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The Best Boutique Hotels in Mexico (for your next kid-free vacation)

When my husband and I were looking to take a last minute kid-free getaway, I struggled to find *exactly* what I was looking for when it came to our kind of getaway. So thanks to all that research, here is our veryyyyy well curated list of the best of the best boutique hotels in Mexico. These are the ones that hit ALL of our criteria. Which, if you’ve been around here a while, you know isn’t easy. We can be very particular 🙂

Every boutique hotel in Mexico on the list checks all the boxes on our dreamy kid-free getaway bucket list:

  • 4.5 Stars or higher. Our philosophy? Why spend the money if it’s not going to be an EXCELLENT stay.
  • No mega resorts here. This list includes boutique properties with no more than 150 rooms.
  • Affordable Luxury, hotels that are luxe, but don’t cost you your life savings. We like nice accommodations, but let’s be honest who can afford $1,000+/night anywhere?!
  • Beautiful Design is a must. I’ll be the first to call myself vain and say I am just not going to enjoy the place as much if it’s outdated or poorly designed
  • For this list, we included only boutique hotels in Mexico on the beach. Because really if I have a kid free weekend, all I want to do is lay by the ocean and do a whole lot of blissful nothing.

Check out this list of the best boutique hotels in Mexico for your next kid-free vacation. And let us know if you end up booking any of these magical stays!

Cancun/Riviera Maya Boutique Beach Hotels

Excellence Beloved Playa Mujeres (All Inclusive)

A little more secluded and private than the typical all-inclusive in Cancun, this gem of a resort is a special one. If you can even call it a resort. This property only has 80 rooms, so it has everything you love about an all inclusive, but without the crowds. The design is minimal, the service 5 stars (as all excellence properties are known for), and the food outstanding. Bonus, because of the size no reservations for dinner are required! We just stayed here for a quick 3 night getaway and it was pure bliss, truly.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun (All Inclusive)

This boutique beachfront resort is perfect for a luxury Riviera Maya vacation, without the massive price tag. Nestled on a white-sand beach it is just to the south of Puerto Morelos, a laid back fishing village with its own Mexican Caribbean charm. The perfect more intimate setting if you are looking for an all inclusive without that mega resort feel. And Cancun and Playa del Carmen are also only 20 minutes away. Big perk on this one is you can book it with Capital One points to get even MORE value!

Mahekal Beach Resort (All Inclusive Available)

This is a true laid back, barefoot beachy dream. If you are looking for a nice resort RIGHT on the beach, with thoughtful service and bohemian elegance, this place is for you. This in-town beachfront Riviera Maya resort’s location is only steps from local shops, boutiques, and restaurants. We love that there is an option for just the hotel, half board, and full board. Only thing of note with this boutique resort is that the beach is not private. Although the staff does a great job of keeping vendors at bay, it is worth noting.

Palmaïa House of AïA (All Inclusive)

If you are looking for more of a wellness driven retreat, this place is perfect. With only 60 rooms, and an exclusive adults only area, it is a verrryyyyy dreamy place to unwind. This one is probably the most unique property on this list. This boutique Mexico hotel offers guided meditation sessions, yoga classes, sound baths, energy healing, and more. Note- the restaurants on site are all plant-based if that is a deal breaker for you!

Viceroy Riviera Maya (All Inclusive Available)

Viceroy Riviera Maya is a Mexico luxury resort nestled in the rainforest of Riviera Maya near Playa Del Carmen. A true boutique gem, all 41 private villas enjoy their own completely private plunge pool (ummm sign me UP), sunbathing deck and outdoor shower. The restaurant onsite is al fresco, making all your Mexican beachy dreams come true. In a land full of mega resorts, Viceroy is a true breath of fresh air and definitely one of the best boutique resorts in the Cancun area. 

**If you are looking for a family friendly all inclusive trip, make sure to check out our list of the best all inclusives for families HERE!

Acapulco/Zihuatanejo Area Boutique Beach Hotels

Cala de Mar Resort & Spa Ixtapa

Your secluded, intimate, 5 star resort dreams come true. On a rocky hill alongside the Pacific Ocean, this upscale hotel is nearby Playa Quieta beach and Marina Ixtapa Golf Club. Every single room has a private plunge pool and ocean views (yes!) and the design couldn’t be more Mexican chic. 3 restaurants and a bar with a terrace, as well as 2 outdoor infinity pools complete the boutique hotel. Bonus- there are cooking and margarita classes are offered for a surcharge, as well as complimentary bicycles!

Tentaciones Hotel

“Tentaciones Hotel” is hands down one of the best boutique hotels in Mexico. The 4.9 stars says it ALL. With only four suites overlooking Zihuatanejo’s bay, this place is a true GEM. Located conveniently between Zihuatanejo downtown and La Ropa beach, it is the perfect oasis for this tny little Mexican beach town. Every room comes with an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. These photos have us ready to hit book NOW.

La Casa Que Canta

I mean come on…does this photo alone not have you ready to reserve this magical hotel?! What could be more romantic than an intimate oceanfront hotel with breathtaking views of Zihuatanejo Bay. Spacious terraces, an infinity pool, and surrounded by natural rock formations…it is truly idyllic. Every single room has ocean views and the hotel’s award-winning restaurant serves traditional Mexican food and specializes in seafood. Kid-free Mexican vacation here we comeeeee 🙂 EVEN BETTER?! You can book this hotel on points through Hyatt’s partnership with Small Luxury Hotels of the World. See how here!

Amuelto

One photo of this resort and it nearly completely derailed our fully planned last kid-free trip to Mexico. Because HOW dreamy does this room look?! All the rooms at Amuelto have unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean. This 6 room boutique hotel is nestled on the hillside in Zihuatanejo, Mexico a small charming beach town. Private terrace plunge pools, delicious restaurant on site with views for days, a beach just down the hill…this place is at the TOP of our list.

Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués

This dreamy getaway is tucked away within the affluent gated Diamonte area. Banyan Tree is a luxury hotel in Acapulco that has 45 deluxe villas, ALL with private pools. The smallest villas are 2,000 square feet, so you are truly vacationing in luxury! The on-site resort’s signature Saffron restaurant is praised for its authentic Thai food. Better yet, it’s only a 20-minute drive from Acapulco’s international airport. Catch a direct flight (see our favorite resources for getting dirt cheap flights here!), and the Banyan Tree is truly perfection for a romantic three- or four-night getaway

The Inn at Manzanillo Bay

If super intimate, understated and laid back luxury is your vibe, then Manzanillo Bay is just for you. 🙂 This boutique hotel has been around for 21 years and is the perfect place for a quick romantic kid-free getaway. For those that love to surf, it is right out front, Yoga sessions are available, and the restaurant on-site is known for its delicious authentic Mexican food. The feel of the rooms are truly all of your minimal luxury Mexican dreams come true. This one is a hidden gem for sure!

Best Boutique Hotels in Mexico – Tulum

Mezzanine Hotel Tulum

This is the ultimate Tulum boutique hotel. Mezzanine is eco-forward, ultra-cool, and the ideal Tulum hotel option for couples looking to experience the natural beauty of Mexico’s Caribbean coastline from a minimalist and elegant setting. There is an onsite authentic Thai restaurant and hip martini lounge. Situated along Mexico’s stunning Riviera Maya, just 30 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. So with a direct flight to Cancun, it is pretty accessible (KEY when your time is limited)!

