Traveling around the United States can get expensive! Since the US economy is relatively strong, most destinations (especially the popular tourist areas) are pretty pricey. And since we’re traveling as a family of four, that essentially doubles our costs! We are always on the lookout for ways to save money on US family travel.
Fortunately, I’ve found a few tricks over the years to help us save money on US family travel. When we traveled full time for three months around the United States, we were able to save thousands of dollars!
Even if you aren’t doing full time travel like we were, there are still ways that you and your family can save money on US family travel. Many of them are easy habits to pick up too.
This post was updated on May 15, 2020.
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Finding strategies to save money on US family travel
With the rising cost of travel in the United States, finding ways to save money is a priority for traveling families who don’t have a big budget. While many of the major expenses are unavoidable – lodging, transportation, and food – there are several ways that families can minimize those necessary expenses.
One of the biggest ways to save money, actually, is to travel slowly. By practicing slow tourism, families can take advantage of long term discounts on lodging, save money on gas, and lower their food costs by cooking more. If your family can afford to take a longer trip, it may actually save you money in the long run!
But if your vacation days only allow for a few weeks at a time, you can still take advantage of some of my money-saving vacation strategies. Here are a few ingenious budget-friendly tips you can use on your next trip around the United States.
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1. Driving instead of flying
The United States is really easy to get around. With the amount of highways connecting states, you can easily get across the country in a couple of days. All you need is a good map, like the National Geographic Road Atlas to help guide you.
While driving may not necessarily save you more money than flying, it’s often more environmentally friendly. For a family of four, driving a car from San Francisco to Boston is far more fuel efficient than taking a plane for that distance. If you have the time, consider taking a road trip.
2. Taking advantage of museum reciprocal programs
We love visiting museums when we travel. Unfortunately, museum admission fees can really add up! One way that we save money on US family travel is to take advantage of the reciprocal programs that many museums offer.
I first heard about museum reciprocal programs from a Seattle blogger friend of mine, Terumi from An Emerald City Life. Essentially, if you have a membership to a museum in your city, you can get free admission to museums in other cities using that membership.
There are two museum reciprocal programs that are available in the United States: ASTC and NARM. The best way to save money is to get a membership with a museum that is involved in both programs.
Before we left on our US road trip in 2018, I bought a membership to a science museum in Seattle for only $100. Throughout the course of our travels around the United States, we visited at least ten museums using these reciprocal programs. I estimate we saved over $250 just on museum admission alone!
3. Getting an Annual National Parks Pass
Our family loves to explore the outdoors when we travel. And one of the best things about the United States are it’s beautiful National Parks, a legacy of former president, Theodore Roosevelt.
One way we save money on US family travel is to buy an annual National Parks pass. This allows us entrance into all the United States National Parks for just an annual fee of $80.
During our 2018 road trip around the United States, we spent a lot of time exploring the National Parks in the West and elsewhere in the United states. We visited at least six National Parks, from Yellowstone in Wyoming to Shenandoah in Virginia, and even the Grand Canyon!
Each park charges an entrance fee, and I estimate that we’ve saved about $75 on entrance fees.
4. Housesitting as a way to save money on US family travel
Finding accommodations that are affordable is always a priority when you’re trying to save money on US family travel. For our family, this usually means choosing a vacation rental rather than a hotel.
An option that we’ve tried is housesitting as a family. For families, this can be a great way to experience local living AND save money on US family travel.
We housesat for a family in Washington state for a week, and took care of their dog as well. Our kids loved having a pet to take care of, and we enjoyed staying in a comfortable house without paying an arm and a leg for accommodations.
We use Trusted Housesitters to find our housesitting gigs. They charge an annual fee of $119 and has the largest options of house-sits around the world. For a week’s stay in the Seattle area, I estimate that we saved around $1,000 in accommodation costs!
5. Using Hipcamp to save big on accommodations
Another way we try and save money on US family travel is to camp instead of stay at hotels or vacation rentals. Campsites can be a fraction of the cost of lodging, especially in popular outdoor destinations.
A new sharing economy platform that has become popular recently is Hipcamp, an Airbnb-like service for camping. We used the Hipcamp app on our road trip across the United States and paid only $15-$35 per night.
On our trip so far, we’ve camped seven nights at various locations around the United States, two of those nights were Hipcamp stays. I estimate we saved about $560 on accommodations by camping rather than staying at a hotel.
If you’re not sure about using Hipcamp yet, check out this guide to finding camp sites around the United States:
Where Should We Camp Next? : A 50-State Guide to Amazing Campgrounds and Other Unique Outdoor Accommodations
6. Splitting meals to save money (and save on calories!)
When you’re trying to save money on US family travel, you sometimes need to be creative with your methods. One of the ingenious ways we’ve tried to save money is by splitting our meals at restaurants.
Eating out at restaurants when we travel can get pricey. You’re hard-pressed to find a meal that’s less than $10 these days!
Since American restaurant portions tend to be on the larger side anyway, my husband and I have been splitting our meals. This not only helps reduce our eating out costs, but it also helps us keep a handle on how much food we eat everyday.
I estimate that my husband and I save at least $10 a meal by sharing a plate rather than each of us getting our own. After three months of travel, that’s a savings of around $900!
Check out my money and budgeting posts to learn more about how to save money for family travel.
Making a commitment to save money on US family travel
It’s easier than you think to save money on US family travel. Using our money-saving tricks, I estimate we have been able to save over $2,700 on accommodations, food, and activities.
No doubt about it, traveling around the United States can get pretty expensive. Fortunately, you can save money on US family travel of your own with these five simple tips.
Have you got your own creative ways to save money on US family travel? Share them with me in the comments!
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Such a great post. This is very interesting and informative. Great for family who are planning to travel with limited budget.
Thanks Trisha! We always try to be thrifty when we travel.