How to Plan a Memorable Family Holiday on a Budget

Let the family fun begin! We've got 20 tips and tricks for travelling on a shoestring. 

A dad and two kids jumping off the back of a boat into turquoise waters while on a family vacation

7min read

Published 4 June 2024


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Let the family fun begin! We've got 20 tips and tricks for travelling on a shoestring. 


Planning a family holiday is a bit like performing in a circus. You'll probably find yourself juggling a million different opinions at once and feel that sticking to your budget is like fighting to regain your balance during some impossible high-wire stunt.

Hey, you might even find yourself in a tent.

But don't let that dissuade you from planning the family holiday of your dreams! There are plenty of ways to take a trip without having to dip into the kids' piggy banks. From saving money on food and accommodation to booking early and locking down the best travel deals — when it comes to frugal family fun, we've got you covered.

Keep reading to discover 20 great tips and tricks for planning a budget-friendly holiday the family will never forget!



A family of four swimming in a cenote
A family of four swimming in a cenote
A family of four swimming in a cenote

1. Set a realistic budget

Okay, so this first tip might sound obvious, but it's pretty hard to stick to a holiday budget if you haven't actually set one. It's like heading off on a road trip without a map or going camping without a compass — exciting and spontaneous until it really isn't.

On top of helping you save money, setting a realistic and honest budget sets you up for a stress-free holiday. When you know exactly how much money you've spent and, more importantly, how much you can afford to spend, it's easier to relax and enjoy the experiences you're paying for without constantly checking your bank balance.

To avoid any unwelcome financial surprises down the line, make sure you factor the following categories into your holiday budget:

  • Transport (flights, trains, cruises, car hire, transfers, public transport, etc.)
  • Accommodation
  • Passport renewals and visa costs (if required)
  • Travel insurance
  • Food
  • Attractions and activities
  • Souvenirs and gifts
  • Tips (if required)

It's also a good idea to expect the unexpected and include a small buffer in the budget for any unforeseen expenses that might pop up while you're away.

A family packing for an upcoming vacation
A family packing for an upcoming vacation
A family packing for an upcoming vacation

2. Book your trip early

The early bird bags the bargain! In general, last-minute bookings rarely equal a cheap family holiday. In fact, you'll likely find the complete opposite to be true. Since most families are somewhat restricted to travelling during school breaks, one of the easiest things you can do to save money is to book early.

The best holiday deals and the cheapest flights are often sold months before the travel dates, so it pays to plan ahead when booking on a budget.

3. Get your kids in on the planning

Ever organised a super fun family activity or booked local attractions only to find that certain members of your travel party (we won't mention any names) aren't really into it? Avoid disgruntled teens, tweens and toddlers by including your kids in the planning process.

Now, we're not saying that everything your kids suggest will be practical and within budget, but it's a great way to get them involved in the holiday right from the beginning.

It'll also help you prioritise your budget and make sure you're spending money on attractions, activities and destinations that the whole family are most excited about.

A family playing around in a resort pool
A family playing around in a resort pool
A family playing around in a resort pool

4. Include downtime in the itinerary

We know it can be tempting to max out every minute of every day — especially if you're heading overseas. However, when travelling with the family, particularly small children, downtime is an absolute must.

To be honest, it's a must for the grown-ups too.

So, rather than spending money on your third or fourth activity of the day only to find everyone too exhausted to enjoy it, schedule in a few hours of downtime at the hotel after lunch or a lie-in one morning.

This will give everyone a chance to relax so they're ready to roll for whatever you've got planned next!

5. Shop around for deals

When it comes to booking a cheap family holiday it helps to know what you're looking for and to shop around a bit before buying. By doing this you'll become familiar with the current prices and will be able to spot a bargain from a mile away!

In saying that, if you're planning a trip with youngsters, it's probably safe to assume you don't have oodles of free time on your hands. Let us do some of the heavy lifting for you and get the cheapest flights, hottest deals and expert tips and tricks delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our newsletter or downloading the Flight Centre app.

