Traveling with the Whole Kid 'n' Caboodle
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(The following contains excerpts from my upcoming book, 29 Ways To Travel On a Budget, coming soon from 29 Ways Press.)

Traveling with kids can be lots of fun -- and very tiring! Adding children to the vacation mix also increases the cost of a trip on everything: travel fares, lodging, food, and activities. Here are some strategies to help you save when taking along the young ones:

  1. Check for kids’ bargain fares. Sometimes you can find a "kids for half price" or "kids free" deals. To find these deals, check the Internet and newspapers, and begin planning as far in advance as possible.

  2. Consider a driving trip. Especially if you have multiple children, you can often save by foregoing air or train travel. Pack lots of activities and snacks to keep youngsters occupied when looking out the window loses its appeal!

  3. Look for family-friendly hotels. For instance, Hilton and Fiesta America hotels are famous for offering "kids stay and eat free" deals. Others offer free babysitting and kid programs.

  4. Many resorts beyond the obvious Disney properties now cater to families with children in order to increase their tourism. Take advantage of places like these when you’re planning trips for the whole family.

  5. Take your own food. Kids often are so excited while traveling that they don't want to eat much anyway but will of course manage to announce "I'm hungry!" while you're out in the middle of a sightseeing activity. Toting food you've bought on sale at home will greatly decrease the need for expensive meal stops.

    Snack items like granola bars and staples like bread and peanut butter are good bets for holding up well under travel. Bottled water bought on sale ahead of time is also handy to have. Of course, you don't want to saddle yourself with too much or else you may find traveling with it all decidedly inconvenient.

Speaking of dining, trying out new eating experiences is part of the fun of vacations but can also quickly "eat up" your travel budget. If you are looking to save on travel dining, the best trick I learned was not to leave things to chance. Before my visit, I do some checking on area restaurants and their prices. From that, I determine which sound like places I want to try, and I factor the cost into my travel budget. As a general rule, I also avoid hotel/resort restaurants, as they tend to be on the pricey side.

Since dinner tends to be the most expensive meal, when I'm really on a frugal budget I do my fun eating out excursions at lunchtime and prepare something back in my room at dinner. I found an added plus to this approach: during lunchtime we’re typically out and about anyway, and by dinner everyone's so tired from the day's adventures that relaxing in the room with a casual bite is often a better choice than having to get dressed up to go back out for dinner.

If you're willing to do some of your own cooking on your trip, you can save quite a bit of money by getting a kitchenette and buying groceries when you arrive. Allow a few "splurge" meals so you can free yourself of the kitchen and dine out, then have all your breakfasts and other meals in. A word of caution, however -- food prices are not all equal. Do a bit of research ahead of time so you don't get caught by the surprise of high grocery prices. For instance, in Hawaii everything is imported, so expect to pay several dollars for a loaf of bread alone!

Last but definitely not least: get the kids involved in your travel plans! Give them clear expectations about the trip and ask them what things are most important -- and what they could live without. This insight can help you balance your vacation dollars to the satisfaction of all. Bon Voyage!

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