We all know that kids can be thrilling travel buddies and holidays are one of the most incredible ways for them to see, hear and feel geography, culture, history and science up close. 

Often though, travelling with kids can easily turn into a nightmare an expensive and challenging experience if you don’t do your homework. But your next family holiday doesn’t need to be a big money black hole if you plan like a pro and cut costs using these top tips!

It’s easy to get carried away planning your ‘wish list’ of all the places you want to go and things you want to do but first you need to think about the biggest chunk of your travel budget: flights and accommodation.

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So how do you secure a great family deal and what are the best ways to save some hard earned cash?

1. Travel in the low season

Figure out where you’re going and check out the high and low seasons. While you may not always get perfect weather, everything is generally going to be cheaper – airfare, hotels, tours. You’ll also beat the crowds (and the two hour queues at the theme parks!) which is a huge bonus. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and often during slow periods, most in the travel industry would rather sell a room or seat at a discounted price than not sell it at all.

2. Do your research

Pick up a guidebook written for budget travellers like Lonely Planet. There are loads of great tips in these along with everything you’ll need to know about how to get around, where to stay, how much it will cost and more. Chat to your friends, family, neighbours, or anyone who’s been on a recent trip, and get the lowdown.

3. Pack carefully

With a little careful planning, you can avoid a lot of headaches (and added expense)

  • First aid first! Avoid expensive medical bills in a foreign land for small emergencies by packing a basic first aid kit. It can go a long way to help you (especially in a non-English speaking country).
  • Don’t forget your favourites! Don’t be afraid to bring some of your favourite items from home. Some of the goodies I like to pack include Vegemite, my fave coffee (beats mini bar sachets!) washing powder (pending customs if you’re heading overseas) and kids cutlery and plastic plates/bowls, making mealtimes SO much easier. I also like to bring along a couple of empty drink bottles to fill up each day so I’m not having to buy drinks when we’re out and also a couple of empty lunch boxes which are perfect for packing left over meals in!
  • Wet Wipes & Zip Lock Bags: These are a life-saver! It’s likely you may have them packed already if you’ve got little ones, but we all know how kids can get messy so quickly, especially when on the run. Who else can wear a whole plate of food and still laugh about it? Wet wipes are sure to help you clean the mess and are great for refreshing yourself when in hot climates too!
  • Reduce the Food Bill: Shop in advance and bring with you the types of snacks and drinks you’d ordinarily buy along the way, often at a much higher price.  This can include some energy bars, dried fruit or whatever the kids like. When you’re trying to save money on the road, you’ll be happy you brought these along.
  • Don’t forget the Formula! If you’re travelling overseas and formula feeding, be sure to bring a tin (or two) of your regular formula in a SEALED TIN (customs will inspect the seal). Don’t expect to be able to buy the same type or risk baby not liking it.
  • Pack Nappies: If you’re heading overseas, bring a sleeve of your favourite nappies with you. Don’t rely on finding the same quality and comfort you’re used to at your destination (and at least you won’t be bringing them home!)
  • Need WiFi? I purchase the prepaid portable broadband modems from the supermarket and departments stores when on sale with 3Gb data for about $19. This can often get me through a whole trip and save a packet on hotel wifi at around $25 a day. Many hotels offer Free WiFI, if in doubt negotiate it into your package if you can!

1. How to Get the Best Flight Deals

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It’s not difficult to secure great flights with careful planning and stealth action. These tips will help you secure your family the deal of the day and save a packet along the way! (see what I did there?!)

Sign up for email alerts: The quick and easy way to track airline sales and offers is through email alerts. Ask about specials for travelling with kids. Virgin Australia has their Happy Hour sale every Thursday with selected routes on sale and their flight sale app can help you quickly scan to see what’s on sale across their network. Qantas and Jetstar offer regular sales too so keep an eye out.

Search often and jump when there’s a deal: Prices for flights vary regularly so keep your ear to the ground and pounce when the sales are announced. I sit on my travel plans and wait for the sales and special offers before I book. But you’ve gotta be quick! Only a limited number of seats are allocated per flight at the reduced rates, so once they’re gone, they’re gone! Virgin Australia offer a “Hold This Price” for fares for 14 days + in advance and for $10 will hold your booking tentatively for 48 hours, allowing you time to reconfirm everything and not lose the seats.

Family Pooling:  If you’re a Velocity Frequent Flyer Member, Virgin Australia allow you to pool your points and status credits with up to 6 family member’s accounts (including the beneficiary) as long as you’re living at the same address. So join up the kids, pool before you fly and watch all the points merge into your master account. GENIUS!

Clear your cache (temporary internet files) on your computer before you buy your flights online. Prices fluctuate frequently, and sometimes your computer stores the old prices, so you’ll be unaware if they’ve dropped!

Watch the Fees!  Fares are not always as they seem. Do the sums and add up what you’re really going to pay. The low cost airlines draw you in with cheap seats, but once you add baggage and any extra fees it can often be similar to standard carriers. Don’t think you can cheat the carry on queue. Many airlines now weigh your carry on bags and the excess baggage fees can hurt! TIP: all fares on Qantas and Virgin Australia include a meal and at least one piece of baggage.

Credit Card Fees: These can quickly add up at checkout and this is where your clever tactics can save you a packet. I always select POLi as my payment method if available, connecting directly to my internet banking, therefore avoiding costly fees!  Australian domestic carriers charge between $7.70 to $8.50 per person per flight although Tiger waives the fees if paying with an Australian issued Debit MasterCard. When travelling with a family of 4, that can add up to $60 or more for a round trip just for paying the bill with your credit card! Poli Poli Poli!  Now this is one tip worth remembering!