Puerto Vallarta Boutique Beach Hotels

Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel (All Inclusive)

It is SO hard to find boutique all inclusives, and even harder to come across ones that are tastefully designed and not $1,000/night. Villa Premiere is a true diamond in the rough in that sense. This adults only beachfront oasis is also only minutes from Puerto Vallarta’s bustling nightlife and iconic boardwalk “El Malecón”. We LOVE this option because it has all the beauty and reviews of a high end resort, but without the price tag 🙂

Casa Velas

This place is OOZING with Mexican elegance at its finest. Surrounded by the Marina Vallarta Golf Club, and steps from the beach, Casa Velas is a peaceful oasis that brings together excellent service and a romantic coastal vibe. With your stay, you get VIP access to the Táu Beach Club, located just five minutes away on Banderas Bay. Although the hotel is not on the beach, you can reach the sand with the complimentary shuttle or by taking a walk through the beautiful property.

Best Boutique Hotels in Mexico – Cabo San Lucas

The Towers at Pueblo Bonito (All Inclusive)

A luxury resort-within-a-resort (Pueblo Bonito), The Towers at Pacifica provides an additional layer of luxury and indulgence. Two towers has 47 guest rooms with private terraces, including six suites with private plunge pools. All have 24-hour butler service (amazzzinnnggg) and a third tower on site features an oceanfront VIP Lounge, open exclusively to guests of The Towers at Pacifica. There is also a beachfront fine-dining restaurant, Peninsula, which features Baja cuisine. A great adults only option in Cabo for your next kid-free getaway!

The Cape, A Thompson Hotel

Although technicalllyyy this place has 157 rooms on site, it is at the very tip top of my list so I thought it deserved a spot on this round up. 🙂 Sophisticated beachfront vibes wrapped up in a GORGEOUS Cabo bow. Every single room and vantage point overlooks El Arco and the Bahia Cabo San Lucas horizon. There are two pools, including an infinity pool with a swim-up bar, as well as a saltwater pool carved into a national formation found on property. Also, bonus- you can book this property for a steal on points…the cash rate is a bit pricey, so points is the way to go on this one! The Cape is most definitely one of the best boutique hotels in Mexico.

**If you are looking to travel way more than your budget allows, check out our in depth post all about leveraging and maximizing points for family travel!**

Here’s to a few blissful days in Mexico with the one that started it all! Hoping this list gives you that push to book that trip, you won’t regret it!

Budget Travel

Hawaii Family Vacation on a Budget // A Step by Step Guide

Did someone say Hawaii beach vacation for 4 under $350?!? I am telling you, taking a Hawaii family vacation on a budget IS completely possible. You just need to get a little creative :). We are walking you through step by step exactly how to make that heavily discounted travel magic happen below 👇🏼

Strategically using points and credit card bonuses IS your answer. (RESPONSIBLY in a way that will not only leave your credit score in tact but potentially even HIGHER than I was before). And when done well, can earn you some epic, nearly, free travel ✨

Hawaii family vacation on a budget

For years and years, we used our credit card like a debit card and just erased purchases when we took a vacation, dollar for point. Although that is better than using a debit card, there IS a better way. A few years ago we started to *really* learn how to get the most out of our normal every day spending and points. This is what we are going to show you below 🙂

Now we go on multiple dreamy family trips a year AND both have credit scores in the “excellent” range….so hear me out here 🙂

Make sure to check out our Points/Miles 101 guide for families here to answer all your burning questions. Like what about all the annual fees? Isn’t this just going to kill my credit score? So you spend thousands of extra to get a “free” vacations…yeah right. Answering all your FAQ’s and giving you a basic overview of the points world there- it’s a MUST READ.

Hawaii Family Vacation on a Budget – START HERE

Here’s exactly how to get a trip to Hawaii for a family of 4 for only $320.80!

If you are skeptical of the points world (like we were), we encourage you to just try it one time. If it’s not for you, no problem, move on with your life. The worst you can get out of it is a heavily discounted vacation, and your credit score either staying level or potentially even going UP.

*If you’re in a season of life where all your financial ducks are not in a row or you are in a ton of debt, we do NOT recommend this means of discounted travel. Don’t worry we have all been there :). But take some time to get that sorted out, then you can come back to the points strategy later!

1. You (Player 1) apply for our favorite travel rewards card-

Once you’ve decided if points for Hawaii is the right path for you, you will apply for your first card. (For Hawaii specifically we recommend applying a full 9-12 months before you want to travel, because those Hawaiian properties are HOT!).

Hawaii Beach resorts are insanely expensive, points is the way to go if you have a tight budget!

Our hands down favorite travel rewards card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It has TONS of travel partners and uses for your points, a low annual fee, and 4x points on dining and restaurants. The card provides just so much flexibility and value ongoing.

You will meet the minimum spend ($4,000 in 3 months) and then be rewarded with big ole’ pile of 60,000 bonus points. We wish we had enough normal everyday spending to rack up the amount of points needed for multiple vacations a year. The reality is most people don’t.

The bulk of our points are earned from credit card welcome bonuses. (Again, visit the FAQs here if that is a new and uncomfortable idea…we get it!)

*The key here is meeting the minimum spend with your normal everyday spending, NOT A DIME MORE! Making additional purchases you wouldn’t normally buy to get a welcome bonus, literally defeats the entire purpose of the “free” travel. 🙂 Set auto pay up to pay your statement balance in FULL as soon as you get your card. Interest fees = *not* free travel.

Apply for that golden card here. Even if you don’t want to go deep in the points world, it is absolutely something you want in your wallet if you travel at all.

2. You refer your spouse (Player 2) to that SAME card

….pocketing 15,000 referral points along the way. The next step is to refer your spouse to that very same card. Make sure to use your referral link, found either within your rewards section of your Chase account or using this link HERE.

Your spouse (or commonly called player 2) will meet the minimum spend on their card and will be rewarded with another pile of 60,000 points. That’s 135,000 points between both of you that you’ve now got in your pocket for H A W A I I 💃🏽.

If you are thinking wow that’s a whole lot of minimum spend to meet, we can’t do that, think again. 🙂 $4,000 in 3 months is only $1,333/month! Most families spend more than that on groceries, gas, and eating out for the month alone! We love this article here from Travel Freely on ideas to meet that amount without OVER spending.

Hawaii family vacation on a budget
How about Kauai for $329.50 for the whole family?! Count us in 🙂

3. You and spouse call into the Blue Bank to combine those points allllll together!

This is the really easy part! Sometimes you will already see your spouse’s card linked when you click “Combine Points” in the rewards section of your travel account, however more often it is not. Simply call into Chase customer service at 1-800-432-3117 and tell a representative you would like to combine you and your partner’s points.

You can combine points with anyone that you share a household with :).

Now you’ve got 60,000 (your bonus) + 15,000 (referral bonus) + 60,000 (your spouse’s bonus) = for a total of 135,000+ points to get you to Hawaii!

