How we make cheap trips as a family of 5

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These are our tips for an affordable family vacation.


Key points

  • Travel can be expensive, especially with family.
  • Taking to the road, avoiding hotels and maximizing credit card points are just a few ways to save money.

Before my husband and I had kids, we used to travel quite a bit – and we were really willing to rough it to explore more corners of the world. But these days it’s harder with three kids in the mix. While it’s reasonable (if not a little dirty) to book shared rooms in hostels while my husband and I are traveling, it doesn’t really work when you have kids.

Luckily, however, my family found ways to fit the trips into our budget. Here are some of the tactics we use to reduce our costs so we can go out and do more.

1. We drive rather than fly

Sometimes there is no choice but to board a plane to reach your destination. And seeing as my family calls the East Coast home but my husband’s family still lives on the West Coast, air travel is something we can’t totally avoid.

But for trips that are feasible by car, my family almost always chooses to drive rather than book flights. This often saves us a lot of money and in some ways makes traveling a little less stressful. Of course, driving for 14 hours straight can be tiring. But taking the car also means not having to worry about packing too much stuff.

As an example of how driving can save us money, we are planning to go to Florida this spring. Flights for the week we’re targeting would cost us around $1,900, and that doesn’t include the cost of parking at the airport or checking baggage (which we’ll have to pay unless we ask for a new card. credit with travel rewards that offers free checked bags). By contrast, I estimate driving will cost us less than $500 – and that includes the cost of gas, accommodation and meals along the way.

2. We rent private houses instead of booking hotels

Hacking a family of five into a hotel room isn’t always comfortable or even feasible. Often when we stay in hotels we are forced to upgrade to a suite which can be even more expensive.

This is why we tend to favor private rentals over hotels. Not only does this often save us money on our nightly rate, but it also gives us more space. Plus, when you rent a private home, you have access to a functional kitchen (whereas a hotel room may only offer you a mini-fridge). And while we generally like to dine out while on vacation, we don’t necessarily like to do so at every meal.

3. We use the correct credit cards

Because we have reduced air travel during the pandemic, we currently do not have a travel rewards card as many of the good ones charge an annual fee. For us, it is not worth paying an annual fee at the moment. But we still do a good job of getting money back on our travels.

Last summer we took a beach vacation and went out to dinner most nights (we cooked our other meals in our rental house). By using the correct credit card at these restaurants, I was able to earn some extra money to offset the cost of our trip. We also have a credit card that offers extra cash back at the pump, and it’s our go-to choice for long car trips.

While traveling as a family of five can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. These tactics have saved us a fair amount of money over the years – which is especially welcome now that the days of booking cheap hostel stays are long gone.

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