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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Many parents worry that having children will put the brakes on their traveling ways.

Enjoying a decent vacation with little ones in tow will be too expensive and too difficult, they fear.

Matt Villano wants to dispel this myth. He is a father of three young daughters and travels often (and affordably) with his family. A freelance writer and founding board member of the Family Travel Association, Villano writes for publications such as AFAR, The Wall Street Journal and National Geographic Traveler. I sat down with him to find out more about budget-friendly family travel.

What are some of the biggest financial misconceptions of new parents about traveling with kids?

I think new parents have a lot of fear when thinking about travel, especially with a baby. We've been socialized to think that you need lots of stuff to make a baby comfortable, when in reality—especially if you are flying—you don't need much. Airlines give families the option of traveling with kids for free if the child is under 2 years old, and once you get to your destination, you really just need a good travel stroller and a car seat.

I recommend taking advantage of the "lap child" grace period. Once your child is too old, you will be forced to pay full price (although some airlines give a small discount for a small human). I think the first year of a baby's life is just as easy to travel as before your wife got pregnant.

What about a crib?

Most hotels will provide cribs. They may charge you an extra $10 per night, but that is it. If you are going to a resort, the crib will usually be free, but you will want to check in advance.

How can parents cut costs on travel as their kids grow out of the lap child stage?

If you are a parent used to booking as a party of two and all of a sudden you are buying for a family or three or four, your baseline expense is going to be fundamentally greater if you are flying. The easiest way to cut costs on a trip that includes air travel is to bundle your bookings, where you book hotel and flight together. You can often tack on activities. Sites like Expedia offer great options to bundle travel.

According to recent figures released by Expedia, summer travelers looking to go to places like San Diego, Seattle, Maui, and Las Vegas can save up to 25 percent by booking a flight and hotel together.

When it was just me and my wife and one child under 2 years old, we would go on six to eight plane trips per year. After the lap child restriction kicked in, we switched to two or three long plane trips and a bunch of shorter road trips to cut down on costs. The savings for a road trip is significant. It might cost $100 for gas as opposed to $2,400 to fly a family of five.

How do you save money when on the ground?

We go for vacation rentals instead of hotels so we can hit the local supermarket and buy our food on a budget instead of eating out every meal. We go through sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Sites like Expedia are also increasingly offering vacation rental options. I've run the numbers. With four humans who eat (my youngest is still breastfeeding), we save $500-$700 each trip by staying at a vacation rental.

Yes, that means you can't lounge by the pool while your child is at a kids' club, but saving that much might enable you to splurge next time you go away without kids so you can have as many drinks by the pool as you want.

How do you handle incidental spending on things like souvenirs?

This type of spending can really add up. We will set a limit for each child. We might tell our oldest child (the one that can do math) that she gets $50 per trip and then allow her to make choices on how she spends that money. For our middle child, we will tell her she can get three things within the same dollar amount but that we will track how much she spends. We try to make it fun and tie it into a math lesson.

What other advice can you offer parents who want to travel with their kids?

First, if you are booking an activity that is a bit of a splurge, call ahead to get a sense of how long the activity will be and how readily available the bathrooms will be on the excursion. If you are doing a cupcake tour of downtown L.A., for example, and one of your kids has to go to the bathroom, you may miss out on 30 minutes of the tour if you don't call/plan ahead.

Second, if you are booking a hotel, make sure you go to a family-friendly place that allows your kids to be kids. There are certain hotel brands known for this and others that will make you feel shame if your kids throw a temper tantrum at the pool.

And third, if you have a little bit of extra money, get a room with extra space. It gives your family members more breathing room and added privacy.

Affordable Wanderlust is a column about the intersection of travel and money that offers tips on how to make the most of travel on a tight budget and much more.

Feel free to send me questions or comments at katie.morell@gmail.com.

Onward to exciting adventures!

 

 

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