Yes, you can afford family vacations: here’s how

If we can travel with kids, you can too

If you’re reading this, you’re like many families who would love to travel more… if only they could find a way to afford family vacations. Whether those are road trips, international excursions, weekends away, heck, even a little overnighter, all these and more can seem so out of reach on a modest family budget.

We hear ya. We also believe you can find a way to afford travel with your kids.

“Not only have we saved money. We’ve felt doubly certain that every dollar we spend has been well spent.”

Amazing doesn’t have to be expensive

It’s easy and understandable to think that cheap family vacations can’t be good ones. Often it can seem like a family trip has to be upscale, expensive, and luxurious as all get out in order to be amazing. It doesn’t.

You can afford family vacations. Not only that, you and your kids can have safe, comfortable, clean stays, eat delicious food, and share incredible family experiences without having to shell out top dollar, yen, or euro.

Our family travels the world on a modest family budget

Jodie and I travel with our two kids, and we stick to a modest family budget. We stay in good places and eat the way we like to eat. We’ve also taken our kids to everything from stunning ruins just outside of Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico, to Tokyo Disney Resort in Japan.

As of mid 2024, we’ve traveled as a family to 12 countries in less than 2 years. We’ve also visited 23 states and 26 National Parks properties in our home country of the USA.

Much of what we do to save money but maximize experience are things you can put to work in your family vacation ideas. Here’s what we do.

Slow down

Bustling around from place to place costs more money, tires everybody out, and can leave a family wondering why they bothered leaving home in the first place. Transportation will always be one of the biggest items on your budget. Slowing down reduces this cost.

If anything has helped us afford family vacations and enjoy our travels more, it’s simply slowing down.

We have no illusions that it’s impossible to see and do everything a destination might offer. So we don’t even try.

For any place we visit, we choose our main priorities for where we want to go and what we want to do. We also build in downtime days, or block out a morning or afternoon at our accommodation. They are opportunities for us to recharge, or tend to other parts of life, such as work and school.

It can be hard to say no to some of the amazing places to see and things to do, but both your budget and energy level will thank you.

When we’re out and about, we take our time. We savor where we are, what we are doing, and the company we’re in. Ever since we started taking this slower, cozier approach, our travels have been immensely more enjoyable. Not only have we saved money. We’ve felt doubly certain that every dollar we spend has been well spent.

When you can, avoid peak destinations at peak times

Whether the Grand Canyon or Myrtle Beach, Tokyo or Paris, it can be easy to travel to amazing places during times when they’re not in as much demand. Depending on the times of year you can travel, such as summer vacation or spring break, you may have to travel during inherently more in-demand times of year. Or, your travel interests might coincide with popular destinations.

If you can swing it, try to aim your travels either at a lower demand time or a lower demand destination (and both when you can get it).

Traveling during the peak summer season? Perhaps you can pick a destination that’s not as in-demand.

Interested in a popular destination? See if you can visit when it’s not as busy.

For example, in 2023 we went to Portugal. While Portugal has grown in popularity, we didn’t go during the summer months, the most in-demand time of year for many European destinations. Instead, we went during November. Crowds were smaller, and we still had lots of good weather.

Plus, traveling to either an off-peak destination, during an off-peak time, or both, can yield you tremendous savings on your travels. We target destinations during their shoulder season, or the times of year just outside the main season. Doing so typically still gets us the good stuff about a place, but often at lower prices. Finding lower-demand times and/or lower-demand destinations can be key to helping you figure out affordable family vacations.

Bonus Tip: If you are tied to the school year, consider taking your kids during the school year

Ask your school about the possibility of independent study for a few weeks. This can sometimes be a solution to maintaining school attendance while taking advantage of a great travel opportunity.

“Traveling with your kids on a budget isn’t the same thing as traveling on the cheap.”

We plan how we want to spend money on travel

Which is a convoluted way to say, simply, “we budget.”

Budgeting is how we allocate all our life expenses, including our travels. Even before we started traveling full time in 2022, we used our household budget to plan for other trips. During 2021, we took a trip every single month. We were able to do so because we used our budget to set aside money for travel.

Our budget includes travel categories like these:

  • Accommodation
  • Attractions & Experiences
  • Cash Expenses/ATM Withdrawals
  • Food & Drink
  • Fuel
  • Gifts, Souvenirs & Misc
  • Groceries
  • Household
  • Local Transit & Transport
  • RV
  • Transportation (Airfare, Trains, etc.)
  • Travel – General
  • Travel Insurance

Allocating funds in our travel categories goes a long, long way to helping us stick to our family budget and continue traveling the way we like. Personally, we use YNAB (or You Need A Budget)

We’ve written A LOT about why YNAB is such a great budgeting tool. The short version: In YNAB you always budget with the funds you have, instead of guessing what you might spend in a category. This gets you thinking in the future with your budget instead of reactively.