A family surfing while on vacation
A family surfing while on vacation
A family surfing while on vacation

6. Consider all-inclusive holidays

Thanks to their comprehensive nature and upfront pricing, all-inclusive holidays are perfect for the budget-conscious family.

Inclusions can cover everything from flights, accommodation and transfers to dining, activities and kids’ clubs, leaving very little for you to worry about (or pay for) besides the holiday package itself.

A mother and her young children on a plane; one of the children sits in her lap
A mother and her young children on a plane; one of the children sits in her lap
A mother and her young children on a plane; one of the children sits in her lap

7. Fly before the kids turn two

Flying with budget airlines isn't the only way to score impressive flight deals! Did you know that most airlines allow infants (typically kids under two) to fly for free as long as they can sit on your lap and don't require their own seat?

Yep, you heard that right! Travelling before the terrible twos set in will score you cheap flights by skipping the cost of a whole extra ticket.

8. Explore your own backyard

You don't have to bid farewell to your family holiday dreams just because an international adventure isn't within your budget (for now!).

You can keep your holiday as local as you like, sticking to undiscovered areas of your home country or going a little further afield to tick off some of New Zealand's iconic bucket list sights.

Either way, booking a local holiday will help you save on flights and passport costs while getting to know your own backyard a little better at the same time.

A young family on vacation
A young family on vacation
A young family on vacation

9. Opt for off-season adventures

If you can travel during the off-season and avoid your destination's school holidays (remember, they won't necessarily line up with the term times back home) you'll find yourself scoring major savings.

With fewer people around, it's also a much more relaxing way to explore a new place, particularly if you've got younger kids. Major cities will still be relatively crowded all year round, but by planning family holidays outside of peak times you'll enjoy shorter lines and more affordable prices.

Maximize your loyalty points

There are few things in life as satisfying as the moment you realise you've just stamped your way to a free coffee or finally have the points to score a few bucks off the weekly shop. When it comes to holidays, maximising your loyalty points can save you some serious cash.

There are lots of different reward programs out there to help save you money on everything from flights and hotel nights to tours and holiday packages. Consider researching and signing up for airline frequent flyer programs and credit card rewards to earn points on money you're already spending. Then put these points to work when booking your next holiday!

Expert tip: The quickest way to accumulate airline points is, no surprise, by flying. They're not called frequent flyer points for nothing! If you belong to an eligible program (either with your airline or one of their partners) make sure you or your Travel Expert add your membership number when booking flights to avoid missing out on valuable points.

Elderly parents with their adult daughter on vacation
Elderly parents with their adult daughter on vacation
Elderly parents with their adult daughter on vacation

11. Cover your family with travel insurance

Though it may seem counterintuitive to fork out hard-earned cash for something you hope you'll never use, we always recommend buying travel insurance whenever you start making holiday plans.

If the unexpected happens while you're away, having insurance could save you thousands of rands in medical bills, lost items or disrupted travel plans. So, while it might feel like an extra cost you could put to better use elsewhere, in our opinion it just isn't worth the risk.

12. Make a packing list

Travelling as a family is bound to come with a bit of baggage. Like, actual physical baggage. Making a packing list before you zip up those suitcases is a good way to avoid frantic trips to the nearest shopping mall once you arrive at your destination.

Because let's face it, there are better ways to spend your money than on a family set of new bathing suits, towels, shoes, socks, hats or jumpers that you already have at home but forgot to bring.

Two kids eating snacks in a park while on a family vacation
Two kids eating snacks in a park while on a family vacation
Two kids eating snacks in a park while on a family vacation

13. BYO snacks!

Whether you use them as an energy boost, a quick distraction or as part of intense negotiation tactics, there's no denying the importance of snacks within a parent's holiday survival kit.

Pack your own food and snacks for days out (especially if you're exploring more pricey tourist hotspots) to save time AND money. It's a total win-win!

