Top Frugal & Practical Tips for Your Next Family Vacation

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My family loves to travel, and it’s all my fault. When I was a voracious reader in my much younger days, I dreamed about destinations around the globe and realized those dreams with my very first trip to Hawaii when I was 16.

Top Frugal & Practical Tips for Your Next Family Vacation via The Survival Mom

That addiction to travel continued and for the next couple of decades, I made my way through Europe more than once, lived in Germany for a few months, worked on an Israeli kibbutz, drove throughout eastern Europe in a heavy-duty diesel Mercedes, and got as far East as Japan and Okinawa

I didn’t keep all these adventures to myself. I shared stories of my adventures with my kids and soon I was hearing about their own plans to travel the world, and as a family, they’ve seen a good portion of the globe.

So, we love to travel, and with that, we’ve become quite good at packing, traveling, and returning home with a fairly good level of expertise. It’s not all foreign travel, either. We’ve traveled nearly 20,000 miles traveling around the western USA, roughing it in our 6-person tent.

Here are just a few tips that have made our travels go smoothly and has helped keep us on a budget:

  • Never pay extra for kids at hotels! Every hotel has a different policy regarding allowing kids to stay free—some as high as 19 years old! But some charge for ages 2 and above. Avoid the extra charges by checking the kids’ charge policy first.
  • Always remember to charge video games, iPads, iPods, cell phones and other electronic games the night before a trip. These can keep the kids happy and occupied the entire trip.
  • Always bring extra food. Avoid being stuck with no food while stalled on the runway or when stores are closed and the kids get hungry. Bring plenty of snacks.
  • Know the TSA rules for getting through airport security and pack accordingly. In each of our suitcases, I keep a gallon-size and quart-size Ziploc bags. As we pack, I place our TSA-approved bottles of liquids (3.4 ounces or less), travel sized toothpaste tubes, and jars/tubes of creams and any other lotions or liquids that MIGHT fall into the category requiring extra security. Once packed, this Ziploc goes on top of everything else inside the suitcase so it can be quickly retrieved when we reach the TSA security station.
  • If you fly more than a couple of times a year, invest in the Trusted Traveler Program. This enables us to use the TSA Pre-Check line at the airport. We don’t have to remove our shoes, jackets, liquids, or belts, and usually only have to remove our laptops for the security process. Because our family travels internationally, each of us has the Global Entry card, $100 per person. This card includes TSA Pre-Check. We filled out online applications and then went to a TSA office for fingerprinting and a short interview. A background check was also part of the process. If you travel with young kids and dread the entire security process at airports, I would highly recommend either Pre-Check or Global Entry. TIP: Pay the extra $15 for Global Entry because it also includes Pre-Check.
  • Kids under 2 fly free in the US—this is a great bargain but know your airline’s rules for traveling with lap children. Be careful outside the US! Most carriers charge at least 10% of the fare for kids.
  • Try to travel when lines and airports are not busy so you are not rushed with the kids. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are the best days to travel. The lines are shorter and fares may be cheaper.
  • Always look for hotels with pools when traveling with kids. Most sites with advanced search allow you to filter hotels for those with swimming pools.
  • Hotels aren’t always the best answer for family travel. Check out Airbnb, VRBO, timeshare resorts from RedWeek.com, HomeAway. These options have many vacation rental properties that can accommodate the entire family at a wide variety of nightly/weekly rates and very often they include kitchen facilities so you don’t have to pay for expensive restaurants.
  • Be careful of parking, Wi-Fi, and other add-on charges – find properties that offer these for free. Call ahead to double check. Wi-Fi charges can usually be avoided, but you have to park somewhere and often, the hotel parking lot is the safest one in the immediate area.
  • Many hotels offer free food for kids – this adds up. Take advantage of hotels with free breakfasts. Some chains offer outstanding hot breakfasts and usually boast about this on their websites.

Traveling with a baby?

