Hi All! Mrs. Adventure Rich here. I am excited to introduce a guest post from Ember from the blog An Intentional Lifestyle here today! Ember is an extreme optimist who writes about finding joy and enjoying the journey each day. She, along with her husband and 3 kids, work towards FI on a single income, dishing out frugal and financial tips along the way. With a dose of southern hospitality, she shares marriage and parenting advice from their own life adventures on An Intentional Lifestyle.
How To Travel With Kids On A Budget
Everyone loves to travel. Finding new places, visiting old haunts, trying all the Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives picks in the next town over… it’s all part of the fun of the journey we call living. But for many frugal minded individuals, travel is something they don’t like to add to the budget. Or those that have kids, many find it hard to load up all the crazy amounts that seem to be necessary to travel with small children.
Don’t get me wrong. Traveling with kids is something that takes planning, practice, and trial & error. I am a mom of 3 kids, 6, 4, and 2. Traveling seems much easier now than when they were infants, but even at that time, we knew we had to figure out how to make it a possibility.
We are budget conscious, but get itchy feet to see and explore on a trip every few months. We have the mindset of not putting off adventures until you reach financial independence. How do we keep from blowing our FI goal while still traveling…with kids… and keeping our budget and sanity on track?
I’m so glad you asked!
Here’s a guide to budget friendly travel with kids to help you enjoy life now.
1- Picking Your Destination
When you are traveling with kids, especially young kids, you have to choose your locale appropriately.
Does visiting DC sound fun?
Of course. But with a 2 year old in tow, it may not make for a very fun (read:miserable) trip. So when you are choosing a place to visit think about these questions:
-Will the whole family have something to do and to enjoy?
-How far is the drive?
-Is there a better option closer?
If you’re a frugal family, you probably don’t have (or want) to spend a bunch of money on airline tickets to go across the country. And loading the kids in the car for a 12 hour trip isn’t what I’d call a fun idea.
With a 6,4, and 2 year old, we choose to go no further than 3-5 hours (5 is stretching it even) away from our house. But within that distance, we can visit tons of things. You can even find some things close to home that you’ve never visited and make it an adventure learning about them.
Here’s the thing— kids don’t remember where they went on a trip. They remember what they did and how it felt. If they are miserable, it doesn’t matter if they visited the entire country of Spain. Because they will only remember that they didn’t have fun, were stuck in a car/airplane forever, and didn’t have anything they enjoyed doing. So pick a destination that appeals to the whole family and remember that as the kids grow, you can go to those other places.
Growing up, we had very little money. So we either got a cheap, terrible motel (which we snuck at least 2 of us kids into because we were over the allowed number in one room) or we camped. If you are the motel goer, like we were, I have good news…. I only remember how cool it was that we got to get in the pool and how funny it was that we had to duck down to make sure the clerk didn’t see us when we checked in. Kids remember the good stuff.
Please note!!! I don’t condone lying or tricking the front desk clerk. At all. There are much better options for accommodations and they will keep mine and your conscience clean.
AirBnB: If you travel with small kids, I highly recommend doing AirBnB. Why? Because having space that is separate from the kids is part of what makes for a less stressed trip. For us, keeping the kids normal sleep schedule makes for much happier kids (and parents). So we do normal bedtimes and have our own time after, like we do at home.
The key to not over spending on AirBnb is searching way in advance. You have more options and can try to pick one closest to the activities you want to do. If you don’t have to drive much, it may allow more room in the budget for a little better place.
Are there other options? Well of course. I’m not here to just give you one place to stay.
CAMPING: For the uber-frugal (or anyone who enjoys the great outdoors like I do), I recommend checking out campgrounds close to the location you picked. Make sure to get ones that have showers and pick a site close to them. That’s extremely important if you have kids (like a daughter who is opposed to outdoor potty breaks). Boys, they enjoy outdoor potty-time. It’s a guy thing, or so I’m told.
Now, I personally love to camp. My husband, not so much. So other than in the backyard with the kids, I haven’t gotten him to try this one. Leave some of your kids + camping stories in the comments to help me get him to try it!
