Family Travel on a Budget = Great Memories!
What kind of family travel do you enjoy? Our family has been on road trips, plane trips, long trips, and short trips, and all of them have been on a bare bones budget. There are ways to travel that can not only save money but also make the trip more enjoyable.
One of my favorite places for a special trip is the city of Paris, though I’ve been there only twice. There’s no place quite like it, and the delight of walking miles through this compact, beautiful city is unsurpassed.
You might wonder why anyone would choose to go to Europe for just a few days in December — the weather is chilly and unpredictable and museum hours are sometimes shorter than in the high tourist season. The advantage is that airfare and hotels are cheaper than in the warmer seasons, and most of the tourists have gone home. You can wander through cathedrals, parks, and museums without being swamped by hordes of other visitors.
When we were there, we stayed in a European-style hotel less than a block from the sparkling intersection you see at left, and were less than two blocks from the river Seine. We walked everywhere, warming our hands with hot chestnuts from the street vendors (the best ones were from the vendor by BHV on Rue Rivoli).
Parisians decorate their city lavishly for the holidays, as you can see in the photo, and it’s great fun to walk the streets after dark, visiting temporary outdoor ice rinks at the Eiffel tower and the Hotel de Ville. We enjoyed giant crepes from sidewalk vendors. Our favorites were slathered in butter and sugar, and rolled for easy eating. Quite delectable with a cup of hot chocolate from a cafe!
In the United States, the Grand Tetons National Park is another favorite. Our family has enjoyed the tent cabins in Colter Bay Tent Village which provide a camping experience in a structure that has two log walls and two tent walls, plus a wood stove and some bunks. The Grand Tetons are close to Yellowstone National Park, but we prefer to just visit Yellowstone while we stay in the Tetons because we find the overall scenery more beautiful and hospitable than the strange, awesome scenery of Yellowstone.
5 Tips for Budget-Friendly Travel
Here are a few things we’ve done to make family travel easy and affordable:
- Travel in the off season — you can peruse travel guides to see when rates jump. When we were in Paris in December, we enjoyed cheap airfare ($212 round trip), and about $70 euros a night for a hotel within a block of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
- Pack light — we have a travel rule of one carry-on size piece of luggage per person for any trip involving an airplane. No one wants to spend their trip being the family porter, and we definitely don’t want to pay for the service!
- Choose lodgings from Rick Steves’ (our favorite) or Let’s Go guides, rather than the guides that focus more on American-style hotel chains. Staying in the type of hotel a country’s citizens are accustomed to can be an interesting experience; quite unlike the cookie-cutter lodgings of a hotel chain.
- Join a hosteling association for great accommodations at an amazing price. We stayed at a beautiful Arts and Crafts-style hostel in Scotland that was within easy distance of lochs and all sorts of interesting places. Many hostels have rooms available for families, and all that we’ve stayed at have kitchens where you can save a bundle by preparing your own food.
- Try to make it to Europe before your children turn eighteen, as most museums are free for anyone 17 and under.
Those are my favorite tips for family travel on a budget. We have wonderful memories of the trips we’ve taken (December always brings back lovely memories of Paris), and travel is always educational. The best time to travel is when all the children are old enough to have memories, but not quite to the age where everyone has work and college schedules to juggle. There will be only a short window of ideal time, so start planning now!