Let’s be honest, traveling is expensive, and when you multiply your travel expenses by the number of people in your family, it can easily feel impossible. In this post, I will share exactly what we do to budget family travel. Over the years we’ve developed 3 strategies that allow us to maximize building amazing memories with our kids.
We’re not perfect by any means and we’re always looking for ways to stretch our travel dollars and save for travel. If you have a tip we missed, please leave a comment.
Learn more about the Exact Steps we Use to Plan Travel
How to Budget Family Travel: The First Essential Step – Prioritize Travel
The first step in affording travel is to decide that travel is a priority for you and your family.
I know this might not seem important, but until you prioritize travel, none of the other steps below will work or matter. This may mean that you take a real look at all your priorities, and be honest about what’s more important.
Do you want an amazing house, a boat AND lots of travel? Is this realistic? Are you willing to prioritize travel over going out to fancy dinners? Be realistic about how travel fits into your life and your priorities. You also need to consider how it fits into your spouse and your kids’ lives.
For many years, we felt like the travel we wanted to do was out of our reach. We had traveled when our kids were young and we lived in Europe, but suddenly we found ourselves with 3 young kids and the cost of lots of plane tickets seemed too much. After a few years, we booked a trip to Sweden.
It was on this trip that we realized how much we loved to travel with our family and we started to make travel a priority. Since then, we’ve traveled extensively with our kids and have made lifestyle changes to match this priority. By deciding travel was a priority, we’ve purposely saved money and also set aside time for travel.
Once you decide that travel is important to you and you are willing to prioritize it over other parts of your life, there are 3 ways you can work to afford travel.
- Manage your spending when you’re home and save for travel
- Book smart and budget friendly travel
- Earn more money to help pay for travel
Read below and I’ll share details of each of these methods as well as how we implemented them. Ideally, you take parts of all 3 strategies, but depending on your situation, you may find one of these strategies easier to start with.
You can find more options of ideas on How to Save Money on Family Vacations.
Manage Your Spending to Skyrocket Your Savings
The first step to budget family travel is to look honestly at how you are spending your money. There are so many small ways that we spend our money that add up over time. Here are some quick examples:
- 1 cup of coffee on your way to work every morning at $1.50 is $360/year
- Having 3 TV streaming services can easily cost $450/year
We live in a world that encourages spending. Take a look at your daily, weekly, and monthly spending and decide where you can make changes to set aside money. Take this money and put it directly into travel or savings you can use towards travel. I’ve found it much easier to give something up if I know that it will help me take that next trip.
To decide where you can cut corners, you can start by looking through your current spending. Once you know where you are spending money, you can decide what is practical for the future.
We now run every purchase through the lens of – is this expense worth it? – if something doesn’t pass through the questions below then I think very carefully about whether I really should spend money on it? If you are going to create enough money to budget for family travel you will have to think carefully about how you spend money.
- Do you need or want this? (if you think you really need this, think carefully. It might seem like you need something but do you really? or do you just feel like you need) When we moved into our house 8 years ago I wanted to get a rug for our sunroom. This item has never passed the ‘I need it’ test. There is still no rug in that room.
- Do you already own something that can be used instead? This might mean fixing something, repurposing something, or even borrowing something. Last year our riding lawn mower broke. Instead of replacing the mower, we decided to have our kids start mowing the lawn with the push mower. This takes longer, but not enough to justify a new riding lawn mower!
- Will getting this make you happier? My son needs a new bike. Will a top of the line bike make him happier? Or can he use a used bike and still get the pleasure of riding?
- Can you buy it used? I’m a big fan of buying already used items. This means clothes, home goods, bikes. skis and more. Or is it better to spend a little more money up front so you don’t have to replace the item in one year?
There are lots of great resources for saving money. One great resource is Your Money, Your Life which shows you how to take control of your money. Even if you don’t go all-in with this method, there are some great suggestions on how to lower your spending.
Below is a quick list with some ideas on how to instantly save money for traveling.
- Get rid of debt – prioritize paying off your debt
- Watch what you buy at the grocery store. The average family spends almost $1,000/month on groceries – pay attention to what you’re purchasing!
- Check your subscriptions and cancel the ones you don’t need
- Rethink your TV, internet and phone package – do you need cable if you have subscriptions?
- Lower your energy costs – turn down your heat or raise your AC (even a few degrees makes a difference)
- Pack your own lunch for work and skip the morning coffee (or brew it yourself)
- Visit the library
- Refinance your mortgage
- Buy clothes used
- Use Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist to get other items used
- Fix things that break instead of buying new
- Decide if a project can be a DIY (like painting your house)
- Take care of the tools and things you own so you don’t need to buy more
- Sell everything you have that you don’t want
- Avoid eating out most of the time or even just going our for a drink
Learn How to Book Cheap Travel to Lower Your Costs
The 2nd strategy to budget family travel is to save money by booking cheap or inexpensive travel. You can still have an amazing vacation without booking the most expensive hotel and shopping around for flights. There are 2 main ways to lower the cost of a vacation: booking the best travel deals you can find or use travel hacking strategies to book amazing travel and places to stay using points and miles. I’ll go into both options below and exactly how we use these methods.