4. Player 1 will apply for their last card to get that Hawaii family vacation on a budget!

The last card you will apply for will be the Chase World of Hyatt card, to get you a few more nights at that dreamy Hawaiian hotel.

*The most important thing here is that player 1 does not apply for that card until 60-90 days after that first Chase Sapphire application!*

If done responsibly, “travel hacking” will most likely only increase your credit score. BUT if you don’t play by the rules, your credit WILL absolutely be very negatively impacted. Applying for multiple cards back to back to back will, without a doubt, do that.

Hyatt’s have the very best ongoing value when it comes to booking hotels on points, so this is a great card to have! It also offers a free night certificate every year to use on hotels valued at $300+/night…so more than worth hanging on to. (Although you don’t have to, more on that below :)).

family travel with points

Apply for the Chase World of Hyatt Card HERE– The final piece to your Hawaii family vacation on a budget puzzle!

(If the idea of applying for a 3rd card feels new and uncomfortable to you…just stop at card 2 and make it a kid free trip! The 135,000 points is enough to get a super cheap trip to Hawaii for just hubby and you :)).

5. Transfer Points to purchase your flights

There are a ton of ways to redeem your points for flights. The main thing you need to know is the power of TRANSFER PARTNERS. Transferring your points to a travel partner of a credit card will 9 times out of 10 get you the most value. Compared to just erasing a purchase on your card with those same points.

Southwest is a super easy transfer partner for beginners, so that is what we are going to use for this example. Southwest has flights to Hawaii for as low as 25,000-30,000 points RT if you can be a bit flexible on your dates. (even cheaper if you’re on the west coast!)

So if you don’t already have a rewards account with them, set one up! Check flight availability, and once confirmed you will transfer the needed points to SW for your Hawaii flights. **Keep in mind, once points are transferred, they can never be sent back!**

In your rewards section of your Chase account you will see a “Transfer your Points” option. Click that, find Southwest in the list and put in your SW loyalty number. Those points should show up instantly over in your SW account. When booking your Hawaii flights for your family, you will only now be responsible for paying the taxes on the flight. They are usually $11.20 per person for domestic flights!

The cash cost of these flights would be $1,500! …and that’s just to GET there.

6. Transfer Points to reserve your Hawaii Hotel

Lastly, that oh so dreamy Hawaiian resort. 🙂 SO you have probably about 35k points remaining in your Chase account and that 60,000 bonus sitting over at Hyatt.

Start by setting up a World of Hyatt membership account if you don’t already have one. Next, same drill as above, transfer those remaining Chase points over to your Hyatt account. You now will have 95,000 points+ (more with your points on your minimum spends) to spend on a hotel in Hawaii.

Hawaii for a family of 4 for $329.50! Bucket list trips ARE possible…let us show you how to take a Hawaii family vacation on a budget 🙂

*The BEST part is that Hyatt does not charge taxes or resort fees on award stays, so this is truly a FREE booking!*

The cash value for 4 nights at these luxury properties would be around $3,400! …I think I will choose the points 🙂

7. Enjoy magical (nearly) free Hawaiian family vacation

✨ BOOM Hawaii Family Vacation on a budget for a fraction of the normal cost! You did it! Do you see the power of points?! Just by signing up for 2-3 new cards, you earned yourself a nearly fully covered Hawaii family vacation on a budget for your entire fam!

So that total was 3 annual credit card fees ($95 x 3) + four sets of taxes on the flights ($44.50) = $329.50 ALL IN 🤯

Things to keep in mind…

✔️ Minimum Spend- you are ONLY making purchases you would normally make, not a dime more. (or it completely defeats the whole “free” travel part 😉)

✔️ After 1 year with the card, you have the option to downgrade to the no annual fee version of the card, ask for a retention offer, or cancel the card. This article on what to do with your cards after the vacation is SO helpful 🙂

✔️If you play by the rules and are RESPONSIBLY spending, paying your statement balance in FULL every single month, you will most likely only see your credit score go up!

Other Hawaii budget tips

If you want to extend your trip, but keep costs to a minimum, I would recommend booking a few additional nights at an Airbnb. Resort cash rates in Hawaii are just crazy high, so a vacation rental is the way to go for a longer stay.

A few other tips for keeping your Hawaii vacation costs to a minimum:

  • Shoot for eating out only 1 meal a day, this always really helps to keep our family’s travel costs low. If we are staying in a resort, stopping at the grocery store to have breakfast items in the room on hand. The gets one of your meals covered at a MUCH lower cost.
  • If you do eat out, don’t make every meal a fancy restaurant. The food trucks in Hawaii along the road are AMAZING
  • Focus your time on nature and activities that don’t require a ton of entrance fees etc. Nature, hikes, and beautiful views are FREE!
  • If you rent a car, we 100% recommend looking into Turo. If you haven’t heard of it, it is like the Airbnb of rental cars. This can save you HUNDREDS!
  • Be FLEXIBLE in your dates! Sometimes changing your flights by even just a day or two can save you so many points. Those points can then be put towards additional days at the resort.
  • We usually pick ONE “splurge” activity per trip that we all agree upon. This helps from those fun expenses snowballing and coming home with a massive unexpected bill!

We really hope this was helpful! Sending you all the Hawaii family vacation on a budget positive vibes! For more where this came from, FOLLOW us at @wayfarenco over on Instagram. We’ll show you how to take more dream family vacations for LESS! 👏🏻👏🏻

Budget Travel

Budget Family Travel: Our Top 3 Cost Slashing Hacks

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.

budget family travel hacks

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!

Travel

1 Epic Day in the Sawtooth Mountains

If you’re anything like us, you’re always on the hunt for postcard worthy beauty…the more untouched the better. If that’s you, then add the Sawtooth Mountains to your bucket list STAT. We’re going to walk you through an epic day in this lesser known destination. What to do in the Sawtooth Mountains, the best places to eat, where to stay, and family friendly hikes not to be missed.

I know, I know when you think of Idaho, the first thing that comes to mind is probably potatoes, right?! But did you know that Idaho has more wilderness than any other state in the lower 48? A mega 60% of the state is covered in forestland!

Compared to its more popular neighboring states of Washington and Oregon, Idaho is a hidden gem! Anyone that lives there is loud and proud about that (and wants it to stay that way:)). We spent a month in Idaho last summer, and it is shockingly beautiful. Filled with jewel-colored lakes, alpine peaks, towering forest, and sparkling rivers.

Sawtooth National Recreational park is such an idyllic US destination that is sure to not disappoint!

About the Sawtooth Mountains

The Sawtooth Mountains are said to rival the Tetons…with a fourth of the crowds! Located in east Idaho, only about 2.5 hours drive from Boise, it is truly a must see when visiting this hidden gem of a state. Nestled right next to Boise National Forest and charming (tiny) no frills Stanley, ID, this portion of the Rocky Mountains reaches a maximum elevation of 10,751 feet at the summit of Thompson Peak. The Sawtooth National Recreational Area is home to some of the most gorgeous hikes in the Western United States, and most definitely in Idaho.

We stayed in Idaho for a month last summer and driving out to the Sawtooth Mountains was hands down our favorite thing we did (Don’t miss our Road Trip Essentials the next time your family hits the road here!). The beauty and almost untouched feeling of the area was just truly majestic. If you are in the Idaho area, the Sawtooth Mountains CANNOT be missed. As beautiful as the National Parks, without the crowds. AND endless postcard worthy views to boot…just wait!

