In between the pandemic causing border closures and the rising cost of living making most everyone reevaluate their spending habits (us included), it feels as though travel can't get a break.
But now that borders are open and restrictions are few and far between, the itch to travel is strong – and we're scratching it. Though we're doing it mindfully so as not to overspend and so we can keep to our travel budget.
1. Look for activities where kids are free
Our bub is under 2 so most places will let her in for free – though there are a few that will charge by person such as select truffle hunts, as we discovered early on in the year.
Seek out activities that let kids in for free or at the very least offer child discounts.
This is also a good way to gauge if the activity is child-friendly.
2. Look for activities where everyone is free
Buying admission for 2 adults and some kids is an expensive outing. To make your trip cheaper, look to playgrounds, museums, public festivals and markets that are completely free for all to attend.
Search the official tourism website or the local council's site to find the best of them.
3. Pack everything you could possibly need
Emergency purchases often wreak havoc on your budget as you can't pre-plan where you'll buy them and at what price.
We have an extremely long packing list for our toddler which includes nappies, food pouches, formula, toiletries, wet wipes, toys, sunscreen, insect repellent and more that we bring with us.
So long as you have the luggage space and weight, bring everything you could possibly need.
4. Pre-book what you definitely know you want to do
If there's something we definitely want to see or do, we'll pre-book it. Not only does this secure your place, but pre-booking gives you the freedom to research your way to discounts.
We tend to check experience sites such as RedBalloon, Adrenaline, Klook, Groupon and Scoopon first against the buy-direct price to see if they can do better.
Then we'll turn to cashback sites to see if we can at least get a few dollars or cents back from our booking.
If you're booking directly and you see a field for "promo codes" or "discount codes" head to Google and search the activity + promo code to see if there are any around. Most sites, annoyingly, have codes that no longer work (shameless plug, but at Finder we check ours regularly to keep them up-to-date). But sometimes you can find gems out there.
5. Don't pre-book what you're on the fence about doing
In a similar vein, if you're unsure if you can fit an activity in or one of your family members isn't too keen on something, keep it as an option but don't pre-book.
This way if you find time or you really want to visit it you can.
We recently went to the Hunter Valley and I (Stef) thought the Hunter Valley Gardens would be an amazing experience for our little one.
Unfortunately though, after our morning's events our little one started to doze off so we wound up skipping it because she wouldn't have gotten to really see it.
6. Skip the luxe hotel
Luxury hotels are a wonderful splurge but they can quickly break anyone's budget.
If you're not particular about your digs, opt for a lower-star hotel, an apart-hotel or a homeshare to save.
We've found that they'll often have better facilities for families anyway, including a kitchenette and play equipment.
If you really have your heart set on a specific 5-star stay, consider booking for 1 night only and then stay somewhere cheaper the rest of the nights. Word of advice: Make that splurge your final night's stay otherwise it'll feel like a major disappointment when you open the door on day 2 to your 3-star hotel.
Have school-aged kids?
Look for hotels that let kids stay and eat free. Most have an age limit – generally up to 7 for a free breakfast and up to 12 for a free stay as long as they don't require an extra bed. As our kid is still a toddler we haven't done this yet but this is a good money-saver for families with older kids.
7. Stay close to home
The shorter the flight the cheaper the airfare – generally speaking. Same goes with road trips. The shorter the distance the less fuel you'll need to get there and back.
This year we've driven to Canberra (twice), flown to Dubbo (this was off the back of D's work trip), driven to the Blue Mountains and flown to Adelaide (this was Stef's work trip).
8. Drive instead of fly
Paying for 3+ seats on a plane to get your family in the air can be expensive.
Even with the price of petrol being what it is (check out these tips to beat the price increase), it could wind up cheaper to pack the family in the car and pay for a tank of petrol. Particularly if you have a 5-person family and the destination is close to home.
9. Double down with a work trip
This tip might not work for you, but if you or your partner are often being sent on work trips, the family could make the most of it by tagging along.
D is constantly being sent far and wide as his company has clients across Australia. They pay for his flight, accommodation and car hire for the days that he works.
If it's somewhere interesting (his last trip was to Dubbo) then Stef and bub buy their own ticket there and ride off the free accommodation. (It's always a queen/king room so it's no extra on the client's part).
10. Use your points
We're the kind of family who uses points to get us from A to B and not to get us an upgrade. (Though that is the dream).
So whenever we see that a fare is a little too steep for our liking, we'll see if there are reward seats available to get us there for less.
Yes, sometimes we end up paying more points than we should. (Dubbo was a last-minute decision that cost Stef 46,000 points – ouch! But I just couldn't part with the other option of $400 for a one-way ticket).
But sometimes, if we book early enough and during a points sale, we do get a bargain. For example, we bought return flights to Griffith during a sale for 11,200 points plus $76 in taxes each. Our kid will still be under 2 so she'll fly for free on one of our laps.
11. Visit friends and family
Turning a holiday into a trip to see family can keep costs at bay.
If the invite is there and you want to see friends and family in another city, you can skip paying for accommodation by staying with them instead.
Later in the year we'll be keeping our cousin's spare room warm in country NSW. She and her family have 2 cars which basically means free transport, too.
Just remember to shout them a meal or 2 as thanks.
Cut down costs without cutting out holidays by catching the best travel deals here.