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Transportation could easily take a big chunk of your traveling budget. As part of the 8-week series Planning Your Next Vacation, this article aims to discuss tips and strategies to save money on transportation.
Our panel of traveling moms weigh in on the discussion and shares their tried and tested tricks when it comes to getting their families from point A to point B.
If you haven’t yet, read on our article on how to successfully choose your next destination.
Getting the Timing Right
Prices can fluctuate based on demand and this is especially during peak season. For some modes of transportation like flights or trains, you could save money by booking during the right time.
“Airline websites offer the low-price calendar and the route map to compare dates and locations,” Deborah of World Wise Kid shares. “We plan international travel far in advance when tickets are first available. A favorite research tool is Google flight tracking to follow prices on different airlines and understand the options.”
According to Kris of Gadsventure, flexibility is an important factor in getting cheaper flights. “Avoid peak tourist periods, festivals and school holidays.”
“We have found that by traveling on certain days of the week or times of day, you can save money because kids might ride for a discounted rate or even for free,” shares Sarah, a full-time RV traveling wife and mother of three that loves adventure and sharing off-the-beaten-path travel destinations in their blog State by State.
“Here in the UK, train tickets are not terribly cheap but there are some ways in which you can save money,” says Nikki, who writes about living in the UK and other adventures in Yorkshire Wonders. She observed the same trend with purchasing train tickets. “The timing of when you book train tickets is important. Aim to book at around 12 weeks from the point of travel. This is when you will find the best prices. Too far in advance and too short notice mean very expensive tickets!”
How to Find Cheap Flights
Booking directly with the airline
“Did you know that flight prices are not going to fluctuate that much between the airlines and sites like Expedia, Priceline and Agoda because the airlines just don’t discount their airfare that often?,” shares Annette, a wife and mom of 5. Annette writes family-friendly recipes, parenting tips, family activities and travel and product reviews at her blog Tips From a Typical Mom.
Annette observed that booking directly with the airline can bring you more benefits. “When airlines offer discounts, they have about the same rates as everyone else. So, the best way to get good deals on flights is to get an airline credit card and earn free flights,” remarks Annette.
Deborah of World Wise Kid makes use of budget airlines. “We save money by choosing the no frills, low-cost airlines, traveling with carry-on backpacks, bringing our own food, water, and entertainment.”
Kirsty of World For A Girl reminds everyone, “Always check where your budget airline flies into especially when flying in Europe. Sometimes, the airports used by low-cost carriers are hours out of town. If you miss the last bus, you might end up paying the flight cost again in taxi fares.”
Points for Loyalty
Tiffany of Mommy and Me Travels suggests signing up for email alerts to get deals. “Focus on one airline alliance. This will maximize your flight miles for future free flights. Be ready to click go when you are alerted about that rock bottom flight price.”
Most airlines belong to a network of other airlines called alliances. Sometimes, your accrued miles could be used across members of that alliance network. Allowing you to save money on flights in a larger span of destinations.
Don’t forget to pay attention to the expiration dates of your mileage points. Some airlines require you to be actively traveling within a period, like a year. One airline which does not expire is Delta Airlines, which we love. You just keep accumulating points until you need to travel somewhere without worrying that you would lose them.
“The absolute best way to save here is to redeem reward points for free fares. However, that’s not always a possibility,” according to Regina of Full Time Field Trip.
Regina Kay, a worldschooling mother of five, full-time global explorer, and travel writer at Full Time Field Trip suggests breaking up your airfare into 2 separate reservations. “Ticket pricing is often tiered by the number of seats reserved. So when you move from a party of two to a party of four, your price increases,” Regina explains. “To combat this, make two reservations rather than one and get a cheaper rate. It can be super tricky to make two reservations at the same time. We’ve made plenty of mistakes. You may need separate devices and separate credit cards to be successful. But as a family of seven, we save tons of money this way.”
Booking through third party vendors or metasearch engines
Aside from using Google Flights, there are several other third party travel brokers and metasearch engines that you could use to browse cheap fares.