Family friendly hikes in the Sawtooth Mountains

Fishhook Trail

This hike is near the entrance of the Sawtooth area and a great super straightforward option for families with little ones. It starts at the Redfish Lake trailhead and it is 4 miles round trip. There is a total of about 400 feet of elevation gain, and follows the gorgeous Fishhook creek until it ends at a beautiful meadow and beaver pond.

The trail is used by both bikers, hikers and some sections you may see some horses! This is a favorite trail of many and one of the most popular in the area, so during the summer months plan accordingly when visitors are at a peak. In September and the Fall you can also catch glimpses of the gorgeous changing leaves. There is a large parking lot very close to the trailhead, so navigating to this family friendly hike in the Sawtooths is easy breezy.

Lily Ponds and Waterfalls (Redfish Lake)

This is our favorite hike for families in the Sawtooth Mountains! To access the trailhead you have to take the Redfish Lake Lodge boat shuttle. Our kids thought this quick 5min boat ride was a BLAST (not so much when we got caught in a storm on the way back…but MEMORIES right?!). AND it cuts off over six miles of hiking for you in only ten minutes! The boat both leaves on demand, and has set pick up times.

Once the boat drops you off, simply follow the signs for the Lily Lake Trailhead. (not forgetting to making your way down to the shore area, pictured below…the color of that water!). The hike is only 1.5 miles round trip, but there is some moderate elevation gain. Our girls (6 and 4 at the time) did great with this hike and it really was the perfect enjoyable challenge…with a very worthy reward at the end!

After spending some time at the lake (filled with lily pads, hence the name of this trail), you will want to look for the small wooden sign that will point you towards the waterfalls (south of the lake). Just 3 more minutes down the trail and you’ll run into the falls! The waterfall is gorgeous and intimate and we had the whole thing to ourselves when we visited in July.

Also keep your eye out for Huckleberry bushes, during the summer they dot the entire trail and can be picked and eaten straight from the bush! This was SUCH a fun memory for the kids, and they totally delighted in picking the huckleberries and eating them straight from their hands! Be sure and stop in at the Lakeside Grill on your way back to reward the fam (and yourself :)) with a delicious ice cream cone. This hike was hands down one of our most memorable experiences while in Idaho.

4th of July Lake

This hike is a bit deeper into the Sawtooth Mountain area, but well worth the extra drive. (And really any drive that looks like this…sign me up) Off of highway 75 (the main highway in the area), about 15 miles south of Redfish Lake Lodge you will turn east on 4th of July road and drive 10 miles to the 4th of July trailhead.

It is a bit of a bumpy dirt road, but totally doable in most cars. Once you arrive at the trailhead, you will see restrooms and a parking area. The trail is close to 4 miles round trip and will take you straight to 4th of July Lake. This family friendly hike is is perfect for a quick little dip if you’re visiting in the summer and is untouched Sawtooth Mountain beauty at its finest.

Where to Eat in the Sawtooth Mountains

Stanley Baking Company & Cafe

The perfect spot for a quick breakfast before a full day of hiking and soaking up the mountains. This gem is in the heart of Stanley, right outside the entrance to the peaks. Sit on the patio, sip a latte, and grab the kids a couple of homemade cinnamon rolls….YUM.

Peaks & Perks

If you want to head straight to the really good stuff (i.e. all the nature goodness), we recommend this little pop-up coffee shop for your morning brew. Be prepared- when we were there, they only were accepting cash!

Redfish Lake Lodge

In the heart of the Sawtooth Mountain Recreational Area, this is a easy super family friendly lunch or dinner stop. There is tons to do around the Redfish Lake Lodge- grab ice cream at the outdoor grill (more on that next), let the kids splash in the small sand-lined beach, rent a paddle board for the afternoon. This is our top pick for a mid-day meal during your time in the Sawtooths!

Lakeside Grill

Also, on the Redfish Lake Lodge property, Lakeside Grill is a must stop for a little afternoon treat. Stop by the outdoor grill to get their famous “living the dream” ice cream cones and sit waterside while the kids cool off in the water. This is a great option for a quick outdoor lunch that is easy on the wallet. Afternoon delight FOR SURE.

Sawtooth Luce’s

This is where we had a quick bite to eat at the end of our day of adventure in the Sawtooth Mountains. A completely no frills type of down to earth joint, that just seems like the perfectly fitting end cap to a day of hiking in the mountains. Grab a burger and a beer and revel in the epic day you just had!

Stanley Supper Club

Alright this is a unique find (that books up quickly mind you), but well worth the planning ahead if you can swing it! Just love this special dinner spot and the sweet story of how they started the restaurant. This is more of a “fine dining” experience but in a perfectly Idaho relaxed unpretentious way.

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Where to Stay in the Sawtooth Mountains

The tinnnnyyyy town of Stanley (population only 68!) is the gateway to the Sawtooths. For a hotel stay in Stanley, Idaho we recommend Mountain Village Resort and Stanley Town Square. We personally think the best place to stay when exploring the Sawtooth mountains is hands down Redfish Lake Lodge, right next to Redfish Lake. It’s right in the heart of the mountains and the perfect cabin, family-friendly camp type feel. There are restaurants, activities, fun events on site, and it is pretty much the ONLY option if you want to stay in the actual Sawtooth recreational area (except for camping that is).

Also of course always check out Airbnb for a cabin or other independent rental. The options are very limited in the area, but worth checking out! Lastly, for additional hotel options, check out stays in Sun Valley and Ketchum, the closest ski resort towns to the Sawtooth National Forest.

If you’re feeling extra adventurous with little ones, there are also tons of camping options in the area. It can get popular (in the summer especially) so make sure to reserve at least 6 months in advance! Camping around Redfish Lake is a top pick, but other amazing spots include Stanley Lake (our FAVORITE! See below), Pettit Lake, or Iron Creek.

A MUST SEE!

Justttt before you’re about to head out from your epic day (or days) in the Sawtooth Mountains, you must stop at Stanley Lake! We tacked this on as we headed out as somewhat of an after thought, and it was probably our favorite views of the day. Pristine jewel-toned waters, towering trees, a gorgeous mountain backdrop…I mean you can’t make this stuff up. Easily rivals the National Parks we’ve seen…but with half the crowds.

Bonus points if you can get there around golden hour. Nearly all the visitors had cleared out for the day. the water was so still, and it was just truly MAGIC. A family memory I will absolutely never forget.

We hope this was helpful and gives you a little bit of direction to what we are confident will be an unforgettable trip! The Sawtooth Mountains (and Idaho in general for that matter!) are a hidden gem and somewhere we can’t recommend visiting enough!

Budget Travel

Our Go-To Websites for Finding Dirt Cheap Flights

Why is airfare such a painful expense? I think it’s because it’s the cost just to GET to a destination (not even all the fun or stay). And when you are traveling as a family and everything is x4 or x5 or more, costs can add up QUICKLY. So over the years we’ve narrowed down the very best websites that have helped us find dirt cheap flights.

Because mama wants to go to Europe…and I don’t have $4k just to drop on getting there right?!

