Family Travel on a Budget – Our 23 Best Tips

Author: Dan Brewer

Last Updated:

Traveling with kids can be expensive. Planning a family vacation means buying additional flight tickets, attraction passes, meals and find larger hotel rooms. The cost of traveling with kids adds up quickly! As a frugal person, I take this cost personally and make it my personal challenge to plan family travel on a budget.

As full-time family travel bloggers, we want to enjoy the best the world has to offer. The challenge is to plan affordable family vacations which maximize our enjoyment, while minimizing our expenses. We have years of experience of planning a family vacation on a budget, and are happy to share our tips to help you lan the best affordable family vacations possible!

The Family Can Travel team on a family vacation in Iceland - one of the hardest countries on earth to have an affordable family vacation.
Iceland is EXPENSIVE! We used all our tips for planning an affordable family vacation here!

This post contains compensated links.

23 Tips for Planning a Family Vacation on a Budget

How find Cheap Flights for your Family
Given the size of the expense, one of the most important parts of planning family travel on a budget is finding cheap airline tickets. That said, I know first hand that buying cheap plane tickets with awful flight times or horrible layovers can quickly spoil the excitement of a family vacation.

Given the large percentage of the family travel budget, and the impact flights can have on the family, we work really hard on finding a balance between cheap flights and reasonably good departure and arrival times.

Looking out the window of an airplane in flight.

Here is the process we use to find inexpensive flights for our family vacations:

1. Get Cheap Flights by Looking Early

If you know your family vacation destination, we recommend looking at flights as early as you can. Get a feel for prices and which flights look best for your schedule. For this exercise, we use Google Flights as it’s an easy and powerful tool to compare flights.

2. Set a Price Alert

If you start searching early enough, set price alerts through Google Flights for the travel days which appeal most to you. Google Flights will send you automatic emails when the price of your flight has changed. To activate, toggle the “Track Prices” switch above your search results.

3. Test Different Travel Dates

Screenshot of Google Flights with circles around the "Track Prices", "Date Grid" and "Nearby Airports" functions.

If you have any flexibility in your family travel dates, try looking at flights which leave 1-2 days earlier or later than your ideal travel dates. It is easier to get cheap flights with a flexible schedule, especially if you can travel mid-week.

The best tool to compare flight prices on different days is the “Date Grid” tool within Google Flights. It’s found at the top of your search results.

4. Look at Nearby Airports

If you are flying into or out of a large city with multiple airports, look at flights from all the area airports. This is done two ways:

1) When you type in “Chicago”, select the top option which says, “All Airports”.

2) There is also a “Nearby Airports” button above your search results.

Using an alternate airport to your preferred one is often less convenient (i.e. longer travel days) but can provide significant discounts on your family flights. You’ll need to assess whether the savings are worth the extra time & effort.

harry potter world tickets london
London has lots of airports which are often cheaper than flying to Heathrow.

5. Try Buying Separate Tickets

When it seems like no matter how hard I search and I still can’t find cheap flights, I start getting creative. One trick which has resulted in significant discounts on flights in the past is to break up the trip into two parts.

Step 1: Look at flights from major flight hubs (New York, London, Singapore, etc.) to your destination.

Step 2: If you can a find a cheap flight from the hub to your destination, then look for a cheap flight from your city to the hub.

This strategy can be especially useful if you fly to Europe or Asia, where you can find local low-cost carriers to carry you to/from your final destination.

We once saved roughly 50% on airline tickets to South Africa by using this strategy. Instead of booking flights on the same ticket from our home in Canada to South Africa, we bought cheap flights to New York. Then from NYC, we separately bought cheap flights to South Africa on Etihad, one of the world’s best airlines! We ended up treating ourselves to a few days in NYC with the money we saved!

6. Travel with a Baby

If you are flying with a baby, get as much travel in before they turn 2 to take advantage of the free flights for infants. We once saved money on our trip to Norway when our son was 23 months old, simply by getting one last free flight!

A baby sleeps on an airplane.

7. Shop Around

We use Google Flights for almost all of our flight pre-planning, but when it comes time to book our family airline tickets, we cycle through the major travel agencies to search for flight deals which don’t show up on Google Flights. We typically cycle through Expedia, Skyscanner and CheapOair a few times a week.

When we find the deal we are looking for, we book our plane tickets through whoever is offering the best price. We recently saved over $1,000 on flights to South Korea, using CheapOair instead of Google Flights using this strategy.

two kids on a family trip to Seoul are greeted by a friendly robot at the Incheon Airport.
South Korea was an awesome family vacation destination.

It only takes a few minutes to look, but every now and then you’ll find big discounts on family flights.

How to Find Cheap Accommodations for your Family
Finding an affordable hotel for your family is another huge part of planning a family vacation on a budget. When finding an affordable place to stay for our family, we try to find the right balance between a good hotel deal, location and amenities.

