Take Field Trips without Breaking the Bank

 – by Michele Zavatsky


Does your family have cabin fever but you have a slim budget? It makes sense to maximize your travel dollars. Here are my tips to help you put together an inexpensive trip every family member will enjoy―no matter what their interests are:


  1. Simplify your lodgings. Either join a rewards club or plan to visit areas of the country where you can stay with friends or relatives. Another option is vacation homes and campgrounds. Having a grill or fully equipped kitchen and washer/dryer facility saves money. Arrange for group meals, dividing the cooking and cleaning between families. If you’re going to a theme or water park, stay in condo rooms on the property. Most have a microwave-refrigerator unit to keep or reheat leftovers or frozen entrees. Or save on hotels by not using them at all. Plan day trips to sights and attractions within driving distance instead.
  2. Attractions. Buying tickets in advance online can save not only money but time as well. Go in a group for shows and attractions and get a group discount. Either invite another large family along or ask to be part of another group tour.
  3. Babysitting. When planning a road trip with young children, ask grandparents or another close relative to come along to watch the kids. This allows you and your spouse some time alone without paying resort babysitting fees.
  4. Discount or Membership Card. Buy a discount attractions pass for large cities, especially if you know you’re going to visit four or more sites around town. You can also save with free discount cards provided by local businesses. Some supermarket chains offer great discount tickets to major attractions in the area by just signing up for their customer card. If you already have family memberships to your local children’s museum, science center, zoo, or aquarium, find out which places offer free or discounted reciprocal admission.
  5. Economize on meals. Plan to splurge on one meal a day and make the others less expensive. Staying at a hotel with a complimentary continental breakfast is our favorite option. If not, grab food bars and juice boxes for breakfast. Pack lunches in coolers that will stay fresh for a few hours while you catch an attraction. Pay attention to three magic words “Kids Eat Free,” especially at hotel and chain restaurants. Try sharing meals between small eaters. Beverages are expensive, so order only water. Look for extra-value meals or early bird specials. Often, historic taverns offer better value deals for lunch than dinner.
  6. Freebies. Keep little ones entertained at upscale mall stores like a Lego Store or Discovery Store. Glance at the brightly colored shelves and then make your own Lego creation or play with trains on a colorful table that’s just the right size for little tykes. Also look for free admission to special events or festivals. Some attractions are always free! (One-quarter to one-third of all Kids Love Travel guidebooks offer reviews on attractions that don’t usually charge to get in)
  7. Getting Around. Most tourist towns have a trolley service and most trolleys have on/off privileges. That means your family pays one price for all-day travel around a congested historic city without the hassles of parking and tolls. Many operators give you the “inside scoop” about the sites they pass by. To save more, opt out of actually visiting historic museums (probably boring for young kids anyway) and just absorb highlights from the trolley guide. Walking is free, too. Some historic towns are very walkable (Alexandria, St. Augustine, Fredericksburg, Lexington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and others).
  8. Giving In. Say “yes” to kids more often on vacation. The number one request of kids on vacation is to stay up late and sleep in―so let them, no cost here. Next on kids’ lists are treats. Most “treats” like ice cream cones are little cost compared to sit-down meals, so splurge on that cone and save on dinner because the kids won’t be as hungry!
  9. Go off season. Not only will the crowds be reduced, but hotels also offer deep discounts, and gift shops run clearance sales.
  10. Pack to Save. A last-minute purchase or rental of certain items can add up quickly. If you have the room, bring your own stroller or bicycles. You’ll save lots of money bringing odds and ends from home versus paying convenience-store prices.

Take a Backpack

If you like to go to theme parks or bike or hike, take a medium, sturdy backpack with the following items. Take turns carrying the backpack, with the strongest backs first, since packs are always heaviest at the beginning of the day.

  • Band-aids
  • Pain reliever
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bottled water
  • Towel or rain poncho
  • Small flashlight
  • Tissue or napkins
  • Snacks such as apples, nuts, gum or candy
  • Small deck of cards
  • Small box of colored pencils and a coloring book.


Kids grow up fast. Enjoy time with them (inexpensively) while they’re young.

Want more ideas about how to plan your next family trip? Michele Z, the “Family Travel Mom,” has done 10,000 hours of research and personal testing so you don’t have to. You can find more than 6000 places and events included in her KIDS LOVE TRAVEL GUIDEBOOKS: Family Travel Guides to Exploring “Kid-Tested” Places! Visit www.KidsLoveTravel.com and let YOUR next family adventure begin!