10 Money Saving Tips for Traveling with Kids

Today’s guest post is from Paz Chentnik of International Cravings.  She and her family of 4 are avid travelers and are currently living in China. Paz provides some great tips on how to save serious money while traveling with children. I am sure you are going to enjoy it.

When people find out that we have moved our family to China to live and travel with our kids the first question is how can you afford it? Isn’t traveling with a family soooo expensive? Actually it is NOT! We currently live and travel with our family of four for about $16.00 a day (per person) and we hire a nanny for the days we are more stationary. We are living proof that traveling with a family can actually be much less expensive than what you might have thought. Here are 10 tips to help you save money and travel more!

1. Carry Snacks and powdered drink packs

As you know kids no matter what age always get hungry at the most inopportune times. Stopping at the nearest 7 Eleven (even though it might seem cheap) or even worse a restaurant will add up really quick. Find a local market or food store and stock up on snacks (individually packaged ones are great for younger kids) for the next couple days of traveling. We purchase powdered drink packs and carry them with us on any adventure. If the kids are in the mood for something other than water they are easy to poor into their water bottle. You give it a good shake and presto a yummy drink. I recommend avoiding sugary ones because sugar, kids, and buses don’t mix well in my book. When you have snacks and beverages on hand it makes exploring a lot easier when your non-stop eating teenager is hungry again, or your whiny four year old needs yet another drink.

2. Water bottles

We used to laugh at people who carried their water bottles with them everywhere. Now that we are traveling and keeping to a budget, water bottles are our new best friends. Get a good quality water bottle that has a neck strap. Most public places that we have visited in China (where you can’t drink the tap water) have a public water machine for you to use at no charge. We have filled up our water bottles at malls, libraries, museums, and all restaurants. This might seem like a silly thing, but with a family of four who likes to go on lots of adventures buying 4 bottles of water at .50 cents a pop ($2.00 every stop) gets expensive. Summer time in southern China is very hot and we could stop 4 times a day to buy water which would have equaled $8.00 dollars a day! That is a lot of money considering we live on $16.00 (per person) a day. Beer is actually cheaper than water, so we save our money for the beer.

3. Free activities are always better

In every city there are large historical sites that cost almost nothing or are completely free. If you are in the area on a weekday there is almost always a free admission day or a large discount. We pick these days to visit. Another plus is that there are always less people during the week so are kids can actually see the exhibit and we don’t have to fight our way through the crowds.

4. Parks are our friends and yours!

You might think parks are boring, but think again. We have had some of our most exciting adventures in parks and paid nothing! Completely free! Parks are where real life happens and the culture of a society comes out. The park square is always full of activities; break dance class, rollerblading, historical monuments, beautiful gardens, kung fu classes, and lots of people for you to interact with or observe – people watching can also be fun! Encourage your kids to partake in the break dancing, skateboarding, or kung fu class. They won’t charge you for your 15 minutes of participation and love the interaction from foreigners. Take a seat, smell the flowers and enjoy. We have had some of our most memorable moments at zócalos in Mexico, squares in Italy, and parks in China. You might even find a jungle gym to entertain your kids for a couple hours while you take a load of on a bench nearby. Note to parents, encourage your kids to befriend local children or teenagers and practice the language. These self-confidence skills will last them a lifetime!

5. Pack light (Save your dollars)

As parents we always worry about what might happen if it is cold, it rains, could they have an accident and we tend to pack way too much!! If you are traveling for a long time or a short time it really doesn’t matter. Let’s get practical people. You don’t need to buy your child special or extra clothes for this trip. They don’t need 4 sundresses for your 7 day vacation. You don’t have to buy clothes for next season because it is right around the corner. You don’t need to buy extra clothes because your child might have a growth spurt while you are on your 6 month trip. It will be okay!! Trust us! I have not heard of a country where people don’t understand how to reproduce…so that being said there are kids there and they have the same needs that your kids have. If you absolutely need something you can find it. Yes, we are recommending that you buy what you need when you need it. Why?

