The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Saving Money on Family Travel

Family vacations are fun but these days, they can also burn a whole in your pocket, especially if your trip involves taking a plane, car, train or boat. Nonetheless, it can and should be done and the way to avoid any unnecessary heartburn is to cost out and budget for your trip properly. Here are the major components that you need to consider in your family trip budget calculator:

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1. Transportation:

family travel budget calculator

The cost of your trip can vary drastically depending on how you are planning on getting to your destination. Often driving can be the cheapest for a family with kids  but it is not always possible over long distances and not necessarily the most economical option once you factor in gas, tolls and wear and tear on your car.

If you are planning on taking a plane, it’s wise to book early as “last-minute deals” often don’t apply to people with restrictions (eg. school holidays). This applies especially if you are planning peak-time travel (again, school holidays). Further, when buying your ticket, consider the following:

  • Children under 2 fly free or for a minimal fee
  • There can be airline fees for baggage and services like pre-boarding or getting seats together. If you are unsure, call the airline to ensure that you fully understand all their policies and fees. It’s better than being caught off-guard at the airport. Think about what’s important to you – service, pricing, flying time, punctuality, when deciding the best airline to travel with.
  • If you are planning on using frequent flyer miles, you need to book way in advance.

When you are costing out transportation in your budget calculator, also remember to include the cost of getting to and from the airport, train station or boat dock, as well as how you will be getting around at your destination (public transportation, rental car, etc).

2. Accommodation:

budget calculatorDepending on your budget and tastes, your accommodation can go from bare bones to extravagant. I would always caution never to go too cheap with children as you want to ensure you have the basics: clean water, clean sheets and a safe location. From there, the sky is the limit.

Renting an apartment typically works out to be more economical than staying in a hotel but you often make some sacrifices in terms of services, facilities and location. On the upper end, luxury villas/condos may cost more or as much as hotels but can offer you private extravagances like your own pool, chef and butler (particularly popular in Asia and the Caribbean) and your budget calculator will thank you for it. You can also look sites like ChameleonJohn.com for discount coupons for many travel sites including Hotels.com and Budget car rentals.

In my opinion, the choice of accommodation should depend on two factors:

  • The Kind of Holiday You Are On: I feel very strongly that if you are at a destination that involves a lot of sightseeing and roaming around, you don’t need a fancy hotel. A clean, comfortable place (ideally with some atmosphere and a great breakfast) will do the trick. Conversely, if it’s a resort holiday you are after, I would spring for extra luxuries like a villa or a room with an ocean view. If you are on a budget look for deals for kids (eg. kids under 12 eat free) or all-inclusive family resorts that are more suitable for cost-conscious families.
  • Where You Are: New Zealand is known for its charming bed and breakfasts, while Tahiti is all about the luxury resorts and the South of France is full of exquisite châteaus.   Do as the locals do because that’s how you will truly experience your location.

3. Meals:

family travel budget calculatorLike hotels, meals can cost you nothing or a lot, depending on where you are (general cost of living) and what your tastes are. A good trick is to get a hotel with breakfast included so that you can fill up on your first meal, have a lighter lunch, and then a hearty dinner. Keep in mind that meals in hotels are more expensive so if you are in a place that offer more options outside, it’s a good idea to explore them. You can ask the hotel concierge for recommendations. Even if you are staying in a hotel and eating your meals there, stock up on your basics like milk, water, fruit and snacks so that you don’t have to pay $10 for a packet of Oreos from the minibar. Again, you can also find family hotels that offer free meals for kids under a certain age.

Another reason families prefer to rent apartments is flexibility with food. You can shop and cook at your leisure, if you don’t feel like going out, if the kids are acting up or if you don’t feel like springing for hotel food. Bonus points if you find an apartment with a cleaning service!

When budgeting for food, don’t forget to plan for snacks between meals (and cocktails!) ’cause you’re on holiday!

4. Shopping:

family travel budget calculator

Even if you are not technically on a “shopping trip”, don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t spend any money on shopping. Souvenirs, toys, and whatever the local wares are, you will be tempted and you (or someone in your family) will give in. It may be easier on your budget calculator if you prepare yourself before hand by learning about the local specialties; my husband was thrown for a complete loop when he learned that Croatia specialized in jewelry, but it was too late by then (for him!).

If you are able to discipline your family, get everyone to agree on a shopping budget per person. That way even the kids learn to be responsible financially and no one has to be told “no” which can be a real downer on a holiday!

5. Sundries and Holiday Allowances:

Any savvy traveler knows that on holiday, everyone’s feeling a little more relaxed and the pockets are not so tight. So spare yourself the post-holiday coronary and put away a little holiday slush fund. Get bonus points by buying your spouse a little vacation gift as a memento!

6. Pre-Vacation Shopping:

Whether you are going to the beach or the mountains or to grandma’s, there is always a little pre-vacation prep that occurs. Hats, swim diapers, sunblock, booties, thermals, gifts, the list can go on. It’s wise to figure out what you get there (remember checking in bags ain’t cheap no more) and what you need to take from home. Some services will also deliver your basic baby supplies directly to your destination so you don’t have to schlep them with.

7. Activities:

Depending on where you are going, holiday activities can blow out budget calculators, but this is not necessarily where you want to cut corners. When researching tours and must-see sights, see if they offer combination or package tickets which offer some cost savings. If you are going somewhere special and want to splurge on a once-in-a-lifetime activity like a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, do it, but try to avoid buyer’s remorse – just enjoy the experience! Also factor in other activities like spa time, kids’ camps, or even a babysitter for an adult night out!

8. Currency and Cost of Living:

 budget calculatorThis can either be the icing on your vacation cake or the thorn in your rose. Cities and countries vary in terms of how much things cost and based on that differential, you can either add or subtract from everything you spend. Similarly, foreign exchange rates can reduce or increase the cost of your overall trip. When we moved to Australia, the Aussie dollar was almost on par with the US dollar and shopping was not nearly as fun as when it dropped to 20% below. You can’t live your life by it, but it’s something you have to pay attention to.

Check out our infographic on saving money tips for travel!

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Now put the budget calculator away and get on with your vacation.

Did you know? MomAboard offers a trip planning service connecting traveling parents with local moms so you can travel with confidence. Try it now.

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