Whether you use YNAB (you can get a free trial with our link), a homegrown spreadsheet, or something else, tracking how you spend can help you decide how you want to redirect your money. When you prioritize travel in your goals and resources, you are far more likely to make trips happen and afford family vacations.

Learn to cover airfare and hotels with points and miles from rewards credit cards

Rewards credit cards aren’t just for upscale or luxury travel. The points and miles they earn can just as easily pay for economy airfare, mid-range hotel rooms, and more.

I’m going to tell you a secret: We haven’t paid out of pocket for airfare in over a year. Yet our family of four has traveled from Tokyo, Japan to Seattle, USA, with no cost but taxes and fees. Same with flights we’ve taken from Miami, USA, to Porto, Portugal, and from Bologna, Italy, back to Miami. And all those flights were good old-fashioned economy class.

If you’ve wondered if rewards credit cards are a good fit for your family, we’d encourage you to look into how they can help you afford family vacations.

One caveat: Please pay off your balance monthly (we set up autopay on all our accounts, so we never have to worry about payment).

This one free newsletter keeps us in the know on point, miles, offers, and useful news.

Don’t want an annual fee card?

Or, here’s a guide to the cards we use and why.

If you are new to points and miles, or simply unsure about how to put rewards cards to work for your travel dreams, Daily Drop also has a free online Miles and Points 101 Course to get you started:

Connect with other kids and parents, and even work some learning into your fun

Around the world, traveling families connect at fun events called worldschool popups. Sometimes these last for a couple of days; other times, they might last a week. We participated in a 2023 Worldschool Popup, from Worldschool Pop-Up Hub, in Osaka, Japan. Whether visiting massive wooden temples or feeding deer, romping in parks or taking a walking tour of the highlights of Osaka, our Worldschool Popup combined fun, education, and wonderful connections for both kids and adults.

We enjoy Worldschool Pop-Up Hub because each popup has an overall itinerary, but families have total freedom in which events they attend or skip. Plus, there are meetups all over the world, such as these from 2024 alone:

  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • San Diego, California, USA
  • Val Venosta, Italy
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Sevilla, Spain
  • Tashkent & Khiva, Uzbekistan
  • Oaxaca, Mexico
  • London, England, UK
  • Rapid City, South Dakota, USA
  • Tokyo, Japan

Stay in one place

The more cities or additional destinations you go to, your costs inherently increase. Anytime you change where you’re staying, you have to take in the cost of going from one place to another, plus you switch accommodation.

Longer stays have been key in how we afford family vacations and our long-term travels. When we travel, we often try to stay longer in the same place. A longer stay can often net us a discount on the accommodation. Usually these discounts start around 4 nights. The deepest discounts usually open up with 28-night bookings!

There are other ways to save on accommodation. For example, some people rely on housesitting, though in our experience that doesn’t work as well for families. However, home exchanges, where families stay in someone’s home and make their own home available for stays, can be a great fit for accommodation savings.

Here are online accommodation bookers we like to use:

Airbnb

VRBO

Booking

Agoda

Travel based on your priorities, not someone else’s

When we make our travel plans, you bet that we check out what folks on Instagram, YouTube, travel blogs, and various magazines are saying.

However, we won’t use a lot of their recommendations.

As much as we appreciate suggestions, itineraries, and experiential recollections, we always keep front of mind that this is our trip, not someone else’s. We travel based on our priorities (food!), not anyone else’s.

If there are activities or attractions that don’t line up with our interests and priorities, we make other plans. A building’s historical significance doesn’t mean you have to prioritize it in your trip!

To be fair, this doesn’t always mean that we spend less, though it often does. It does mean that our travel spend is based on what matters to us, and that makes every dollar spent worthwhile.

Consider a life change

We did just that. We realized that traveling was a top priority to us and the only way we were going to afford it was if we went full time. It’s very expensive to maintain your homebase while also traveling a lot. Traveling full time didn’t just make travel more affordable overall. It made all of our bills decrease. If you are looking for a way to bring travel front and center into your life, deciding to go full time can be the way to go!

You can afford the trips you want with your kids

Traveling with your kids on a budget isn’t the same thing as traveling on the cheap. When you travel on the cheap, skimping on every cost rules your every decision. Instead of having the experiences you want based on your priorities, you sacrifice quality and skimp on every cost, often depriving yourself of things you would prefer to do if you had the money.

Traveling on a budget means being intentional about how you spend. For the things you want to spend less on, you do. For the things that matter to you and require a higher spend, you know it’s money well spent.

Whatever your family travel budget, you can set up your trip so that it’s affordable, while making family memories that last a lifetime.

Want more affordable family travel? Check out our videos

Affordable Japan

Affordable Singapore

Affordable Bangkok, Thailand

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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