Fun-loving Australians Kris and Brian, who are on their international gap year with their 4 kids and write about it on their blog Gadsventure, share why they think Skyscanner when booking flights. “Skyscanner is a fantastic tool and I use it to research prices every time I look for international tickets. The best trick I have discovered to find savings when booking is using Skyscanner’s ‘Whole Month’ function,” says Kris. “This enables the user to compare and choose the cheapest day in the entire month to fly.”
Kris shares a technique she does when researching flights, “Another great tip when using Skyscanner is to search using an incognito window so your cookies are not being used and prices remain low. Hit Shift+command+n to go incognito on Apple, or shift+control+n on a PC.”
How to Save Money on Ground Transportation
Driving Your Own Car
“Personally, we try to drive to as many places as we can, if time allows,” according to Shannon, the creator and voice behind Grab My Passport. “Not only can you save time by driving, but you can cut the costs of needing a rental car or taxis. You can also pack your car with snacks and other items you may have had to spend money on if you flew to your destination.”
With airlines adding on so many fees for everything these days, Shannon rarely flies and prefers road trips. “Road trips can be fun, even with little kids. Just be sure to properly prepare for your road trip and enjoy!” She encourages travelers to look into memberships like the AAA (in the US) which are cheap and a necessity if you’re planning a family road trip.
“We normally drive because it does tend to be a less expensive choice for us,” shares Melissa of Disabled Disney. “To check gas prices, we use gasbuddy.com. We don’t normally fly so we have our car and will not need to use a taxi.”
Gasbuddy is one of the reliable apps we use when on a road trip. It shows you a proximity map with all the available gas stations and their services. Useful when you had to take a bathroom break especially children with teeny tiny bladders.
Renting a car
“What about in-country travel, once you arrive at an international destination?” asks Shannan of Captivating Compass, where she blogs about learning on location using the world as your textbook. “My top tip for saving money on transportation once you have arrived at your destination: Rent a car.”
Shannan recognizes how it could be overwhelming to drive in an unfamiliar locale. “While it can be a complete sensory overload to drive in a foreign country, it is also one of the least expensive and most time efficient ways to get around most countries, especially if you want to get out of the city and explore sights off-the-beaten-path.”
“Many major car rental companies in Europe have one-way rentals very affordably priced (ie: 2 GBP/day in the UK!) if you would be willing to drive a specific vehicle back into a more popular city or airport. In the UK, returning a car from Scotland to London helps out the rental company as more people fly into London that anywhere else in the UK.” Shannan explains that this arrangement is beneficial to the rental company, “For helping the rental company out, they offer ridiculously cheap rental fees and then you just pay for your own petrol. It’s a genius way to save big on in country transportation in Europe!”
“Unless I am staying in an all-inclusive resort that we won’t be leaving, I always rent a car,” adds Annette of Tips From a Typical Mom. “My family loves to drive around and see everything there is to see in the area we are visiting and it’s just so much easier to have your own form of transportation.” She cites her favorite places to score a deal with rental cars. “There are a lot of discount places you can rent cars through like Costco, AAA, AARP, and wholesalefamilytravel.com. My friend saved about $650 over the Costco price on Wholesale Family Travel when renting a car for their trip to Hawaii so that’s something to look into.”
“When you travel to a big city, transportation can get expensive. Gas, parking, and vehicle maintenance all cost more,” says Sarah of State by State. “Taking time to plan for how you will get from place to place is important if you want to save money. Many large cities have great public transportation, but when you have a family of five, as we do, those tickets sure do add up quickly.”
“Another excellent money saving tip is to check the parking garages’ rates. Sometimes the prices between parking garages vary greatly,” Sarah recalls from their family’s recent trip to Washington DC where they were able to tour the capital in under $80 a day. “In Washington DC, we found a place we could park all day for only $10, while other places were charging $22 for four hours.”
Coming by reliable transportation when in unfamiliar destinations can be a hassle. Airport taxis could be expensive or services like Uber might not be available.
Most hotels offer complimentary airport transfers or have some form of shuttle service for a certain fee. Take advantage of this perk and make sure to check ahead for price comparisons with renting a car instead.
Annette of Tips From a Typical Mom plans their itinerary around this perk, “If we decide to not rent a car, we would try to see all the places the hotel shuttle will take us and plan our activities as much as we can round that. Doesn’t get much cheaper than that! Right?”
