Colleen Kelly, the host of “Family Travel With Colleen Kelly” on PBS shares her best travel tips for families.
“Travel now — while you still can!”
That was the dire advice many parents of young kids offered me before I joined the parents club. And while our two-year-old has been on about a dozen family trips at this point, there is always one nagging obstacle: It is more expensive to travel with kids!
But if you’re willing to deal with a few minor inconveniences, there are “vacation hacks” that can keep costs down. Moneyish talked to Colleen Kelly, the host of Family Travel With Colleen Kelly on PBS, for her tips on how to get away as a family without breaking the bank.
1. Time it right
“I always tell people to look for shoulder season when booking” says Kelly. “It’s usually still warm and the prices and crowds are less.” Shoulder season is a region’s sweet spot between peak booking and lousy weather, and travelers can save 10-50% on flights and hotels by traveling then. (Here’s a good list of shoulder seasons around the world.)
Want to save even more? “Travel during the week if you can,” Kelly suggests. “If you just want a short getaway and can go Monday-Friday there are always better rates.” For an upcoming high-season flight to Florida, my family saved $500 on round-trip tickets by booking weekday flights.
2. Don’t exclude all-inclusive
When your two-year-old only eats three bites of a cheeseburger, it kills you to pay the $10 kids menu prices at most resorts. That’s where a kid-friendly all-inclusive comes in. “Most of the time, all-inclusive resorts are a really good value,” says Kelly — especially if you have kids under 2 who fly free. For $5,000, you can get you two round-trip tickets and a five nights at a luxury all inclusive resort with unlimited meals, drinks, room service, kids activities, on-site shuttles and beach service. A non-inclusive trip of that caliber can easily cost double that.
Flight and hotel packages online or through credit card companies can be great deals as well — just do your research. “One thing I always tell people is to read as many reviews as possible,” says Kelly. “Make sure the resort meets your expectations.”
3. Spend more to save more
Booking a suite with a kitchenette, while pricier, drastically cuts down on food spending. Often a one-bedroom suite is around $60 more per night than a standard room, but a family of four can save over $100 per day on food and drinks by making breakfast using that kitchenette, packing snacks and buying their own wine. Plus, it makes for more pleasant travel: “I once put myself in one hotel room with a three year old and one year old. There was no place for them to nap and we were miserable,” Kelly says. She also recommends checking out Airbnb or VRBO options which, if you’re willing to forgo amenities like daily housekeeping and poolside service, can save you even more.
Another spend-to-save tip? “The concierge level can save a lot of money,” says Kelly. This add-on often includes free breakfast, complimentary cocktail hour and access to healthy snacks throughout the day. “You may spend $50 a night but when you add that up to what you’ll spend on hotel breakfast alone, it can be a great deal,” she says.
4. Make friends with the front desk
“One thing I always tell people, is not to call the 800 number when booking,” says Kelly. “The person who answers is most likely at a call center who doesn’t make the same decisions a front desk or manager can.” Kelly suggests looking into rates online and then calling the front desk directly to ask if they offer a lower rate, such as during shoulder season or during the week. “If there’s a manger on duty, a lot of times they’ll drop the price for you.”
If you find a deal or package online, it’s also worth calling the front desk to ask them to match that price. “Sometimes the rooms they save for the deal sites aren’t the best rooms. Calling the front desk can often get you the deal price but the better room.”
5. Consider another location
“If you want a big city experience but you have a smaller budget, try a smaller city,” advises Kelly. “Instead of Chicago try someplace like St. Louis which has a big city feel but is much easier to get around, parking is less and it’s a lot more affordable.” Most smaller cities still offer culture, history and museums but for a lower price. Try Brooklyn instead of Manhattan when visiting NYC, check out Providence instead of Boston or swap in San Diego for L.A.
“If you do go to a big city, look at Airbnb options or Home Aways where you can live where the locals live and not spend so much on a hotel.” Visiting a big city with public transportation? Look to stay further out from the city center. “If you’re ok with spending 20 minutes on a train, you’ll spend less on a hotel and have more money for food, shopping and things to do instead.”
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