Some KEY principals that apply to all the resources below and are critical to the money saving flight game:

  1. Be Flexible – If you have a specific destination you want to fly to on very specific days, it will be harder to find the cheapest of cheap flights. Flexibility will serve you SO well if you’re looking to really save on airfare.
  2. Always Search in Incognito Mode – (Shift + ⌘ + N on a Mac) Those fancy algorithms now are absolutely tracking the flights you look at and how often you’ve looked at a specific route. This really can make a difference.
  3. If possible, always book directly with the airline – Using OTA’s (online travel agencies) can be great when hunting for the best deals, but not for actually purchasing tickets. If anything goes wrong with a flight (cancellation, delay etc), you are going to save yourself a big headache by booking directly with the airline. Also, you are quite literately leaving money on the table, because when booking with OTA’s there are no rewards or points.
Traveling internationally with kids
The only way we were able to take our kids on this bucket list trip to Italy was by finding dirt cheap flights through these resources and tios!

Scott’s Cheap Flights

Meet your new best friend…your really fun, dangerous best friend. Scott’s is our number one hack when it comes to getting dirt cheap flights.

Scott’s Cheap Flights is a website that finds incredible deals on international flights. When an airline makes a mistake (error in the system, typo, etc) or offers a great sale, Scott finds it and emails you with instructions on how to book- then boom, you go on that trip you have been dreaming about for way less than you ever thought possible.

So although Scott’s is a technically a subscription service, we think it’s the number one website in the travel game helping you find the very lowest cost on airfare. Through Scott’s email notifications, we ended up getting peak summer season tickets to Europe for $490/each (More on how we spent 1 month in Italy for $1k here). Normally they are $1000-1200! Yes, three tickets for the price of what would normally be ONE ticket…unreal right?!

cheap flights to europe

Scott’s Cheap Flights Tools

Simply set up your departure airport or any other airports you want to follow…and just wait for the travel savings to start flowing. Filter out the noise and only get deal alerts departing from your favorite airports. However, you might want to consider opening your departure city to more than just your hometown.

For example, if we were to see a $275 ticket from JFK to Spain like pictured above, we would jump on that immediately because we know we can find a $100-200 ticket from Dallas (our departure airport) to JFK if we watch that price for a bit. Our better yet cover that connection with our Southwest Points!

Know you want to head to Hawaii sometime next Spring? Sign up for the alerts and keep your eye peeled on your inbox for notifications to Hawaii. If you can be a bit flexible on your dates and departures I can guarantee you you will snag a killer deal that will make booking that trip no question!

More Scott’s Features!

I just love all the stats you can explore too, giving you the full confidence you are REALLY getting a good deal. See the screenshots below that show graphs from their site. They map out what the flight typically costs, Scott’s current deal they offered you to, and then the lowest cost flight for that route they’ve ever seen.

They do offer a free option that sends some deal alerts to your inbox. However, we highly recommend upgrading to the Premium Service. Premium includes 3x the deals sent, error/mistake fares, and all domestic deals. At $49 annually, or $15 every quarter, this more than makes up for itself even if you end up booking just one flight. Ever.

They also offer an Elite option, which include First Class and Business Class alerts…but although we’re self professed travel hacking experts, we’re not in that travel budget world yet.

If you walk away with nothing else from this blog post, we truly do hope you sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights. It has been hands down one of the top hacks in how we actually afford for our family to travel the world.

Google Flights

Our second favorite weapon of choice in our dirt cheap flight arsenal. I know, I know you’ve heard of Goggle Flights. BUT have you used all their tools to their full capacity?? Obviously Google Flights is a staple in the travel game for mapping out dates, routes, carriers, and more. It’s arguably the most user friendly option out there, but we will walk you through our favorite, most helpful features for getting the cheapest flights around.

If you can be a bit flexible in your dates, the calendar feature is GOLD. Take a look at this flight to Denmark here. The green values on the calendar are showing you the lowest cost days to fly that route. You can see how just altering your departure date by ONE day can cut the cost of your ticket in half! (now to be fair this was a deal alert I just pulled from a Scott’s notification. So although, the savings might not always be this steep, the calendar feature is incredibly helpful).

google flight calendar hack

The next tool I use when searching for cheap flights is the Date Grid feature…i.e. your new best friend if you are travel hacking obsessed like we are 🙂 This grid shows you the cheapest possible cost for every potential combination of dates. Those green stars are where the magic is! Again, flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to finding the cheapest possible flights to make your family travel dreams come true!

date grid on google flights for finding cheap flights

More Google Flights Tools

I then will always track the prices…not just for the specific dates I was looking at, but I click the “Flexible Dates” notification. This way I get alerts for a price drop not just for those specific days but the route in general (if I really have my eye on a particular destination). If you scroll down past the “Best Departing Flights” box, you can then see the “Prices are currently low/average/high for your trip” feature. Again, I love this type of data because it gives you the confidence to pull the trigger on a good deal or wait it out.

Lastly, the explore feature is SO helpful in finding cheap flights if you have a certain area in mind, For example, let’s say we want to go to Europe this summer (I mean when do I not want to go to Europe?!). Click the “Explore” feature in the left sidebar. Put in your departure airpot and dates you’d like to travel. Then zoom the map in on Europe. I can now see how much it would cost me to travel to EVERY city in Europe…how cool is that?!

You can also just leave the destination blank in the initial search field in Google Flights and it will show you the cheapest places to fly across the whole world for those dates! Move that price dial down to fit your budget and BOOM you’ve got attainable vacations right before your eyes.

explore feature on google flights

My ONLY negative with Google Flights is they don’t track Southwest flights in their algorithm…huge bummer. BUT other than that it is absolutely one of our top tools for getting dirt cheap flights.

Airfare WatchDog

Speakkinngggg of tracking Southwest Flights…

That is one of our very favorite features of Airfare Watchdog…that they actually allow you to search and track Southwest Flights, woohoo!

Southwest prohibits “any automatic device, program, or algorithm” from monitoring its fares. Lucky for us, Airfarewatchdog uses real people, not a program, to evaluate and list low fares from Southwest. They certainly don’t pay us for sending them traffic, but, as a low fare listing site, it would be a disservice to our users not to report on what Southwest offers.

Airfare Watchdog is definitely worth a look before booking any flight. We love their “Anywhere” feature to search for the cheapest flights across the world for your departure city. Also, under the “Flights” tab they really do have some cool search and compare features that other sites just don’t offer.

cheap flight deals on 
airfare watchdog

More Airfare Watchdog Features

They have a lot of the features of Google Flights (unfortunately not the as user-friendly nature), but we love that they offer a “Deal of the Day” or “Weekender Alerts.” These are great for if you know you have some time off but aren’t sure where to go.

Honestly, just personally the emails and marketing can get a bit spammy for me. BUT I will put up with a lot to snag a cheap flight! As with any third party site though (Including Goggle Flights), we always recommend you use those tools to find the best deal, but then book directly with the airline. This is a big NO in the travel world as one, they don’t offer any rewards (Use Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Travel portal for that). Secondly, if there are any flight interruptions, cancellations, or delays, working directly with the airline is going to have you SO much time and headaches! We used a third party site to book our tickets to Norway, and thennnn COVID happened and the trip of a lifetime was cancelled. We did finally get our flights fully refunded (see how we did that here), but it was a 4 month long mess to do so.

