My husband and I love to travel, but in the early years of our marriage, we couldn’t travel as much as we would have liked to because we thought it was too expensive to travel. There was the gas, the hotel, and the restaurants to pay for.
We thought eating in restaurants was a main attraction of travel because you get to try local foods. However, most of the time, we only had money for the low cost restaurants, so they were all one greasy spoon after another. Even when eating out on the cheap, we were still spending hundreds of dollars on food.
Then, about four years ago, I found out that I as well as two of our children have food intolerances including some biggies, like dairy and gluten. Suddenly, eating at restaurants became a chore because we’d have to carefully research which restaurant had at least one meal we could safely eat.
We began cooking all of our meals at home.
When we traveled, we packed a cooler full of food to eat on vacation and while on the road. Suddenly, travel became much more affordable. (And we didn’t miss the greasy spoons, either!)
If you’d like to travel but think it costs too much, try some of these tips to lower your cost:
Bring your own food.
This is so much an ingrained habit now that even if my kids outgrow their food intolerances, we’ll still pack our food. Now that there are 5 members of our family, we easily save at least $100 a day every day that we’re on vacation and eating our own food.
I bring a hot plate and a skillet and sauce pan with me to the hotel to reheat freezer meals that I’ve made in advance. Other times I’ve brought along a small slow cooker or an electric skillet. We pack these in a suitcase, so no one knows the difference. (We drive everywhere, so I am not sure how this strategy would work for air travel.)
Use discounts on rental cars.
We rented an SUV for our last vacation because our car is getting very old and the route was fairly desolate. I initially booked directly through Budget, and the cost for a large SUV for a week was $595. Then, to compare prices, I shopped through Costco’s car rental program. I got the exact same SUV (a Chevy Suburban) through a different Budget location for $390, a savings of $205 just for being a Costco member and using their discount program.
Use hotel rewards.
We travel a few times a year for my husband’s conferences and to visit family and friends back home. As much as possible, we try to stay at the same hotel chain so we can accrue rewards points. We estimate that when we travel next time, we’ll have earned one free night’s stay.
Ask for a better hotel rate or room.
Half the time or more, if I ask for a lower rate, I get one. This summer when I was traveling, I asked the hotel attendant for a discount. I didn’t qualify for any of the standard discounts, so he said he’d give me a “nice person discount.” Not only did he take $15 off the room rate, but he upgraded our family to a suite.
On our most recent trip, I was told the first night, a Saturday night, would cost $139, but the other nights would be $109. When I confirmed this at check-in, the clerk spontaneously reduced the Saturday night rate to $109, saving us $30.
Visit free attractions.
Whenever we visit a new town, the first attractions we go to are the free ones, especially if they are offered through the National Parks Service. Recently we went to San Antonio, Texas, and of the six attractions we saw during the three days we were there, three of them were free. For me and our three kids, we only spent $102 total to go to six attractions. Not bad.
If you’ve given up on family travel because you think it’s too expensive, recognize that there are several ways you can reduce your costs and enjoy a vacation with your family.
What’s your favorite way to save when vacationing with your family?