Our family of four travels together five to six times a year to places like Costa Rica, Chicago, Hawaii, Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, and Kenya. Most people assume we’re rich, but as a middle-class family without a trust fund to lean on, that’s far from the truth. Here’s how we afford to travel — and how your family can, too.
Our family enjoying the Willis Tower Skydeck in Chicago.
1. Set Up a Savings Account Just for Vacationing
Put an agreed-upon amount of money into a dedicated vacation savings account each month. Since every penny that goes into this account is meant for vacay, you’ll always know what you can and can’t afford when planning your trip.
2. Be Willing to Give Up Your Latte (And Other Unnecessary Expenses)
A vacation savings account means nothing if you don’t have money to put in it. Frequent travel as a middle-class family takes a lot of sacrifice. Our family made significant changes to our lifestyle to save money. We gave up cable, allotted only $100 per month for dining out, and used Groupon to find fun, affordable family activities. Whether it’s giving up your daily Starbucks, or opting for Netflix instead of splurging at the theater, you’ll need to make a budget and stick to it.
3. Use Credit Card Bonuses and Miles for Flights and Hotels
At least one of our trips each year is covered completely by miles earned from credit card sign-up bonuses. When the Chase Sapphire Reserve first came out years ago, we were able to get 100,000 bonus points, which equaled to $1,500 in travel. The Points Guy currently values Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents, or $2,000 if you utilize transfer partners (the current bonus is 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months).
Couple that with a flight deal and we were able to cover our plane tickets to Thailand plus two nights in a hotel with that one bonus.
Many credit cards require you to spend $1,000 to $3,000 in the first 90 days, but anyone with kids knows that’s not a problem. We put our gas, groceries, day care, and other expenses on the card and pay it off at the end of the month.
While we do make exceptions when it is really worth it, we prefer credit cards without an annual fee to avoid additional expenses. Whenever we do get a card with an annual fee, because the bonus is just too good to pass up, we downgrade the card to a no annual fee option after we’ve used our miles and before paying the fee at the first anniversary. This way, there is no negative impact on our credit, as opposed to canceling the card outright.
Here are some current card offers that have welcome bonuses of 100,000 points and up!
We used miles from a sign-up bonus to fly to Thailand.
4. Be Flexible With Travel Dates and Destinations
Our family travels strictly based on flight deals. So instead of saying we’re going to Amsterdam in June, we check out deals that are available in June and book those instead. If you have your heart set on a specific destination, look for the cheapest time to travel.
Traveling this way has saved us a lot of money. We’ve purchased round-trip tickets to Denver for $60, Brazil for $314, and Aruba for $175 — just by being flexible. Flight deals are available year round, so you’ll have plenty of options to meet your familiy’s needs. In August 2017, we flew to Amsterdam for $200 round-trip each, thanks to a $400 flight deal and some miles to reduce the cost.
5. Book Hotels With Free Breakfast Because Duh
This may seem like a no-brainer, but when using your points to book hotels, choose those with free breakfast or kitchens. (Here’s a list of the best hotel chains for families, according to Mommy Points.) Hotels that provide free breakfast or happy hour snacks in the evenings will save you money. Choosing lodging with a kitchen allows you to cook some meals in your hotel. It can cost close to $100 to take a family of four out to dinner, so this is a great way to save.
Our daughter standing in the kitchen at our hotel near Disney World.
6. Travel With Friends and Family
Splitting the cost of a vacation home rental or an Airbnb can add up to big savings! On our family trip to Hawaii, hotels were running $1,400 per week. Instead, we booked a two-bedroom vacation rental with my parents for $1,400 total, making our final bill just $700.
A view off the Road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii. (Photo by Sean Bernstein via Unsplash)
7. Book Cruises With “Kids Sail Free” Promotions
Cruising is already a vacation that most families find affordable since your accommodations, most food, non-alcoholic drinks, and entertainment are all included in the fare. To make it even cheaper, book cruises with “kids sail free” promotions. All the major cruise lines offer these deals, and they’re perfect for families.
Sometimes you can increase your savings further by looking for one-way repositioning cruises that happen at certain times of the year. And of course, be sure you are earning as many points or cash back as possible when you book the cruise.
With some advance planning, fare sales, miles and points, our family is able to travel extensively while living on a budget. We’re proud that we are able to introduce the world to our kids and make special memories with them as we travel the globe.
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