Skyscanner

Skyscanner has been a tried and true source for cheap flights in the travel industry for quite some time now. I started using them when I lived in Italy 10+ years ago now, and their great deals and tools still hold up to this day. They have some really helpful features than can allow you find some incredible deals!

Skyscanner Features

We love the “any” feature. So for example you live in London, instead of just typing in Heathrow for your destination airport. You can put in London(Any) and be shown the cheapest routes from allll the airports surrounding you. Catching a bus from Standstead to Luton might be cheaper than a Heathrow flight. Also, we LOVE the “Everywhere” feature. Similar to the Google Flights Explore map. You can basically search the cheapest destinations to fly anywhere in the world, categorized by area, from you home city (bargain flight shoppers rejoice!!).

skyscanner hack to find cheap flights

Got a free weekend, but not sure where you want to go and don’t want to spend and arm and a leg? Dreaming of Europe but not sure the cheapest city to fly into? This feature is GOLD.

Just like Google Flights, there are some money-saving calendar tools. As well as, flight tracking notification tools. Skyscanner is my go-to resource if I am looking for cheap flights within Europe as well (i.e. Lisbon to Rome). Lastly, they also have a “Daily Best Deals” from and in the US they post which is really helpful. Overall, definitely a site to add to your finding dirt cheap flights arsenal!

Skiplagged

Ok, Skiplagged will help you find hands down some of the cheapest flights on the internet. They do offer something I would say none of the other websites on this list do- which is what they call “hidden city ticketing.” Essentially, their algorithms put together the absolute cheapest itinerary for a destination, something that might take us on our own hours of leg work to find out. Usually, these itineraries are a little more complex, BUT they literally can save you hundreds of dollars.

More on Skiplagged’s Hidden City Feature

They say a “hidden-city flight” is a flight where you get off at the layover rather than the final destination. For example, a flight from LA to Salt Lake City might be $250, but a similar flight from LA to Dallas with a layover in Salt Lake City might be $130. If you’re going to Salt Lake City, they’ll show you both flights. If you choose the cheaper one, you get off the plane at the layover (Salt Lake City) rather than going to the final ticketed destination (Dallas).

Their tagline “Our flights are so cheap, United sued us…but we won” definitely speaks for itself.

skiplagged for cheap flights

Skiplagged shows you inefficiencies in airline prices, so you find deals on tickets you might not find anywhere else. They will also show you, like many others on this list, the regular cheapest rates…so you can be sure you really are getting an awesome money-saving deal.

ALSO- they have what they call “skiplagged hotels” which can save you up to 50% off stays! SO if you’re REALLY strapped on your budget and willing to have a bit of flexibility in your transit this is an amazing option. There can sometimes be not super convenient itineraries, or longer than average layovers. Because of the unique nature of the “hidden-city flights,” they also recommend just traveling with a carry-on. (So you don’t risk your bags being delivered to the final destination). But, if neither of those are a barrier, Skiplagged is a super valuable resource!

Next Vacay

Another subscription service for flight deals, and the cheapest one of the bunch. Like others, with Next Vacay you sign up for email notifications when flights from your designated departures cities go super low. We love that you can set these preferences, so that the emails you receive are really targeted specifically to you.

Next Vacay is free for the first month and then only $25 annually after that. I mean you really can’t go wrong here.

finding dirt cheap flights

I’d say the only negative with this option is they do have a book direct aspect of the site, where they want customers to book the flight deals directly through them. Because of this some times the deals aren’t as great as you may find with another subscription service. BUT still saving you hundreds nonetheless. Like mentioned above, when at all possible you really want to try to book directly with the airlines, for so many reasons!

Also, not to be missed, they have an awesome referral program! You can get $20 for every friend you refer! They get a free trial and you get a $20 gift card…a WIN WIN.

Three Cheers for Cheap Flights!

SO that’s it! Our go-to websites for finding the cheapest flights possible. Because there’s just some sort of high I get from knowing I got the absolute lowest price on a flight (anyone else?!). Especially when you are buying tickets x4 for a family. If you realllyyyy want to up your travel saving money game we encourage you to check out our post on travel hacking HERE and making money while you travel HERE.

Happy adventuring folks! We would love to know below the best deal you’ve ever found and how you found it, share below!

Budget Travel

A Beginner’s Guide to Travel Hacking for Families

If you’ve ever though “Gosh I really wish we could go to ______…but it’s just not in the budget”…then this post is for you 🙂 We like to say we have champagne family travel dreams, on a beer budget. Thankfully travel hacking has helped stretch our dollars a bit further and close that gap between dreaming and GOING. Read on below about how you can start earning free or nearly free travel, so you can make family adventures happen that you thought were totally out of reach.

Leveraging credit card rewards has gotten us:

  • Fully covered tickets to Italy for our family of 4
  • A kid-free weekend away in Napa
  • A weekend glamping in Texas Hill Country
  • Just booked! Spring break in Cabo (flights and hotel!) for $115

…and honestly SO much more! (and if you want to level up your travel hacking even FURTHER see our other trick here!)

What in the world is travel hacking?

Simply put, travel hacking is using credit card miles and points to get free (or nearly free) travel! We honestly didn’t start really intentionally leveraging credit card points and rewards until a few years ago. When we first got married over a decade ago, we used our debit card for everything (so much free money left on the table…insert crying face emojis here). Then about 5 years in, we discovered the beauty of using a credit card for all your normal purchases to earn reward points.

Now 11 years laters, we are fully reaping the benefits of travel rewards and leveraging our credit cards to their full capacity for OUR benefit. We wanted to travel with our two young girls, but transparently had little to no disposable income. One ticket to Europe on its own was pricey, but FOUR tickets to Europe was out f the question. So with a little bit of creativity and work, we’ve been able to travel on some EPIC family adventures. (Our month in Italy at the top of that list!)

Travel hacking isn’t for everyone…and that’s ok! BUT it can be an amazing tool to help maximize your budget and make your family travel dreams a reality. Even if you get just one travel reward credit card, it will make that bucket list trip that much more attainable.

travel hacking for families

…But is it sketchy??

Honestly, I hate the term “hacking” because it implies something illegal or sketchy. Thankfully, travel hacking is the farthest thing from that!

Anyone who knows me, knows I am an avid rule follower. That is why I love this tactic for leveraging free travel! It completely abides by the already determined rules set up and simply maximizes it.

I like to think about it more as a shortcut, or expert recommendation…like a “mom hack”. As long as you are earning and redeeming your points legally, travel hacking isn’t sketchy at all. I know it takes a bit of a mindset shift from the “avoid credit cards” at all costs message we grew up with, BUT this can be an incredible way to drastically reduce your expenses when it comes to your next family adventure.

What about my credit score?

I would say this is people’s number one concern with entertaining this strategy for earning free travel. However, if done responsibility leveraging credit cards, paying off your balance in full every month, and earning crazy discounted trips will most likely only increase your credit score.

