I often get asked how I am able to travel so much with my son. Do you homeschool? Are you loaded? Is your travel free? All valid questions. Traveling with a family is difficult once children are in school and have limited time off, but it is not impossible. Travel is also much more expensive than solo travel when you could sleep in less than stellar hostels or easily couchsurf and travel in dodgy local buses. But, again it is possible for most families to add more travel into their lives with a few small changes in their lifestyle and knowing where to look for cheaper travel options.
I am a travel blogger, which means I do get to go on some trips for free (or actually I would say for a barter if you count the countless hours I spend writing about them), but by and large most of the trips I take are self funded in some way or another. So how do I do it?
Make Travel a Priority
The first tip to travel more is to make travel a real priority in your life. You may dream of traveling more, but feel thwarted by your biggest obstacle, lack of funds. By making a few small changes in your daily purchasing behavior you can save quite a bit of money that you can then stock away for travel. Just think, the $5 you spend every day getting a coffee, a snack or lunch may not seem much at the time of spending it, but add it up over the year and you could have more than $1800 saved! Try putting $5 ($150 a month) a day in a savings account and see where you end up.
Do you buy random gifts and toys for your kids throughout the year? Try a purchasing hiatus one or two months of the year. Have family discussions on ways to save money to save for a trip together, making it a family priority to travel more. Often as parents we are as bad as the kids, wanting to purchase things for them when we are out and about. Ask yourself (and your kids) “Do we really need/want this $12 tambourine or would you rather that money go towards a trip to Madagascar?”. More often than not, when I ask my son this question, he would rather save the money. Make a list of all the little purchases you would have made during the month and transfer those savings into a travel specific savings account. Trust me it adds up!
This is one of my biggest “secrets” to traveling so much – miles! If you do not have a credit card that accrues miles, then you need to get one ASAP. We have loved the Chase Sapphire card for years, but have recently upgraded to the slightly more expensive Chase Reserve card. It gives us more points for travel related spending, gives us a few more travel related perks, as well as a travel credit that helps to offset much of the yearly fee. You can’t go wrong with either one of these.
I have heard great things about Capitol One’s Venture card as well, but by and large the best resource out there for travel cards is The Points Guy. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on the best cards out there.
Other beneficial milage accruing cards are airline specific credit cards such as Southwest Airlines, Virgin America or United. If you fly to specific destinations often (to see the grandparents for example), using the same airlines, these are great cards to have. You get benefits like free bags, priority check in and more.
Once you get a milage accruing credit card, read up on their website about other ways you can earn points through your card. Chase has a list of monthly vendors that provide “bonus” points when you shop there. There is also a shopping portal where you can purchase things you normally might purchase, but through the Chase site. This can earn great bonus points for doing nothing much at all!
Also, put everything possible on the card and pay it off every month. We put literally everything possible on the card – school tuition, health insurance, all household bills, groceries, etc. We put so much through our card that we are able to fund at least one trip for all of us at least once a year. This past year we used miles to fly to Arizona (x3), 4 nights of a hotel as well as our rental car. That entire spur of the moment trip was virtually free. This is one of my favorite ways to fund travel!
Book Cheaper Travel
In addition to saving money through spending less and earning points on what you do spend, the next biggest tip is to book cheaper travel! Seems like a no brainer, but often people do not know how to go about booking cheaper travel. The US is not as great for budget airlines and travel opportunities as many parts of the world are, but things are changing slowly. You just have to know where to look.
Search, search, search, and do it in as much advance as you can. We purchased tickets to South Africa from LAX for $700 by booking almost 9 months in advance. I know it is SO hard to book that far in advance, but it can really pay off in the long run. Some of our favorite search engines for cheap travel are: Google Flights, Expedia, Skyscanner, CheapOair, and Kayak. While searching for flights, go ahead and create price alerts for all of your dream destinations.
