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While these tips are still awesome, check out the following helpful links for more up-to-date budget friendly family travel hacks!
1. Before a trip, freeze a bunch of PB&J sandwiches for ready-made meals.
2. Book a private room with kitchen access at a hostel.
Popular among European families, hostels offer a great alternative to hotels and vacation rentals if your clan plans on spending most of the day out and about in the city. They offer simple accommodations: beds, bathrooms (private and shared), and kitchen access so you can cook your own meals and save money. In larger cities, private rooms with multiple beds and private bathrooms start at just $35 a night.
Check out Hostelling International for well-reviewed hostels in your vacation destination.
3. Bring lollipops on board flights to ease ear pressure.
Or, feed young infants around takeoff time. The sucking helps relieve ear pressure.
4. Fill a binder with printables, games, and other fun things for kids to do on the road or plane.
5. If traveling overnight, change kids into their pajamas before the flight to make sleeping easier.
Get kids in sleep mode by changing them into comfy PJs before boarding a plane — especially when you’ve booked an overnight flight.
6. Keep kids quietly occupied with DIY sponge blocks.
Use a serrated knife to cut a few sponges into 3/4″ strips and hand them over to kids for quiet playtime in the car or plane.
7. Consider alternative airports when booking flights.
Chicago, NYC, San Francisco, and Washington DC all have at least two airports. Check the prices for each in the location you’re visiting. Even if the airport is a little further away, there’s likely public transportation nearby that will get you and your people to where you need to go.
8. Travel in the off-season and pay 1/5 of the price.
Expect to find the best deals on hotel and vacation rental accommodations as well as flights if you avoid vacationing during the summer and around the holidays. Many airlines offer great Cyber Monday deals for trips during January – March, so try to plan your trips around this time to save big. Here’s the best time to book flights by airline.
9. Get off the plane last.
When flying with the kiddos, let all other passengers in the seats behind you get off the plane first. That way, you won’t feel rushed and stressed to get out of their way.
10. Create backseat pockets with a shoe organizer for long car rides.
11. Camp along the way.
Camp for free at national forests, or pay a small fee (around $20 per vehicle) at designated campgrounds that also offer bathroom and shower facilities.
Traveling in an RV? You can even park overnight for free in many Walmart parking lots — just call ahead to ensure the closest Walmart participates.
12. Rent RVs for as low as $1 a day.
One-way destination RV rentals trips are quickly growing in popularity as a thrifty alternative to traditional vacations. You’ll have to book your cheap RV rental in advance though, so plan ahead and keep in mind that the cheapest rentals go quickly. Since these rental deals tend to be for one-way trips, you’ll also need to arrange return travel plans.
Here are some companies that offer cheap RV rentals:
- Apollo.com – If you live in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, or Las Vegas, this site has spectacular one-way $1 specials on their RVs and oftentimes offer incentives like fuel credits or travel allowances.
- Jucy.com – They call these “campervans,” but they’re actually minivans that have been retrofitted with a pop-up tent sleeping area on top and a kitchen set up in the trunk compartment.
- Imoova.com – Imoova offers one-way relocations of both campers and cars for $1 a night plus applicable fees. This option is perfect for bigger families where they want some additional space or an easy option to run into town for supplies without taking the big vehicle. It’s also for tent campers or road trippers who need a car but not the bulk of an RV.
- Transfercar.com – This relocation service helps rental companies shuttle their vehicles between branches by renting both recreational vehicles and cars at $5 or less per day for one-way trips.
13. Create countdown games for breaks and the ETA to your final destination.
Instead of hearing “Are we there yet?” every 10 minutes or so, start a new countdown each time you get back in the car for another leg of your road trip. For instance, you could hang a banner over the back of the driver seat with blocks of time to tear off as each hour passes.
14. Create a travel LEGO case with a lunchbox.
15. Make a snack tower for long car rides.
ComicCon Family’s directions include drilling holes in small containers and using string to keep the containers together. You could also just super-glue lids to bottoms and add a string and carabiner only to the top.
16. Have kids make their own edible snack necklaces before a trip.
No need for kids and parents to shuffle through a snack bag — just have kids nibble on their necklaces.
17. Create an “I Spy” bottle filled with rice, small toys, beads, buttons, and other colorful objects.
18. Use bike-sharing to cover more ground and save on parking.
Rather than spend money on renting a car — and parking — consider renting bikes to get around your destination. They’re cheaper, more environmentally-friendly, and an awesome way to get to know your vacation spot on a more personal level. You just need a credit card to rent a bike and can return your rental at any bike parking station in the city.
These cities offer great bike-share programs:
- New York
- Washington, D.C.
- Portland, OR
- Minneapolis-St. Paul
- San Francisco
19. Use Amazon Prime Now for last-minute necessities delivered right to you.
Amazon Prime members now get free two-hour delivery on pretty much anything — toiletries and groceries for your travel needs, and even steamers and irons for any wrinkled clothing you happen to pull out of your suitcase. Amazon will even deliver local restaurant takeout to your hotel door in case you and the fam are too tired to dine out.
Prime Now is available in most major US cities, but you have to be an Amazon Prime member. Not a Prime member? Sign up now for a free month.
20. Use the microwaves at Whole Foods.
Instead of going out to eat for every meal, stop by a Whole Foods market and purchase one of their large microwaveable dinners. They’re a healthier option to cheap fast food, and you can heat them up and dine right in the store. No tipping required!
21. Bring a George Foreman grill to make warm sandwiches, quesadillas, hot dogs, and more.
If you have enough room in your luggage, try bringing a Crock-Pot or rice cooker instead!
22. Bring your own dishwashing tools.
Don’t forget a dish soap and a sponge if you plan on cooking in your hotel room.
23. Ask for a refrigerator in your hotel room.
Some hotel rooms already come with refrigerators; others come with fridges packed with snacks and beverages you must pay for if removed. Call your hotel in advance and request a room with an empty refrigerator to store milk, breakfast foods, leftovers, and other family necessities.
24. Use hot water from the coffeemaker to heat baby bottles.
Also good for oatmeal, hot cocoa, even hot dogs!
25. Make your own individually packaged snacks.
26. Organize outfits by day in resealable bags.
Get kids ready quickly, and save space in your luggage by packing daily outfits in zip bags.
27. Childproof the hotel room with a roll of duct tape.
Childproof on the go with duct tape! Cover those sharp corners and electrical plugs for a temporary fix when away from home.
28. Push two hotel chairs together to make a toddler bed.
29. Give kids their own spot to sleep in a hotel room by changing the direction of a bed’s pillows.
30. Bring a pop-up laundry hamper.
Because, trust me, an organized hotel room will help you relax — you’re on vacation after all.