A family vacation doesn’t have to be expensive—it just takes some trip planning know-how. Personal finance blogger Catherine Alford shares how she plans affordable vacations for her young family.

Many Grownups love to travel, but often it’s the first budget item on the chopping block. How can you justify taking a trip when you’re on a tight budget?

In a word, planning! My family loves to travel, and we’re neither independently wealthy nor lucky. We’re just excellent planners who love to travel.

Here are some of our top tips for taking your family on a fabulous vacation—while having it be completely affordable.

Plan Months in Advance

Sometimes people get great deals by buying plane tickets or vacation packages last minute, but I’ve always found that planning way in advance is much better when you have children. Children don’t do well with last-minute changes to their routine, and the amount of gear they require will take some time to organize and put together. Planning in advance also allows you to be open to different locations, adventures, and deals.

Be Flexible with Your Destination

If you’re absolutely set on going to see Paris in the spring, it’ll be challenging to find an affordable flight or a place to stay. However, if you’re open to different locations, you can slowly scout out the best flights and hotels.

For example, when my husband and I decided to go to Europe, we cast a wide net, and considered different regions before settling on Scandinavia. We looked at Hungary, Austria, Spain, and several countries in the U.K. However, as we searched, price compared, and looked at how long flights were going to be with two toddlers, we quickly settled on a (relatively) short six-hour flight from New York to Iceland to start. Then, the rest of the trip was easy to plan. This flexibility and desire to travel (but not travel to one place in particular) allowed us to weigh our options and find truly great deals.

Use Airline Miles

This trip would not be possible without airline miles. We were able to pay for four round-trip international tickets with credit card miles that we built up over time. I sought out the help of a personal finance blogger who is an expert in credit card points, and she was able to tell me which cards to get so I could build up enough points for my family to travel. Again, this took months of planning in advance, but it was well worth it and saved us thousands of dollars in travel costs.

Seek Out Free Opportunities

Our family doesn’t go on expensive or extensive private tours while we travel. Instead, we research numerous free or inexpensive things to do that are appropriate for a young family like us. While I’m planning a trip, I extensively search family blogs and travel guides to help me find the best mix of fun and family activities in each of the countries we will be lucky enough to visit.

Book Apartments, Not Hotels

I spend more than $1,000 a month on groceries, so it costs quite a bit to feed my family whenever we travel. We have found it’s far cheaper to cook our food than to eat out every single meal, especially because we have to feed so many people now. We typically book apartments with kitchens through a vacation rental site, and really enjoy having a little more space and amenities.

While we plan to try different, unique food in each location to experience some culture, we also pack lunches and eating eggs and toast for breakfast like we do most days here in the States. This balance saves us cash, while still allowing us to indulge from time to time.

Ultimately, a young family can afford to travel to far-flung places, but they have to make planning ahead a priority. It would be hard to plan a big trip and also plan to renovate your kitchen or put your kids in an expensive summer camp in the same year. However, if traveling is something you want to do as a family, make it your goal. Plan far in advance, seek out the advice of others who have done it before you, and be flexible when it comes to making plans. If you do all of these things, then you’ll be surprised just how affordable it is to visit some of the most beautiful places in the world.

erin mayhugh photography

Catherine Alford is the go-to personal finance expert for educated, aspirational moms who want to recapture their life passions and take on a more active financial role in their families. Named the Best Contributor/Freelancer for Personal Finance in 2014, she is also the founder of BudgetBlonde.com, an award-winning personal finance blog.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

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