If you travel with kids, then you may have found cheap family vacations harder to arrange in recent years. The cost hikes for trips during school breaks are well documented, there is however even the steady upward trajectory from the costs of food, accommodation and admission to attractions-all which accumulate when you are traveling like a family.
But it isn't all doom and gloom: thankfully there are ways to help make your hard-earned cash go further while you explore the planet together. Here are 10 strategies for little ones holiday on a budget.
1. Timing is everything
Last-minute deals don't tend to exist throughout the school holidays, and those that do are often to undesirable places. If your children are in school then you'll know their term dates far in advance; use this information to reserve months or perhaps years ahead, when costs are still relatively low due to the insufficient demand. In case your kids aren't in school yet or you educate them in your own home, make the most of traveling outside the peak periods, when cost is low and crowds fewer.
2. Make use of your parenting networks
Baby groups might have kept you sane through the newborn haze-but that collective wisdom extends beyond moral support and diaper-changing techniques. Quiz fellow parents about trips they've taken, how much they cost and just what they would do differently to save money the next time. Likewise in the online world there are plenty of forums and family travel bloggers ready and willing to give you their budget tips on destinations they have visited.
3. Take your family off the beaten track
It's basic economics: the larger the demand, the larger the price. One solution? Get off the beaten track. Avoid tourist hotspots and opt instead for somewhere less trendy or famous; think rural Lazio over Tuscany, Adelaide over Sydney and Maine over California. With a bit of research, you'll find fun things to do using the kids and relish the luxury of not having to fight through numerous other people to get ice cream or a family selfie. Plus, you'll get the kudos that comes with being exactly that bit more adventurous.
4. Turn the journey into an adventure
Save cash on a night's accommodation and make memories you will all treasure by traveling to your destination (or between two points in your itinerary) in different ways. Taking a weekend train or ferry (or even bus if you're brave enough) is a huge event for kids along with a story they'll retell over and over when home. Alternatively, a family road trip using your own vehicle avoids the price of hefty air fares and car rentals.
Read more: Planning an ideal big family holiday
5. Take full advantage of other people's toys
While staying in a hotel certainly removes the strain of cooking and cleaning, self-catering options for example HomeAway, Love Home Swap or Airbnb are often an infinitely more cost-effective choice for families. Renting a home or apartment offers extra space for those who require it (teens particularly welcome extra privacy). It is possible to find places with toys, games, high chairs or whatever else your family may need. Youth hostels with family rooms are also an affordable option to hotels and will introduce kids to other travelers.
Read more: 7 best US national parks to visit with kids
6. Embrace the great outdoors
Kids tend to love spending some time within the fresh air, that is great news for penny-pinching parents. Plan excursions which involve nature walks rather than expensive attractions; discover the local playground so your little ones can meet other children and take a picnic to prevent restaurant prices. Another great way to save money while seeking the truly amazing outdoors would be to camp. It allows kids to become truly immersed in nature while also getting involved with some basic chores (e.g. post-BBQ clean-up) so it's a win-win really-and really worth trying at least one time, even though you think you won't like it.
7. Family discounts are the friend
While you can't necessarily make the most of big group discounts, there are many little ways families can use the power of numbers. You might be able to get a discount pass for local transport, find family coupons online for that attractions you need to see and make the most of marketing campaigns for example kids-go-free weeks for theatres or big exhibitions that don't charge entry for children.
8. Stick to the essentials
Anyone attempting to save money knows it's those little extras that really add up and the same applies when you're traveling with kids. Take refillable water bottles, buy ice creams through the pack in a local supermarket and browse up on the websites you're visiting prior to going to avoid paying extra for audio guides, activity packs or special exhibitions. Having an 'eyes only' policy for gift shops can also help keep extra spending at bay.
Read more: The ten best sustainable trips for families
9. Change your family's travel habits
Instead of trying to get away each time the kids possess a break from school, consider going less frequently however for longer, thereby consolidating the price of getting away in the first place. If you're able to work remotely, you can travel for months, instead of weeks. Alternatively, think about the much-hyped 'staycation'. Switching off and pretending you are on holiday while seeking where you live can be a fun family challenge. You could also try reconnecting with forgotten aunties who might just love to have your whole family descend on her for any week, or convincing grandparents that the perfect way of spending time using their grandchildren (and assist you in the process) would be to join you on holiday.
10. Manage your expectations
If an all-inclusive luxury resort or long-haul trip is outside your bank balance, then it's time for you to rethink what you really need to have an incredible experience when you travel. Could you swap an expensive villa by having an infinity pool for cheaper digs and the beach or public pool? Remember-kids are pretty simple to please and many will embrace any adventure you are taking them on, small or big. Although it might take more planning and patience to visit on the shoestring with kids in tow, that is certainly doable and the collective challenge will benefit everyone.