11 ways to save on family travel

Like everything else these days, the cost of a family vacation is rising. With spring break season upon us, here’s how to keep costs under control. (Image: NYTimes)
In the seasonal surge to the skies and roads, spring break promises a recharge — and a financial pinch. That is especially true this year, when flight prices are up 20 percent compared with last March and April, according to travel booking app Hopper.اضافة اعلان

Naturally, even eager travelers are nervous. A recent study from the nonprofit Family Travel Association found that while families are keen to travel — 85 percent of parents said they were very likely to travel with their children in the next year, compared with about 70 percent in 2019 — budget concerns are top of mind.

“Affordability has always been the number-one challenge for families,” said Peter Bopp, the director of research for the association, adding that the pandemic’s effect on family finances and inflation have heightened that concern.

“Everything is higher,” said Lauren Masarik, a travel agent based in Jackson, New Jersey, who runs Vacations by Lauren.

To help families stretch their vacation budgets, agents, analysts, and bloggers offered the following 12 tips for saving money.

1. Budget for travelConscientious spending allowed Antonia Grant, a Minnesota-based publicist and writer for the blog Families Love Travel, her husband, and eight-year-old to spend a month in Italy last summer. They are planning a similar trip to Scotland this year.
The family has one car and “not the best car or biggest house” because “travel is what we prioritize”.
“After our mortgage and groceries, travel is our third budget item,” said Grant, who sets aside roughly 20 percent of the household’s budget for travel. She added that the family has one car and “not the best car or biggest house” because “travel is what we prioritize”.

2. Start with flightsFlights are often the biggest travel expense, so experts suggest tackling them first.

“A lot of time, instead of saying, ‘I’m going to Paris,’ I’ll start with the flight,” said Colleen Lanin, the founder of family travel blog Travel Mamas.

She has a $49-a-year membership with Going (formerly known as Scott’s Cheap Flights) that alerts her to inexpensive flights from her selected airports. Based on a sale notification several years ago, her family went to China for $450 a person, round-trip from Phoenix.

When hunting for flights, use basic flight search budget strategies, including searching for alternate airports near your departure and arrival destinations, and using flexible dates to show the lowest fares.

Online travel agency Expedia recommends booking at least a month out to save 10 percent.

3. Find alternative destinationsAs with flights, be flexible about your destination, advised Lauren Doyle, president of the Travel Mechanic, an agency based in Raleigh, North Carolina. For savings, she recommends Belize in place of Costa Rica, and St. Lucia over Hawaii.

Consider visiting more popular places during their low seasons. When Mexico beach resorts were expensive last Thanksgiving, Gunjan Prakash, the founder and CEO of the Families Love Travel blog, and her family went to Paris. This year they plan to go to Porto, Portugal, for Thanksgiving — another place that is not busy in November — booking round-trip flights for about $300 a person from New York City and a hotel room for four for $200 a night.

4. Cash in on the dollar’s strengthOne way to get more for your money is to travel to a country where the dollar is strong. It is currently worth about 0.94 euros; by comparison, it was worth 0.81 euros in early 2021. Mexico and Canada have also recently offered favorable exchange rates, as have countries in Asia, including Thailand and Vietnam.

5. Save on city staysFull-service hotels in some big cities such as San Francisco and Washington have not fully recovered from the pandemic crash, which might yield some deals, according to Jan Freitag, the national director of hospitality analytics at CoStar, a real estate analytics firm.
“The best way to save on a cruise is going on an older, smaller ship,” she said. “You can do a smaller ship with fewer bells and whistles for a third of the price of a new ship.”
“Be aware of the meeting calendar,” when hotels are likely to attract business travelers, he added.

6. Book family roomsFinding spacious rooms suitable for the entire family takes some digging. Booking site Hotels.com has a “family friendly” filter to identify properties with multiple rooms and amenities for kids like clubs or child care.