  • Kids under 2 travel for free within the US, but don’t make the mistake when of assuming they are free when going oversees – each one will usually cost 10% of the ticket price.
  • It is easier to take dry formula and add water after going through security.
  • If you stock up on freeze-dried food, you can mash up fruits, veggies, and even meats, add warm water, and in just a few minutes have easy-to-pack baby food. I use Thrive Life freeze dried food and can highly recommend it for quality.
  • Bring a stroller where the seat is detachable – so easy to travel with on the plane, car.

What types of services might be available to families that new parents may not know about or think to ask for?

  • Many hotels have babysitting services. Many resorts have special programs for babies so you can get out and not worry about the baby. They may also offer day-camp type activities throughout the day and even evening activities that allow for parents to get out and enjoy a quiet dinner.
  • Consider a suite hotel where you will have 2 rooms, often for the price of one or ask for a larger room. Not all hotel rooms are the same square footage. In a larger room or suite, you can talk, watch TV, etc. while the baby is not bothered in the other room.

When is the best time to travel with a baby?

  • You need more time and don’t want crowds. Go mid-day when there is no rush. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are good days, but Saturday is the quietest travel day and best for traveling with a baby.
  • When traveling with a baby, you’ll be packing more stuff, so give yourself plenty of time for every step of the travel process. That TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry might be worth every penny if it makes the airport experience go more smoothly.

What are the three (or five) most common mistakes first-time parents make when traveling with their little one?

  • I used to pack a full week’s worth of diapers when we took my daughter on vacations, and one day my husband said, “You know, they sell Huggies in San Diego.” After that, I just packed enough supplies to get us through the first couple of days and since we either had a rental car or our own, it was super easy to pick up what we needed.
  • Don’t put the essentials like wipes and diapers in checked luggage – you need these with you.
  • Don’t be stressed about having the baby. The baby usually takes the clue from the parent and if the parent is calm, the baby is often calm.
  • Make the baby part of your trip. I took my first child with me on many trips for her first two years and even brought her to meetings. Most people love babies, so they will admire your courage in taking the baby. I closed many deals because I brought my daughter and she made everyone soften up at the meeting.

How can parents minimize stress during their trip?

  • Leave double the normal time. If you can afford a nanny, take the nanny. Arrange for babysitting and anything else you need ahead of time.

Top Frugal & Practical Tips for Your Next Family Vacation via The Survival Mom

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I'm the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I've been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

5 thoughts on “Top Frugal & Practical Tips for Your Next Family Vacation”

  1. If road tripping with a baby/toddler, double your road time. You will be stopping for extra potty/diaper/snack breaks, and the kids hate being trapped in their seats more than you do. It will also keep you more refreshed and less cranky too!

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  3. 1. Always call the hotel(s) before making your reservation to make sure their pool and other critical amenities will be operational. 2. Also check to see if they will be doing any construction or “upgrades” while you are there. 3. Another thing to ask is if there will be any large weddings, conferences or large groups of teenagers or college kids staying at the hotel. 4. Ask if there will be a change in management or ownership before you arrive, this may result in a change of policies like kids staying free or free breakfast. 5. Be sure to read the online reviews by actual travelers (try Tripadvisor.com): they will have experienced what the rooms and service are really like and whether “hot breakfast” actually means toast, instant oatmeal, and hard-boiled eggs. 6. Find out how close the nearest grocery store is and what its hours are, just in case you run out of critical supplies in the middle of the night. You can ask the front desk staff or look online at Google Maps.
    Your hotel may claim to have great amenities and a value price, but nothing ruins a fun trip like having the expected pool unexpectedly closed, the noise of construction, or rowdy kids on your floor. Finally, check the online reviews again, and call the hotel again to confirm your reservation, right before your travel dates (before the cancellation deadline). Make sure nothing has changed and you don’t need to stay somewhere else.

  4. That’s a nice article. Been a while since I came by to visit. Always a good read here. I’ve done a bit of traveling lately, and a couple times I got bit by staying where Wi-Fi was either not available, or on a fee basis. The first was a pain, the latter I just poneyed up for… eh. If I wasn’t in such a rush an PLANNED better, hehe, I’da been in much better shape.

    For me, internet connection is important. I can use my phone as a hotlink if need be, but that costs, too.

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