HOTEL: One more option is to do the typical hotel choice. We chose this option when we found a cheaper hotel that was closer to the Jack Daniel’s World Championship BBQ Contest, which is in the middle of nowhere. It’s always a good idea to price out a hotel, but for our needs it’s usually not worth having to share our sleeping space with the kids. 7:30 pm bedtimes are not my thing….
Any of these options are good, as long as you price them out. I recommend AirBnb in most cases, for the ease of space and for being able to prepare meals (which is next up!). Second, I would say camping for those that are willing to rough it a bit. Hotels are mostly a last option, but if you can get them cheaper, do it!
3- Feeding the Hungry Kids
Food….that’s always the budget buster for us. Maybe it’s because we’re southern, but I swear we pick vacations based on food options. I’m not the only one, right?
So, let’s start with the food while traveling part. Always, always, did I say always? ALWAYS pack a snack basket. This is one of those super rare times that I buy lots of prepackaged snacks. Aldi is my favorite place for snacks, but you can find the best priced, packaged snacks that your family loves. Load it up. The kids got their first taste of Teddy Grahams from our travel snack basket. Spoiler: they did not last long!
Why is this important? Because they help keep sanity in the car. Check out Pinterest, find the best ways to handle snacks while traveling. Just make sure you have lots of snacks, easy to pass back and easy to eat.
Before heading out, make a general meal plan to help you budget accordingly. We always plan one meal out of the house a day. Either lunch or dinner will definitely be at a restaurant. I buy breakfast items, cereal or oatmeal or I pre-make muffins, and that’s breakfast every day.
Now decide if you want to do one meal out or two a day. Buy any quick meals you want for other days. We tend to do dinner out, as lunches are much easier to buy ( either before or once you get to the destination) and take on trips. Plan easy meals, sandwiches, hot dogs, chicken nuggets— you want it to be easy, but not expensive.
Last tip on food— if you have kids that still snack all day (mine can’t handle an hour without food), buy a backpack before heading on the trip. It’s for you to wear, as all parents are simply pack mules for our kids, right? But put in a couple extra bottles of water and lots and lots of snacks (those prepackaged ones again). We bought straw, non spilling cups for all the kids and just refilled with water. This backpack is key to keep everyone sane and enjoying the trip when you’re out and about exploring.
Last, but definitely not least, the schedule. This is the part that causes so much stress, and shouldn’t.
First, research all the free activities available in the city or place you are traveling to. Most have tons of these free things for kids, whether it’s just visiting a cool park or an actual activity. Make a list.
Now, look up all the things that are cool attractions and activities to do that cost. Make that into a list too. After you go through and mark out all the things you know don’t make good activities to do with kids your kiddo’s ages, you are left with too many things to fit in.
I know, I know, you want to do it all. But if you do, it won’t end well.
Here’s the key to not getting overwhelmed and stressed out: don’t schedule.
Seriously, this is all you do. Pick your top things. Write out the cost and best times to go beside each one. Pick 1-2/ day and see how it goes. We sometimes go to 2 things, and sometimes decide we’d rather go look at the sites. Or sleep in and be lazy.
It’s vacation, y’all. Relax!! If you see everything, awesome! If the kids got wore out and napped too long, oh well! Enjoy the down time and read a book or talk to the spouse.
Don’t put pressure to see and do everything. See what you can, enjoy the good food, and have fun with the family.
Traveling with kids can be tough, but there are so many adventures to be had and kids really do make it more fun. It’s always exciting to see things through their eyes and feel their excitement about something that seems mundane and normal to us adults.
Don’t put off travel until you reach your goals. Make a budget and enjoy it now. The journey is supposed to be fun and a time to learn and explore. Don’t rush past it and miss everything along the way. Use these tips to save money and make memories with your kids! Remember, kids don’t remember where they went, they remember how they felt!
How do you save money when traveling with kids? What’s your favorite thing to make a trip with kids fun?
Mrs. Adventure Rich again. I love hearing about people who pursue their dreams of travel and lifestyle activities in all circumstances. Thank you, Ember, for the excellent tips and tricks for travel with kids! I look forward to implementing a few of these ideas in our future travels 🙂
Always an Adventure!