As a family of 7, having a realistic family travel budget is crucial to actually plan our best family vacation on a budget! After creating (and using repeatedly) a budget travel calculator worksheet to help me plan and STICK TO traveling on a budget with family, I wanted to share it with our readers!

This post is going to walk you through HOW I plan the budget for our family travel world wide- from our overall vacation calculator to unexpected travel expenses! Get ready to plan GREAT, inexpensive family trips!

There’s no math needed for this post, don’t worry. Just grab a cuppa coffee and let’s break down how we do our family travel budget! 😊

Lathrop family at the Vatican City in Rome, Italy | LathropsGoneAWOL Vacation Calculator and Family Travel Budget Post
Lathrop family at the Vatican City in Rome, Italy!

Also, I want to mention something important:

Since we’ve been doing this family world travel thing for a couple of years now (and I am a sucker for a good spreadsheet!), I’ve created a clever but simple vacation calculator to help me see how much any trip will actually cost and budget accordingly. You can see it and download it for free below!

Okay, on to the good stuff!

The easiest way to maximize your family travel budget is by balancing affordable travel times and locations before planning anything else.

The first thing we do any time we want to take a trip or vacation is figure out THREE things, which can drastically affect planning a family vacation on a budget. This is especially true for large family travels with lots of kiddos to budget for.

  • WHERE in the world do we want our family to visit?
  • WHEN are we going? (What time of the year do we want to travel?)
  • HOW are we going to get to our family vacation destination?

When planning any trip, I first check to make sure that the time of year we want to travel isn’t super expensive for transportation costs, hotel or AirBnB costs.

This is especially important when traveling Europe with kids. There can be a BIG fluctuation in costs depending on when and where you want to go.

Summer and Spring Break travel tends to be expensive world wide, however. Unfortunately, spring summer breaks are often the only time we have to travel with kids! This means that planning family cheap holidays aren’t the easiest.

If you’re stuck traveling during these ‘peak travel times’ that’s totally okay! We’re right there with you, taking advantage of summer.

Check sites like Hotels.com, Booking.com, Google Flights, etc. to see an estimate of your travel costs.

(PS- I have a whole post coming soon about how we manage traveling on a budget with family specific travel hacks. Sign up for our newsletter to read that once it’s published!)

1. WHERE we are going can be WAY more affordable by staying right outside of the big cities. For example, instead of staying in Paris, stay in one of the adjacent suburbs. Staying in AirBnbs that are booked a few months ahead of time for cheaper rates, and/or even combining trips to make the most of your money.

We recently took a big European road trip and saw 4 countries over 22 days. This saved us SO MUCH money on transportation than separating them into single vacations!

2. WHEN we want to visit can often be adjusted. Shifting your travel dates by 1-2 days can help make travel a bit cheaper. For example, traveling on a weekend is more expensive than a week day in most cases. Weekdays are key for inexpensive family trips.

3. HOW we are getting there can also present opportunities to save money. You can take a train instead of flying or driving, for instance. And you can almost always save money by getting transportation tickets in advance.

For our European family vacation, it was way cheaper to drive our own car than to take a train to each city, because we’d then also need public transportation to get around in each destination as well.

You can do a bit of research to see what is going to be most cost effective in terms of WHERE, WHEN, and HOW your trip will look to make sure your family travel is on a budget that really works for you.

Once I narrow down WHERE we’re going, WHEN, and HOW we are getting there, I add these to my budget calculator travel worksheet and move on.

Download our FREE Travel Budget Calculator by LathropsGoneAWOL Family Travel Blog

The next big expense I usually try to figure out is the food costs. Since we’re a big family, restaurants and grocery expenses usually make up a fair amount of our budget for family travel.

For an accurate idea of our family travel food costs, I need to know:

  • How much is an average restaurant meal in this family travel destination?
  • How much are groceries in the vacation spot? (And if it’s a big busy city, are grocery stores readily available?)

Don’t worry, our FREE vacation calculator (download it below!) has some links on the resource page that can give you this information in a few clicks- so it’s fast and easy!

  • 1 breakfast (adult cost and kids meal cost, if applicable)
  • 1 lunch (again, adults and kids)
  • 1 dinner (adults and kids)
  • 1 or 2 snacks (depending our activity/busyness levels)
Baby Lathrop having an ice cream treat in Valencia Spain | Family Travel Budget Tips by LathropsGoneAWOL
Baby Lathrop having an ice cream treat in Valencia, Spain!

I add in the cost for each of us per day. And if breakfast is included in our hotel stay, that’s money saved! That frees up the family vacation budget a little bit! 😉

If breakfast is NOT included in your stay, no worries! Grabbing some pastries, yogurts and fruits to keep in your hotel room can save you A LOT of money!

We also typically grab snacks from the local grocery store as soon as we get settled in. That way, we’re not stopping at corner stores or impulse buying every time we get hungry!