The first way to book inexpensive travel is to do careful research and find less expensive transportation, lodging and food options. There are a few ways to do this. Here are some of the things we do to book less expensive travel:
- As you start to plan your trip, decide what are the experiences on this trip that you don’t want to miss and are most excited about. When you start to book your travel, these are the items you should keep in your travel budget. On our trip to Puerto Rico, the top activity was swimming in the bioluminescent bay. I was willing to book less nice lodging so that I could book this tour.
- Try to book a place that has some kitchen facilities. This means you can eat some meals out but not all. We like this especially when we travel with younger kids as it’s easier to get something for breakfast they can just eat where we’re staying instead of going out.
- Shop around extensively for airfare. Look at budget airlines and consider nearby airports, long layovers and driving part of the trip. We’ve come to embrace layovers and have just decided that these are a chance to take a break from flying.
- Book lodging that makes sense for your family. We are a family of 5 which means we often don’t fit into a normal hotel room. We prefer booking.com or even airBNB so we can book a place that fits for all of us. Camping is another less expensive option and can be lots of fun.
- Compare renting a car versus taking public transport. Depending on how many people you are travelling with a car is often cheaper but not always.
- Consider activities that don’t cost money. We love to hike and hiking is usually free or just a small fee for parking.
- Another great option for lodging is to consider a home exchange. This is something we’re actively working on
The second method to budget family travel that falls under the category of booking inexpensive travel is using points and miles to travel. I will not pretend that I am an expert on travel hacking, but over the years we’ve worked to learn more and maximize how we earn miles and points. We’ve been able to book airfare for our entire family several times with miles and use points often for hotel stays.
If you want to get into travel hacking – the first thing I would do is sign up to take this free course at 10x Travel. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about getting free travel with points and miles.
- The first easy thing to do is make sure you sign up for frequent flyer mile programs for any airline you fly.
- The next step is to get a credit card with travel benefits – remember, never increase your spending so you can earn more miles with a credit card – this doesn’t work!
- The old advice that too many credit cards are bad for your credit is simply not true. You should get as many credit cards as makes sense for you and make sure you pay them all off all the time
- The best credit card has the best benefits for you (this means that getting a credit card that gives you awesome Delta point doesn’t work if you never fly Delta).
- Credit card points that are transferable have a much greater value then a card that is tied directly to something specific.
Whether you become a travel hack expert or just do this casually, this is a great way to afford travel!
Get a Side Hustle: Make more Money for Travel
The first 2 strategies to budget family travel involve saving money, either by cutting spending or booking cheaper travel.
The final strategy when you’re looking at how to afford travel is to look into options to make more money. Are you leveraging all the ways available to bring in additional money? Can you invest or create a side hustle to create a travel fund for your family’s next adventure?
The best side hustle is done by using the assets already at your disposal and creating a fully, or partly passive, income source. You can find lots of information with ideas on creating a side income, but there are a few things to consider:
- Do you have money that can be invested into a side hustle? If you have some money to get started, you may have more options for a side hustle
- Do you have time to manage a side hustle? Some side hustles (like delivering food) are rally just another job – other options have more flexibility
- Is this a long term or short term solution? Taking online survey or otherside hustles may not be a long term solution.
- Are you better off investing in your current career? Is there room for growth?
- Do you have a talent you can use as a side hustle?
Here is a list of some of the common side hustles that are often recommended to help you afford budget family travel:
- Deliver food or groceries
- Drive for Uber
- Sell your photos or art online
- Create a blog
- Take online surveys
- Rent out space in your current home or garage (AirBNB, or car or boat storage)
- Buy an investment property and rent it out
- Become a reseller
- Clean houses
- Sell something online (like on Etsy)
- Give music lessons
- do landscaping
- Shovel driveways or plow
For many years, my husband and I thought about many of these side hustles, but we didn’t have money or time (or talent) to invest into them between kids and full-time jobs. When we finally decided to prioritize travel, we knew we needed to add something to our lives to help fund the travel.
Our first step was to buy a property we could use to rent out and make a side income. We bought a home in Vermont in a place we love and do short and long-term rentals. This has been a great source of additional income for us. It does take time to manage but with the right systems in place, we’re able to be mostly hands off!
We are currently working on several other ways to bring in money through a side income stream, but are focused on options that don’t require a lot of time. This blog is just one of the ways to get more flexibility, and some income to help us travel more!
And that’s it. Those are the methods we currently use to afford or budget family travel. I would love to hear other ideas and experiences with how you budget for travel, so pop your ideas in the comments below and I will continue to update this article with new ideas!