Follow your favorite airlines on Facebook and through email to keep abreast of deals. These days, there are regularly flash sales by airlines offering super cheap tickets during off season months. WOW Air, based in Iceland, often has flights for $99 each way to Iceland and around Europe. These are typically during the winter months, but why not head over for 5 days for cheap during the winter? It’s better than never getting to go. Other groups to follow on social media include The Flight Deal and the Secret Flying. Also follow travel bloggers who regularly share these deals on their pages to make sure you don’t miss any great deals.
When traveling, look to reduce accommodation costs through camping, house swaps, AirBnb (a little away from the center of town), or look for hotel deals through search engines like Trip Advisor, Vacatia, etc. I have the TripAdvisor app on my phone and more than once I have seen cheaper rates available only by using their app. When booking accommodation options, look for things like free WIFI, microwaves, mini-fridges, free parking, etc to reduce your costs while on the road.
My goal while traveling is to make it as close to the same price as it would be if we didn’t leave LA!
Take Advantage of Vacation Days
Once children are in school, time off becomes a bit more tricky. Taking advantage of vacation days becomes very important for families who do not get a great deal of vacation days and/or their children do not get many days off of school. As a traveler, it’s easy to believe that children don’t get off as much as we would like, but as a working parent, you probably already know this – they are constantly off! The key here is to plan ahead. Look at your child’s school calendar a year in advance, taking note of every 3 day weekend, holiday breaks and summer breaks. Make a list with all of these dates written down so you can easily reference it when you see cheap travel options available.
Taking advantage of long weekends are great, but consider tacking on one or two more days every so often to have time for a longer trip. Try leaving the day before a 3 day weekend by leaving school a little early or booking travel for that afternoon. This doesn’t count as an actual absence but gets you where you want to go with a bit more time to enjoy the destination. We looked for flight times after school lets out to add in an extra day on a quick last minute trip to Mexico’s Riviera Maya region one year. By adding that extra evening, and adding one extra day off school, we were able to enjoy a 5 day trip away with minimal days off school.
Even if you can’t skip school or miss work as much as you would like, take advantage of the days you do get off. Don’t spend them sitting at home all weekend – take a day trip, road trip or at the least explore your own city. The more you ‘travel’ the more you will want to travel!
Explore Your Own City
People become so focused on trips to the other side of the world, they forget that travel can also happen very close to home. For most people, their own city holds countless hidden gems to explore without spending a ton of money. There are also numerous experiences near to your home that can provide similar experiences to wanderlust destinations you dream of. For example, for people living in the Bay Area, there is an amazing safari park that provides a very similar feel to an African safari. You don’t have to splurge on staying over, visit for just the afternoon! For people on the Central Coast of CA, the Oceano Sand Dunes State Park can make you feel like you are in the desert of India or Africa for a day.
In this respect, look to do more staycations within your own locale. Driving less than 50 miles to stay in a beach front resort can provide some of the same effects of traveling to a Caribbean island! OK.. I might be pushing it there, but really for the kids it won’t be much different – sand, water, sun and family fun! When they are happy and entertained, you also get a break.
Road trips are the most economical way to travel as a family. We do a ton of road trips to things that are near to our house in LA. We constantly go on day trips, one night trips and camping weekends. Figure out how far you can reasonably drive in a day to have a fun adventure. For our family, we have found 2 hours one way is our max – for our child and for myself as the solo driver. Often I am alone with my son on our trips because my husband has to work (and someone has to look after our menagerie of animals!), therefore I will book a cheap motel to reduce my night time driving. When road tripping, you can save money by packing the car with your own food, snacks and meals. This cuts down on eating out which can eat up a budget quickly.
Utilize the national parks as destinations. America has one of the best national park systems I have seen. They work hand in hand with road tripping too. When you have nature as your playground all day, you find you spend a lot less money than you might on other vacations. Most parks have minimal entrance fees (approximately $20 for 1 week), and you can check out the Junior Ranger programs for free (educational) momentos to take home as a souvenir!
And there you have it, my top tips on how to travel more with your family. It takes a certain level of dedication to plan in advance, research and save money for travel, but trust me when I tell you that it will be worth it. The impact travel has had on my son and family has been indescribable.
Do you have more tips to share? How do you add more travel into your life? Need advice on how to plan a trip?
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