Family Vacations: Saving Money and Sanity When Traveling with Kids


Family vacations are cherished memories in the making. Keeping children entertained on the road or during a flight,  however, can be challenging. Planning ahead can alleviate anxiety by preparing parents ready to handle common issues that arise while traveling with babies and young children. The good news is that some of the best strategies cost little to nothing!

Here are several tips that may save you money and hassles when traveling with your little explorers: Buy one or two new toys for the trip. Save by choosing just the right items to occupy your children to and from your destination, rather than dozens of toys they may not have time to use. Many activity books, pegboards or magnetic games cost under $10 at places like Family Travel Gear. If you have been planning to purchase a more expensive toy in the near future–like a hand-held game console–consider buying it before your trip rather than waiting until the next birthday or holiday. Save with Gamestop coupons or discounts at other popular stores.

Bring older items for back-up entertainment. Examples include mismatched crayons, half-used coloring books that need revisiting, and other toys the kids haven’t played with in a while. Ideally, choose smaller items that could be lost or tossed without a great deal of panic.

Avoid giving children snacks that contain sugar and caffeine. Sweet treats keep them happy and quiet for five minutes, as it fills them with unusable energy that will turn into crankiness when the sugar wears off. Bring fun, small snacks like flavored baked chips, apple sauce, raisins, and granola bars–and top it off with a little protein like cheese sticks to keep the blood sugar levels nice and steady.

Bring plenty of plastic or paper bags. This is the perfect time to put those spare bags around the house to use. Store them in your purse or pocket, as well as in the car or rental car. This is a quick solution for garbage, diaper wrapping or, heaven forbid, motion sickness.

Free your hands by using a backpack when possible. Children who are old enough enjoy carrying backpacks and being in charge of the activities inside.  This keeps them busy and earns the parent downtime by not being the “go-to” guy for all the toys during travel.

Avoid extra costs on bulk items you will need during the trip. When flying, purchase bulk items like diapers, formula, and wipes at your destination. In the past, it was convenient and free to check these items. Now, each checked luggage item costs $25 or more on average. When driving, do the opposite; take your bulk items to avoid extra trips to the store when you arrive–which can help you avoid impulse travel purchases.

Plan for diaper changes and related emergencies. When flying, changing diapers right before boarding the plane may help to avoid cumbersome onboard changing. If not, ask an attendant whether one of the restrooms has a changing table; many planes offer one. When on the road, bring portable potty trainers just in case the little ones have an emergency in the middle of nowhere.

Avoid paying inflated prices for bottled water. In airports and gas stations, drinks cost two to three times the regular price. Bring empty disposable drinking bottles; pour drinks in them to prevent spilling during travel. A few straws can be helpful as well.

Avoid unexpected charges for checked car seats. Inquire on airline policies and fees in advance. Checked luggage items now typically costs $25 or more. (JetBlue is an exception, allowing one free checked luggage item, while Southwest allows two .)

Bring a full change of clothing for each child. Keep these items within fairly easy reach. When a spill or mess happens, this will help parents avoid unexpected (and un-budgeted) clothing purchases.

Travel planning can help make family vacations what they are supposed to be:  Fun! What are some of your favorite strategies for saving time and stress while traveling with children?

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  1. iwerner

    4 years ago

    If possible take evening flights. When we are flying to Europe, I always try to book an evening flight. My daughter plays for couple of hours and then she falls asleep and usually sleeps until we land (for another 8 hrs).

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