Find your path to family travel: 2. embrace affordable.

Another misconception about the path to family travel? Often people think travel has to be luxurious and expensive, especially with kids. We disagree.

Travel can be…

  • Amazing
  • Secure
  • Fun
  • And even… affordable!

We focus our limited family travel budget on the things that matter to us. Here are some ways we balance accommodation, food, experiences, and other parts of our trips, so we can also have affordable trips.

Affordable family travel isn’t the same thing as cheap

We don’t pay top dollar for our travels. At the same time, we don’t compromise our family’s safety and security. We travel on a budget, for sure—but that’s not the same thing as traveling cheap. For example, we don’t pay to stay at luxury hotels. A budget hotel or motel gives us a safe, comfortable place to sleep, and that’s what matters to us.

By knowing our travel priorities and budget, we can focus on time, dollars, and energy on what matters to us:

  • Experiences that enhance our understanding of the world and each other
  • Nourishing our sense of wonder
  • Getting the most out of our time with our kids while they are still children

Accommodation

Camping, motels, vacation rentals, you name it. For what some people spend on one night of accommodation, our family of four can travel for weeks. At the same time, we don’t skimp on safety and comfort.

Our thinking? When you get down to it, accommodation’s main job is to give you a safe place to sleep and a secure place to have your things.

Camping is a big part of how we travel. We enjoy it, for starters. It’s also far cheaper than other forms of accommodation. Public lands play into a lot of our US travels, in part because we can camp there. Camping immerses us more in a place, and that immersion is one of our travel priorities. (Plus, it doesn’t hurt that, because of her amputation, Jodie has a National Parks Access Pass that entitles us to discounts on camping and other costs on many public lands.)

Depending on the trip, we might also stay in a vacation rental or motel. We use online reviews to guide our decision, along with any recommendations we can get from trusted connections to stay in places where we feel we and our children are safe.

Food

Food can be a tricky one, but it’s also an opportunity to balance affordable with being in the moment. We also don’t have any dietary considerations, and that makes it easier for us when it comes to getting groceries or eating out. Food is a big way we make our travels affordable:

Cooking

Especially when camping or staying in a vacation rental, we cook. We’re omnivorous and eat with a plant slant. Being willing to cook is a huge way we save money.

A quick grocery run is often part of our travels. We get more mileage out of our travel budget when we take the time to pick up snacks and ingredients for basic cooking, and that helps us get more out of our trip overall.

On the road

Eating healthy on a make-some-big-miles driving day is not easy, and we by no means are paragons of perfect in-the-car meals.

During our 2021 summer family road trip, for example, were there times we opted for fast food? Yup. Do we feel guilty about that? Nope. Every fast food meal we ate is likely outnumbered five to one by more balanced meals we cooked.

When we’re driving, sometimes we’ll also head to a grocery store near the highway, and pick up some wraps, sandwiches, or other simple, pre-made foods that are easy to eat while on the go.

We pack lots of balanced snacks, to combine getting in fruits and veggies with plenty of protein, such as:

  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peanut butter pretzels
  • Cheese sticks
  • Trail mix
  • Nori
  • Sliced bell peppers
  • Baby carrots
  • Snap peas
  • Fruit leather
  • Roasted chickpeas

Anthony’s also written a road snacks article you might find helpful too: 12 Make-Ahead Snacks to Power Your Next Road Trip

Dining out

We don’t head to restaurants a lot. It’s just not our thing.

When we do, however, we usually try to make it special. Not did-you-pack-the-tux special, mind. Rather, we look for a distinct local place, especially somewhere that really encompasses the flavor or culture of where we’re traveling.

Since we dine out occasionally, this is also a time where we may allocate some more budget, so we can really enjoy a place and know it’s exactly what we intended to do with those travel dollars.

Transportation

Sure, you can find your path to family travel, but you’ve still got to figure out how to get from A to B.

For many of our US trips, we drive. We enjoy road tripping, and that part of the journey is part of the fun. Now that we’re planning more extensive travels involving flights abroad, though, we’ve been using travel hacks to help us along.

For example, with our Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Ink Business Cards, we’ve accrued over 300,000 points that we can redeem for flights (amongst lots of other options). With four people flying, that’ll help us save on flight costs—and we can repurpose those family travel budget dollars elsewhere.

Something we’d love to do more? Take the train. We’re also looking at how to include more train travel in our adventures, as a memorable part of the journey all its own.

Experiences

We’re more inclined to experiences than things.

Except rocks, apparently. If we so much as go for a short walk, odds are each child is bringing home at least one must-have, can’t-forget rock. (But that’s okay: We keep some of the rocks in a big mason jar on a bookshelf in the hallway.)

For some experiences, we focus on free. Wandering a cool downtown. Taking a hike. Going for a scenic drive. We love those experiences, and many of them come to form some of our best memories of a trip.

At the same time, we budget for experiences where we are more than happy to bust out our wallets. If it’s a priority for our family, we will balance our travel budget accordingly.

The path to family travel is pay your own way, your way

Family travel isn’t cheap, but that’s also not the point. Family travel is worthwhile. It bonds families and instills in children memories and experiences they can reflect back on throughout their entire lives.

By finding our balance of affordable travel, we are able to do so much, in so many places, with our kids. And that’s the really important part. The priceless part. The thing that makes every cost and challenge of the path to family travel worthwhile:

We’re traveling as a family and loving the time and experiences we get to share while our children are still kids.

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.