Five budget travel hacks you thought you’d outgrown

You traveled extensively as a young adult, but now you’ve settled down with a job and kids. Think your budget travel days are behind you? Think again! The following budget travel hacks can still be implemented with kids in tow. All that’s needed is a little flexibility, nostalgia, and sense of adventure!


1. Take the bus or train:

Train travel is admittedly less convenient in the US than many points abroad, but great deals and experiences can still be had. Get out of the ‘road trip by car’ mindset and save on gas money on your next trip by booking Amtrak or VIA Rail (in Canada). Reserving sleeper compartments is a blast, but often more expensive than flying to your destination. Instead, use the Amtrak Fare Finder to locate Saver and Value coach seat fares for day time rail journeys. Stay the night in cities in-between for a road trip on rails. On VIA Rail, rail passes can be bought for youth, perfect for regular routes (such as to Grandma’s house). Plus, the scenery on VIA Rail cannot be beat. Grab a seat in an observation car and soak in the views for a fraction of the price of airfare. Read an entire post on affordable rail travel.


2. Stay in a KOA:

Have you visited a KOA Campground recently? They’re no longer you mom’s budget campground. KOAs are designated as Journey, Resort, or Holiday campgrounds now, making it easier to discern before booking what might be in store. What’s a Journey campground? It’s a pit stop…a place to stay near major roads and interstates while you’re traveling. Given the choice between a basic roadside motel room or a campground with a cabin and plenty of outdoor space, we choose the latter every time. Want to ‘glamp’ instead of camp? Try a KOA Destination or Holiday property. They’ll be located near major attractions and have plenty of on-site activities. We think there’s a time and place for both types of KOA resorts, and you’ll save money every time.

KOA Kabin

3. Eat at farmer’s markets:

Remember your bohemian days, when you ate and drank your way around new cities, soaking up the culture and learning about its people and history through tactile experiences and carefree exploration? You can still do this with kids…er, sort of. While the ‘carefree’ aspect of your trip may be lost to nap time schedules and early bedtimes, families can still find the heart of any city’s personality in farmer’s markets and street fairs. Instead of stopping at a fast food restaurant en route, seek out the area’s farm-to-fork offerings. On weekends in cities and agricultural areas, this will likely be in the form of a farmer’s market. On weekdays, look for food trucks or natural grocery stores. Buy the makings of a picnic, and eat at a public park, historical site, or designated nature area. The food is likely to be fresher, healthier, and cheaper, and everyone will burn off energy.


4. Stay cheap on a farm or ranch:

Farm stays are the very definition of family travel chic…they’re adventurous, ultra-local, and an absolute blast for kids. The nightly rate at most farm stays may not be cheaper than your standard B&B or hotel, but all those extras you usually have to buy when traveling with kids will disappear, like entertainment and food. Kids are content to roam the farm, help with chores, and play in a hayloft instead of requiring expensive admission tickets to museums and attractions. Farms and ranches offering stays range considerably, so do your research before pulling in. While some farms offer complete cabins or condos for families, others provide single guest rooms. The best will cater to families with included interaction with any animals on premises.


5. Backpack:

Have you been reminiscing about that summer you backpacked around Europe? Kids can certainly accompany you, though in some cases, hostels that charge a price per ‘head’ won’t be as economical as they were when you were single. Instead, look for European campgrounds located just outside major cities (some of the best we’ve seen are located in Croatia and Slovenia). If you’re craving a wilderness adventure, don’t shy away from backpacking in national parks or national forest service land with kids. Families who are prepared for a backpacking trip, and remain flexible en route, can have a very rewarding and low cost adventure the kids will remember for years. Learn how to plan a multi-day backpacking trip.

Mist Trail Yosemite National Park

What are your best budget travel hacks? What ways does your family save money while traveling?