The Top Family Travel Resources that Saved Us Over $12K
Looking to book a family vacation, but want to make sure you are getting the best value and stretching your dollars as far as they will go? Then this list is for you. Below you will find the companies we continue to work with, the travel gear we consider a must have, and how we save money when traveling.
We receive lots of questions about the tools we use when planning a trip. These are our top resources we use when planning our vacations and holidays. These travel resources can save you not only money, but time (which in the land of parenting can be more valuable!).
When we travel, we try our hardest to use airline miles for the long haul flights. Using milage credit cards, we have been able to fly internationally 10 times. These flights include Chicago to Guatemala City and back, Chicago to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires to Chicago, Denver to Rome, Paris to Denver, Denver to London, London to Los Angeles, Chicago to Madrid, and Split to Chicago. I estimate we have saved over $12,000 on international flights by using miles.
Our favorite credit cards for international travel are the Chase Sapphire Card (for those who prefer United and the Star Alliance partners) and the American Airlines Citi Card (for those who prefer American Airlines and the One World Alliance). I recommend choosing one airline partnership to start and use the credit card for all of your daily purchases. With usual signup bonuses, it's surprising how quickly you will rack up enough miles to redeem for a long haul flight. Just be sure to pay your bill on time and in full each month.
Once we arrive to our destinations, we use low cost carriers like EasyJet or RyanAir to fly around Europe. You may not believe how cheap some of these flights are! We recently flew from Basel, Switzerland to Dubrovnik, Croatia for less than $200 for all three of us including checking a bag and upgrading to extra legroom!
Another great way to find low cost flights is using Skyscanner. They have the best options for finding low fares. If you are flexible or just starting to plan your vacation, check out their everywhere option. Simply put in your departing airport and choose "Everywhere" as your destination. You can then see what destinations are offering super low fares! I always start our searches here to see if there is a low cost flight before booking ANYTHING.
When we stay for 30ish days in a location we prefer to rent an apartment. Often we find fully furnished 2 bedroom apartments for less than a standard hotel room and way less for our unfurnished apartment in downtown Chicago. Our favorite way to find these apartments is Airbnb. I know some of you may have heard bad stories from some travelers, but we have always had a decent experience. Sure there may be a little inconvenience here or there (there are some inconveniences with hotels too), but we've never felt unsafe and we enjoy living amongst locals. Now that we're on the subject, I'll be sure to post our top tips for renting with Airbnb. We have learned a few tricks along the way.
For quick jaunts, weekends or anything less than a week, we generally will stay in a hotel. The shared space helps Eleanor adjust quickly and hotels are often more centrally located meaning it's easier to see the main sites, find restaurants we all enjoy, and grab transportation. Our favorite sites for booking hotels are as follows:
This is the best site for hotels in Europe
We use this for booking hotels in the USA
This is our favorite site for last minute hotel reservations
And if you are feeling adventurous, you can score DEEP discounts with this site, but you will not know where you are staying until the hotel is booked. This worked out great for us in Chicago when we did a staycation with friends and landed a room at the James Hotel for less than $100/night!
We try not to rent cars for the entire time we are on vacation, but instead try to squeeze in short road trips, like this one to Ronda and Cordoba from Seville. However, sometimes it cannot be avoided when you choose to visit a smaller city or one without great public transportation. We are headed to San Diego later this year and will need to have a car for sure as the city is so spread out. It adds considerable cost and requires a parking space which is often an additional cost as well.
But, if you must rent a car, we recommend using Holiday Autos. This is an aggregator site that checks prices all across the web so you get the best deal. We also recommend paying for the rental car with this travel rewards credit card so that you are covered with the additional travel and car insurance that's already included as a card benefit.
Once you are on the ground, how are you going to get from place to place? If we are not flying a low cost carrier around Europe, we usually enjoy a nice train ride. If that is not an option, the bus is usually great too. In fact, our trip from Munich to Zurich was on a bus and it was as good if not better than a train because it did not stop along the way. It included a table for 4, free wifi, vending for snacks and coffee, and outlets for our electronics! We use Rome2Rio to book our train and bus tickets as it works great in multiple countries and with multiple train operators.
Oh, the list could go on here, but we are light packers so we try to keep it to a minimum. This is our list of MUST HAVE travel gear and services.
A Great Bag: This one from Osprey is Brett's favored bag of the moment.
Packing Cubes: I cannot wait to get my hands on a new set of these when we make a pitstop back in the states.
Cell Phone Plan: We love this plan with T-Mobile. It covers us when traveling throughout the States and across Europe and we automatically have free texting and data. Phone calls (not made over wifi/FaceTime) cost anywhere from $0.20 - $0.25 per minute, which we feel is quite the bargain as we do not have to pay additional for the plan when we travel.
Travel Insurance: We always use travel insurance when traveling long term and on family vacations. We often do not use insurance when traveling to visit family or friends for short visits. That's because a lot of our travel is already covered by the travel rewards credit card. I like to book extra insurance for long trips because you never know what can happen on the road and it's complete peace of mind that should we need something or have an emergency arise, there is someone that will be there to help us.
Toys and Games: Eleanor is getting into LEGOs and more imaginative play so we are getting more creative with toys. We've brought along more characters like these and purchased some LEGO figures on the road. These two things plus some craft supplies and water can keep us busy on slow days as long as we are willing to get down and play along with her.
Learning Supplies: Since we are traveling long term we need to keep up on Eleanor's studies. We are currently working through teaching her to read and have found this book to be a great resource. We are also using our Amazon Prime membership to check out first reader books and read them on our tablets. Kindle Unlimited is something we have been considering as well as less than $10 per month seems like a bargain for swapping out books quickly and easily while traveling. You can get a free Kindle Unlimited trial here (update: we’re using it and it’s been great!).
Most of our trips are self-planned and independent travel. This means that we do not go on pre-planned trips with tour groups. But, we do like to work with groups to book local food tours or guided tours to attractions. It can be hard to find guides that work with kids, but we have found some really great options with Devour Seville, and Get Your Guide.
Do you have any favorites I missed? What products or services do you use over and over again? I am always looking to add to our resources so send suggestions in the comments below.
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Some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we'll earn a commission if you make a purchase. The companies listed here are recommended because they're great and have made our travels better. If you are ready to book your trip and would like to support this website in some way, using these links will help do exactly that. If you have any questions about the companies, products, or service, please contact us.