Kelsey Sheehy of NerdWallet
(AP) – My family didn’t travel much when I was a kid, but when we did, my parents jumped through hoops to cut costs.
On a trip to Disney World, for example, our family of six switched hotels. Every. Night. My mom worked for a hotel chain and could get one free night per property.
Did my parents save money? Yes. Did it add to the mental burden of travelling with four kids? Absolutely.
As an adult now, planning a trip with my own child, I fully understand how expensive – and hard – it is to travel with kids. Planning and packing requires accounting for naps, snacks, tantrums and blowouts. And you’re budgeting for extra airfare, a bigger rental car and additional lodging.
You can save money on family travel and still have peace of mind. To find out how, I consulted two experts. Here’s what they had to say.
PACK LIGHT – AND SMART
Overpacking can be a disaster on multiple fronts. First, you have to lug all that stuff with you and keep track of it along the way. The odds of a lost blankie are high.
Second, checked bags are expensive – around USD30 to USD35 per bag, each way.
Harbuck and her family stick to either one checked bag or a few smaller carry-ons.
Rather than a fresh outfit for each person, each day, they rewear outfits and typically do laundry on each trip.
“Pack clothing that’s lightweight, packs up well and dries quickly,” she said, noting that wool items are great for colder weather.
Having layers is crucial, too. Skimp on this and you may wind up spending USD50 per kid on sweatshirts to keep them warm, Harper said.
CHOOSE ACTIVITIES MINDFULLY
Pack your itinerary with free things to do, like local parks, hikes, beaches or free museums.
You can also tap into perks included with memberships you already have – to your local zoo or children’s museum – or invest in passes that you can use again and again.
When you do pay for experiences and excursions, consider your family’s life stage.
Rather than taking your toddler to an art museum, for example, opt for an outdoor sculpture garden where they can run around or a museum tailored toward children with plenty of interactive features at their level.
Your family’s travel priorities should also guide you, Harbuck said. Learning about a place’s culture and history is important for her family, so they spend money on activities that achieve that goal and skip more popular tourist attractions.
“We’ve been to London several times but have never ridden the London Eye,” she said. “It doesn’t help me feel connected to the culture, and it’s super expensive.”
PACK SNACKS, GROCERY SHOP
There’s no rule that says you have to dine out for every meal when you’re on vacation.
Instead, pick one meal a day to eat out. Lunch is a good option, as it’s typically cheaper than dinner.
By packing your supper or eating at home, you avoid an overpriced meal where children are either melting down or asleep at the table.
Harbuck’s family hits up local markets to stock up on food when they land in a new city. Taking a road trip? Keep a cooler with food for rest-stop picnics.
“If we don’t eat out twice, we’re saving USD100 a day,” Harper said, noting her kids are picky eaters. “We spent USD7 per kid on buttered pasta once. It was the worst experience ever.
They didn’t even eat it.”