Credit scores are determined by a vast number of things, but the main factor is debt to income ratio. So having lots of available credit (many open cards) and very little debt (paying off your card in full each month), can do wonders for your credit. Since starting travel hacking, our score has only gone up! Most serious travel hackers have scores of 800+ and above.

So no need to fear…IF done responsibility. That’s why I definitely recommend having some help and recommendations as you begin to navigate the world of travel rewards.

Is there a downside to travel hacking?

If you and open and close a ton of cards at once, yes your credit score will take a dive. If you open credit cards and don’t pay off your balance in full each month, yes your score will take a dive. I would say the only “downside” to travel hacking is if opening a new credit card makes you spend beyond your means, there can be serious consequences. If you make purchases you don’t have the money for…well then travel hacking just honestly probably isn’t for you at this time!

So you just keep opening new cards indefinitely?

This was personally my number one question as we jumped into the travel hacking world. Soooo you just continue to open a handful of cards each year? Won’t that get to be too much eventually?!?

Although, you can absolutely still earn rewards on continuing use of your credit card, the welcome bonuses are where you really reap the benefits. (i.e. “Spend x amount in the first 3 months and get 60,000 bonus points)


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Budget Family Travel: Our Top 3 Cost Slashing Hacks
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So some of the serious travel hackers I follow yes open a handful of cards every single year (and still have credit scores of 800+ mind you). However, you can totally keep it simpler and not get SUPER deep into reward travel. Right now we think through the breaks and trips we have during the year and try to leverage opening new cards to help offset costs on those specific vacations only.

Long story short, it isn’t the number of cards you have open, it is if you are using the cards you do have responsibly. Are you paying off your balances in full each month? Are you allowing at least 90 days in between each new application? For example, Chase has the 5/24 rule, which says you can’t open more than 5 cards in a 24month period.

You can absolutely close cards if needed (I like this article on travel hacking responsibly from MoneyGeek). I would just always try to avoid closing your longest standing cards. Just like a good wine, credit bureaus like a good “aged” credit.

california coast with kids

How to Travel Hack – Getting Started!

Alright now that you know some of the basics (and we hopefully put some of your concerns at bay), you’re ready to get started in the world of travel rewards! Here are a few steps as you get started so you don’t feel in over your head.

1. Start slow and with a goal in mind

*goes and opens 5 credit cards to earn free travel*…nope, nope, don’t go do that my friend!

Take it slow, start with one card or one trip you have in mind you’d really love to do with your family but maybe don’t quite have the funds for. There is going to be a learning curve and you’re not going to earn a million points in one day. Take it slow…choose one card to start, see if travel hacking is for you, and go from there!

2. Pick the right card and apply!

There are a hundred and one travel credit cards out there, but hands down the one recommended over and over for travel rewards (from us and travel hacking experts alike) is the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

If you are looking at more domestic travel, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Card is our favorite entry card – and if you can earn that Companion Pass, that is GOLD. These two cards are what allowed us to book our spring break trip to Cabo (flights and hotel for $115!!).

Overall though, when looking at which card to open you want to look at a few key factors:

  • A strong welcome offer – Remember this is where the bulk of your points are coming from. (40k-75k is average…sometimes 100k depending on the time of year)
  • A realistic minimum spend – Spending $15,000 in the first 4 months is STOUT. Choose a card with a initial minimum spend that is in line with your normal monthly expenses
  • Low annual fee – Some of the more intense luxury cards have fees upwards of $695 a year (whoa!)
  • Ongoing Perks – 3x points on dining, 5x points on travel? TSA Pre-Check? Airport Lounge access? There are SO many perks that come along with cards

3. What about the minimum spend?

“Spend x amount in the first 3 months, and get 60,000 bonus points.” That minimum spend can be intimidating if you think about some massive purchase you need to make. BUT all you need to do is take your normal every day spending and put it on this new card.

For example on the Chase Sapphire Reserve I mentioned above, you need to spend $4000 in the first 3 months. That’s just over $1,300/month…between groceries, dining out, utility bills, insurance, all the extras of life- that is totally doable!

Again, the key here is not spending a dime more you normally would. Nor, putting more on the credit card than you can pay off in full…then it’s not actually FREE money is it?! Simply transfer your normal monthly spending to this new card- and BOOM you just earned yourself some free or greatly discounted travel!

*We also like applying for a new card when we know we have a big purchase coming up. That makes meeting that minimum spend and maximizing those welcome bonuses easy peezy lemon squeezy.

4. What about the annual fee?

Many cards have no annual fee or as low as $89 a year. And most times the perks of the card MORE than make up for the annual cost. For example, on the Chase Sapphire Reserve you get the 60,000 welcome bonus points (worth $750 in the Chase Travel Portal!), a $50 annual hotel credit, a free DoorDash subscription, 10% annual anniversary points, travel insurance, 5x points on travel through Ultimate Rewards, and 3x points on dining!

If you see that you really are not using the benefits of the card and that annual fee is not worth it you can do one of three things:

  1. Call the credit card company to ask what their current “retention offers” are. (i.e. awarding you bonus points to stay or offering to waive the annual fee)
  2. Call the credit card company and ask to downgrade to a free version of the same card
  3. Cancel the card
traveling to rome with kids

5. Pay off your card at the end of each month

I’ve said it over and over in this post, but it can’t be emphasized enough! With travel hacking, if you’re not paying off your cards in full each month…those travel rewards aren’t *actually* free money.

6. Earn rewards and redeem for FREE travel! Repeat!

Alright! You’ve signed up for your first travel rewards card, you’ve met the minimum spend, you earned that sweet, sweet welcome bonus. NOW is the fun part- redeeming your rewards!

If you have a Chase card, we highly recommend booking your travel through their Ultimate Rewards Portal. Your points are worth25% more to be exact! So that 60,000 welcome offer is now $750. That combined with using cheap flight hacking tools could get you 4 domestic flights or maybe even 2 international tickets abroad! Refer your husband for the same card, and now you’ve got an additional referral 15,000 points and he’s got his 60,000. Combine them all, and BAM your family is set for an epic adventure…and that’s just from ONE card! You will probably have to pay for the taxes and fees on the booking, but that is usually very minimal.

If not using a Chase card, we like cards that have transfer capability (most of the large ones do). Your points go SO much further when you can transfer them to the credit card’s transfer partners (i.e. airlines, hotels groups). For example, we were just looking at tickets to the Azores that were showing as upwards of $900RT in GoogleFlights, but 50k points round trip on United’s Award Flight Booking portal. (holy savings I KNOW!) This is the way to really maximize your benefits and make those far fetched family travel dreams a reality!

One of the best parts of travel hacking is that you can do it at your pace. If you want to be aggressive and apply for a few cards a year, the world is your oyster. If you want to start with earning just one trip for your family that is totally doable too! But travel hacking is hands down the best way to maximize the spending you are already doing and not leave (free!) money on the table. Pick the right card, earn that welcome bonus, and repeat! It is truly amazing where those points can take you!

SO we hope this super packed, fully comprehensive beginner’s guide to travel hacking was helpful! It’s not for everyone…but it has afforded us some family trips we never thought possible! And THAT is the greatest gift of all 🙂 Happy adventuring all!


