Tips and Tricks For Family Travel on a Budget

A few days ago I posted about That Time We Went to Positano.  It was an amazing experience and I am so grateful that we took that leap of faith and went on that crazy adventure.  But adventures like that take time, money, and planning.

In the effort to help you create your own family adventures, I offer you my 7 Quick Tips and Tricks for Family Travel on a Budget.  I really hope it helps you to get out there and explore this world of ours — even if it’s just a few hours away from your own home.  Enjoy.


Why Family Travel

It’s so important to know up front why you are choosing to go on a family vacation.  John and I have accepted from the get-go that a family trip is most likely not going to be a time full of rest and relaxation.

Don’t get me wrong, there will likely be moments of great relaxation sprinkled into our family trips — and we cherish them when they happen! But our own personal experience has taught us that it’s best not to expect your trip to be relaxing.

Instead, expect chaos, inconvenience, probably some crying, arguing over seats and even a few knock-down drag-out fights.  Low expectations is the name of the game. 🙁 The trade-off for all that chaos is amazing memories as a family.  This decision to travel with your family will most definitely add some hilarious stories to your ever growing family story — and these moments will bring you closer together as a family.

As a word of encouragement, the very worst moments are usually the moments you’ll laugh at the most later.  Trust me on this one.

You want an adventure?  Travel with a bunch of kids just about anywhere and it’s going to happen.  Believe me, sometimes I wish simple trips around town weren’t full of so many adventures — but I am never, ever bored.  So yay for never being bored.

So, why family travel?  It’s a great way to grow closer to each other — to laugh — to introduce your kids to pilgrimage — to introduce your kids to mission and service to the poor — all great reasons to choose to go on a family trip.  Rest and Relaxation?  Not so much.  🙁


Get Ready to Sacrifice a Bit to Make it Work

Every family has to make a lot of choices on a regular basis.  And as your family grows in size, these choices can greatly impact how much money you will have available for the next family adventure.  For us, we have so enjoyed our family trips that we are willing to forego some good things for the sake of something better.  In general, when choosing between things or experiences — we tend to choose experiences.

As an example, we don’t eat out as often as we used to, because dropping $100 for a family dinner can really add up.   Listen, even if it’s McDonalds you’re bound to spend close to $50 for a family of 8. So I’d rather try to make most dinners at home and see dinner out as a big treat that happens a little less frequently.  At the end of the year, that could equal hundreds or even thousands of dollars set aside for a trip.

Another example is our favorite chair.  It has been loved by all of us — to the point where it’s looking pretty pathetic.  Honestly, it looks like it got into a fight with a pit bull — and lost.  As we don’t actually have dogs, I guess we’re just a bunch of animals over here.  🙁

This chair is a daily reminder to us all:  When in doubt,  choose the experience.

Last summer, we had a choice to make.  We could either : A.)  Reupholster our sorry excuse for a chair or B.) Use that money to help us get over to Italy .  We chose “B” and so glad we did.

So, yeah — the chair still has a big hole in it.  But it was so worth it!  Eventually we’ll get around to reupholstering it, but till then, it stands as a testament to our family philosophy that when in doubt, choose experiences over things.

Choices.  They matter and they can add up quickly over the course of a year.


Consider a Credit Card that Accumulates Miles or Points

I have to include one caveat to this one.  Don’t ever use a credit card if you can’t pay in full at the end of the month — the interest you pay for financing your charges will eliminate any advantages of earning airline miles or points.  So, only go this route if you can pay in full and it if would be expenses you’d be paying for anyways.

We have never bought a ticket for our family trips.  We wait for our miles to accumulate, and when we have enough for us all to fly somewhere — we know it’s time to plan another trip.  If you or your spouse travel frequently or can accumulate miles through business, don’t waste those miles!  They can add up quick.


Plan Well in Advance

For us, the earlier you book your flights, the less miles they are going to cost.  So we actually planned our last trip 6 months in advance — and we got the last 7 tickets available at the lower miles — we literally blew through our entire miles balance with that trip —  but it was so worth it!

We booked our apartments and hotels early.  This is when they are typically less expensive and it offers peace of mind as you look for better deals closer to the date. You are less likely to pay crazy amounts for a room if you’re not desperately looking at the last minute.  Just make sure to book a place that offers free cancellation if you can find a better deal.


It Might Be Time to Say Goodbye to Hotels : (

We have recently reached the point where sneaking 6 kids into one room doesn’t work out so well — sorry if that seems scandalous.  🙁

I remember a time when we stayed at a hotel in Puerto Rico — I actually didn’t realize how hipster this place was going to be.  We had four little kids at the time, but I only declared 2 when booking online because that was their max.

I told John to take the kids to the beach while I checked in — to which he replied with great indignation, “I won’t hide away like a criminal”.  To which I replied, “we can’t afford 2 rooms, so swallow your pride and run away to the beach”.  Yes, these are the types of conversations we had before many check-ins.  🙁

So, there I was nervously checking in — praying that they wouldn’t ask me how many children I have — because I actually have a problem with lying when directly asked. This was one of those times when they didn’t ask.  Thank you, Jesus!

