We’ve all looked at all these aspirational blog posts from travel families who sold their homes, quit their jobs, and picked up nomadic jobs in marketing or writing code and thought, “I have too much at stake to drop everything and do that, but I really want a slice of that experience. I need to know how to travel more with my kids!” Thankfully, we have lived and continue to live this struggle and are here to share a few tips on how you can experience more.
According to a survey by the Family Travel Association, “while nearly three out of five American families say they are very likely going to take a vacation in the next two years, about one out of five households will find it a challenge to afford and prioritize travel the next 24 months.”
Essentially Time and Money continue to be the main challenges preventing families from jet setting to new experiences around the world.
Time and Money
As I write this article, my kids are getting ready to go back to school. I’m also thinking about the limited vacation time I have at work and how to maximize it. Time is of the essence when planning family getaways.
In order to save time, you just have to spend more money, right? Wrong! It is true that money can expedite a lot of things and there is a lot of privilege that comes along with it, but who wants to be privileged anyway? All tips below are focused on saving one or both of our precious resources so you can travel more with kids.
You can get a lot of value by packing in several 3 to 5 day road trips within about 8 hours of just about anywhere. For example, we live in New York City and 8 hours for us means Philadelphia, Boston, Niagara Falls, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and many other really cool destinations.
Figuring out how to travel more with kids doesn’t always need to include a full day of transport either. Don’t be afraid to be a tourist in your own backyard! Go to TripAdvisor and search attractions that tourists are visiting in your own city. Our current city has a lot of options, but there is usually a nearby lake, beach, water park, zoo, etc that is worthy of a night away from home.
Along with the local theme, while there may not be large Instagram famous attractions across small-town America, there is a lot of culture and charm to be experienced. Think about camping on a farm, or visiting a chocolate factory, or even look up a great aquarium. Most small towns have something worth seeing.
On our recent trip to Vermont, we spent $35.00/night tent camping on a farm. The kids got to help harvest vegetables that we later ate for dinner at no cost. We also learned how to make maple syrup and got a free sample. It was rustic, but options with a few more amenities were also available. Our kids had more fun digging in the dirt and throwing sticks in the fire than they would ever have at a curated and expensive adventure theme park.
Take advantage of layovers
When booking travel, pay attention to where the layovers are. A lot of times if you book and notice that a lot of flights have layovers at a major airport on the way to your primary destination, you can simply extend the layover by a few days at no extra cost. We did this on our way home from Paris with our oldest son a few years ago. We noticed Air France had frequent layovers in Dublin so we extended by 3 days and got to see Dublin and the Cliffs of Moher without adding to our airfare cost.
Find a Home Base
One of the most time-consuming aspects of a family holiday is getting from point A to point B. When you do take the extended trip, instead of bouncing from one major location to another consider staying somewhere central and taking mini road trips.
When I was growing up, my dad took us to a little town called Sankt Johann in Austria. You probably have never heard of it, but you probably have heard of Vienna, Munich, or Venice, all of which were great day trips. There was also Salsburg, Austria nearby, which is where the Sound of Music was filmed and is the birthplace of Mozart. He didn’t necessarily travel more with his kids, but we definitely saw more than if we would have just stayed at one of those major cities.
Take advantage of your family – in a good way
Rather than wait for the stress of the holidays, visit that aunt or cousin who lives somewhere semi-exotic during the off-peak season. When we visit family for religious holidays or Thanksgiving everything always revolves around a big family meal that ends up being a huge production. Whoever hosts is always focused on preparing the meal for all the guests and everyone is usually on limited timelines. Nobody seems to have time to explore the destination.
We do something at home and personal with our kids on religious holidays and avoid high-cost travel. We then visit family when we have time to explore and turn it into a special travel experience for the kids.
Forget perfect attendance
I have a few teacher friends who might crack my knuckles with a ruler for this one, but I’ll say it anyway. If you want to travel more with your kids, let them skip a few days of school. In reality, no child is getting 1:1 attention every single day anyway so a missed day here or there isn’t like missing 8 hours of education. You’re also probably reading this at work. If you struggle to focus for a full day, imagine your kids.
Just be sure to pay attention to the exam and extracurricular schedules. You don’t want to travel with your kids on the day they are scheduled to take college entrance exams or compete in a sporting event.
Benefits of experiential learning
A lot of institutions of higher learning are trying to incorporate experiential learning components to degrees. Things like internships embedded within a semester-long course, or study abroad opportunities, or placement on non-profit boards are becoming common as higher ed recognizes the benefit of experience over lecture. The same experiential approach works with young kids, whether it be on a farm, at a museum, at a Mayan ruin, or wherever you go. If you travel more with your kids and add some focused educational content, your kids will be better off than just showing up with the books every day.
In our opinion, the educational benefit of travel is unparalleled. Looking at the stars and talking about the universe next to a campfire has a lot more impact than reading about it in a book.
Time and Money
Back to the point of the article, when you take a few days here and there, you are manufacturing time for travel. You are also not traveling during peak periods where flights and accommodations are less expensive.
Take advantage of school holidays
Think about extending Thanksgiving, spring break or winter recess, but not when everyone else is. Consider perhaps traveling the Tuesday before and returning home early, or leaving on Saturday and staying a few days later. If you can avoid travel on days when everyone else is you can take advantage of more affordable pricing.
Yom Kippur, Columbus Day Observed, Election Day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Veterans Day Observed, Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr, Easter…. You may celebrate one of the religious holidays listed above, but you probably don’t celebrate all of them. Someone in your family probably needs to take a day off of work to keep an eye on the kids on most of the days above anyway, why not take your day, forget perfect attendance and take another, and enjoy a mini-vacation somewhere nearby.
Fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
It’s nearly impossible to predict what days are going to be most affordable to travel. Airlines have massively complex AI that determines pricing and people are always debating the perfect day of the week and time of day and how many days in advance you should book a flight. There are so many variables at play that it is very difficult to predict.
One thing that doesn’t change, however, is supply and demand. Family travel typically starts on a Friday and ends on a Sunday as people try to maximize their time away. Business travelers will typically leave for assignment on Sunday or Monday and return on Thursday or Friday. The days of the week that are in the least demand are Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Book flights in advance
Everyone always searches for how far in advance to book a flight and the truth is similar to what day of the week is the cheapest. Airlines predict supply and demand based on complex algorithms that take many inputs, but one thing that is unlikely to change is that as seats are taken on flights and the remaining availability becomes scarce, the prices will increase. When traveling domestically, it is best to book a flight 30-60 days in advance. When traveling internationally, look 60-90 days in advance.
Take advantage of business travel
Maybe I’m an opportunist. When I went to my first conference many years ago, I assumed everyone did this. I’ve learned over the years, however, that not as many people bring their families with them on work travel as they should. The first time you try to get away with this, you may get side-eye from your boss so beware. Once you’ve done it a few times though and you prove that you can be present during the day while your spouse or partner is out with the kids at the zoo, the shade will go out the window.
The benefits are obvious as you can save money on your flight and hotel, just as long as you are fine missing out on some of the family adventures. In my family, we used to trade off vacation time. One person would take time off to tag along on conference #1 and the other would do the same for conference #2. We would then extend our time by taking a few vacation days, in the end, to hit up the major unmissable attractions together.
There are many more tips and we hope with our research and yours, you squeeze in a few more experiences for your family. Comment below the most helpful tip you’ve used to get out and travel more with your kids!