14. Use public transport, where possible

There's no better way to immerse yourself in a new city than by using public transport — and it'll also save you money! Plus let's face it, a trip on a local bus is sure to be much more interesting for the kids than a boring old Uber ride.

Do some research on how the local transport works in the cities you're visiting to make the most of it while you're there. For example, depending on how many trips you're making, the Paris Visite travel pass might be better value than buying a bunch of single tickets and while the London Underground is something everyone visiting the city should experience, the iconic double-decker buses are a significantly cheaper (and more scenic!) alternative.

Hop-on Hop-off buses may also be a good option for those sightseeing in big cities.

A family posing for a selfie while on vacation
A family posing for a selfie while on vacation
A family posing for a selfie while on vacation

15. Swap major cities for the road less travelled

Swapping major tourist hotspots for a holiday destination off the beaten track is perfect for those planning their family getaway on a budget.

With some of the world's most-visited cities currently struggling with overtourism, there's never been a better time to explore roads less travelled and more affordable as a family. 

16. Work exchange rates to your advantage

We know that budgeting is hard enough without adding different currencies into the mix. But keeping on top of exchange rates will help you avoid unnecessary conversion fees and make the most of favourable exchange rates, ultimately saving you money.

Here are some quick tips for getting the most out of your currency exchange:

  • Unless it's an emergency, never exchange cash in an airport! This isn't the place to lock in competitive rates.
  • Compare the rates and conversion/withdrawal fees on your bank cards in advance so you don't find yourself in a different country trying to guess which one is your best option.
  • Always pay for things in the local currency when given the choice.
  • A prepaid travel money card is worth looking into if you're worried about overspending or if your current bank cards come with subpar rates and lots of fees. Getting to lock in your exchange rates will also take the mystery out of how much you're spending.

17. Book accommodation with a kitchen

One of the easiest ways to cut costs on a family holiday is to look for accommodation options with a kitchen.

Don't worry, we're definitely not suggesting you live on rice and beans for the entire holiday! But being able to eat in some nights or enjoy a quick breakfast before heading out for the day can help save a small fortune on food.

Try swapping costly restaurant dining for fresh local food or quick supermarket meals to cook up in your room. Besides, the street food and local market options in many destinations around the world (like Southeast Asia, for example) are sure to rival some of the best restaurants in town, so you can still enjoy a delicious holiday while also sticking to your budget.

A large family enjoying a house swap
A large family enjoying a house swap
A large family enjoying a house swap

18. House swap with friends and family

If you happen to have friends or family living in a different state or country, try house swapping to save big bucks on accommodation. You'll both get to enjoy the change of scenery on a budget, along with the peace of mind that someone you know and trust is looking after your home while you're away.

Family at the top of a hiking trail
Family at the top of a hiking trail
Family at the top of a hiking trail

19. Trade your hotel room for a tent

Another way to save money while organising fun-filled family holidays is to plan a nature escape, swapping bougie hotel rooms for rustic holiday parks.

Staying on campsites or in caravan parks is an excellent way to spend less on accommodation while exploring beautiful beaches, expansive national parks and picture-perfect landscapes. Plus, there's nothing quite like sharing a tent when it comes to family bonding experiences...

If you do your research, you might even be able to find free camping options in some destinations — but make sure to always check and follow the local laws and restrictions.

20. Turn buying souvenirs into a learning experience

This last tip is for any parent who has ever found themselves worn down by their kids and tricked into buying overpriced souvenirs on holidays only for them to disappear into a cupboard at home, never to be seen again.

Turn buying souvenirs into a learning experience by giving your kids a set budget of their own at the start of the trip or by helping them save their pocket money leading up to the holiday. They'll enjoy feeling independent and will hopefully put some careful thought into what they decide to buy and bring home with them.

 

Itching to get away? Talk to a Travel Expert and start planning your next family holiday today!

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