12 Ways to Travel with Kids Safely This Summer and Not Break the Bank
After more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions, vaccines are going into arms, states are beginning to reopen closed dining and facilities, and Americans cooped up at home are chomping at the bit to begin traveling again. Studies across travel websites are showing travel will be one of the first things people will do when vaccinated. And boy, aren’t we ready to hit the road?
Even if travel will look a little differently and road trips to less-crowded places will still reign supreme, traveling with kids comes at quite a cost: More bodies to move, more mouths to feed, more of, well, everything. But there are ways to save when you travel with children. And it won't steal from the college fund – honest!
After a decade working for TripAdvisor, these are my tried-and-true tricks for traveling with my kids.
1. Stay at a hotel with free amenities
One thing any parent knows if how quickly all the little expenses add up. And one thing that has always confounded me is why I have to pay for WiFi at an expensive hotel when a budget property will give it to me for free. When it comes to traveling with kids, it’s all about the free amenities: free breakfast and free internet can easily save a family $30 to $40 a day. An extra $80 during a weekend getaway could be used for entry into an attraction. Stay for a week and the extra $210 to $280 covers a night in the hotel and then some.
2. Check your credit cards
There may be deals you are missing out on without even knowing it. Your credit card may come with a variety of travel perks that are good for you and the entire family. For example, Bank of America cardholders (including debit cardholders) receive free admission to museums on the first weekend of the month, including the Chicago Art Institute, the Museum of Fine Art in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Take a look at benefits your cards offer and take advantage of them.
3. Cash in on rewards
Speaking of credit cards, if you are not using a rewards card, you should be. While travel during the pandemic came to a standstill, earnings on spending did not. Credit cards offering 2:1 points and miles for simply shopping at the grocery store and dining can help you get free nights at hotels and a free flight. When travel returns to full swing, you’ll find even more rewards for purchasing flights and hotels on your card, from 5 to 10:1 earnings. One of the best credit cards for rewards is the Chase Sapphire line, which gives you the freedom to earn points for any hotel or airline. Just make sure when you use the card to make purchases that you pay the balance off each month so you don’t incur interest and negate your earnings.
4. Book in advance
Booking in advance is easier said than done in our pandemic world but anyone who travels understands airfare climbs the closer to the dates you want to travel. Plus, airlines watch school schedules in your state to know when spring break and other school breaks take place to raise the rates. Getting in early will save you, but not only on the airfare. These days, airlines only offer free seating selection in the rear of the plane. If those free seats go to someone who booked ahead, you’ll be left with two choices: Be at the mercy of the airlines to attempt to seat your family together (horrible!) or purchase seat assignments in advance, which can climb over $100 on certain airlines, flights and seats. Book ahead to ensure you are seated together and save money. Many airlines have changed their policies to make changing flights easier, and without charging fees in the event you need to eschedule your trip.
5. Turn to Groupon
Sites like Groupon and Living Social offer discounts on dining and attractions but you don’t need to use them just in your hometown. If you’re going away, search the sites for specials in the destination in which you will travel and you may find meals and attractions at 2 for 1. On a trip I took to Oahu, a Groupon search presented a half-price underwater Snuba adventure. Besides saving me $35 per person, it introduced something fun to try that I had never even thought to look to do.
6. Visit destination websites
Visitors’ bureaus have websites filled with fantastic information on what to see and do in their ‘hood. They also list hotels, restaurants and shops, oftentimes providing discounts to all on their websites. If you forget to do this before you go, the same bureaus may have printed discounts available found at local hotels and websites. You can typically find 10% off or kids’ eat free deals.
Even with a pandemic the airlines have not let up on the extra fees they charge, from picking seats to luggage. However, each passenger traveling gets to bring a personal item as well as a carry-on. It may sound like an oxymoron to pack light with small kids but it is possible, and each child can bring a carry-on. Perhaps they cannot wheel it through the airport themselves but if you can manage multiple bags, you can bring them aboard for each member of your party – stow it under the seats in front of the kids since their feet don't touch the floor.
8. Stay at a hotel with kitchenettes
While I certainly can spend more than $100 on a dinner for two at a nice restaurant with a bottle of wine, meals with kids can be chaotic and quick. It’s not about the ambience; they are just hungry and need to be fed. All. The. Time. And how often do they actually finish what they order? That’s why a hotel with a kitchenette comes in handy. When the kids wake you at the crack of dawn, you can give them some milk and cereal while you shower and dress. When you take a break for naptime, the kitchenette can have snacks at the ready for when they wake up (snacks out can run you $5 dollars versus what you pick up at the local store). And those leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated so they don’t go to waste. Even better? Keep a bottle of something to enjoy when the kids conk out.
9. Use AAA
I remember my grandparents using AAA and Trip Tiks with maps that were detailed with routes for road trips. It may seem old-fashioned but without the printed road maps AAA not only provides roadside assistance for your travels to give you peace of mind when doing a big drive but come with a plethora of discounts. Members get savings on hotel rates, dining, attractions and shopping. When traveling with kids, the minimum $54 membership pays for itself in rewards.
10. Watch for "kids-free” deals
Resorts and others know the money is where the parents are, which is why they may offer kids-stay-and-eat-free deals. Yes, they are giving you something free in hopes you'll spend more money but you can really save with these. This promotion is especially popular with Caribbean resorts such as Atlantis in the Bahamas or all-inclusive family-friendly resorts in Mexico. Dreams Resorts is running such a deal for travel in the second half of 2021. Amtrak also often runs promotions for kids 15 and younger to travel free by train when traveling with a parent.
11. Go for that all-inclusive package
All-inclusive resorts may seem more expensive and perhaps that is because you see the price upfront. Instead of being nickeled and dimed, an all-inclusive vacation allows you to budget. When you arrive at your resort, all meals, activities and the room are covered. You won’t have to say “no” to the kids and they can eat all-day if they wanted in the buffet. Try that at, say a Disney hotel where you wear the handy-dandy MagicBand and you’ll find yourself with a big bill at the end of the trip, especially if you've given your child free reign on snacks.
12. Travel in the off-season
There is a reason travel is more expensive in the summer and during major holidays: Everyone is doing it. Attractions and hotels slash prices once school resumes, with the deepest discounts found in October, early December and January. If you have young preschool-aged children, this is your moment. It gets more difficult as the kids get older, but it can be done if it's not a regular thing. Even taking a long weekend and missing a couple days of school may be feasible. When a stay at Disney is discounted by 25 to 35%, it may be worth it to take some homework on the plane.
Travel with children isn't regulated to visiting your parents, camping or staying close to home. Thinking ahead and doing a bit of research before you go can help you keep the costs down and make that much-needed, almost-post-pandemic getaway.