Here is the process we use to find family-friendly affordable hotels and vacation home rentals:

The Moose Hotel & Suites in Banff National Park, Canada.

8. Decide What You Want to See

Take some time to research what you want to do on your family vacation. Make notes on a digital or paper map of the attractions you want to visit on your trip. Often a pattern will form on the map, and you’ll see a logical area to stay in.

If you stay in the most convenient location on your family vacation, you can save big money on rental cars, Uber fares, etc.

Family vacations in Rome should include plenty of easy walks, such as this one on the way to the Rome Colosseum
Staying in a central location in Rome allowed us to avoid an expensive rental car.

9. Start with Airbnb & VRBO

In our experience traveling with kids, vacation rentals are the best accommodation choice for affordable family vacations. There are many advantages to vacation rentals for families traveling on a budget:

They are often cheaper than similarly located hotels, especially if you can book a single 2-bedroom apartment vs. needing two hotel rooms.

Kitchen facilities allow you to cook meals and avoid pricey restaurant meals.

image of simple meal to create at airbnb in Scotland with kids
Home cooked meals cost a small fraction of restaurant meals. They are healthier too!

Laundry facilities allow you to pack less clothes, which can help reduce baggage fees.

Separate bedrooms means everyone sleeps better, which leads to a more enjoyable holiday for everyone.

Two kids enjoying fresh papaya at an Airbnb overlooking the Caribbean in Colombia
This oceanfront Airbnb in Colombia was one of our favorite places to stay ever!

We’ve used vacation home rentals through Airbnb and VRBO in over 50 different locations with our kids. Find a great place for your family to stay with our best tips to find a kid-friendly Airbnb.

10. Then Check for Affordable Family-Friendly Hotels

I’d estimate that we book over 75% of our accommodations through Airbnb or VRBO, but we always check for hotel deals as well to make sure we are making a well-informed choice. We may be persuaded to book a hotel room for a great location, a good deal or a tempting free breakfast (our kids love breakfast buffets!).

We use Booking.com frequently as we love their excellent “Top Picks for Families” search filter.

a young boy is excited to have four strawberry waffles at the main breakfast buffet restaurant at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel
A good hotel buffet breakfast can keep a kid full all day!

11. Pricing vs. Ratings Strategy

We refuse to stay in a flea-ridden dump just to save a few bucks. To find a good place to stay at a good price, start by filtering by price.

Look at the unfiltered search results and estimate the average nightly price for your destination. Then create a pricing filter with the average price as the highest you’re willing to pay. Next, raise your lowest price to filter out the super-cheap places.

Lastly, if possible, add a search filter for average guest rating. On Airbnb or VRBO, we won’t look at anything less than 4 stars (out of 5) and on Booking.com, we avoid anything less than 8 out of 10.

a 10-year old girl sits on a bed in a very colorful room at the Phranakorn-Nornlen Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.
We found this awesome, yet affordable hotel in Bangkok using this technique.

12. Stay Outside the Tourist Zone

The closer you are staying to the top tourist attractions, the more you can expect to pay for your lodging. If you are struggling to find an affordable place to stay, expand your search to include areas outside of the tourist centers.

Focus on locations which are well connected by public transit. This strategy is particularly effective to avoid high prices during high season. We’ve saved 50% or more on accommodations several times simply by staying a little further away and taking a short bus, subway or Uber ride to the tourist center.

where to stay on family road trips - glamping
We saved A TON by staying at a ranch outside Nashville, TN. Plus it was super fun for the kids!

How to Save Money on Food while Traveling
People love to eat good food on vacation, so it’s easy to let restaurant bills get out of hand while on vacation. Follow these simple tips to save money on food while traveling:

13. Splurge on Food that is Worth It

Some of our favorite family travel memories involve food: eating BBQ ribs in Charleston, SC, the red curry while traveling in Thailand with kids, eating pasta in Italy, introducing the kids to sushi in Japan and the delicious tacos al pastor during our family trip to Mexico.

food that is worth it on family vacations - sushi

If the local food is a major part of your family vacation destination, allocate more of your travel budget to enjoying food. But if the food isn’t anything special, don’t waste money unnecessarily at high price, low quality tourist restaurants.

14. Self-Cater

If you follow our advice and rent a vacation home rental, you’ll enjoy huge savings on family travel by cooking your own meals. When at a vacation rental, we eat breakfast at ‘home’ and pack a healthy lunch to eat while out. Then, if it’s worth it, we treat ourselves to a good meal at a great restaurant.

Eating at restaurants three meals a day is not only unhealthy and expensive, it’s also time consuming. Eating breakfast at your apartment and a packed lunch on the go, is affordable, healthy and doesn’t take up any of your valuable sightseeing time!

a family enjoys a healthy home cooked meal while staying at an Airbnb in Korea.
Healthy & affordable home cooked meals in Jeju Island, South Korea.