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Glamping in Texas: The Top 12 Locations

Where are all my glamping people at?! Not quite pitch the tent and cook your own food over the fire kinda person, but definitely enjoy the simplicity of not being at a luxury cabin…you’re my kinda people. SO we rounded up the very best glamping in Texas for you – from the Hill Country (spoiler alter this one is my FAV) to the desert-like landscapes of Palo Duro Canyon.

See below, what I will unabashedly say is the best curated list of glamping in Texas – we’ve got 6 budget options and 6 splurges for a special occasion.

Let us know if you end up glamping in Texas- we’d love to hear!

Budget Glamping in Texas

Green Acres, Elgin, TX- Starting at $77/night, 3hrs away from Dallas

This is a great gem if you are on a tighter budget! Choose from two private yurts, an airstream, or a tiny house at this boutique retreat just a short drive from the heart of Austin. The yurts have queen size beds (and are adorably decorated) plus have access to a modern shared bathhouse, barn, and an outdoor kitchen. Disconnect for a while by walking the wooded nature trails, feeding the Alpacas, or playing horseshoes. At night, you can head to the fire pit for a relaxing evening with s’mores and cocktails….and don’t miss the famous BBQ 10 minutes away in Elgin!

Son’s Blue River Camping, Kingsbury, TX – Starting at $95/night, 3.5hrs from Dallas

Another great family friendly camping site option. Son’s Blue River is located by the beautiful San Marcos River and their glamping tent cabins are fully furnished and air-conditioned. They feature everything you need to spend a night under the stars without keeping you up all night. They have both tent camping, glamping, and log cabin options – something for everyone!

The property is also home to an amazing riverside gravel beach with cabanas available for day rental use! Son’s Blue River offers activities like tubing, kayaking, swimming, fishing, and beach volleyball. If you’re looking for an authentic Texan tubing adventure, this is your spot!

El Cosmico, Marfa, TX – Starting at $85/night, 8hrs from Dallas

El Cosmico considers itself more of a modern-day campground equipped with contemporary amenities, rather than glamping. Hey either way, the 22-foot teepees with heated queen-sized mattresses sure beat sleeping on the ground on my book (the number ONE reason I am not a more avid camper).

The goal of the property was to offer an escape from the hustle of the world while cultivating artistic appreciation. With limited wifi (sign me up!), visitors can spend their time away participating in creative workshops, stargazing, biking and exploring the eclectic town of Marfa. The restored vintage trailers, Sioux-style teepees, yurt and safari tents all would make for the most cozy night sleep under West Texas’ skies.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park Cabins – Starting at $125/night, 6hrs from Dallas

A little bit rustic…a little bit glamping, this one is great for all you in between campers 🙂 Easily one of the best glamping views in Texas is from the historic cabins overlooking the nation’s second largest canyon. The Palo Duro Cabins are renovated to include all the modern conveniences you need such as running water, air conditioning and heat. Yet, they still have that “camping” feel. The view of the sun rising over the canyon though is enough to make up for those luxury amenities. Keep in mind, these cabins fill up fast, so make your reservations early! During summertime they are booked months in advance!

And if you’re a state park fan, we think you’ll love our National Parks post – check it out!

Sky Box Cabins, Glen Rose, TX – Starting at $209/night, 1.5 hours from Dallas

best glamping in texas

Nestled in looming oaks, The Glamp is everything you could want in “upscale camping”. Consisting of a fully furnished bell tents set up on decking, a separate building with full bathroom and kitchenette, Heat/AC, an outdoor dining area, grill and fire pit with a view.

Skybox Cabins sit on 50 acres of native live oaks and cedars and a creek that feeds into the Paluxy River. They have 3 horses, 2 cows, 2 dogs and 1 cat roam the property and love to visit with guests. With the Dinosaur Valley State Park boundary less than a mile away, views of nature are endless. They have a glamping and a few cabin options at this property! **Note this site is 18 and over only**

Geronimo Creek Retreat, Seguin, TX – Starting at $78/night, 3.5hrs from Dallas

This place has a ton of different kinds of glamping sites at different price points, but the overall property is a glamping dream come true. Super family friendly, this is a place you wouldn’t need to leave the site the entire weekend! Kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, fishing, rope swing, fire pits- SO much more.

 Geronimo Creek Retreat is the perfect New Braunfels area rental location for both fun and convenience. They’re located only 13 miles from all the fun tubing, live music, dancing and more in New Braunfels and Gruene! This would be a totally memorable, budget-friendly family weekend getaway.

Splurge Glamping in Texas

Cypress Valley, Spicewood, TX – Starting at $200-600/night, 3.5hrs from Dallas

SPICEWOOD, TX – JULY 1, 2019 – Yoki treehouse at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

Just MAGICAL right?! Find yourself nestled next to ancient cypress trees, each Cypress Valley treehouse is a unique expression of our commitment to sharing this beautiful land with a very light footprint. Ok ok, so not quite glamping…but how incredible do these tree houses look?! Sleep in a hammock in the shade of the looming trees, explore the spring-fed creek, swim in the pond or pool, or walk through the wild flowers in spring. Stay the night (or a week!) and go home renewed, refreshed, and recharged for life. Ahhh sounds like perfection 🙂

Walden Retreats Hill Country, Pedernales, TX – Starting at $300/night, 3.5hrs from Dallas

Luxury meet glamping, glamping meet luxury– Walden Retreats Hill Country currently features two gorgeously designed safari style tents that combine the amenities of a 5 star hotel with the adventure of the outdoors. There’s a whopping 96 acres of private riverfront property to explore, shockingly spacious rooms to relax and unplug in, a handful of wineries nearby and so many local activities to enhance your stay. They are currently closed for remodeling, but will be reopen for bookings in Spring of 2022!

Collective Hill Country, Wimberly, TX- Starting at $300/night, 3.75hrs from Dallas

Truly the most inconic glamping experience I’d say (…and our favorite of the bunch, from personal experience :)). Nestled in the beauty of Texas Hill Country at its finest and only a 10 minute drive to the incredibly charming town of Wimberly. Perched on a ridge overlooking Montesino Ranch, experience breathtaking skies, downright delicious cuisine, modernly designed accommodations, and engaging wellness and activity offerings.

This place is fantastic and everything you’d expect from glamping. Air-conditioned tents, private bathrooms, luxury-like amenities, and designed just so beautifully. They have a ton of really neat experiences you can add on to your stay (pretty pricey TBH), or you can keep it minimal and just enjoy the property (don’t miss the happy hour!) and surrounding area (Blue Hole Regional Park is a must see). Lastly, visit the site, wait to book, and you should be retargeted with some ads for 20% off a weekday stay!

Sinya on Lone Man Creek, Wimberly, TX – Starting at $365/night, 3.5hrs from Dallas

Sinya is a romantic celebration weekend waiting to happen- ultimate Hill Country glamor also in the unforgettable little town of Wimberly. This stay perfectly blends luxury and eco-friendly practices. You can spend your days in the relaxing in the hammock or out hiking and swimming the nature preserves nearby. Whatever you do, you can unwind at the end of the day with a soak in the clawfoot tub before sleeping in your plush king-size bed….glamping in Texas done right.

Basecamp Teralinga, Teralinga, TX – Starting at $119-299/night, 8.5 hours from Dallas