Timing is Everything: Flying on the weekend is expensive. If you can, try to travel mid-week in the early morning or late night and there is a good chance you’ll find heavily discounted flights. Travelling in non peak times, with flexibility can really save you big dollars.

2. Surviving the Flight with Kids

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Flying with kids, of any age, can be a challenge. Try these tips to keep your journey as smooth as possible!

Check in Early:  I tend to check into my flight the night before, especially if I’m travelling with he kids. This means it’s one less step that could go awry on teh day and you jsut need to drop the bags off and get through security.  

Feeding Baby: If you’re travelling with a baby, offer them a bottle for take off and landing. The sucking motion will assist them to adapt to the atmospheric pressure changes, which causes their ears to hurt. This is most often why you’ll hear babies grizzling/crying on ascent and descent.

Keep ‘em Busy: Pack loads of interesting things, maybe even wrapped up as a surprise (or series of surprises for long haul flights). Hand them out one by one, each time they are super good little beings. For older kids bring out the electronics. Download some special surprises just for the flight so it’s a new experience … and don’t forget the headphones! The entertainment channel is free on Virgin Australia flights, simply download the app prior to boarding! Jetstar charge $15 per flight for iPad hire with inbuilt games and movies so bear this in mind when calculating flight costs and inclusions.

Let them walk about: We all know that toddlers just can’t keep still! If they’re restless, take them for a walk around the plane to satisfy their curiosity. Stretching their legs, checking out the toilet (multiple times), the galley and any other part of the plane that they’re allowed in. People are generally understanding with children onboard and would rather a wandering toddler than an all-out meltdown!

Think about Sleeptime: This can be a tough one, but if they’ve got a favourite toy that soothes them to sleep, make sure it’s packed and easy to access. Also booking flights at times when they are most likely to sleep, could be your saving grace. Of course, as they get older it becomes a bit easier.

3. Other Great Money Saving Strategies

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Getting around: Immerse yourself in the local way of life, and save money, by using public transport instead of hiring a car. Kids will be more engaged being in a bus, train or the subway and it costs a lot less. If you need to rent a car, book it ahead of time at any place besides the airport, where it will always be the most expensive.

Stay and Save: With young kids, hotels are not always the best option as you’re often all stuck in the same room and the kids sleep routines could be disrupted (or you end up having early nights every night because they’ll wake). Trust me, I’ve been there and done that once or twice and the tip toe-ing around the room certainly takes the ‘magic’ away from being on holidays, especially if you wake them!  Some hotels and motels provide a free breakfast — negotiate it into your room booking and make sure you find out what time it takes place and get on down there to fill up.  In order to get the best deal possible:

Sites like Wotif.com, Expedia and LastMinute.com.au will help you search quickly and avoid paying more than you need to.  Grab the “Mystery Deal” if you’re not hung up on a particular hotel or location as you can get some great 5-Star hotels at a fraction of the price.

Once you’ve narrowed down your top 5, jump onto Trip Advisor to research places to stay and  you can see the feedback from those who’ve stayed there before … customer reviews speak volumes.

Resorts will often promote all inclusive packages which offer incredible value for families staying and can include onsite kids club, breakfast, hotel credit, massage and even meals!

Caravan & Holiday Parks are a great solution, especially if you’re planning a driving holiday/road trip. Check on extra charges for linen etc.

Renting a House can save heaps of money. You won’t need to eat out so often, it’s cheaper on a per night basis and you’ll have stacks more space than a hotel room. You’ll be thrilled at the amazing deals you can find on sites such as Airbnb and Stayz.

Travelling with your kids is a great way to bond with your family and create awesome memories. When they get home those brains will be full of knowledge and memories to last a lifetime.  Sure there’ll be moments that you’ll wonder why the heck you thought it would be a good idea,  but this is the stuff that the REAL memories are made of!

Be sure to pass them that camera so they can capture the world through their own eyes… and maybe even get a shot of you too!

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This post was written as an entry to the ProBlogger Virgin Australia competition.

Fingers crossed, wish me luck and find out more about the promotion here.

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Author

Belinda's a passionate advocate for community and connection. As the founder of the Mum Central Network she’s committed to celebrating the journey that is Australian parenthood. Mum to two cheeky boys, and wife to her superstar husband, they live a busy but crazy lifestyle in Adelaide. Great conversation, close friends and good chocolate are her chosen weapons for daily survival. Oh, and bubbles. Champagne is key.

36 Comments

  1. Great tips and I totally agree that family holidays provide great bonding experiences. It always amazes me how my two children can be niggling each other constantly when we stay home over school holidays, but when we are away they become best buddies. Another tip I have (as a mum who is now pretty much tied to school holidays) is to consider a less popular location close to where you want to stay where you can get cheaper rates. I also sometimes use local real estate agents who have a list of holiday rentals. They sometimes offer cheaper alternatives than even Stayz and Airbnb.

    • Thanks Amanda. Great suggestion there. Sometimes it’s just about thinking outside of the square isn’t it. We’ve hired from local agents if looking for a holiday house too, great one!

  2. Amanda Paul Reply

    Congratulations on a great post and being one of the top 10 finalists….best of luck!

    • Thanks Amanda. Exciting times and great to be able to share all my little nuggets of gold from tried and tested travel tips. When ti comes to travel on a shoestring, I certainly have had my fair share of experiences! hahaha

  3. Great tips! I had no idea about clearing the cache when shopping for flights – that’s gold! Congrats on making the top 10 for the comp – good luck for the announcement! x

    • Yes be sure to clear that cache. Rumour has it that the airlines might even have a sneaky clue, although that’s still to be proven so left it out. Let’s just say incognito windows might be another good way to go! 😉

  4. Yay – found it – just love the treasure hunts, not only is it fun but I learn extra things along the way.

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