15. Limit Restaurant Meals

Unless you are somewhere where restaurant food is super cheap (Thailand, etc.), limit yourself to one restaurant meal a day. We usually go to restaurants for dinner as we don’t like to waste sightseeing time going to a slow tourist restaurant in the middle of the day.

16. Avoid Restaurants near Tourist Attractions

We never go to restaurants near major tourist attractions as the prices are high and the quality is low. We use Google Maps to find highly rated restaurants 1-2 blocks away from the tourist hotspots. These restaurants are still geared towards tourists but need to work harder on quality and price to entice travelers to walk an extra block or two.

Our toddler thought the bean soup at El Fogon was the best food in Playa del Carmen
Our favorite restaurant in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Save Money on Transportation
Making smart decisions on your transportation is important when planning affordable family vacations. Sometimes, a rental car is essential to enjoying a family trip, but if you can, try to avoid renting a car. Here is how we save money on transportation on our family trips:

17. Walk

We love walking from place-to-place while on our family holidays. It has the obvious benefits of saving money and getting good exercise, but it almost always leads to some unplanned adventure or discovery.

Walking does take longer, so make informed decisions – don’t waste a ton of sightseeing time walking through uninteresting parts of town; sometimes it makes most sense to pay to take the subway or catch an Uber.

Celine Brewer walks through Pub Street in Siem Reap with her kids at night.
Walking around Siem Reap, Cambodia was exciting!

18. Chose a Walkable Destination

Choose a family vacation destination which allows you to avoid renting a car. Most places in the world outside of North America fall into this category. One of the things we love best about Europe with kids, is the ability to walk everywhere.

You’ll be able to take a bus or subway from the airport to the town center. From there you’ll be able to walk everywhere.

Budapest Family Friendly Walks - Chain Bridge
We walked everywhere on our family trip to Budapest.

19. Be Informed When Renting a Car

If a rental car makes the most sense for your family vacation, make a well-informed decision on your choice of rental car and company.

I’ll be honest, the process of picking up a rental car is always my least favorite part of any vacation – it seems there is always some unpleasant surprise or extra charge that wasn’t clear at the time of booking.

To mitigate this risk, I’ve switched to RentalCars.com as they have a large selection of rental car companies to choose from and I find they do the best job of taking the fine print and making it easier to find and understand, avoiding unpleasant surprises.

How to Save Money on Attractions
After flights, accommodations and food, spending money on attractions is the final component of planning affordable family vacations to conquer.

20. Find Free Things to Do

It’s amazing how often the best stuff to do on a family vacation is free. You’ll often find admission to museums is free and you can find free guided walking tours.

Another free activity we love is walking; most major cities have very interesting walking routes and sometimes you can even reach some good hiking with public transportation.

the Brewer family enjoys a walk through the Bellagio Conservatory - one of the best free activities for families in Las Vegas.
The Bellagio Conservatory in Las Vegas was awesome and free!

21. Cluster Your Attractions

If you are without a rental car, try to visit the attractions which are nearest each other to minimize your overall transportation cost & time.

22. Buy an Attraction Pass

If you are going to a popular tourist destination, check out the deals offered by a multi-day attraction pass. These passes offer free admission to most of the main attractions, often with the ability to skip the line. Depending on how much you do, you can often save up to 50%.

The main sellers of multi-day discount attraction passes are:

  • CityPASS offers discounts in 14 cities across the United States and Canada.
  • The Sightseeing Pass serves 17 cities, mostly in the USA.
  • Go Card offers discounts in 26 tourist hotspots in the USA and around the globe.
Ad: CityPASS New York

23. Reduce Your Phone Bill while Traveling

If you are traveling internationally, beware of outrageous roaming charges from your cell phone provider. If you have an unlocked phone, we recommend you use an inexpensive eSIM for data while traveling. The cost of a weekly eSIM is usually less than the cost of a single day of roaming charges with my domestic carrier. These eSIM data plans are usually good for 7-31 days and include a variety of data limits – usually between 1 GB – 30 GB.

When we travel internationally, we buy our eSIMs from Airalo. They have a global selection of eSIMS and provide instructions which make it a breeze to install. I love the feeling of landing in a new country and being able to access local data immediately.

That’s it! We hope our tips help you plan amazing family travel on a budget.

image of boy on a beach in Thailand with text overlay of 23 must-read tips for planning family trips on a budget
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Dan Brewer is an intrepid family travel blogger with a passion for exploring the world's most captivating destinations. With 58 countries under his belt and a sense of wanderlust that knows no bounds, he has made it his life's mission to share his travel experiences and insights with fellow families who love to travel.

When Dan isn't traveling with his wife and kids, he's either out enjoying the Canadian Rockies he calls home or working on one of his three travel sites (Family Can Travel, Travel Banff Canada and Ultimate Sports Road Trip).