By: Liza Prado — Check out her passport for more great family travel recommendations!
As a kid, I never considered the sacrifices my parents made to take us travelling with them. True, my brother and I got us kicked out of a couple museums, and we pretty much insisted on bringing our own sandwiches to sit down restaurants, but overall I didn’t think we were bad travel companions. It wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I even considered the expenses: multiple plane tickets, food costs, entertainment, souvenirs….it adds up fast. But I believe, as my parents evidently did, that travel is worth the cost (financial and otherwise). If it’s something you enjoy, and something you want to expose your children to, it’s attainable—even if the economy is in the tank.
So how do you see the world without breaking the bank? Here are some tips that have served me well:
- You may be surprised by how much eating out can add up over the course of a trip. Cut your costs by staying at a hotel that has a shared kitchen, a room with a kitchenette, or in a vacation rental. Even just cooking one meal a day will save you a bundle over a vacation’s time. And the benefits go beyond your wallet: you’ll shop in local markets with local folks (i.e. exposure to the culture), you’ll prepare meals that even picky eaters will eat (i.e. happy children = happy parents), and it’ll limit the number of negotiations you’ll have with your partner or children over what and where to eat (i.e. it’ll save your sanity).
- Travelling in the off- or low- season is a great way to save money— everything from hotels and restaurants to car rentals and excursions cost less. Plus, there are fewer tourists. The catch is that the low season typically is weather-related: In the Yucatán, it’s the hurricane season; in Thailand, it’s the rainy season; in Germany, it’s the winter. Your best bet: travel at the bookends of low season to nab the deals but minimize the possibility that bad weather will impact your trip by, say, having a set of stir-crazy kids stuck in a hotel room with you in it.
- There’s a time and place for guided tours: a river trip on the Amazon, a diving excursion in Roatán, an art history tour of Florence. But if you’re travelling with kids, especially young ones, flexibility goes a long way. That’s something you won’t get on an organized excursion. Plus, they’re rarely a bargain. Instead, buy yourself a couple good guidebooks, get a cheap car rental (or jump on public transportation) and hit the sights. And if you’re aching for a guide, hire one on-site. You’ll definitely have to do some planning but don’t underestimate how much fun and freedom—and even adventure–it’ll add to your trip.
Take The Path Less Traveled:
- Beach travel with kids is a classic go-to. But consider travelling to a country that has more than beach: Take a white water rafting trip in Honduras. Hit the Costa Rican rain forests. See the monarch butterflies in Mexico. Check out the Maya ruins in Guatemala. There are amazing places out there, many just a couple hours from home by air. And because they are less travelled, they often cost less to enjoy.
- I admit I used to write off all-inclusive resorts. And though I can’t say I’m a complete convert, I do think they have a lot to offer families: decision-free meals available 24/7, organized activities for kids and adults, pools and beaches and spas, and of course, there are the drinks. Beyond the conveniences, all-inclusives often offer deep discounts outside of the high season. All to say, your little ones can build sand castles and cruise the pools while you learn to mambo and enjoy bottomless mojitos, all for the fraction of the typical cost.
Liza Prado is a long time traveler and travel writer. She lives with her husband and their two children in Denver, Colorado. They all love sandwiches on the go.