torture ourselves with a plane ride with kids for more of the same?

Have a Plan… But Be Willing to Let It Go

Keep in mind that while plans are important, Plan B might be letting go of all your carefully arranged itineraries if stuff goes sideways while you’re on the road.

Being able to adapt and roll with whatever comes your way, rather than clinging to a really specific idea of what you wanted your trip to look like, will help you and your kids have a better time.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP® is an author, speaker, and financial coach who takes a fun, no-nonsense approach in working with individuals and couples across the country, helping them make smart choices with their money.

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