Traveling with kids on a budget


Summer is in full swing, and for some families, this season includes time to get away and enjoy a trip together.  We recently got back from Colorado, so I had a good twenty four hours in a vehicle with two preschoolers to contemplate the best ways to enjoy summer vacation as a family while maintaining a budget.  My top 4 tips for travel with kids are included below.




1. Drive to your Destination

What will single handedly save you hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars?  Driving. Plane tickets could easily be the single biggest expense for a family on vacation, and driving is one way to avoid that large upfront cost.  We can all probably agree that the financial benefit of driving is clear, but what about the impact on mama’s mental health?

My attitude about long car trips shifted after hearing Jen Wilkin’s perspective at a parenting seminar.  Jen explained that long car trips are “sacred spaces” which we can use to train our kids in both conversation and delayed gratification.  After hearing Jen speak on this, my husband and I view driving as an intentional choice in our parenting approach. If you, like me, are wondering what to ask your kids in the car, Dr. Laura Markham has an awesome list of conversation starters .  It’s also a bonus that kids tend to share more candidly in car, possibly because the lack of eye contact makes the set up more comfortable for them.  

Long car trips also offer an opportunity to teach children how to wait.  Delayed gratification can be a HARD skill to teach, but learning it can have a positive impact on everything from financial wellness to faith.  Jen wisely explained that children who know how to wait are being set up to receive and delay gratification in the gospel, and that as followers of Christ, we are people who delay gratification by default.  This perspective impacts my parenting on a daily basis now, and I’m thankful for Jen Wilkin’s wisdom here.

As I am learning with most situations, setting expectations ahead of time is key.  Explain to your kids how long it will take to get to your destination and what is available for entertainment during the drive.  During our twelve hour drive to Colorado we let the girls watch one movie in the afternoon, and the rest of the time we sang songs, played games (road trip eye spy, anyone?) and colored.  Of course the girls asked “are we to Colorado yet?” and “can I have more snacks?” more times than I care to count, but overall the experience was fruitful.


2. Go during the off season

If economical lodging and meal deals are important to you, travelling during the shoulder season will be your best bet.  In addition to adding flexibility to your budget, you’ll also experience that location with fewer crowds. Of course it is important to weigh the potential weather, but the difference between an affordable destination and an expensive destination may only be one week!  The off season may also provide the opportunity to eat at a restaurant you wouldn’t otherwise enjoy or stay somewhere more indulgent. While we were in Vail, we came across a four star restaurant offering 20% off all meals in June! Restaurants and hotels are more willing to compete for business when there are fewer visitors to the region.  


3. Eat in once per day

Eating in for just one meal per day can help stretch your vacation dollars.  If you are staying at an Airbnb or a hotel offering a continental breakfast, you are already inclined to do this.  As soon as you arrive make a quick stop at the local grocery store or farmer’s market - even that is a bit of an introduction to local life!  If I’m grocery shopping while travelling, I get all kinds of goodies we wouldn’t regularly get at home - so even if we are eating in it is still a treat for the kids.  We made coffee every morning in the hotel room, and indulged in Starbucks once or twice as opposed to everyday. Packing special snacks or lunches for the car can also save some cash, as well as prepare you for the inevitable incessant snack requests!    


4. Have Realistic Expectations

Maintaining realistic expectations is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to travelling with kids.  Be prepared to hear “are we there yet?” and for there to be some tears/fighting. Regardless of where you go, it will likely be the same circus, with different scenery.  Re-orient a difficult experience by expressing gratitude for the time and resources to even make a trip a possibility. Remember that these experiences matter, and they will be part of your family story for years to come.