Traveling with kids is never cheap, but there are ways to make it more affordable. A little creativity, some willing relatives and an Internet-savvy planning search are just some of the budget travel tips that will add up to an easier-on-the-wallet family trip. Surprisingly, sometimes paying a little more saves money in the long run.

Vail family vacation

Photo credit: Kim Orlando / TravelingMom

Budget Travel Tips for Families

Americans continue to do the unthinkable: leave millions of vacation days unused each year—658 million of them in 2015. According to a Project: Time Off, the average U.S. worker took only 16.2 days of paid time off in 2015 and 55% of the 5,600 people surveyed didn’t use all of their vacation time.

When we asked on the TravelingMom Facebook page what keeps our friends and fans from traveling more, it was a toss-up between lack of time and lack of money. We can’t make more than 24 hours in the day, but we can help you travel for less money with these budget travel tips for family trips.

1. Mooch off the relatives.

Sometimes just a change of scenery is enough. If you have a cousin you sort of like who lives somewhere you might like to explore, call and ask whether she’d be willing to have you and the family visit for a few days.

But–and this is important–be entirely honest about your plans, needs and wants during the visit. Do you want to solidify family bonds by spending all your time together? Or are you just looking for a free bed and breakfast? Are you willing to repay the favor by hosting your cousin’s family in the future? It’s always best to have the details worked out in advance. Otherwise that next family reunion could turn into a real testy affair.

2. Consider a house swap or house sitting.

This is a budget travel option if you like where your cousin lives, but aren’t all that fond of the actual cousin. Ask whether her family might like to spend a week at your house while you spend a week at hers.

If you don’t have willing relatives in other locations–or you prefer dealing with strangers to dealing with your own kin–you can always turn to the Internet. There are house swap sites that charge an annual fee (usually around $100) and will pair you up with another family somewhere else in the world. You stay in their house and they stay in yours.

Or you can offer to house sit for another family who wants to know their house is occupied while they travel. It might mean feeding the cat or walking the dog, so be sure to get the details before booking the trip.

3. Troll the Internet.

These days, the budget travel is easy if you know where to look. And the Internet is the place to look. Sites such as cheapcaribbean.com, which offers deals to Caribbean resorts; Kayak.com, which looks for great airfare, hotel and car rental deals, Vacatia.com, which offers resort residences at a discount, and travelzoo.com, which sends out weekly emails with the best deals around, are great places to look for low prices.

4. Rent a condo.

If you have to pay for lodging on your family vacation, at least choose an option that lets you save money on food. A condo with a kitchen makes it easy to eat cheap–cereal and milk for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, leftovers from last night’s splurge at a restaurant for dinner. Look on Airbnb for a place that can house your family. Just be sure to read the reviews written by previous guests before you book.

Looking for a budget-friendly family vacation? These innovative budget travel tips (when was the last time you mooched off your relatives?) will help you afford a family trip.

Photo from Pixabay

5. Double up.

Consider vacationing with another family to split expenses (and, perhaps, child care duties so each couple gets a little private time). It might allow you to rent a bigger condo that gives everyone more room for privacy or cut your gas bill in half.

6. Do the free stuff.

Every town has free stuff to do. Call the local convention and tourism bureau to find out what events and attractions are free and kid-friendly. For a list of free, fun and family-friendly things to do in many U.S. towns, check out Free fun things to do in the 50 States.

What are your best budget travel tips for family trips?