I met John at the beach and as we walked into the lobby with our undeclared 4 kids, this larger-than-life 6-1/2 foot tall Puerto Rican doorman saw us walking in with four kids, and he started to scream, “Oh my gosh.  You got 4 kids?!  Oh my gosh she’s got 4 kids?!”

And he proceeded to call over all his buddies and marvel at our family and scream all the louder — “I can’t believe you got 4 kids.  She’s got 4 kids!”.  I never met anybody so excited at the sight of my kids! I tried to shush him so as not to get found out, but you know what?  Nobody at the hotel actually cared about our extra kids.

We’ve met a lot of kind people in our travels who realized we wouldn’t easily fit in one small room with one bed and took matters in to their own hands and upgraded us for free.  Like this lovable guy below — he brought us to our room with one bed and immediately offered to give us a bigger room for free.  How nice!

This kind man in Malacca gave us a free room upgrade to accommodate our 4 kiddos.

You need to know that some places won’t stand for sneaking in kids and you might be hit with a huge bill to add a second room.  I can’t take that pressure of not knowing what will happen, so we have now moved to renting apartments.

Honestly, our whole family has grown to really enjoy apartments.  They’ll cut your accommodation budget in half, and you can also save money by grabbing food and eating in.  Usually there’s far more space and they provide a more authentic experience of living in a different culture or city — which we really appreciate.

Look for reputable groups like Home Away, VRBO. or AirB&B.  Make sure you know how far they are willing to help you if you have any problems with the owners.  We have been happy with our experiences renting apartments — minus the fact that I had to threaten to call the local Polizia on one owner in Florence who refused to return my deposit.  Who knew that would work?  Amazing, really.


Take Advantage of Markets and Stock Your Apartment With Quality Food

Simply put, eating out 3 meals a day just might make a family trip impossible.  It’s expensive and you’re not always getting your monies’ worth either.  We always look for local markets and stock up on breakfast food, drinks, and snacks.  Ordering a whole pizza to go and taking a little siesta at your apartment after lunch also works well for us.

We usually enjoyed dinner out most nights — because food is a big part of experiencing a culture — but don’t underestimate the high quality meats, cheeses, and delicacies that the local markets will offer at a fraction of the price.  And wine — stock up on great wines and cheeses at the market — it’s far less expensive than even one glass of wine at a restaurant, and it allows for time to chill with your husband after the kids have gone to bed.


Pray About It and Go For It

Pray as a family for your upcoming trip and find at least one spot to include in your trip which has religious significance.   It will make your trip more meaningful, and your kids will witness their faith in a new, more universal way.

It’s pretty cool to think about the fact that some of those people sitting next to us in mass in Rome, Malacca, Singapore, or Costa Rica may one day be some of our dearest friends when we meet again in Heaven.  Heaven — it’s gonna be amazing.

I  guarantee God will be teaching each one of you something along your journey.  As an example, one of my children was worried about going to Italy.  He had heard about some awful “terrorist attacks” in places like Paris and Brussels only months before we were going to leave.  He suggested we not go.  To be honest, I was a bit worried myself and wondered if we shouldn’t cancel our trip.

So we prayed about it — and we felt God telling us to go and trust.  So we did.

Recently that same child asked if we could go back to Italy.  He learned something valuable in that trip.  He learned that most people are good and kind and aren’t trying to take advantage of you — he learned that he’s more like these foreigners than different from them.

He learned to face his fears in faith and find God and the goodness of people on the other side of those fears.  And you know what, I think we all learned that lesson during that trip.

I know I have returned more firmly convinced of the goodness of people.  I know I can’t dwell on all the bad “news” in the world or I’ll never be able to see the goodness in others and love my neighbor as I should.  It’s a good lesson to learn and one I take with me now.

So the next time you get a chance to go on a family trip,  I hope you go for it!  It’s gonna be great!

That’s all I got. Have a good weekend.

Linking up with Kelly

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4 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks For Family Travel on a Budget

  1. Haha! I’m the oldest of six, and I remember having to “hide’ in the hotel room when the staff came around to deliver the crib my parents had requested. It was a big deal to figure out who got to sleep in the bed and who had to sleep on the floor in hotels. They are good memories. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing! We hope to be able to travel as a family someday.

    1. Alicia,
      yes the kids perspective is definitely more fun than the parents fearing having to pay for 2 rooms. 🙂 As we tend to make up for it with extra food and drinks, I’ve always been able to sleep with a clear conscience when we,ve gotten away with it. 🙂

  2. We have slept on the chairs and tubs trying to squeeze in…once the boys were bigger than me we realized our one hotel room dreams were over!

    1. Megan! Yes, I still remember the time I forgot to list any kids on the reservation and they showed us to the honeymoon suite — complete with a cheesy red jacuzzi tub with gold fixtures, leaving no floor space for kids to sleep on the ground. Though we could have fit a few kids in that tub, couldn’t stomach the thought. A valuable lesson learned that day — always claim at least a few kids on the reservation. Ha, Ha.

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