A Frugal Family Travel Guide: Fun On a Budget

Family vacations are a blast—until the bills come in. Between hotel stays, airplane tickets and dining out, the costs can quickly add up. Fortunately, it’s become easier and easier to save money on travel. With a little planning and creativity, you can avoid paying for the vacation long after the trip is over. Keep reading for tips on how to have the most fun with frugal family travel.

Family walking on a dock at sunrise, frugal family travel

1. Plan for the off-season

Avoid the busy summer season by planning a trip in the spring or fall. Beachfront hotels slash prices after Labor Day, even though the weather is still warm. Tickets to big theme parks such as Disney and Universal Studios are lowest in October and March. Thinking about a ski vacation? Then consider heading to the slopes in April. Not only are places like Colorado and Vermont still getting snow, but they’re often much less crowded.

2. Be flexible with your travel days

Start your vacation early or end it a few days late to save money on hotels and airfare. For example, arrive on a Wednesday or Thursday instead of on the weekend. Or, head home on Monday or Tuesday rather than on Sunday. By adding a few buffer days, you could cut airfare nearly in half. This comes in especially handy when planning trips around school vacations.

Women leaning out of car windows and pointing, frugal family travel

3. Turn the vacation into a road trip

Skip the stress of the airport and drive to your next vacation destination. Not only will you save on airfare, but you can also make quick stops for family sightseeing on the way to your final destination. If you must take a flight, then consider tracking flights through services such as Google Flights or Skyscanner. These websites let you know when airfare goes up and down, and they can sometimes surprise you with an unexpected price drop.

Save money at your destination by renting a hybrid or eco-friendly car that gets good gas mileage. Use apps while on the road such as GasBuddy that show you the cheapest nearby gas station. Keep the kids entertained by playing classic road trip games such as “I spy” and the alphabet sign game.

4. Consider alternative lodging

Hotels can be one of the biggest costs when attempting frugal family travel, especially when you need lots of space. Instead of a hotel, try camping in a tent or booking a cabin on your next vacation. There are many campsites near popular theme parks and beaches, and they add the extra adventure of being close to nature.

Another option for frugal family travel accommodation is renting a family room in a hostel. Many hostels offer the comfort of hotels, and you also get the chance to meet new people from all over the world. If your family is looking for a little more solitude, then consider a short term rental service such as Airbnb or Homestay.

Woman serving herself at a buffet

5. Save on food

It’s fun to try new cuisines when traveling, but eating out for every meal can quickly add up. One way to reduce costs is by bringing snacks from home such as trail mix and granola bars for periods of downtime. If you are staying somewhere with a kitchen, then get a few groceries to eat breakfast at the property. For lunch, make sandwiches and get fruits that don’t spoil quickly.

If you plan to eat out, then do some research and see where the locals go. Often, those places will be much cheaper than the typical tourist spots. Don’t forget to check for discounts. Many places offer deals for children under 12, students and military members. Some restaurants even offer days where kids eat free. 

6. Look for free activities

Many museums, libraries and entertainment venues offer free events during the week that would be great for the whole family. Museums such as the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Cleveland Museum of Art are free to visit. Other museums have free admission days during the week or once a month.

Before your trip, do a quick search online for free events in the area. Some cities have special websites for visitors that also list free events on a calendar. When it comes to frugal family travel, they’ve got you covered.

Kids throwing water on a man, all laughing, frugal family travel

7. Enjoy the outdoors

Get some fresh air and sunshine and take the family to a park while on vacation. Many parks are free to visit and have sports fields, playgrounds and other fun activities. Some popular parks offer hidden gems, such as the Belvedere Castle in Central Park in New York City, or the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. And enjoying a breathtaking sunrise is free wherever you are.

There are many resources available to help your family save on transportation, airfare and lodging. By following these tips, you can ensure your family will have a great vacation without going overboard on your budget. 

About Haley Kieser

My name is Haley and I am originally from Arizona. I have lived also lived in Minnesota and South Dakota. Among my favorites are being outdoors, traveling, Arizona sunsets, Midwest greenery, craft beer, and the Green Bay Packers.

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