Subways, Buses, and Backpacks: Teaching Kids Frugal Travel Skills

This is a guest post I just wrote for the Center for a New American Dream website.

I bumped into my friend Sarah the other day.  As we stood in the hot, dry Colorado air I asked about her summer.  Turns out her family had just returned from their annual trip to Norway where her husband’s parents live.

I tried to contain my jealousy, which I found wasn’t easy in 100 degree heat.  Ah, peaceful, idyllic, never-sweltering Scandinavia.  Staying with grandparents, eating delicious dairy products, and sleeping between crisp, clean linens.  A vacation where your biggest concern is which berry patch to visit each afternoon.

My family had recently returned from a different kind of vacation.  On our trip my husband Todd and I discussed how helpful it would have been to have relatives in some of the East Coast cities we were visiting.  Not only would it have lowered the price tag of the vacation, but it would have allowed more down time between explorations.  And there probably would have been fewer wrong turns and buses taken during our forays.

on the NYC subway

For this year’s vacation, we extended our familiar Washington DC trip, where I have family, to include New York City and Boston.  As our kids get older they are increasingly interested in US history and geography.  Our home state of Colorado only has so much to offer in these departments.  Additionally, a while back our 13 year-old son attended a lecture by Peace Corps volunteers.  By the end of the talk, he was inspired to do a future Peace Corps stint – and his enthusiasm has been consistent for over a year.

As Todd and I have pondered our son’s travel visions, we’ve realized that, although our kids are excited about seeing the world, they have few skills for the budget traveling they will probably undertake as late teens and 20-somethings.

We’ve concluded that we won’t be able to offer our children Europe any time soon, but frugal travel is something we can definitely provide!  Since we didn’t have family in New York City or Boston our upcoming trip was an ideal time to begin actively teaching our kids feet-on-the-ground travel.

For starters, our trip included no rental cars, no taxis, and no Broadway shows or expensive activities.  However, there was a train (from Washington DC to Boston and back through New York City), and there were subways in three cities, local buses, and many miles of walking – with stops for frappés, cannoli, or deli sandwiches depending on the city.  In the end we discovered that feet-on-the-ground travel was not only inexpensive, it was also a green way to travel – another skill we wanted our kids to learn.

For the six frugal travel strategies we used, click over to the Center for a New American Dream.

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