I love to travel. I have always loved to travel. Some of my fondest memories from childhood involve our family vacations. I also enjoyed all my travels throughout my university years and early teaching years in the north. It’s been important to me to continue to travel with our little family, even in the years when funds have been tight. I have really wanted to show my girls lots of different places in our country (and we’ve managed to do a few in the US as well) so I have had to really figure out how to travel on a budget. I want to share my best money saving travel tips with you and I can always go into more specific detail for anyone who wants to contact me.
First and foremost what has helped us the most are the principles we have learned from Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover. It allowed us to get out of debt and learn to cash budget our money.
Keep a Trip Line in Your Budget You Pay Into
Within our cash budgeting system (that I can talk about at a later time if you are interested), we have a trip envelope that we pay into off every paycheck. Due to this we are always setting money away for when we travel. We don’t take a yearly big trip so lots of times we are just getting away to the city for a couple of nights and our travel cash envelope easily covers those expenses. So my first tip is to plan ahead – not only when you have a trip on the horizon. It doesn’t have to be much! On top of this, when we plan for a larger trip, we start setting extra money aside months in advance. For instance, we just went to Disneyland in November and we saved money for a year to go. We put our tax return in that fund as well as any extra money from each paycheck. Our goal is to pay for all our trips in cash. Doesn’t always quite pan out but usually at least close and a million times better than going all off credit.
We have a little hybrid camper (up until 2 years ago we had a tent trailer from the 1990s) so camping is one way that we travel for very cheap. You really just have the cost of the campsite (average $30/night) and the gas. Food you are bringing with you and cooking there, which you’d be doing and paying for at home so our normal grocery budget covers that. Camping has been a wonderful way for us to see new places and make memories without breaking the bank. Both girls were about 5 months old when they camped for the first time and have been camping ever since. It was NOT easy back in those days when Sophie was a baby who didnt sleep, but we’d go just for a night or two anyways. We have seen and experienced some amazing things while camping and made quite a few stories to laugh about for years (like our camper popping off the hitch on the Ingram Trail in NWT). Now, I am not a camping lover by nature but my husband is and it is an inexpensive way to fill my travel urges. I have grown to love it more as I see how much my kids love it and how much awesome down time as well as adventures it gives us a family. Reading books and eating smores around the fire is one of my favourite things!
Choose To Drive
Another big way we cut costs is to drive if at all possible instead of flying. With 4 of us, driving is almost always cheaper than airfare and a rental care. We drove 31 hours each way to Disneyland and we are so so so glad we did.
Food, Food, Food
My utmost biggest tip for budget travel is food. PACK YOUR FOOD! We roadtrip alot and we always, always, always pack our food for in the car. We don’t buy meals on the road. We pack cereal and yogurts for breakfast in the hotel room as well as lunch and snacks for in the car during the day driving. On our recent trip to California we had meat, mayo, cheese and a loaf of bread in the car to make sandwiches for lunches daily as well as yogurts, fruit, crackers, and muffins I had made and froze before we left. I had pre-cooked chicken breasts and brought them along in the cooler to make chicken salads for myself. I do the same for airplane travel. I bring all our food to save money but also so we aren’t stuck with no food if we don’t have time during a layover. We even packed all our food for our days at Disneyland and let me tell you, it saved us a ton of money. It also meant that the kids could eat while we were waiting in long lines so they didn’t get hangry or too bored. Added bonus, no one felt sick from eating grease and we didn’t then feel bad to pay $8 for an ice cream or some popcorn for the parade. We wanted to make sure the money we had was available for experiences and souvenirs and not being all spent on food that might get thrown out.
I know it seems like most of my tips revolve around food; but really if you think about it, that is where most money is blown on travel. So I need to share one more money saving food tip: roast chickens! When we are staying in a hotel or at an Air BnB we often go to a grocery store instead of a restaurant. We get a roast chicken, bag of salad, and maybe some wraps or buns. This is a very cheap meal for all 4 of us and we all like it. This is a $20 meal instead of $80 or more if we were to go to a restaurant.
Become A Member
When it comes to staying overnight, there isn’t much way around paying some money. Sometimes you can find an AirBnb or VRBO (which we did in California) for a better price, but sometimes you need a hotel. My biggest tip for that is to become a member of the hotel. It is free to become a member and most often it gets you a discounted rate. We’ve been known to use our phone to sign up as a member from the car so we could get a discounted rate for the hotel! Also, if you know enough in advance, you can often get a cheaper rate by advance booking.
I hope these tips were helpful. I am a HUGE believer in travelling with your kids. I can give more tips on how to travel with little kids specifically, instead of the financial aspect, in another post if that interests people. It doesn’t have to be a big elaborate trip. Some of our favourite times have been in our camper only an hour away from home. It is an amazing way to spend quality time together away from the stress of housework, jobs, etc. It does wonders to foster the relationship with parents and children as well as siblings. And there are so many wonderful educational aspects of it as well! How cool to see so many places. It gives a new meaning to learning about things when you’ve been there, seen it, touched it. I know learning about glaciers meant nothing to my kids until we touched one in Jasper. That was so cool and I dont think any of us will ever forget it.
I hope you found this helpful. Our most recent trip (and by FAR our largest trip ever) was to Disneyland and I am also happy to do a post about that trip specifically if that would be helpful.
Please ask any questions, or even better, share your own tips for travelling on a budget!