I love to travel. Always have. However, with little ones at home as a stay-at-home mom, living on my staff pastor husband’s salary, I needed to use serious cost-cutting skills to make those trips happen. Below I share some tips that may help you make your next trip possible.
Passes with Reciprocity
Find a museum or zoo or whatever it is you want to go to (usually it will be near where you live). Then find out on its website who it shares its passes with and pay for a one year membership and enter these other locations for free or a great discount. As an example, we lived near Minnetrista, a cultural center about 30 miles away. It cost us $75 a year for a family membership which allowed us to go there free. It also allowed us into over 300 gardens in the US through the American Horticultural Society – ahsgardening.org. It also gave us connection to almost all the science centers in the US through astc.org/passport. Just follow the guidelines before you go as each location can set their own rules for use. There are other organizations that do this as well including the Smithsonian – affiliations.si.edu/affiliate-benefits/membership/affiliate-reciprocal-membership and lots of zoos – aza.org/reciprocity, or for more museums – narmassociation.org. If you have a 4th grader, this one is amazing if you are headed to a National park – everykidinapark.gov. If no 4th graders are in your family, you can buy the “America the Beautiful” pass to see all National parks in a year for $80 per car. A bonus to US Military – you get the pass for free, and seniors can get a lifetime pass for $80.
If funds are tight, find other friends who live in a place you’d like to visit and house swap. It can be wise to ask friends and family if they have connections to free or low cost options as well. Our favorite is homeaway.com (vrbo.com and airbnb.com would be similar) where we find a home or condo to rent. We have found several great homes that were cheaper than a hotel…and fit our family of 5 better than a hotel room. They provide a kitchen which helps save lots of money by not needing to eat out as often. This option also provides more space for everyone to spread out and make noise if needed or have quiet spaces to read and rest. You can also find Groupon deals for resorts and other lodging options. Camping is another low cost option. If you don’t have the gear, ask around. Someone you know likely has gear you can borrow that is unused in their storage.
I suggest staying just outside of a big city for lower costs on hotels and parking fees. If public transportation is available, it is a great way to get around town more economically. Parking in large cities can cost as much as a multi-day pass on the subway, which you will likely want to secure for moving about town. Grab counter-service foods or go to a local grocery or farmer’s market and get some food to eat at a park. Often you can find festivals or free concerts in parks. Some cities offer historical sites to see that are also free. We have even gone to libraries for fun. Check out what they are offering for free classes or events too.
Car Rentals, Cruises, and Airlines
Just some simple tips here. Southwest is a great airline for everyone, but especially families. It’s all we will fly as a family if at all possible. If something comes up and let’s say someone in your family gets really sick, there are no change fees to cancel and rebook. Other airlines charge up to $200 per ticket to change a domestic reservation. Also, bags fly free so all that gear you might have to take with you can just be sent through baggage. When you book a car rental, know that if you just rent the car and get a confirmation number and you don’t pre-pay, you can easily cancel your reservation and rebook if plans change or you find a lower rate later. This works well if you book months in advance and your remember to check rates every few weeks or so. Cruises are similar. Usually you can book way ahead when rates are lowest and if something changes and you decide not to go, you can get all your money back up to 60 days prior to sailing.
Let’s Talk Money
Budgeting is the best way to make vacations possible rather than going into credit card debt to take a needed vacation. Set aside a little bit regularly and build up a small fund for your next trip (even if you don’t know when that will be). You can ask for money or gift cards for Christmas or birthday gifts that can help you build that fund up too since the vacation time might be more of a blessing to you and your kids than more possessions. We have a vacation even when we don’t have plans for a trip. Because of that fund we are ready to go somewhere, and we will already have set money aside for it. Every paycheck my husband gets, a little bit goes to the vacation fund. I don’t want to promote credit cards, but if you can use them wisely and pay them off monthly, over time you can get reward money for vacation travel. We have a Disney credit card for this purpose in particular.
When Should We Go
If possible, it is best to travel in the off-peak season. That is the least busy and lowest cost time to go almost anywhere. It’s often worth it to take younger kids, sometimes even older kids, out of school to make this happen. Homeschoolers can achieve off-season travel even more easily than others, of course. If Disney is on your bucket list, I highly suggest an off-season visit for dozens of reasons. A good rule of thumb is that when kids are in school, rates are lowest, when kids are out of school, they are highest in most any location.
Use the internet or get books to research where you are going. Search for event calendars online to find out what will be happening when you are there. Sometimes the visitors bureau or county will have these calendars on their websites. There might be smaller, but still amazing places and events to visit if you look into it just a bit before you arrive.
Our spouses are not in ministry for the money, they have been called. Many times their pay is reasonable, but often we have to be very frugal and intentional to make the most of travel time to ensure we are getting the rest and recuperation needed for difficult ministry seasons. A break for a week or even just a few days from the dailiness of ministry can be refreshing. So, I hope you are able to catch a little time away with your family or friends in the near future.
Kathy Drury loves to travel and find fun new places to go. She travels most with her husband, David, and her 2 teens and a pre-teen who reside in Fishers, IN.