Between booking a flight, paying for a hotel room, and going out to eat — gotta try the local cuisine! — travel gets expensive, quickly. And that’s before you even factor in sightseeing or nightlife.
Add kids to the mix and you might as well kiss your cash goodbye.
But you don’t need to take out a second mortgage just to take your family on vacation.
To get an idea of how to travel with kids without wrecking your budget, Business Insider spoke with Justin McCurry, who runs financial independence blog Root of Good. Even with three kids — currently ages four, 10, and 11 — McCurry was able to retire at 33 with $1 million in the bank, so he’s got a handle on how to balance fun with saving.
Here are McCurry’s six best tips for making travelling with kids affordable:
Rent an apartment instead of a hotel room
Based on McCurry’s experience, where you stay makes the most notable difference in the price of a vacation. Opting for a condo or apartment rental instead of a hotel room not only saves money but typically offers more space and amenities.
“A lot of times we’re seeing that we can rent an apartment for $100 per night, whereas two hotel rooms would be $200 per night,” McCurry says. “We’re cutting it in half and we also get a nice living room, versus two hotel rooms that may not really have anywhere to sit besides a desk chair.”
McCurry starts his lodging search on home-sharing site Airbnb, where it’s easy to filter for certain preferences, including number of bedrooms and proximity to public transportation. He also recommends VRBO, Vacation Rentals By Owner, a similar home rental site.
If you do stay at a hotel, avoid the buffet breakfast. While $10 per person might not seem outrageous, it adds up quickly. Pick up staples like yogurt, cereal, and fruit from a grocery store instead — your kids won’t care and your wallet will thank you.
“Having an apartment with a kitchen in it lets us cook meals while on vacation instead of always going out to each because restaurant meals for five people — especially if you’re doing it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day — can add up to a whole lot,” McCurry says.
Don’t overschedule yourself
If you’ve ever watched an eight-year-old after eating a cupcake, you know that kids can seem like they have endless energy at times. But in reality, they don’t have the stamina for nonstop activities the way adults do, McCurry says.
“We’ve certainly found — especially with kids age two, three, four — that we’re only able to get in a few hours of sightseeing per day, and beyond that it’s just really hectic and stressful,” he explained.
McCurry recommends mixing paid activities, like museums, with simple, relaxing ones, such as a day at the pool or exploring a local park. An additional perk: Those things are often free.
Instead of aiming to take a bunch of quick trips as you might with a spouse or friend, McCurry says it’s been more cost effective to take fewer, longer vacations with his family. His logic: Once you’ve sunk the money into plane tickets, the cost per day goes down the longer you’re there.
“We’re flying somewhere less often, we’re staying somewhere longer, so the cost per day goes down,” he says.
Longer vacations also play into budget-conscious strategies like buying groceries and lounging by the pool because there’s no pressure to fit every restaurant and activity into a few days’ time.
Visit during shoulder season
Visting just a few weeks before or after peak times can result in cheaper lodging options and reduced-price admissions to various attractions.
“I live about two hours from the beach, and we usually go in September,” McCurry says. “The rates drop by about two-thirds of what they are in the summertime, but the weather’s still warm, the water’s still warm, the crowds are gone.”
This trick streamlines the entire planning process as well. As Business Insider’s Libby Kane attests, “By choosing to travel six to eight weeks before or after high season, I save money on flights, accommodations, car rentals, and most everything else by making one decision and never thinking about it again.”
Pay attention to exchange rates
If you plan to travel internationally, pay close attention to foreign exchange rates, which can drastically alter the final price of the trip.
“If you can find a country that has a weak foreign currency compared to the American dollar, everything in the country is on sale,” McCurry says.
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