Millennial Money: save on family trips without stress

My family didn’t travel much when I was growing up, but when we did, my parents did everything they could to cut costs.

On a trip to Disney World, for example, our family of six changed hotels. Everyone. Evening. My mom worked for a hotel chain and could get one free night per property.

Did my parents save money? Yes. Did it add to the mental burden of traveling with four children? Absolutely.

Now that I am an adult and planning a trip with my own child, I fully understand how expensive and difficult it is to travel with children. Planning and packing requires taking into account naps, snacks, tantrums and blowouts. And you’re budgeting for additional airfare, a larger rental car, and additional accommodations.

You can save money on family trips and still have peace of mind. To find out how, I consulted two experts. This is what they had to say.


The secret of smart travelers? In reality, they do not pay for airfare or accommodation. Instead, they use rewards credit cards to turn everyday purchases into free flights and hotel rooms..

“Make your money work for you,” says Preethi Harbuck, a San Francisco Bay Area-based travel writer behind the blog Local Passport Family. Harbuck’s family of seven (soon to be eight) travels almost exclusively on credit card points. “There are more expenses when you have children, but you can take advantage of them to obtain greater benefits.”

Skipping cards can earn you big points thanks to sign-up bonuses, but it can be difficult to manage, says Jamie Harper, a mother of four and author of the travel blog Fly by the Seat of Our Pants. To keep things manageable, stick to one or two main cards.

Harper and her husband rotate between Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton cards, which offer perks like free breakfast, Wi-Fi and anniversary nights.


Overpacking can be a disaster on multiple fronts. First, you have to carry all those things with you and keep track of them along the way. The chances of losing a blanket are high.

Second, checked bags are expensive: around $30 to $35 per bag, one way.

Harbuck and his family stick to a single checked bag or a few smaller carry-ons. Instead of a new outfit for each person, every day, they re-wear outfits and usually do laundry on every trip.

“Pack clothing that is lightweight, packs well, and dries quickly,” she says, noting that woolen items are great for colder weather.

Having layers is also crucial. Skimp on this and you could end up spending $50 per child on souvenir sweatshirts to keep them warm, says Harper.


Build your itinerary with free activities like local parks, hikes, beaches, or free museums.

You can also take advantage of the benefits included with memberships you already have (to your local zoo or children’s museum) or invest in passes you can use again and again.

When paying for experiences and excursions, consider your family’s stage of life. Instead of taking your toddler to an art museum, for example, opt for an outdoor sculpture garden where they can run around or a museum designed for kids with lots of interactive features at their level.

Your family’s travel priorities should also guide you, says Harbuck. Learning about the culture and history of a place is important to their family, so they spend money on activities that achieve that goal and skip over the popular tourist attractions.

“We’ve been to London several times, but we’ve never been on the London Eye,” he says. “It doesn’t help me feel connected to the culture, and it’s very expensive.”


There’s no rule that says you have to dine out for every meal when you’re 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’s bedtime). When packing your dinner or eating at home, avoid an overpriced meal where the kids melt or fall asleep at the table.

Harbuck’s family head to local markets to stock up on food when they land in a new town. Take a road trip? Keep a cooler of food for picnics at rest stops.

“If we don’t go out to eat twice, we’re saving $100 a day, and that’s the cheapest meal possible,” says Harper, noting that her children are picky eaters. “Once we spent $7 per child on buttered pasta. It was the worst experience of my life. They didn’t even eat it.”


This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Kelsey Sheehy is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @kelseylsheehy.


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