How Families and Seniors Can Travel on a Budget

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family travelI’m 32, single, and mostly travel alone. These are things that probably won’t change anytime soon (though my mother keeps asking me when that second one will). As such, most of the travel tips on this website tend to be focused on what I, a single traveler, learn about traveling better, cheaper, and longer.

But that doesn’t mean my advice is only for solo travelers.

My belief is that budget travel tips are universal, because when we all touch down in London town, we all deal with the same costs. We may end up staying in different places and eating in different restaurants, but the methods we use for saving money will generally be universal.

A common question I get asked is if my advice will work for families or older travelers. (It’s also brought up in my reader surveys: “Matt, I wish you would write more for those with families or older travelers.”)

There’s a common perception that family and senior travel is an inherently different form of travel that requires special considerations. I know not everyone thinks that way, but I often feel that the question “Can you write tips that apply to family/senior travel?” implies that distinction.

But I don’t think that is really the case.

Sure, when you’re traveling with a family, you want kid-friendly activities, hotels, and restaurants, or maybe you just won’t stay in a hostel dorm, but is that really a whole new form of travel? I don’t believe so. You’re just looking for different things in the budget travel realm.

Not every tip applies to every traveler — we all have different desires and needs and, since the question above is a very valid one, I wanted to show how you can apply the advice of this solo traveling nomad to your family trip (or, if you’re older, highlight some different accommodation types and tour information).

(Disclaimer: I’m not creating a go-to resource on this subject or pretending to know about how best to travel with children or the needs of older travelers. I don’t. But since this is question that comes up a lot, I just want to collate the tips and articles on my website to create a resource page that I believe can help in your planning.)

Family Travelers

the wide wide world family
Flights
It’s one thing to buy a flight for one person; it’s another to buy flights for four or five people. That $700 flight suddenly becomes $3,500, and that’s just more money than most of us can or want to spend. Seeing that number just for the flights would keep me at home! Here are tips to lower flight costs for your family:

  • Use travel credit cards to get points – Playing the travel hacking game is even more important when you have to buy multiple airline tickets. With very little work, you can accumulate hundreds of thousands of points — enough to get you and your family anywhere in the world you want. For example, the new British Airways Avios card offers 50,000 points on sign-up (up to 100,000 if you meet their spending requirements), and that’s enough to get you and your family anywhere in the continental United States.
  • Fly to less frequented destinations — Long-haul international flights are quite expensive, but flights to locations only a few hours from you won’t be. Fly to a less-visited destination closer to you and get cheaper flights. Here are some good flight deal websites: The Flight Deal, Momondo, Skyscanner, Airfarewatchdog, Holiday Pirates.
  • Visit a travel agent — Believe it or not, travel agents can still be good for bulk flight discounts, especially ethnic travel agents that specialize in flights to their specific country (for example, buying flights to China in Chinatown).

Beyond using points or finding some amazing deal, there’s not much you can do to lower the cost of flights (whether for a single traveler or a family). Airline ticket prices are going up and we’re all going to suffer. There are ways to avoid being the person who pays the most for their ticket but, without points, there’s no way to get free or very discounted flights.

Relevant blog posts:

  • Why Your Airline Ticket is So Expensive
  • How to Find a Cheap Flight
  • Become a Travel Hacking Ninja
  • Picking a Good Travel Credit Card

Accommodation
This is another big cost that doesn’t need to break your bank. The biggest way to win: skip the hotel. Hotels are the most expensive form of accommodation. Luckily, there are some great alternatives. Here’s how you can overcome (or cut) these costs:

