5 Tips for Budget-Friendly Family Travel

Summer is in full swing, and it seems everyone is going somewhere. If your social media feed is anything like mine, people are out and about! For some this means a Galveston day trip, and for others, a beach vacation that requires a lengthier drive. And yet for others, a staycation is the way to go. We haven’t traveled much the last few years, but this summer I had the itch! And I wanted to do something different … explore somewhere new, but without the hassle of a super long car ride with three kids, using too many vacation hours, and pricey hotel rooms. Travel gets expensive!

We just returned from a weekend getaway in San Antonio, where our sponsors at San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter, located on San Antonio’s Riverwalk, graciously partnered with us to showcase some Alamo City hospitality while sticking to a budget.

From the get-go, we took advantage of the hotel’s perfect location in the heart of the city. Friday afternoon brought a Riverwalk boat tour, Mexican food dinner, and we even a free laser light show on a local cathedral’s wall. On Saturday we slept in, ate breakfast from our snack stash in the room, and headed out to The Alamo where the boys really enjoyed checking out the old weapons and cannons. Boys will be boys, after all!

After a quick lunch, we used our vacation splurge on The DoSeum — a perfect, indoor {read :: AC!} activity place for the kids to be kids. We wore ourselves out exploring indoor exhibits and even enjoyed cooling off at the outdoor water features, and then took the recommendation of a friend and sought out The Cove for dinner since we were already driving about in the area. We definitely saved time and gas instead of traveling back to our room and deciding from there, and the restaurant was the perfect blend of kid-friendly food and park fun with adult treats like local craft beer on tap and organic, sustainable, local fare to fill up on!

We managed to squeeze in a quick walk to the local Yanaguana Garden before check-out, and we were spoiled by the beautiful city art and extraordinary play structures for the kids to get some energy out. Best of all — it was free! At the end of the day we made new memories, stuck to our budget, and grew in our relationships with one another, and in my head that’s what a vacation is all about. While it’s not always feasible to travel, I’ve got 5 tips for budget-friendly family travel to help you and yours get out there on your own adventures!

5 Tips for Budget-Friendly Family Travel | Houston Moms Blog

1.} Do Your Research

Decide on the type of vacation you want with your family and use local guides to find free and/or inexpensive activities. HoustonSan Antonio, and lots of the City Moms Blog Sister Sites have great resources for experiencing their cities with kids. Also, check local listings online for city events or discounts, and be sure to look up your destination’s deals on Groupon or Living Social for local coupons. And finally, consider calling the hotel’s concierge to scope out best kid-friendly eateries and activities. Many hotels also host free events during summer months for family fun. The Marriott Rivercenter provided great options when I noted that we had three young kids and wanted to keep activities easy on our schedules and budget.

5 Tips for Budget-Friendly Family Travel | Houston Moms Blog

2.} Pack Like a Pro

This may be the best way to save some dollars when traveling with your family. In my bag I made sure to include breakfast bars, bananas, chips, fruit snacks, goldfish, cookies, and peanut butter crackers. In the ice chest we packed milk, carrots, sliced red and green peppers, grapes, and even watermelon that I didn’t want to spoil while we were away. I tried to alternate healthy and not-so-healthy snacks along the way because after all, vacation means treating yourself a bit! There may have even been a bottle of wine {and corkscrew} and adult snacks for early evenings at the hotel. Pack some ziplock bags for loading in the hotel before you head on adventures, and on that note, bring a couple of gallons of water {depending on the length of your stay} and reusable water bottles. You will save a ton on purchasing plastic water bottles and can save that money for an ice cream treat or sno cone in the heat!

When packing, leave the toiletries behind! Hotels provide the necessities, and you not only save your stash at home, but also reduce the risk of leaving your travel bottles or even full size bottle in the shower when you leave!

5 Tips for Budget-Friendly Family Travel | Houston Moms Blog

3.} Skip the Souvenirs

There are a few ways to handle this. One, don’t entertain them at all! Bring your cameras {kid versions welcome!} and take lots of photos instead of making purchases. Don’t stress about posed shots, but capture the moment when you can. Keep an eye on Shutterfly deals; they often feature free prints for summer or free photo books, and your family can relive the memories without the costly clutter.  Another option is a souvenir budget which would work well with older kids who most likely make better purchases than those of my crew. Give kids a set amount of money to spend and avoid having to say, “No” for a large portion of your trip.

5 Tips for Budget-Friendly Family Travel | Houston Moms Blog

4.} Eat Smart

So you’ve packed your breakfast items, water, and snacks for the trip, but trying new restaurants or splurging at some of your favorite chains is often a fun part of travel. Consider splitting lunches or dinner entrees. After all, you’ve got lots of snacks back at the room if you get hungry later. And when eating out with multiple children, let kids share items off the kid’s menu or even off your own plates. There is always plenty to go around, and if you kids are anything like mine, they aren’t huge eaters when in new places.

5 Tips for Budget-Friendly Family Travel | Houston Moms Blog

5.} Earn Rewards / Hotel Discounts

Lots of hotels offer discounts and rewards to make traveling more budget-friendly for families. The Marriott is is making Texas summer travel well worth it with their summer event. We have small kids, and air travel isn’t in the budget, but exploring our home state is! {And for those coming from out of state, the rewards are yours to earn too!} With a list of great Texas destinations, Marriott is offering its Marriott Rewards® members the opportunity to earn points faster and easier by staying at these participating hotels. The program is free to join, and points are earned right away. Members also enjoy free standard in-room Wi-Fi {for posting all of those fun pictures your took from your day’s adventure}, among other exclusive offers. Through September 5, 2016, members can earn 2,000 bonus Marriott Reward® points {starting on the second stay} and can enjoy a 2% discount during midweek stays or 5% discount for weekends.

With these offers and promotions, your family can not only enjoy budget-friendly travel this summer to some great destinations, but also earn free nights and discounts to enjoy later in the year! Check out how you can become a Marriott Rewards® member and get on the fast-track to budget-friendly trips!

We are grateful for the San Antonio Marriot Rivercenter for opening their doors to us for exploring San Antonio on a budget with a family. We are feeling a bit more like seasoned travelers after this trip, and we look forward to taking more family trips soon. Let us know your tips and tricks for traveling with your family on a budget!

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Jenn is an English teacher turned stay at home mom to boys Wyatt {2010}, John {2013}, and Abram {2014}. South Louisiana born and raised, North Louisiana educated, and Texas “polished,” she has found Houston to be home with her husband for the past ten years. After infertility struggles, in 2010 she traded in A Tale of Two Cities for Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and has since been busy discovering ways to learn while playing, maintaining a semi-scheduled family life, and integrating both Texas and Louisiana culture into her family. Besides making memories with her boys full time, she enjoys reading, running, crafting, cooking, and football. Y’all stop by When In Doubt, Add More Salt to read more about family adventures with the boys and Jenn’s thoughts on hot summers and Pinterest pin attempts, and her love/hate relationship with March Madness brackets.


  1. I find it awesome that you recommended that a family should ask a local hotel on the nearest kid-friendly eateries before heading on a vacation. In my opinion, they can also save money by hiring a bus rental service to take them to and from a destination. Doing this, for example, would help other relatives with a car save on gas and keep everyone together at one place.


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