We ALWAYS try to plan at least 1 meal a day to come from the grocery store, whether it’s breakfast or lunch. This not only saves us money on our travel budget, but it keeps us eating a bit healthier too! Those restaurant meals add up to LOTS of empty calories in the long run. (Not to mention usually fewer veggies!)

Once you know about how much meals and groceries cost in your desired destination, add that to the budget calculator travel worksheet and move on to the next thing!

Once we have all of the logistics and food costs added into our cost of trip calculator, it’s time to start planning out the ACTIVITIES for our family travel budget.

One of the best family travel hacks I’ve ever learned is to incorporate FREE activities into our schedule. Often these are the things the kids like best!

It is almost shocking to see what kinds of cool activities can be done without spending any money! This really helps to create the absolute BEST family vacation on a budget!

Whenever I’m planning a family vacation, I always try to balance out activities that cost money (tours, museums, many tourist hot spots like the Eiffel Tower, etc) with FREE travel activities.

  • Walking tours (Hello, Rick Steves, you beautiful downloadable tour guide, you…)
  • Trips to local gardens, parks, beaches, etc
  • Art galleries / Museums (Many have no entry fees, or there are free days or free kids tickets!)
  • Libraries (Also, many libraries have free local activities!)
  • Famous monuments and fancy old churches, basilicas, cathedrals, etc
  • Community events, fairs, festivals, musical shows, outdoor movies, etc
  • Local transportation is sometimes free also (Did you know the Staten Island Ferry in New York is free & a hit with kids! Read our post about New York City family trip activities!)
  • Smaller zoos (or even take advantage free family days at bigger zoos!)
  • Travel scavenger hunt & other fun travel games (check out our Fun (& Free) Family Vacation Games post for travel activities you can do with no prep needed!)
Lathrop family enjoying free vacation activities outdoors | LathropsGoneAWOL family travel blog

Checking online forums and local community groups (as well as our best buddy, TripAdvisor) can also reveal LOTS of free and low-cost activities for planning the ultimate inexpensive family trips!

Once I get a general idea of what activities we’re going to be doing on our family trip, I go back to my budget calculator travel worksheet and add the costs in there.

Family Vacation Calculator Tip:

In addition to the possible cost of admission tickets, don’t forget to include any costs for gift shops or purchases you might make while there (for example, ice cream if it’s a zoo visit).

Also, how are you getting to the activity? Is there a parking fee, or will you need to buy bus tickets? We generally walk anywhere that takes 30 mins or less. Otherwise, I’ll add the cost of a bus or subway ticket to the activity cost.

These little things can add up and change the cost of the activity- putting a strain on your budget. So try and think of ALL the little details. (Our vacation calculator has a place to put these costs so you won’t forget.)

These first 3 costs are basically the bulk of your family vacation budget expenses, but don’t forget the little unexpected things as well! That brings us to…

There are a few other expenses that typically occur in almost every family trip. For example, will you need a pet sitter or a house sitter?

Will your hotel have free parking and free wifi, or will those cost extra?

And most importantly: Do you have room in your budget for accidents or problems that may arise?

I always try to have some money budgeted for our ‘Emergency Travel Fund’ for things like lost luggage, flat tires, or in case print-only tickets got destroyed.

There’s also usually something I’ve managed to forget to pack, that we ended up running to the store for during any given trip. (It’s gotta be Mom brain, I swear!) So that usually costs a bit of money as well.

Our 5 Must Have Travel Items That Make Traveling Easier post has some of our packing staples that we ALWAYS bring, but when packing for 7 people it can still be hard to remember everything- especially when relying on teens to pack most of their stuff!

You never know what might happen on a vacation, so taking the squeeze out of the family travel budget can make things a LOT less stressful!

I always like to prepare ourselves for the worst- because sometimes things can happen! And to be honest, it’s a pretty good feeling to come home from a vacation and have extra money in the bank that we didn’t spend- instead of worrying the whole trip about whether we’re going over on our family travel budget or not.

Adding a bit of extra ’emergency’ money to our vacation calculator takes a lot of pressure off.

And that sums up our approach to family travel on a budget!

I hope you found this post full of helpful family travel tips for planning inexpensive family trips! If I’ve forgotten anything or you have a specific question in mind, please leave a comment below and I’d love to help! 🥰

And don’t forget to snag the FREE vacation calculator! 👇

Download the FREE Family Vacation Calculator for planning inexpensive family trips & family travel on a budget!
Lathrop Family after moving abroad from the US to Spain
Lathrop Family after moving abroad from the US to Spain

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We’re a family of 7, and we started traveling the world when our youngest was just a little over a year old. We’ve learned so much about family travel! Now, we’re on a mission to make traveling with kids easier for YOU with our family travel tips & great resources!

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