There are lots of little tips and tricks that can be used to plan a fun and affordable family vacation. Your biggest expense will always be the flights and hotel, but with my many years working in the tourism industry and a spouse who’s a pilot for a major airline I am happy to provide you with the tools and best practices to minimize those costs as much as possible. Don’t forget! If you’re traveling with a baby or child under 2 years old they can fly as a lap child and if you’re flying domestic they are completely free. If you’re flying international you just need to pay taxes and fees.
Americans on average get 7 vacation days less a year than our European counterparts and the majority of Americans still go with unused vacation days at the end of the year. Why is that? Its because we don’t plan ahead and when we finally decide we’re going to use our PTO the flights are way too expensive so we just forget it and decide to “save it for next year.” The cycle repeats. We have to plan ahead! I include myself in who I am preaching to because I don’t always practice it. If you buy your airline tickets 6 months in advance you’re looking at a huge savings compared to searching 1-2 months out.
1. Before you choose your destination and book your flights take a look at what the hotels or airbnbs cost in the places you’re considering spending your vacation during the travel dates you’ll be going. If you book flights first and then suddenly realize for your travel dates the hotel rates are super high you are simply stuck with a higher hotel cost.
Check prices on Hotels.com or Booking.com, and if you’re looking to rent an entire house or apartment for your family on Airbnb.com you should check those prices and book as far in advance as you can to ensure there will be availability for the homes in your price range.
2. If you’re like me, sometimes you don’t know where you want to go – you just know you want to go somewhere! I know in February I want to escape the cold and go on vacation with my family but I’m not sure where yet. If price is the name of the game, and especially if you need some extra inspiration to decide where to go I cannot recommend Skyscanner enough.
Skyscanner.com is a website where you only have to input your departure airport and dates you want to travel and the results will be populated with destinations with airline ticket prices in order of least to most expensive. The great thing about Skyscanner is it aggregates all airline and third party airline ticket sites to allow you to price compare and book the best deal for you.
3. When you’re planning an affordable vacation and you’re deciding on the destination you should always take into consideration what food and drink will cost you when you get there and the strength of the US Dollar compared to the local currency. Flights to Thailand are going to be much more expensive than a flight to Costa Rica, but if I’m going for two weeks the cost of food and entertainment is so low I’ll likely save the difference of the flights or come close to it.
The best resources to learn about the average costs in your travel destination and currency conversion are:
TripAdvisor.com – search the destination you want to learn about and then click on more and then travel forums.
xe.com for currency conversion
4. Reserve the Bulkhead row. I always recommend booking with the airline directly when you’re traveling with a baby or small kids. If you book through a third party the airline isn’t going to let you do this last step. When you use Skyscanner and it gives you the direct airline option, even if its just a few dollars more its worth it to book direct.
Call the airline ahead of time and request the bulkhead row especially on a long international flight so you have a lot of room in front of your seat for all your baby supplies and its a great place to lay your baby down to sleep during the flight. Invest in a Dock-A-Tot to make this super comfortable and easy to sleep for your baby and give yourself a relaxing flight as well.
5. If your baby is going to be flying as a lap child on an international flight you’ll need to do this while booking your flight but if you miss where you add a lap child on the booking website (like I have many times) you just call the airline and let them know to add your baby to the reservation. They will take payment for the taxes and fees over the phone. Depending on the destination it will range between $50.00 – $300.00
Go somewhere with more nature than paid attractions
We all know Disney World isn’t the most affordable place you can take your family especially if you want to go all out, and major world famous cities are filled with world famous attractions. If you’re a family of 4 you’re going to drop $100 – $200 for each attraction you visit. Theme parks and busy metropolitan areas are amazing to visit, but I can’t say that many would be on my list for most affordable places to vacation.
First you’ll need to decide if you want beach, countryside, mountains or desert. Think about what kind of outdoor activities you’ll like to do with your family and how much indoor time will be required. This sounds strange but a place I love to recommend for this type of family vacation is Las Vegas. If you fly to Las Vegas you’re in the middle of the desert and within short driving distance to so many beautiful wonders of the world. Its a quick drive to Hoover Dam, or you can take a short day trip and spend a day hiking around the breathtaking Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon National Park is another one close in distance and a place you’ll want to add to your bucket list. In Las Vegas you also get cheaper hotels with nice pools that allow for some fun in the sun family pool days together. I’d choose Excalibur hotel which is geared more towards families.
Other ideas for amazing destinations known for their incredible nature that you can do at a low cost or free would be Tenerife, Spain on the Canary Islands which is known for a variety of incredible beaches full of activities such as dolphin swimming and kite surfing. There’s Mt. Teide, a large dormant volcano dominating the island which you can visit the footfills of hiking through Teide National Park, or even take the free trails to the summit if you’re feeling up to it. There are other destination specific posts on this website which will provide a more in depth look at a variety of travel destinations to help you decide, but Tenerife and Las Vegas always stick out in my mind.
Choose an Off the Beaten Path Destination
By off the beaten path I mean a destination in a part of the world that may be less developed and home to less mass tourism making it relatively inexpensive. There are plenty out there in all corners of the globe and they are safe, inexpensive, beautiful and so very culturally enriching. Check out places in South East Asia like Vietnam and Thailand, in Central Asia like Sri Lanka, Eastern European countries like Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia and one of my favorite and most beautiful countries in the world, Montenegro.
There are a plethora of gorgeous destinations throughout Latin America that will bring you to beaches, mountains, deserts, glaciers or rainforests. If you choose an off the beaten path destination with less tourism and non English speaking you can expect the levels of English spoken in these countries to be more limited. Still, in most hotels the front desk staff will speak plenty of English to have any conversation you’ll need as a hotel guest. If you need to run to the supermarket or pharmacy to buy diapers, baby formula or anything else you may need you can have some fun guessing what the labels say on all the products. Don’t worry most will have some English written on it, or you will be able to decipher what you’re buying. Its not so hard!
Book an Airbnb or Vacation Rental
If you book an airbnb or vacation rental not only are you going to save 100s of dollars a night when you don’t have to book multiple hotel rooms for your family – you will be staying in a spacious house or apartment at the cost of a 2 or 3 star hotel room a night. What I love about Airbnb when I’m away for a week or two at a time is that I can go to the grocery store and cook some meals there. When I’m with my baby daughter especially, I do not want to have to order a small side order of food at every restaurant we go to for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I love being able to relax in the morning with some good coffee and a breakfast I make in the kitchen. Its the perfect way to start my day and I save a lot of money as a result.
I wish you the happiest future family vacation.
Be stress free and make amazing memories with your loved ones without breaking the bank. Enjoy the planning stages when you’re dreaming and getting excited about going, and try to relax and live in and soak up the moment when you’re there. Don’t try to plan for everything because you simply can’t – just go with the flow, stay curious and relish in interesting differences and unfamiliar surroundings in the new place you’re exploring all together with an open heart and mind.