When we asked hundreds of moms and dads about family travel, one topic that came up again and again is money. Traveling with kids can be expensive – and not just because you have to buy more seats on the airplane. Kids need clothes, shoes, backpacks, suitcases. They are always hungry. If you have more than two children and you no longer fit in a single hotel room, travel is even more costly.
But here’s the thing: travel is worth it. This time of year, many of us will be traveling to visit our families. Time connecting with the people we love and the places that feel like home is precious.
So here are 12 simple tips to save money as you travel with your family this season!
1. Define your priorities.
Decide what is most important to your family this season. It may be helpful to think about the purpose of your trip. Do you want to connect with family or visit friends? Do you want to enjoy outdoor activities like skiing or ice skating? Or would you prefer to shop or go to the ballet? Would you rather try new restaurants or eat home cooked meals with your family?
Talk with your family about your priorities – and give your kids a say. Once you know what matters most, it’s easier to decide where to spend and where to save. It may be helpful to let everyone pick one activity that’s important to them.
2. Be flexible on flights to save.
Airline fares will only go up and up as the holidays near, so book now. To get the best deal, book your tickets about 6-8 weeks early. When booking travel for the holidays, prices vary depending on the day and time of travel. Before you book tickets, consider leaving one day or earlier or returning one day later.
To save money, you may want to consider early morning or red eye flights or long layovers. Sometimes traveling on the actual holiday – Christmas Day or New Years Eve – is less expensive than traveling before.
3. But don’t be too flexible.
It may not be realistic to expect kids – especially little ones – to be put up with long layovers or disrupted sleep. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years are the busiest travel season of the year. There are more chances of lost luggage, overbooked flights and bad weather – all of which can disrupt you plans. If possible, fly direct. Spending a little more per ticket may be worth it.
4. Save money on the road.
Driving instead of flying? Take a few minutes before you leave to inflate your tires to get the best gas mileage. Plan your route to avoid construction and traffic. Driving the speed limit and storing luggage inside your car can also help.
5. Wait to book your hotels.
When it comes to hotels around Christmas, here’s a surprising tip: it actually pays to wait until Thanksgiving week. Especially if you are traveling with more than one or two children, consider renting a condo or house through Airbnb or Kid & Coe. Don’t forget extended stay hotels that typically accommodate business travelers – who aren’t traveling for the holidays. They often have great deals around the holidays.
6. Stay with Family
While sharing a house with your extended family might remind you of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it is a great way to save money.
7. Pack smart.
To avoid baggage fees, have everyone in your family back into a carry-on bag and a small backpack. Not sure how to get everything into a carry-on bag? Think strategically about your travel outfit. Encourage kids to wear their bulkiest items on the airplane – and to layer.
If not everything fits in your carry-on baggage, consider putting extras in a single checked bag. A large duffel bag can carry extras for everyone in your family. If you plan to check a bag, remember to weigh it before you leave home to avoid extra fees!
Remember – most airlines do not charge extra fees for car seats or strollers. Be sure to check your airline's rules before you leave the house.
8. Ship gifts.
If you are traveling by air, send presents to your destination ahead of time. Not only will you save on baggage fees, you minimize the risk of presents getting lost en-route or having packages opened by TSA employees. If you do travel with gifts in your bags, don’t wrap them ahead of time!
9. Save money on parking.
Airport parking is more expensive over the holidays. If possible, don’t drive yourself to the airport! Ask a friend to drive your family, use public transportation, or book a taxi. Remember if you use a car sharing service like Uber or Lyft, you may need more than one car – drivers have to follow seatbelt laws!
If you will be leaving your car at the airport during your trip, booking parking in advance can help save money.
10. Brown bag it.
Unless you are flying internationally, most airlines charge for meals or snack packs. There are now rules against bringing your own food. Penguino Travel Boxes include a selection of healthy snacks and treats, like bars made with fruit and nuts and fair trade chocolate. If you’ll be traveling for longer, consider bringing something more substantial: a sandwich, string cheese and piece of fruit will do the trick.
Avoid buying bottled water at the airport. Bring an empty water bottle to fill up after you go through security. This can also help small children avoid spills on the airplane.
11. Prepare for the unexpected.
When you travel with kids – especially over the holidays – be prepared for delays. All kids have a hard time when they are hungry, tired or bored. Their attention spans are short and their bladders are small. Coop them up on a long flights or in the back seat with nothing to do and it’s only natural for them to whine…or worse.
Don’t want to arrive with kids in meltdown? It pays to be ready. Before you leave, run around town to buy snacks, coloring books, toys and travel games. Or skip the last minute trip to the store (and maybe grab a glass of wine with a friend instead?) and let Penguino help!
Penguino Travel Boxes arrive with everything you need to be ready for holiday travel. We curate boxes full of activities to keep little hands busy and snacks to keep little tummies happy.
12. Take care of yourself.
Last but not least, Mom and Dad – take care of yourselves! When you feel calm and confident, your kids will feel safe and happy. Relax and enjoy your seasonal adventures!