  1. Your traveling bags are lighter.
  2. You aren’t buying things you might never use.
  3. Buying locally gives you an opportunity to engage with the local society… and isn’t that the whole point.
  4. Use this as a money saving lesson for your kids.
  5. Kids clothes are everywhere, don’t worry.

Only buy what you need…when you need it. Anything else is a waste of money.

We are not saying if your child is cold that you run down to your five star hotel gift shop to buy them a sweatshirt. NO!! You go to the locally owned shop, look for your sweatshirt, possibly haggle a bit and make your 1 purchase.

6. Markets and street vendors are your friends

Although we love a good restaurant, eating out can get expensive when it is for 4 people. This can be especially expensive when you have teenagers. So we opt for the markets and street vendors for our lunch & dinner. Ask where the local market is and go have a look. Not only is this lots of fun and exciting but you can pick up some great food. You can purchase some local in season fruit or local food for a couple of dollars. Most of them have little benches that you can sit at while you enjoy your meal. It might not have white table clothes but it is super cheap and you can have great family conversations about what is going on around you. We have had some of our favorite meals & discussions on plastic stoops and our meal cost us $3.25 for all four of us (without water of course).

7. Get an early start

Try not to sleep in too long…if your kids even let you. Get an early start and you can save tons. Our most wasteful expenditures have happened when we felt rushed and pressured. We have learned that if we get up early and start the day off right we spend less and smile more. It is when you sleep in and feel as if your day is rushed that you might splurge for the tour guide you really didn’t need or the taxi that could have been avoided if you had enough time for public transportation. Get up, get your coffee, and get the most out of your day. This way you aren’t rushed or pressured into spending money that is unnecessary.

8. Share

Sharing your food is a must for us! Not only because we love to try what the other person ordered, but it keeps our money in the bank. Our rule of thumb is if you are still hungry we can always get more. Yup…it is true. Try it! No, seriously one thing we have learned in traveling is that anything we have bought that we don’t consume is the same as throwing the money down the drain. (Something we use to do a lot of before!) We now have learned that for the four of us, we order three meals. If we are hungry or want more of something we will order it after we finish. The funny thing is that we probably order more about one fourth of the time. The rest of the times we aren’t really that hungry or we walk to another vendor and get some juicy fruit or a little snack. Everyone is full and no money has gone to waste.

9. School 

We shared a taxi with a family from Australia and their 14 yr. old son; they were discussing how he had to be back in “school” in less than a week. I loved his statement, “I have learned more in these 3 weeks than I did all last year in school, can’t we stay longer?” A 14 yr. old wanting to spend more time with his parents; food for thought.

That being said, I understand how complicated traveling with school aged children can seem. It isn’t! Things you can do keep money in the bank and stay current on your child’s education.

Short term travel:  Don’t bring their heavy text books or crazy amounts of workbooks. All you need is a very cheap laptop. Everything can be done online. Your child’s text book most likely has a pdf or kindle version and they don’t need to lug that 20 pound text book in their backpack. They can do their homework on the beach or bus ride. All they need is a notebook, pencil and internet.

Long term travel: Look into your state’s options for alternative school. There are many different options that are available and most of them are free. Everything is available online and no textbooks needed. Most of them are very easy to sign up for and easy to use.

Don’t be afraid of alternative school it is come a long way from our day and is not viewed in a negative light any longer.

10.  Accommodation

Before booking the family room or suite see if there is space in their regular room to add another bed. Some hotels charge you to add another bed and some don’t. We recommend getting there during the week and then negotiating your price for the weekend. Most hotels are willing to give you a break the longer you are staying. Don’t be fooled that traveling with a family is expensive. There are many things that you can do to save money. What you can’t put a price on is the memories you will have with your children and the adventures you will take.

Here’s to traveling with kids and keeping your money in the bank!

Meet Paz,  she is a true expat adventurer having moved to Guangzhou with husband, infant and toddler in order to spice up life and give her children an international upbringing. She and her husband sold their belongings, jumped on a jet and traded up to a fascinating life abroad. They specialize in moving abroad consultations for families.