We have all come across and admired full-time 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!” We have lived and continue to live this struggle but have hit a pretty sweet stride in regularly traveling with our kids 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 and even closer to home. Oh we hear, and we feel you, we are ‘YOU’!
Time and Money
At the time we are updating this article, winter and spring breaks are hot on our radar but we are also looking at the summer school break, camps, and childcare plans. We are calculating our limited vacation time at work and how to maximize every single day for the rest of the year and you should be too. 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 with travel 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 your kids, too.
You can get a lot of value by packing in several shorter, 3 to 5-day, road trips within about 8 hours of just about anywhere. We live in New York City and 8 hours for us means Philadelphia, Boston, Niagara Falls, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Rhode Island, Vermont, 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 or local parenting boards to uncover new attractions and cheap family events. Our current city has a lot of options, but there is usually a nearby lake, beach, nature preserve, museum, 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 visiting a historic site. You might have to dig a little, but every small town has something worth exploring!
On our recent trip to Vermont, we spent $35.00/night tent camping on a farm through Hipcamp. The kids got to help harvest vegetables that we later ate for dinner, much cheaper than a pre-prepared meal. 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. Explore a central point that is a bit away from the major attractions or city center and you can save a lot of money. This will pull you away from the major tourist attractions, but we love this, we get a better sense of the people and culture!
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 I’d bet you 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 the birthplace of Mozart. Creating a more affordable “homebase” we were able to see more and do more than if we had stayed in one of the 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 new or exciting during the off-peak season. And if you are like us and the family is truly spread across the entire US, the big holidays are stressful and such a production that no real exploring and definitely no vacationing seems to happen. Whoever hosts is always focused so much on hosting and everyone is on limited timelines squeezing in all of the additional dinners, events, and commitments they have made.
Our solution has been to do something at home and personal with our kids on religious holidays, connecting and building traditions and a bonus side effect, avoiding high-cost travel. We then visit family throughout the year when we have time to explore and turn it into a special travel experience for the kids without holiday hustle and bustle and pressure.
Forget perfect attendance
We have a few teacher friends and a principal for a sister who might crack our knuckles with a ruler for this one, but we’ll say it anyway. If you want to travel more with your kids, let them skip a few days of school. Our kids are still very young so we aren’t yet worrying about exam schedules, science fairs, or whatever else becomes important after 1st grade. But at any age, we will continue to argue that the education and instructional attention we give our kids while traveling rivals whatever they would cover during that school day.
We have heard grumblings that there are districts in the US with incredibly strict attendance policies for students. We would encourage you to explore exceptions and challenges to those policies, the data is on your side! This is one battle we think is worth fighting. More on that below!
Benefits of experiential learning
The majority of our professional lives have been within higher education. There is universal attention among institutions of higher learning to incorporate experiential learning into 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
Extend Thanksgiving, spring break or winter recess, but not when everyone else is extending. Consider 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 traveling 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. Depending on your regional location your schools are going to be closed for a handful of days when you need childcare coverage. These are great opportunities to turn that vacation day into a family travel day, actually, 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
Whether its a work conference or job training, any time you are traveling for business, explore the possibility to bring the family! With one caveat, review the office policy and check-in with the powers that be to ensure you aren’t breaking any major HR rules. As long as you are able to meet all of your work obligations, the evenings and even a few bonus days exploring are totally worth it! We have worked in professional environments where bringing the family is totally accepted and yet very few of our colleagues were doing so. Be the trailblazer!
And get creative, your second adult doesn’t have to be a partner/parent. This is a great chance to travel with grandparents or an auntie or uncle (just be clear about their childcare duties while you are working).
The benefits are obvious, saving money on at least one flight and accommodations. In our family, when we both worked full-time 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!