When I was a kid, my family didn’t travel much, but when we did travel, my parents jumped through hoops to cut costs.
On a trip to Disney World, for example, our family of six changed hotels. Everyone. Night. My mom worked in a hotel chain and could get one free night at the facility.
Did my parents save money? Yes. Did this add to the mental burden of traveling with four children? Absolutely.
Now, as an adult, planning a trip with my own child, I fully understand how expensive – and difficult – to travel with children. Planning and packaging requires consideration of daytime sleep, snacks, tantrums and explosions. And you budget extra tickets, more car rentals and extra accommodation.
You can save money on family trips and still have peace of mind. To find out how, I consulted with two experts. That’s what they had to say.
Pay with points
The secret of experienced travelers? They don’t actually pay for airfare and accommodation. Instead, they use bonus credit cards to turn daily purchases into free flights and hotel rooms.
“Make your money work for you,” says Priti Harbak, a travel author from the San Francisco Bay Area who runs the Local Passport Family blog. The Harbak family of seven (soon to be eight) travels almost exclusively by credit card. “If you have kids, more costs, but you can use them to get more benefits.”
Jumping on cards can bring you big points thanks to sign-up bonuses, but managing them is difficult, says Jamie Harper, a mother of four and author of the travel blog Fly by the Seat of Our Pants. To keep everything manageable, follow one or two basic cards.
Harper and her husband switch to Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton cards, which offer bonuses such as free breakfast, Wi-Fi and anniversary dinners.
Pack easy – and smart
Overloading can be a disaster on different fronts. First, you need to carry it all with you and keep an eye on it along the way. High chances of losing the form.
Second, registered bags are expensive – about $ 30-35 per bag one way.
Harbak and her family stick to one checked bag or several smaller hand luggage. Instead of wearing a new outfit every day, they change their clothes and usually wash their clothes during each trip.
“Pack clothes that are light, pack well and dry quickly,” she says, noting that woolen things are great for cold weather.
The presence of layers is also crucial. Save on that, and you can spend $ 50 per child on souvenir sweaters to keep them warm, Harper says.
Choose classes carefully
Get free activities on your route, such as local parks, hiking, beaches or free museums.
You can also take advantage of the benefits that come with your subscription – to a local zoo or children’s museum – or invest in season tickets that you can enjoy over and over again.
When you pay for experiences and excursions, consider the stage of your family’s life. Instead of taking your toddler to an art museum, for example, choose an outdoor sculpture garden where they can run, or a museum designed for kids with lots of interactive features at their level.
Your family’s travel priorities should also guide you, Harbak says. Learning about the culture and history of the area is important for her family, so they spend money on activities that achieve this goal, and miss the more popular tourist attractions.
“We’ve been to London a few times, but never traveled to the London Eye,” she says. “It doesn’t help me feel connected to the culture, and it’s very expensive.”
Pack snacks, grocery store
There are no rules that would state that you should dine every meal when you are on vacation.
Instead, choose one meal a day to eat out. Lunch is a good option, as it is usually cheaper than dinner (which in some countries starts later than most children go to sleep). By gathering dinner or eating at home, you avoid an inflated meal where children either melt or sleep at the table.
Harbak’s family travels to local markets to stock up on food when they arrive in a new city. Are you going on the road? Keep a fridge with picnic food.
“If we don’t eat twice, we save $ 100 a day – and that’s the cheapest food,” Harper says, noting that her children are picky about food. “Once we spent $ 7 on a child on pasta with butter. It was the worst experience. They didn’t even eat. “
Kelsey Sheehy is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: ksheehynerdwallet.com. Twitter: kelseylsheehy.