This is a guest blog post from Sandra Parsons. Sandra Parsons is a freelance writer for Club Thrifty, a website dedicated to helping people dream big, spend less, and travel more.
When it comes to splurges, travel with family tops my list. There’s nothing better than breaking out of your day-to-day routine and experiencing something different with the people you love most.
I traveled a lot before I had a kid, and let me tell you, it was much easier when it was just me. Traveling with family can be logistically challenging, not to mention expensive.
After all, you’re paying for multiples of most things. Multiple airfares, multiple meals, multiple admissions. Thinking about it can be so overwhelming that you resign yourself to putting your travel dreams on hold indefinitely.
While there’s no denying that travel comes with a price tag, it doesn’t have to be as scary as you think. These six tips can help your family travel for less, even on a limited budget.
1. Leverage Credit Card Rewards
The best way to save on the cost of flights, hotels, and even excursions is to use credit card rewards to pay for them! You’ve heard it before, but I’m always surprised by just how many people who love to travel don’t bother collecting rewards points.
Credit cards get a bad rap, mainly because debt is scary and annual fees can be off-putting. But here’s the truth: If you use credit cards responsibly, they are excellent tools for increasing the value you get for your money.
There are two main ways to rack up points. The first is through large signup bonuses. You get the card, meet a certain minimum spend during the first few months, and are rewarded with a ton of points. In fact, many signup bonuses are worth enough to cover a flight or two.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a whopping 60,000-point signup bonus, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 50,000 points. And what does that mean? Up to $750 in travel, that’s what.
When deciding between the Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. Preferred, it’s not just the signup bonus you have to consider, though. The earn rate, insurance benefits, other perks, and annual fee also factor into the decision.
The second way to grow your points balance is through earning rewards on every dollar you spend. Each card has its own earn rate, and some rewards cards give extra points in certain spending categories. When you use your card for all of your regular expenses, you earn a tidy sum of points every month.
The best travel credit card will include a lucrative signup bonus, an attractive earn rate, and perks you’ll use. And it has to offer all this for an annual fee that allows you to come out on top given your spending habits. Using your card for all your regular purchases helps you get the most from it.
2. Travel During the Off-Season
Every travel destination has its peak season. It’s the time of year when most tourists visit and when flights and accommodations are most expensive due to increased demand. It might be because the weather is nicest during that time or because most people have a break from work or school (think spring break in the U.S.).
While your natural inclination may be to travel during peak season, you can usually save a substantial sum on airfare and hotels by choosing off-peak or shoulder season. Off-peak would be the time of year when the fewest tourists visit, and shoulder season is between peak and off-peak.
I’m not suggesting you move your beach vacation to the dead of winter to save money, but if you’re going on a European sightseeing trip, you could try March instead of July. The museums will be less crowded and your hotels and flights will be more affordable.
3. Slash Costs With a Sightseeing Pass
Admission costs for museums, tours, and other sought-after attractions can add up quickly — especially when you’re traveling as a family. Sightseeing passes can often cut those costs in half.
There are two main types of passes available: those that give you all-inclusive access to a bunch of attractions for a set number of days, and those that give you access to a set number of attractions.
The all-inclusive style is great for people who want to do a ton of sightseeing, while the other option is good for travelers who want to check out a few major sites. When used appropriately, either style can save you significant money relative to paying at the gate.
Always check to see if the city you’re visiting has a sightseeing pass. Big cities often have several to choose from.
4. Take a Road Trip
If you want to save money on airfare, here’s a thought: Skip the plane altogether. If you’re traveling as a family, gas for your car is likely considerably cheaper than plane tickets for everyone.
Obviously, this won’t work when a body of water separates you from your destination, and it may not be practical when you need to cover a great distance. But if you have the time, a good old-fashioned road trip can be a fun and less-expensive way to travel.
5. Give Your State Some Love
We tend to think of travel as visiting another country, or at least another state. But I’m willing to bet there are areas of your own state that you’ve never explored. If you’re on a budget (or even if you’re not), why not forego airfare costs and check out what’s going on a few towns over?
I live in the capital of beautiful Newfoundland, Canada, which is right on the east coast. I’m embarrassed to say that until a few years ago, I had never visited the west coast of the island, despite having traveled to other countries multiple times. When I finally made the drive to visit Gros Morne, our largest national park, I was blown away by how lovely it was and how different it felt from my town.
6. Don’t Overlook Tourist Information Centers
You know how every major city, and even some smaller towns, has a tourist information or welcome center? And you know how you breeze right by it, heading for the attractions you’ve researched beforehand? Stop doing that.
Not only are tourist information centers great places to chat with locals and learn about what’s going on, but they also sometimes give away coupons for events and activities. You might score 15% off at a well-loved restaurant or a free tour of a popular tourist site. It’s worth checking out!
There you have it: six tips to make your next family vacation more affordable. I hope they help you make more memories for less. Happy travels!