Traveling with family, especially when young children or multiple households are involved, can get tricky! The more people you travel with, the more expensive your trip gets. The more attitudes and interests you have to consider, the more difficult transportation becomes. However, a family vacation is a bonding opportunity that provides a totally unique way to nurture your relationships and create lasting memories. All in all, the benefits certainly outweigh the challenges, so let’s take a look at a few tips to help you travel as a family successfully. We’ll delve into budgeting, how to find the best accommodation, some great family travel destinations, and a few other tips to help you adventure smoothly.
Exploring With Adventures From Scratch
Whether you’re traveling with family internationally or just exploring your own neighborhood, Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition can help make it a fun and memorable experience. Our scratch-off adventure books contain 55+ ideas that encourage exploration, bonding, and fun! Our books include in-home activities, on-the-go adventures, conversation prompts, and even a space for journaling your favorite moments. It’s a complete mini-vacation that can ride along in your suitcase or stay in the car for spontaneous excursions!
Tips for Choosing the Right Location
The most important part of any vacation is choosing a destination that works for everyone. Now obviously, if you’re traveling solo, you only have one person to please, but when you’re traveling as a family, you have to include rest moments for mom, fun activities for littles, and something for the history buff, too. Too many people choose their destination first and then try to make everything else work. Let’s flip the agenda. A better way to plan is to consider your family’s interests, needs, and budget before picking a spot. Here are a few tips for picking the right destination for your family adventure.
1. Survey the family.
Let’s get this out of the way now—if you are the primary trip planner, you will not be able to please everyone on your own. Travel planning is the way that we get excited about a trip. When you’re the one who has read all the blogs, seen all the pictures, and organized all the details, you have a connection to the destination that the rest of the family doesn’t have.
In order to get everyone on board, take a family survey of where they would like to go. You could throw it out there as a blanket question, but it’s likely you will get six different answers. A better solution may be for you and your partner to narrow it down to two or three options that fit your parameters and present some of the information you found to the whole crew. Allowing the children, especially if you have teens, to be a part of the decision-making process will help create a passion in them for the vacation. Therefore, they’re more likely to enjoy the trip itself. Plus, it takes a bit of the pressure off of you.
2. Look for places with a wide variety of activities.
Beaches are beautiful, but they aren’t for everyone. I know that sounds insane to you beach lovers, but let me take you on a personal journey for a minute…
When I was 15, my parents took us on one of our first major vacations. We spent a week in Destin, Florida, and I was absolutely miserable. Of course, I was a bratty teen with better things to do than hang with my family, but also, I didn’t like the beach. The water was gross to me. The sun was torture on my fair skin, and mostly, I was bored out of my mind. I still am not fond of a beach-only vacation. Thankfully, my mom was in tune with my misery, and she took me bungee jumping on our last day, which saved the whole thing for me. It’s a memory of her that I cherish.
Anyway, all that is to say that even the most relaxing and beautiful spot on earth may not hold any interest for your brood. It’s best to choose a destination that has ample other activities available. If you want to hit the beach, consider somewhere like Puerto Morelos, Mexico. PM is a family-friendly beach town 20 minutes south of Cancun. It sits at the entrance to the Route of Cenotes for excellent ATV and jungle excursions. There’s off-shore snorkeling and organized tours, and you’re just minutes from several interesting Mayan ruins.
3. Find a location that fits the budget.
Let’s be real; everyone reading this is in a different financial situation. For some, hopping on a long trip across the globe is no problem. For others, especially large families, that just isn’t in the budget. While exploring new cultures is an amazing travel experience (and an educational one), if it causes your family to suffer afterward, it isn’t worth it. Don’t put yourself in inescapable debt just for some sightseeing.
We recommend making a budget before your trip and before you choose a destination! Build a simple Google Sheet or use a budget app to help you organize. Once you know what you can afford to spend, you can begin comparing flights, hotels, and activity costs for a few destinations and see what fits the mold. A general vacation budget might include these categories:
- Total accommodation cost
- Flight costs
- Destination transportation cost (bus, train, rental car, gas, etc.)
- Food costs
- Activity costs
- Travel insurance costs
- Miscellaneous (tips, medicine, unexpected adventures)
4. Don’t be afraid to take on new cultures.
Families, especially families with little ones, often feel like an international trip is daunting. There are so many unknowns. However, we want to take a minute to encourage your sense of exploration. If you book early enough, you can often find international flights for cheaper than a road trip or a flight across the United States.
Also, if you do your research, you can feel comfortable taking on the destination before you leave home. As a full-time traveler, I have personally spent time with scores of families that either travel full-time or travel for half the year and a host of other arrangements, with children of all ages. If they can do it every day, you can certainly do it for a week! If you have no interest in that kind of travel, toss it. But if it’s a dream of yours, don’t let it slip away due to fear. It really is achievable!
5. Use social media and travel blogs.
When choosing a destination that feels right for your family, use the massive amount of information at your fingertips. Travel blogs are an incredible resource. You’re getting a first-person perspective from someone who has been there. Read several. Get different perspectives. Search for destinations on social media. Instagram is a great place to start. Ask questions in the comments or scroll them for information. You can get a really good idea of the vibe of your destination before you commit.
