Bulletin
Investor Alert

New York Markets Close in:

NerdWallet Archives | Email alerts

May 20, 2022, 5:02 a.m. EDT

4 tricks for saving money on a family vacation

new
Watchlist Relevance
LEARN MORE

Want to see how this story relates to your watchlist?

Just add items to create a watchlist now:

  • X
    Walt Disney Co. (DIS)
  • X
    Hyatt Hotels Corp. (H)
  • X
    Marriott International Inc. (MAR)

or Cancel Already have a watchlist? Log In

By Kelsey Sheehy

This is reprinted by permission from .

My family didn’t travel much when I was a kid, but when we did, my parents jumped through hoops to cut costs.

On a trip to Disney World, /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -0.94% for example, our family of six switched hotels. Every. Night. 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 kids? Absolutely.

As an adult now, planning a trip with my own child, I fully understand how expensive — and hard — it is to travel with kids. Planning and packing requires accounting for naps, snacks, tantrums and blowouts. And you’re budgeting for extra airfare, a bigger rental car and additional lodging.

You can save money on family travel and still have peace of mind. To find out how, I consulted two experts. Here’s what they had to say.

Pay with points

The secret of savvy travelers? They don’t actually pay for airfare and lodging. 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 expenditures when you have kids but you can leverage those into greater benefits.”

Card hopping can net you major points thanks to signup bonuses but can be hard to manage, says Jamie Harper, 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  primary cards .

Harper and her husband rotate between Hyatt, /zigman2/quotes/207542923/composite H -1.51% Marriott /zigman2/quotes/200170042/composite MAR -1.09% and Hilton /zigman2/quotes/202780307/composite HLT -2.02% cards, which offer perks like free breakfast, Wi-Fi and anniversary nights.

Be sure to read: Hoping to snag a cheap airline ticket for summer travel? Good luck, new inflation data show

Pack light — and smart

Overpacking can be a disaster on multiple fronts. First, you have to lug all that stuff with you and keep track of it along the way. The odds of a lost blankie are high.

Second, checked bags are expensive — around $30 to $35 per bag, each way.

Harbuck and her family stick to either one checked bag or a few smaller carry-ons. Rather than a fresh outfit for each person, each day, they rewear outfits and typically do laundry on each trip.

“Pack clothing that’s lightweight, packs up well and dries quickly,” she says, noting that wool items are great for colder weather.

Having layers is crucial, too. Skimp on this and you may wind up spending $50 per kid on souvenir sweatshirts to keep them warm, Harper says.

Check out: 12 best American road trips

Choose activities mindfully

Pack your itinerary with free things to do, like local parks, hikes, beaches or free museums.

You can also tap into perks included with memberships you already have — to your local zoo or children’s museum — or invest in passes that you can use again and again.

When you do pay for experiences and excursions, consider your family’s life stage. Rather than taking your toddler to an art museum, for example, opt for an outdoor sculpture garden where they can run around or a museum tailored toward children with plenty of interactive features at their level.

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

“We’ve been to London several times but have never ridden the London Eye,” she says. “It doesn’t help me feel connected to the culture, and it’s super expensive.”

Also see: Six towns worth visiting for their historic downtowns

Pack snacks, grocery shop

There’s no rule that says you have to dine out for every meal when you’re on vacation.

Instead, pick one meal a day to eat out. Lunch is a good option, as it’s typically cheaper than dinner (which in some countries starts later than most kids’ bedtimes). By packing your supper or eating at home, you avoid an overpriced meal where children are either melting down or asleep at the table.

More: Here’s your guide to a sweet weekend escape to Fredericksburg in Texas Hill Country

Harbuck’s family hits up local markets to stock up on food when they land in a new city. Taking a road trip? Keep a cooler with food for rest-stop picnics.

“If we don’t eat out twice, we’re saving $100 a day — and that’s the cheapest possible meal,” Harper says, noting her kids are picky eaters. “We spent $7 per kid on buttered pasta once. It was the worst experience ever. They didn’t even eat it.”

More From NerdWallet

Kelsey Sheehy writes for NerdWallet. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

/zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 95.02
-0.90 -0.94%
Volume: 3.84M
June 29, 2022 12:26p
P/E Ratio
65.66
Dividend Yield
0.00%
Market Cap
$174.72 billion
Rev. per Employee
$354,668
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/207542923/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 74.50
-1.15 -1.51%
Volume: 306,487
June 29, 2022 12:24p
P/E Ratio
532.71
Dividend Yield
0.00%
Market Cap
$8.34 billion
Rev. per Employee
$68,818
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/200170042/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 137.18
-1.51 -1.09%
Volume: 1.23M
June 29, 2022 12:25p
P/E Ratio
30.50
Dividend Yield
0.87%
Market Cap
$45.39 billion
Rev. per Employee
$115,475
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/202780307/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 112.96
-2.33 -2.02%
Volume: 1.25M
June 29, 2022 12:25p
P/E Ratio
43.57
Dividend Yield
0.53%
Market Cap
$32.09 billion
Rev. per Employee
$40,986
loading...

This Story has 0 Comments
Be the first to comment
More News In
Personal Finance

Story Conversation

Commenting FAQs »

Rates »

Partner Center

Link to MarketWatch's Slice.