Ok, I am going to give it to you straight…we’re not millionaires. We honestly don’t even have thousands of extra dollars in disposable income. Here in lays the problem- we LOVE to travel…and we LOVE to travel as a family (i.e. $$$$). Over the years (honestly out of desperation) we’ve gotten creative and resourceful to make adventures to bucket list destinations a regular reality. SO sharing here our top budget family travel hacks, to get you from dreaming to GOING…STAT.
Shockingly low cost (and sometimes even nearly free) trips are in your near future if you read on below and use these same hacks we do.
1. Leveraging credit card points (I know, I know you’ve seen it before…but hear us out)
I think most people hear using credit card points for free travel and have two thoughts. 1. “I just don’t spend enough to get that many points” or 2. “Oh no, I’m not interested in taking a deep dive into the travel hacking card world“.
I hear you on both of these. We also don’t spend enough that we are racking in hundreds of thousands of points a year. And we honestly keep things pretty simple around here when it comes to travel rewards.
BUT we do strategically and intentionally leverage credit cards to help us make our travel dreams a reality…because it’s FREE money. Money that we (personally…and I assume if you are reading this, you too) NEED to make our bucket list adventures happen.
(**I will put the disclaimer here that if you have a history of overspending, this probably isn’t the travel saving money tip for you right now. The key to this hack is to pay off your card in full EVERY month and not spend a dime more than you usually would. Or else it’s no longer free money).
So to begin, if you are still using a debit card for all your purchases…you are seriously missing out. And by missing out, I mean literally leaving heavily discounted family trips and free money on the table.
By simply opening a new credit card (known to actually *help* your credit score) and using those bonus miles towards key dream trips, we are able to save literally thousands on our vacations. Now, I hear your concerns already, believe me. We’ve got the full break down on how we leverage credit card rewards HERE, answering alllll your FAQs and concerns.
How to Maximize Rewards for Budget Family Travel
EXAMPLE: This summer, we really had our heart set on another big trip to Europe. But who really wants a $2500 dent in their bank account just for our 4 flights to get over there?! I will tell you…NOT ME.
So if we have a big trip in mind, 6-8 months before, we apply for a new credit card. The sole intention being using those opening bonus miles for a huge chunk of our travel expenses. For Europe 2022, we opened the Chase Sapphire card (the number one card we recommend for beginning to leverage travel rewards). This got us 100,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months (simply putting all normal expenses on this one card).
That equated to about $1,250!! More than enough to get 3 out 4 tickets to Europe fully covered (if finding a killer flight deal that is).
Have your spouse now do the exact same thing with your referral link (read me filling out the application FOR my spouse) and you just got your family tickets to Italy AND some of your accommodations covered! Again, we go into a lot more detail in our post here, so make sure to check that out!
If you’re paying your cards off IN FULL at the end of each month, you not only won’t damage your credit score, most likely you’re going to increase it. It’s a huge win, WIN.
Earning credit card point bonuses with spending we are already doing, has allowed our family to have the most life-changing experiences. A month in Italy, a high end resort in Cabo, a week in 30A with friends, visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this summer the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal. And SO much more that we never could have afforded otherwise.
2. Relying on flight deals – Chasing the deal not the destination
One of the biggest ways we make our travel dreams a reality is by being flexible and patient. Flexible on where specifically we may go on a trip and the exact dates we go. As well as, patient for the right deal to come around.
Whenever possible we do really try to allow the deal to drive our destination. So at times we might say, “OK we want to go to Hawaii and Hawaii along during Fall Break”. But more often than not, we have a list of places we are interested in going soon. We then watch for the flight deals that come through, and book our Fall Break trip according to the best value.
We also make certain to be a bit flexible on the exact dates of our trip. Sometimes leaving only one day later can literally save you thousands. Take a look at the date grid below when we were booking our flights to the Azores Islands for this summer.
Adjusting our trip by two days, saved us THOUSANDS of dollars! This is what we mean by flexibility.
How to find the best flight deals
Hands down our favorite way to score dirt cheap flight deals is Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Set your home airport (or airports you can easily access/get a cheap flight to) and then get daily notifications of amazing flight deals. These are typically abnormally lost cost fares to destinations across the world or mistake fares. Scott’s Cheap Flights is how we snagged our $400 tickets to Italy, our $89 tickets to Chicago for a wedding, and our under $300/each tickets to Cabo for our entire crew.
Never, ever will we pay full price for airplane tickets ever again.
So if you can have in mind not just one dream destination, but a handful, and be willing to adjust your trip by a few days if needed…you really can go on some epic family vacations. EVEN IF your budget says otherwise 🙂
3. Making money while you travel
This is our final travel hack in our three prong strategy of budget family travel. We don’t live on hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, so we have been forced to get creative if we actually want to be able to travel to our bucket list destinations.
It all started when we wanted to take a month long sabbatical in Italy with our little ones 4 years ago. We never could afford to pay both our mortgage at home AND an Airbnb for a month in Europe. Necessity is the mother of invention right?!
So we thought- what about if we try to capitalize on something we do own while it just sits empty for 4 weeks?! So we decided to try to list our house on Airbnb for only the month of our trip.
How to monetize your home while away
We got a few professional pictures done, did a bit of minimal decluttering, and low and behold within WEEKS of our listing going live, we got a booking for the entire month of our trip! (If you’re ever in the Dallas area, favorite our place for the perfect family-friendly stay!)
Now we Airbnb our home every single time we have a trip on the books and it usually almost fully offsets the costs of our accommodations at our vacation destination. We know this isn’t for everyone, but we do believe it may be for you more than you think 🙂
We’ve got a crazy thorough post with all the most popular FAQ’s and misconceptions we get here. If you are interested in making budget family travel an *actual* reality, this is something to seriously consider doing!
And if you’re interested in beginning to host on Airbnb to help offset those family travel expenses, we’d love to guide you along the way. Simply use our link here and let us know you did and we will help get you up and running!
Budget Family Travel IS POSSIBLE!
I think most people assume they could never travel to their dream destinations as a family. Think Paris, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Turks and Caicos, Spain! But we are here to say with a bit of creativity and leg work it is absolutely NOT out of reach for an average family, like us, to travel the world 🙂 We hope this was helpful and gives you that bit of inspiration to make that bucket list trip happen!