How to Find Free Fun for Kids on Family Vacations

by Linsey Knerl on 11 October 2011 (7 comments)

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Traveling with little ones can be stressful. It requires more planning, additional room for all the extra stuff, and quite a bit more patience, as well. There is one major perk to bringing your toddlers and infants on the road, however; many of the activities and meals for children under five are free! Here is a quick guide to finding all the no-cost goodies for your youngsters.

Resorts and All Inclusives

Many of the big-name all inclusive resorts already boast free accommodations and meals for children under age seven, and they are forthcoming in their advertising and vacation package language. Other destinations aren't so obvious, however, requiring parents to do a little digging before they book. For the most updated promotions available for families with small kids, do a quick search for resorts in your area, and visit the website for their FAQ section. Most are clear that they will allow free room, board, meals, and even daycare for one child per paying adult. (Other destinations will allow up to four non-paying children per family.) If you can work out much of your eating and sleeping time to occur while on resort grounds, you have much of your vacation cost for the kids covered!

Bonus Tip:  Most booking sites have long ignored the needs of families, but that's quickly changing! Expedia, for example, has expanded their themed search engine to offer deals and packages rated high among those with children. While it may not be advertised prominently on the home page, using a travel booking service's “site map” may help you drill down on just those deals that will apply to you.

Museums, Zoos, and Parks

For most kids under age 2, these types of tourist destinations are almost always free. To accommodate families with active toddlers, however, many activity-centered stops also offer free admissions to kids between the ages of two and five, as well. To take advantage of these offers, however, you will need to plan ahead. Many of these deals are only available in the coupon booklets available from the local Visitors Bureau or the website of the destination. If you really want to see a hot tourist stop and can't find any good bargains, however, don't give up; many times, you can call the local bureau and ask about unadvertised deals. They are likely to hook you up. (Find the number or email for the bureau you are interested in by doing a simple Google search for the city name and “visitor's bureau.”)

Bonus Tip: While still a growing site with limited cities at this time, MyKidsGoFree.com has free kids' promotions listed for particular urban areas around the country. Be sure to check it out before you leave home!

Restaurants

If you haven't thought through the cost of eating while on the road with kids, you may be in for a surprise when your dinner check comes. To avoid blowing the budget completely, it's wise to pack healthy snacks and non-perishable meal options for the times you aren't located near an affordable eatery. For the meals where you want to experience a night out, you can find many establishments that cater to the kidlets for free. Start with a site like KidsMealDeals.com (or its handy mobile app) to get listings for restaurants that won't charge for little mouths on specific days of the week. The search engine is easy to use and nets dozens of results!

Bonus Tip: Have a tiny eater who can't quite handle an entire kids meal? Skip ordering the extras, and allow your little one to share with you. Since most adult meals consist of extra-large portions and additional calories, order a side of steamed veggies or rice and an extra plate. Splitting is healthy and frugal!

While it may be exciting to remember the days of packing a carry-on bag and dashing out the door, having a family means taking additional time to carefully plot your every travel move. You can afford to bring your children with you on your next vacation; it will just take an open mind and extra flexibility to do it for around the same price as your single days. (You will also want to be sure to frequently update blog feeds, apps, and email newsletters from your favorite travel sites so that you never miss a deal.)

What savings strategies do you use to cheaply entertain the family on your travel adventures?

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Julie Rains's picture

Stop by the visitor's bureau or park ranger's office to find out about free activities. You can discover historical treasures,walking tours, and hikes -- very often at no cost. You get official info combined with local insights, usually a great combination for finding things to do.

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Carolyn

One of the first places I check is http://www.citiesonthecheap.com/findyourcity This is great for families with kids, but also for anyone. The Cities on the Cheap blogs are all independently owned and written by people who live in (or are well-acquainted) with the cities they cover. I've also sent my friends and relatives to the site when they tell me about their plans for travel.

I'm a blogger with the network (my city is Wichita), and there are blogs for NYC, San Francisco Bay Area, New Orleans, Atlanta, Miami, and lots of other cities (both large and small)! We do them because we are passionate about what our cities have to offer and want to help others enjoy them affordably.

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Carolyn

Sorry. That link should have hyphens: http://www.citiesonthecheap.com/find-your-city/ :)

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Guest

go to Washington DC.

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Justin

Hi Linsey,
Great post for finding ways to be more frugal while on vacation. My wife and I always split our food into to thirds to share with my son. We also order water with our meal and maybe one soda to split between us.

Guest's picture

National Zoo in DC is free admission. You can always sign up for annual membership with local museums or science centers or aquariums and visit often to get the money worth...

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matt

Awesome ideas for those traveling with kids. I knew that it was a pain in the butt for my parents when we were growing up to always find stuff for us to do to keep busy. Now days there is so many things that are kid friendly vs back when I was young. Disneyland is always a good vacation if you can afford it. Thanks for the tips.