Tips for Containing the Budget
It doesn’t do much good to make a budget if you don’t stick to it. Travel can be exorbitantly expensive, but as someone who does it in daily life, I can also attest to the fact that it doesn’t have to be. You can have an amazing family trip and save money just by tweaking some little things.
6. Create daily tallies.
Break down the budget totals that you created earlier into daily totals. While on your trip, track your expenses. You can use a budget app or just keep a note on your phone. At the end of the day, add it up. Doing this daily allows you to stay focused and on track. If you have a day that is way over the budget, you can adjust the next day.
7. Try your hand at travel hacking.
Signing up for one credit card can save you $700-800 on a trip, and that’s just in the introductory points. If you’re disciplined enough to pay your credit card bill at the end of every month before it accrues interest, sign up for a Capital One Venture card or a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Charge your flights to the card to meet the introductory bar, and then once you’ve been granted your bonus points, use those points to book the rest of your trip or pay yourself back for the travel expenses you have already booked. Easy money.
8. Choose wisely.
Every person has a distinct travel style. You may drool over luxury hotel suites or all-inclusive resorts. Perhaps you find your solace in a people-packed spice market. Maybe you’re cool with street food. Maybe you’re a foodie whose whole vacation revolves around tasty treats. There is no right or wrong, just preferences.
Therefore, choose wisely. Put your money where your joy is. If you love food, use a budget-friendly scavenger hunt to skim the sightseeing stuff in the city and spend your money on a traditional meal in a top-rated restaurant. If you have an itinerary that looks like a Tolstoy novel, save money by staying in a cheap Airbnb. You aren’t going to be spending any time there anyway. Spend your money on what you love. Skimp on the other stuff.
Here are a few budget-friendly and fun destinations:
- Puerto Morelos, Mexico
- Baja California Sur
- National Parks Road Trip
- Puerto Rico
- Romanian Road Trip
- Prague, Czech Republic
Tips for Transportation
Transportation is a big part of your trip budget, and it is one aspect that varies greatly depending on your destination. It may take a little research to find the best way to get around. Here are a few travel tips to help.
9. Get the best flight.
There are a million and one flight programs out there. To be honest, I personally find that Google Flights is the most comprehensive and user-friendly place to start. You should be using this before you choose your destination!
Put in your closest four airports in the departure. Click the map. This will pull up the cheapest flight for a one-week trip in the next six months as the preset. You can change it to particular dates if you need to, but I recommend choosing your trip dates based on the cheapest flight, if at all possible.
From here, you can go to the direct airlines, Momondo, or your credit card travel forum and see if you can find a cheaper version of the flight. Generally, you won’t, but you might be able to use your travel points to lessen the blow. This search method just gives you the overall best dates, flights, and routes to take to keep your costs low.
Pro Tip: Remember to check the luggage prices before booking your trip. That cheap flight on Frontier or Spirit might be a whole different ballgame when you add luggage prices (even carry-ons), a stroller, and meals for a family.
10. Use public transit.
For many Americans, the idea of using public transit on your vacation doesn’t even cross their mind. We’re predominately a driving nation, but if you’re visiting Europe, Asia, or South America, you will find that the public transit system is mostly an economical and efficient way to travel.
Public transit varies from place to place. In some destinations, it will be best for you to get a family pass for the week. In others, it will benefit you to pay for separate tickets. Unfortunately, you just have to dig. Renting a car may be an option, too, but if you have a big family or young kids who need car seats or aren’t comfortable driving in another nation, save yourself the trouble and get the bus. The best route is usually just a Google search away.
11. If you can walk it, walk it.
The cheapest (and sometimes safest) way to travel is on foot. Plus, there is no better way to truly experience the beauty and atmosphere of a place than to get out in the open air, where you can feel, taste, and hear it for yourselves.
Now is a great time for a shameless plug… if you really want to experience the best of a city, a little guidance can help. Download our scavenger hunt app and explore your destination on a fun-filled challenge. We have urban art walks, sightseeing hunts, ghost tours, and bar crawls, so there’s something for the whole family. Plus, you’ll gain access to our travel forum, Let’s Roam Local, which has tips from locals and travelers on must-see spots.
12. Use taxis when necessary.
While taxi travel is the most expensive and often results in getting ripped off, it’s sometimes necessary. My husband and I have a rule. We take a taxi when we first arrive in a new city and we have all of our luggage. The walk is always longer than you think, and GPS isn’t always working appropriately yet. Losing your cool and starting off on the wrong foot is not worth the few dollars you save by walking.
13. Use the local rideshare app.
Uber has run into some roadblocks on the international front. However, other apps have sprung up in its place, and they essentially operate the same way. We suggest using a local app (Bolt, Ola, Careem) rather than flagging a taxi. It is usually cheaper, and you won’t have to haggle or have cash on hand. It’s prepaid and set.
Tips for Accommodation
Accommodation, especially for a big family, can be really difficult. If you have more than four family members, you often have to book a suite or multiple rooms due to fire codes. Some of it is unavoidable, but here are a few tips to lessen the blow.