Sarah encourages making use of these complimentary rides as well. “These are great for saving money on gas and also let everyone enjoy looking around at the sites instead of having to focus on traffic in an unfamiliar city. Knowing how you will get around will not only save you money. It will save you time because you won’t be driving in circles trying to find a place to park or wandering around trying to find the right shuttle stop.”
A complimentary shuttle service from your hotel gives you one less thing to worry about especially if you’re unfamiliar with the locality. Ensure that you communicate your needs to the hotel prior to arrival. Let them know how many are in your traveling party and when to expect you.
Going to Walt Disney World, for example, is an expensive family vacation. One way to save money while in Disney is to make use of their Disney Magical Express, a free shuttle service from Orlando International Airport to their resorts. They also have other forms of transportation like the ferry, the monorail and the bus within the campus.
Using Public Transportation
World Wise Kid’s Deborah believes that getting around is part of the educational experience – a chance to understand the culture. “This means avoiding the tourist track of pricey packaged tours and living like the locals. Arriving somewhere may take longer, but the journey is just as important as the destination! A mix of trains, buses and boats enrich the adventure.”
Melissa, a disability travel blogger at Disabled Disney shares her favorite apps when hiring ride services. “When it comes to hiring transportation, I look at which option is more cost effective for us. Apps like Uber and Lyft now give you an estimate on cost. If you want to use a taxi service, you could call and get an estimate.”
“If you’re coming out to this part of the world, my biggest family travel tip to download the Grab app on your phone,” recommends Kirsty, a British family travel blogger currently living in sunny Malaysia. “Grab is Asia’s Uber. Fares are really cheap and you can pay the driver cash.” Kirsty has travelled to over 100 countries including 25 with her young children and blogs about it in World for a Girl.
Kirsty also urges travelers to think twice before using local touristy modes of transportation like tuk-tuks and rickshaws. “They’re mostly used by tourists now and drivers often demand exorbitant prices. Make sure that you haggle hard and be aware of safety. Remember that in a tuk-tuk, you and the kids are down at exhaust pipe level!”
Taking the train
“If you are looking to save money, staying on the same continent would usually save you on the cost of a flight or allow you to consider taking the train,” advises Tiffany, who loves sharing new ways to save money when traveling in her blog Mommy and Me Travels. She advises looking beyond flying to your destination especially if in the same continent. “This will add to your children’s trip enjoyment.”
Tiffany explains further the benefits of being flexible, “In many cases, you can buy a first class train ticket for the fraction of the cost of a plane ticket per person. That means you can save even more money if you buy a regular class train ticket and still have the enjoyment of relaxing and socializing while traveling.”
First Class Tickets may be Cheaper
Nikki of Yorkshire Wonders supports the idea of possibly traveling with a first class ticket. “Check both standard and first class fares. Sometimes, first class fares are not much more expensive than standard.” She experienced the first class cabins and service in her trip with Virgin Trains. “You could receive perks in first class (such as free food and drink) that makes the upgrade actually better value.”
Making use of Multi-Ride Tickets or Passes
“Consider investing in a railcard,” suggests Nikki of Yorkshire Wonders. “We recently bought a ‘Friends and Family’ railcard that gives 60% off for kids and 30% off for adults when traveling together. The card is valid for one year and can save you money right from the very first trip.”
Walking: Good for your health and your pockets too
“Our travel routine includes discovering a place through walking,” shares Deborah, a California-based environmental educator, polyglot and mother of two adventurous kids. “Whether hiking a trail, beachcombing or mapping out the streets of a city or town, foot-travel is free and allows you to stumble upon local wildlife and activities and create your own unique experience.”
Sarah at Dandelion Seeds also opt for walking as the biggest savings once at her destination. “Rather than spending money on car rental (and car insurance) or taxis, I walk absolutely everywhere that’s safe.” Sarah continues, “When my kiddo was smaller, I’d put her in a good carrier with a 45-pound weight limit to keep my walking easy. It lasted for years. Although I don’t save time walking, I do save money on transportation. Plus, it’s a great way to find local cafés and grocery stores, and save money on restaurant costs too.” She asserts that walking has given her savings on transportation and much of her fun and, often, best stories. Sarah shares some fun ways to keep your kids entertained while you’re en route to your destination in her blog.