  • Stay in a family-friendly hostel — Hostels are not just for young, single backpackers. There are many hostels out there that are great for families (and tour groups) that don’t have the party atmosphere normally associated with hostels. One of the best family-friendly hostels in the world is the chain Youth Hostel Association. They offer nice, quiet, clean rooms, and have hostels around the world.
  • Rent someone’s home or apartment — Vacation rental sites can get you all the comforts of home while on the road and work out cheaper per person than a hostel or hotel. In many instances, you can rent a whole apartment for prices similar to budget hotels. Good rental sites include: Airbnb (if you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay), Homeaway, and Wimdu.
  • Use last-minute hotel discount sites — Use websites like Hotwire and Priceline to find cheap, last-minute hotel rooms.
  • Use a hospitality network — Many of the hospitality networks like Couchsurfing, Hospitality Club, and Servas have numerous hosts who take families. There is often this perception that these wesbites are for just young, solo travelers, but many, many hosts take families (Hospitality Club and Servas more so than Couchsurfing). You get to know a local family with these websites, and your kids will have other kids to play with, too! Win-win.

Relevant blog posts:

  • Renting an Apartment While Traveling
  • Cheap Accommodation: Beyond Hotels and Hostels
  • How to Pick a Good Hostel

Food
I imagine feeding a family is not very cheap (I know, I know — Captain Obvious over here, right?). When you’re traveling, being budget conscious becomes even more important, as food costs can ruin your budget. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Cook – Obviously, cooking food will be cheaper than eating out. Visit local markets or grocery stores, get some food, and have a picnic or make sandwiches for later. When I don’t have access to a kitchen, I buy a lot of pre-made meals at supermarkets. They aren’t world-class meals but they do the trick.
  • Get lunch specials — The best time to eat out at restaurants is during lunch when places offer lunch specials and set menus that are cheaper than dinnertime menus. This is especially true around Europe and in Singapore.
  • Food trucks/street food — If you’re in a place with food trucks or street food, eat there. Not only will these meals be cheaper, they will probably be very tasty too. Food trucks and street stalls are my favorite places to eat.
  • Don’t eat near tourist attractions — This is an important rule of mine. If you eat near a major site, food will be three times as expensive and probably a third as good. Walk at least four blocks away before you pick a restaurant. You’ll get cheaper, more authentic local food this way.

Relevant blog posts:

  • How to Eat Cheap Around the World

Attractions — Use city tourism cards to get discounts and free entrance into local museums and attractions. Tourism offices (think London Tourism, Paris Tourism, New York Tourism, etc.) offer these cards that give you free entry and substantial discounts to participating attractions and tours in a city, free local public transportation (a huge plus), and discounts at a few restaurants and shopping malls. They last for a varying number of days and are one of the best ways to see many attractions on the cheap. (Remember, kids below 12 get into most museums for free.)

Moreover, student and youth discount cards are available for people over 13. These cards will give free or discounted access to museums and attractions around the world. You can get these cards at STA travel.

Senior Travelers

don and alison, a happy senior couple traveling the world
For older travelers who are looking to travel the world in a bit more comfort but not looking to spend a lot of money, many of the above tips will work too. But the most common concern I hear is that I write too much about hostels, and most older travelers want an alternative. Some of a my favorite non-hostel options include:

  • Airbnb rentals
  • B&Bs
  • YHA hostels
  • Budget hotels
  • Homestays
  • Farm stays

Relevant blog posts:

  • Renting an Apartment While Traveling
  • Cheap Accommodation: Beyond Hotels and Hostels

Another question that gets posed a lot is how to avoid those expensive single supplements tour groups charge for individual travelers. To avoid those fees, use small group tour operators like Intrepid Travel. It’s really only the large bus companies that still have that fee anyway (think Globus or Trafalgar tours). Most small operators have discontinued the practice of single supplements. Generally, anyone who runs groups smaller than 15 travelers or offers a hop-on/hop-off style service won’t require a single supplement.

P.S. Intrepid is my favorite multi-day tour operator. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get 10% off all tours over $500 USD. Click here to view the exclusive promo code.

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Nothing is ever universal, but tips for solo travelers, couples, families, or older travelers are not mutually exclusive. They can be borrowed from each other and used as you see fit. I write as a solo traveler who likes to save money, and while not all my tips are applicable to every type of traveler, most can be. So I hope this post addressed some of the questions you had about what tips on this site are relevant to family and senior travel.

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