14. Book early.
It’s a simple travel truth. The earlier you book, the more options you have. If you’re traveling to a popular destination, you need to secure your accommodation months in advance if you want the best spots. Use multiple sites. Compare Agoda with Booking.com with Airbnb with your credit card forum to find the best prices on a spot you love.
15. Search for full homes.
Although Airbnb fees have gone up a whole lot since the pandemic and the company went public, it’s still often the cheapest option for a family. You get away from that whole fire code thing, and even with a hefty cleaning fee, most apartments or homes are going to be cheaper than booking a suite at a hotel or two rooms. Airbnb isn’t your only option. Booking.com also features houses and apartments now. Just watch for hidden fees in the excluded section.
16. Consider a hostel room.
If you have older children, a hostel can be a good option in some locations. First of all, they have kitchens, so you can save money on food. They generally are in the city center, which offers great walkability to major sights, and they are usually the cheapest options. It is sometimes cheaper to book a whole room at a hostel than it is to rent an apartment. For instance, let’s say you are a family of six. The hostel room has eight beds. It might be cheaper for you to book all eight beds and have a room to yourself than to book a hotel room.
Hostels aren’t for everyone. Before making this decision, check out “Staying in a Hostel: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”
17. Prioritize safety.
When traveling as a family, pay close attention to the reviews that discuss safety. You can filter reviews on Booking.com and Google to focus on safety concerns. Read them carefully. Check out blogs by solo female travelers on the destination. Most effectively, get the address and plug it into Google Earth. Zoom in and get a feel of the neighborhood.
18. Think about location.
The closer you are to the sights, the fewer transportation costs you accrue and the less time you waste getting there. Sometimes, it is wise to pay more to stay in the center of the action. This is especially true if you have a tight schedule.
Tips on Safety and Security
Your family is your most precious possession. Here are a few tips for protecting them when you travel.
19. Get travel insurance.
Good travel insurance can save your butt. Long flights are expensive. Airlines lose luggage. People get sick. Trains get canceled. Having some padding to make sure you don’t lose it all just makes you feel more comfortable. Safety Wing is a wonderful and budget-friendly option.
20. Map out your route ahead of time.
When you go sightseeing, don’t wander the street aimlessly. It makes you look like a target to pickpockets and schemers. To the best of your ability, know where you are going before you hit the streets.
21. Monitor your goods.
In any city or populated area, you need to protect each other and your stuff. That means wallets in the front pocket, travel purses with locks and straps that can’t be cut (crossbody or fanny pack recommended), and locking up your documents somewhere safe. We also recommend having a strong family member at the head and one at the back watching the clan when you walk the streets.
When you draw money from an ATM, have a second person watching out for thieves. If you sit your bags down while you eat, wrap the straps around your chair leg. Parents will have to be on guard because kids don’t think about this stuff. Just being aware of yourself and making smart decisions can save you from a lot of hassle.
22. Turn on tracking on everyone’s devices.
Use an app like Find My Kids or Life 360 and register every family member’s phone. This way, if you get separated, you can find each other easily.
Tips on Tours and Activities
Some of your best family bonding moments will likely be during the activities you choose for your trip. Here are a few tips to help you choose wisely.
23. Let each family member choose an activity.
Again, allowing your kids to be a part of the planning increases their devotion to the trip. Give them some parameters on budget and location and set them free to utilize their Google skills. Let them plan a day trip or a single activity or choose a hotel.
24. Include some local gems.
Tourist attractions are popular for a reason. Some of them are great and should be at the top of your bucket list. Others have just become famous because of impressive marketing. As a result, they are overpriced, and there are better options. See the big stuff, but a traditional cooking class, dance lesson, or guided tour by a local expert is often far more informative and memorable for half the price.
Tips for Getting Along
Traveling as a family can put some real strain on your relationships. Some handle it with excitement and ease. Others are a stressed-out mess. Check out these simple tricks to keeping the peace.
25. Don’t get hungry.
Hungry equals hangry, and hangry equals hurt feelings. Pack snacks. Take breaks in the park for coffee and chocolate. Everything gets better after a snack.
26. Schedule downtime.
Don’t just pack your schedule to the brim and think you’ll rest when you need to. You won’t. Schedule some downtime for each person to just relax and do their own thing.
27. Give grace.
As the trip planner, you often feel responsible for the trip and everyone’s enjoyment, but you are no more in charge of your children’s or spouse’s emotions on vacation than you are at home. It can be hurtful when it feels like they’re being ungrateful, but it usually passes. Address it and give grace for the unusual situation.
Pack Your Bags!
Alright guys, we hope this article provided you with some helpful tips for traveling with family. We certainly couldn’t cover it all in one short article, but hopefully, you’re encouraged to dig in and make it happen now. Remember, travel is a life experience, and it comes with troubles and difficulties, but it’s worth it. Put these tips to use and book that trip!
For more family travel tips, check out these articles on our sister site, Let’s Roam:
Frequently Asked Questions
Absolutely! Plan a family vacation without breaking the bank by creating a budget before you travel. Plan your trip around the budget rather than adapting your budget to fit the trip.