|Seriously...this is much more fun than Disney|
Having travelled a fair amount with my kids, particularly in the US, I've learned a few things over the years about how not to spend your money. Here are a few ways I can think of to cut down on expenses during your holiday.
1. My number one budgeting tip -- don't eat out too often with small children if you can avoid it. You will pay extortionate amounts for food they don't like and drinks they don't finish. If you are self-catering, great -- buy delicious food for yourself and eat in, and cook the kids the stuff they like. You'll also be able to afford that good bottle of wine, instead of having to pick the cheapest bottle on the menu.
2. If you are eating out, check out whether or not kids' menus are actually cheaper. We've now worked out that for two kids, the Pizza Express kids' menu adds up to more than if you buy an adult Margarita (pizza, not the drink!) and split it between them. My kids never, ever want the pudding or the "babyccino" (being too full up on pizza) so it's really not worth it. Oh, and take crayons. Or you'll end up buying expensive drinks just to drown out the noise of the bored children complaining, and ice cream to keep them from going crazy.
3. Consider travelling by car to your destination, instead of flying. If your kids are OK in the car, it will save you money -- flights plus car hire add up to a lot (particularly when care hire firms whack on extra charges for car seats etc). You can also take all your stuff and paraphenalia that goes with having children -- and avoid extra bag charges from mean airlines (BA, I'm looking at you here). Take plenty of audio entertainment for the car -- we enjoyed listening to Harry Potter on the way to France this year.
4. If you are doing long drives, a good plan is to stay overnight at somewhere with a pool for when you arrive. This may not sound like budgeting, but actually not all hotels with pools are expensive (in America, we always went for the Holiday Inn Express chain; it was relatively budget, but all the hotels had small pools). It will also save your sanity, as what you really don't need after a long drive is manic, screaming kids in a hotel room.
5. If you do have to hire a car - see above -- avoid the car seat charges by packing a blow-up car seat. We have a brand called Bubblebum. Yes, the Littleboys giggle about the name and say they're "squishy", but these seats are incredibly useful and fit nicely into your luggage.
6. If you want to save money, avoid theme parks. Honestly. Take your children swimming in a lake, hiking up a mountain, make sandcastles at the beach. They will have just as much fun, probably won't have any meltdowns and you'll be about two hundred pounds better off.
7. If you're going to a city, do your homework first about travel options - is there a family travelcard, does it include museums/sightseeing? In San Francisco, we managed to get a travel ticket that included several attractions. Otherwise, you could spend a fortune on just getting around.
8. Also in cities - don't try and do too many museums in a day. Not only will you pay through the nose (most places, unlike London, charge for museums), your children will want to kill you and you'll end up buying them expensive ice creams/toys to keep them from melting down....
9. If you are determined to do lots of museums, check out in advance whether your chosen destination has free ones. Washington DC is a good option as the Smithsonian Museums are free. Also, if you visit New York, bear in mind that some museums, like the Museum of Natural History, advertise a high price for your visit which (if you read the small print) is actually optional. You can pay $1 to visit that museum, as long as you are prepared for some dirty looks at the ticket booth.
10. Last one -- and this might be obvious, but I still haven't quite learned from it -- avoid that museum gift shop! Your kids will want to buy some piece of utter tat, or a toy that they will love for ten minutes and then forget all about. You'll find it in two years time lying at the bottom of the toy box and wonder why you spent twenty five dollars of your hard earned cash on it. Trust me.