The most asked question I get asked is “how can you afford to travel?”, although it’s usually couched in words like “OMG you must be so rich to travel so much” or “You’re on the road again? Are you guys made of money?”
I am lucky that hubby has a great job, which affords us a certain amount of discretionary spending.
We don’t have a money tree planted in the backyard, and family life with kids can be expensive, but we make it work.
Are you guys made of money?”
Make Travel a Financial Priority
Spending money on travel means that we don’t have a lot of money to spend on other things in our lives. We generally buy clothes at Walmart or at consignments stores and only replace things that are completely falling apart or outgrown. The exception would be items of clothing that get used on a VERY regular basis like everyday shoes, outdoor gear that will last for years like polar fleece, or if I find a super good deal at a place like JC Penney.
At home, we rarely eat out, and generally avoid buying packaged food (which costs way more than the ingredients would). You’d be surprised how much you can save (and how much healthier you’ll eat) by making your meals from scratch. By only buying things we really need (and not filling our house with “stuff”), we have that little extra to put away for travel.
Open a savings account for travel
Money that is out of sight is out of mind. Every pay day, put a little cash aside in a separate savings account to be exclusively spent on travel. Don’t be tempted to dip into this account unless it’s an absolutely emergency! You’ll be surprised how much will add up over a year.
If you have a specific trip in mind and know how much it will cost, work out how much you’ll need to save each week/month and make it happen!
Search out the free stuff
It’s OK to want the occasional splurge for a big ticket attraction like Disneyland, but too many high priced activities will seriously erode your travel dollars. With a little research, you’ll find TONS of free experiences for your family to enjoy. All US National Parks have junior ranger programs that are free (and an annual pass for National Parks is only $80, or free for active duty military).
Many state parks, community recreation centres and city museums also have free activities for families. Snow shoeing? You can do that for free in South Dakota. Caving? Free in Oregon. Card making? Free in Kansas City. Art? Free in Omaha. And of course free hiking can be easily found no matter where you go! You’ll have to do a bit of research on your destination before you go to find the freebies, but ‘time spent in recon is never wasted’.
If you have an annual pass to a local attraction (for example a museum or zoo), ask about reciprocal entry into similar attractions in the places that you visit. We have received free entry into countless museums during our travels by showing our Omaha Children’s Museum pass at the front desk and asking if they have reciprocal entry.
If you’re in the military, always ask if they offer a military discount (but never expect one, or act insulted if they don’t… it’s a privilege, not a right).
Book accomodation wisely
Before we had kids, we happily frequented backpacker hostels. Now that we’re a family of 4, on road trips (as opposed to camping trips) we generally stay in motels. We’ve found the Best Western chain in the USA to be good value for money. Yes, it completely lacks the local character and charm of that oh so perfect bed and breakfast by the lake. But it’s predictable, generally has a pool for the kids to splash around in after a long day, offers a free breakfast (more on that in the next point), and and you don’t have to worry about tried, cranky kids running around someone’s home and wrecking something.
Hotels get bonus points if there’s a bar downstairs to enjoy a drink when the kids are tucked into bed. By sticking with the same chain, we’ve managed to build up points and are rewarded with several free nights each year, along with a free upgrade to a better room most times we stay. If you’re staying in a location for a week or more, or have a large family needing more than one room, AirBnB.com or HomeAway.com are great ways to find cheaper accomodation and it will often be a fully self contained apartment or house so you can cook your own food.
Eat the free breakfast
Life on the road away from a kitchen means eating out… a lot. The cost of restaurants can really add up over the course of a long trip, but there are ways that you can minimise this cost as much as possible, even if you’re not staying somewhere with a kitchen. When booking hotels, choose one that has a free full breakfast, and make breakfast your largest meal of the day. You want to be well and truly full by the end of the meal. Grab a coffee and sweet treat on your way out so you’re not tempted to stop at the cafe down the road in an hour. Often these hotel breakfasts will also have whole fruit like apples and bananas in a bowl. Grab one for each member of the family – that’s your afternoon snack.
When we’re on the road, we only eat two meals a day – breakfast in the hotel and one other main meal somewhere around 3-4pm. When the munchies strike at other times, we’ll stop at a playground somewhere and eat the fruit we took from breakfast, or things like muesli bars, yoghurt, salads, cheese and crackers that we bought at a local grocery store. A small esky/cooler in the car can keep things like yoghurt nice and cold and won’t take up too much room. Just remember to pop the ice bricks in the freezer of your hotel each night.