Or consider a hostel. Design-focused groups like Generator, with 15 locations mostly in Europe, and Freehand, in four US cities, have rooms with multiple beds that families can book privately. The Freehand Chicago recently had rooms with four beds from about $145 and the Generator London offered them from about $234.

The more basic a&o Hostels have family rooms with up to eight beds among its 40 European locations. A recent search for a quad family room in Vienna turned up a rate of about $30 a person.

7. Rent a vacation homeSince the pandemic began, travelers have embraced home rentals for privacy and space. Airbnb said its family business has grown 60 percent compared with 2019, with the average price per person on family stays globally at $52 a night.

In a recent survey of 1,000 Americans commissioned by short-term rental service Vacasa, 65 percent of respondents said renting homes offered the best value. The service identified its best domestic bargains in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, (around $104 a bedroom per night, including rentals with multiple bedrooms), and the Great Smoky Mountains ($116).

Travel between April and early June to get prices averaging 20 percent less than summer rates, according to rental platform HometoGo. On Vrbo, filters for a “weekly discount” and “new listing discount” help renters find deals on the site.

Check GetawayGoGo for last-minute deals. The new platform, which is working with more than 46,000 properties in 39 countries, offers sales on vacation home rentals available up to 14 days in advance. Recent listings included an eight-bedroom villa in the Dominican Republic at 34 percent off for $300 a night.

8. Cruise without the viewsHistorically, a Caribbean cruise was about half the price of seeing the region by land, according to Masarik, the travel agent. But ship business is booming and the cruise lines are not giving as much away in deals.

“The best way to save on a cruise is going on an older, smaller ship,” she said. “You can do a smaller ship with fewer bells and whistles for a third of the price of a new ship.”
“Emphasize the experience of the journey. When it comes to traveling, the most important part is making memories, and you can do that close to home.”
Another way to save money on a family cruise is to book an interior cabin, instead of an ocean view room. Over Christmas, Lanin of Travel Mamas and eight other family members took a Caribbean cruise.

“If you want to save money, you don’t need a room with a balcony because you’re never in the room,” she said.

9. Rent a tentSpending time in the great outdoors does not require a huge investment. Services like Arrive Outdoors and OutdoorsGeek allow occasional campers to rent gear. Instead of spending more than $200 on a high-quality, four-person tent, OutdoorsGeek rents North Face models for $49 for up to three days, or $62 for a week.

Glamping sites with platform tents often have high rates. But affordable French company Huttopia operates more than 60 sites globally and recently made its North American debut with sites in Quebec, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, and Southern California. Canvas-and-wood tents with kitchens and accommodations for up to five people start at $140 a night.

10. Avoid theme park pitfallsFor theme park vacations, “I always tell people don’t put money into your hotel because you’re never there,” Masarik said. Instead, opt for cheaper accommodations with easy access to the park.

For instance, in Florida, Disney World resorts like Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge start above $500 in early April, while the nearby Caribe Royale Orlando has rates from about $200, including shuttles to the parks. Buy advance park admission from BestofOrlando.com, run by the local tourism office, to get discounts. Recently, SeaWorld Orlando tickets were selling for about $100 a person, compared with nearly $148 at the gate.

For some parks, a season pass can be a better deal than paying a daily rate. At Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, season passes start at $164, compared with $89 by the day, worth it if you spend two days at the park.

11. Spend selectively and nearbyEconomize on food by eating breakfast in your room or rental and packing picnic lunches. “In the evening, you’re tired and ready to have someone serve you, so we do restaurants at dinner,” Lanin of Travel Mamas said.

Get creative with souvenirs. Instead of buying $25 T-shirts at each stop, Lanin suggested having children select a postcard from each gift shop, then writing about their experiences and mailing them to relive the trip back home.

Finally, you do not have to go far to be exposed to new things and to bond.

“Emphasize the experience of the journey,” Grant of Families Love Travel said. “When it comes to traveling, the most important part is making memories, and you can do that close to home.”

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