How to save money on family travel

The three priciest pieces of a family vacation are food, lodging and transportation. If you can save on those, you can make a family vacation that much more affordable.

Getting there

All of the airline cutbacks have made flying an incredibly expensive way to travel. While the lack of winter weather has meant fewer flight delays out of O’Hare this year, it’s rare to find an empty seat on a plane these days, so if you want the baby to be able to travel safely in a car seat, you’ll be paying for everyone to fly.

The only way to really save money is to drive. Sure, gas prices are high, but if your family vacation is somewhere within an eight-hour drive of Chicago, it makes sense to drive. Read this for tips on deciding whether it’s cheaper to fly or drive on a family vacation.

Staying there

Hotels are the default idea for most families on an overnight trip. But if you’re traveling with kids, consider some alternatives: rent a condo, do a house swap or mooch off of the relatives.

Any of those options will give you more room, maybe even a separate bedroom with a door that locks so the adults can have their own fun while the kids blissfully watch Cartoon Network in the other room.

Mooching off the relatives doesn’t have to mean spending time with crazy Aunt Sarah. Just be clear when you ask if it’s OK for you and the brood to visit if you want to spend time with Aunt Sarah or just commune with her spare bedroom. If you want her to serve as your hotel, tell her you have a full schedule of activities already planned and really just need a place to say for the night. Then be sure to include her in at least a few family activities. If you don’t think she’ll go for that, reconsider the cost of the hotel room.

Eating there

If you have rented a condo or are staying in a house, whether it’s one owned by Aunt Sarah or one you swapped with another family, saving on food costs is easy. Since you’ll have a kitchen and a car (you drove to save money, remember?) stop at a grocery and stock up on breakfast and lunch staples before you check in.

If you’re in a rented condo, you’ll need to bring in just about everything. But if you’re in a house swap or staying with a relative, you’ll save even more because the kitchen likely comes stocked with ketchup and mayo. You just need to supply the bread and lunchmeat.

If you save on transportation, lodging and food, your next biggest cost will be paying for all the fun you have. If you’re really creative, even that can be cheap. There are free things to do with kids in all 50 states.

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