Travel by Air: 10 Tips for Saving Money and Traveling Light

Traveling by car as much as economically possible, occasionally we fly to a destination (like Hawaii) in order to make the most of a road trip. In our family of five, saving on expenses like checked baggage fees, food, and parking are our primary concerns when traveling by air.

Apart from using our travel card points, here are ten tips we regularly employ for saving money and traveling light:

  1. Clean Out Your Wallet: Even thinking about losing a purse or wallet on a vacation is a bummer. In an attempt to minimize the possible “worst case scenario,” I leave grocery store, library, gym, and local rebate cards at home. Taking my chances, the coupons stay at home too.
  2. Remove Extra Keys: In the same line of thinking as streamlining your wallet, why take extra keys with you? Pack as little key chain weight as possible, leaving the work and extra car keys at home.
  3. Plastic Bags: Plastic bags are great for wet bathing suits, seashells, stomach flu emergencies, and whatever else the TSA needs to examine at airport security. I always keep an extra gallon-size bag in the front pocket of my suitcase just in case.
  4. Laundry Detergent/Quarters: In an attempt to avoid as many checked baggage fees as humanly possible, we’ve been known to frequent laundry mats and wash the occasional item in a hotel sink. We recommend a small bag of powder detergent and at least four dollars in quarters.
  5. Reusable Grocery Bag: Knowing “souvenirs happen,” we have a reusable grocery bag packed inside a suitcase. Not only is a reusable grocery bag handy for day trips and hauling items around with you, it can fit under the airplane seat and allow for a little bit of foot room.
  6. Reusable Water Bottles: Midwestern cheap in the thriftiest possible way, we travel with a reusable water bottle for every person in our family. Past security, we fill the bottles at a soda or drinking fountain (or at the groovy new airport drinking fountains with water bottle filling stations).
  7. Slip Off Shoes: In avoiding checked baggage fees, we have become luggage Sherpas. Slowing down any efficiency TSA has set to establish in the last decade, our recent pass through security took no fewer than 15 items through the x-ray scanner. While children and senior citizens enjoy the luxury of a fully-clothed passage through the body scanner, adults can expedite the process by avoiding shoe laces as much as possible.
  8. Snacks: Airport food is a total rip off. Liquids aside (see #6), families can avoid paying $10 for a gas-station sandwich by with pre-packaged snacks. Even on a return flight, a quick pre-trip stop at a local grocery store will save a bit of money on the back end.
  9. Activity Kits: On the subject of spending too much money at an airport convenience store, no human being should ever have to pay $9.78 for a Dora the Explorer coloring book (apparently this is the going rate in Atlanta). At home, give each kid a small container or bag to decorate and encourage them to pack activity books, simple games, pencils and crayons, or a favorite type of toy. In theory, this should keep them entertained during layovers and the portion of the flight where electronic devices are to remain powered down.
  10. Travel Shovel: Totally unrelated to saving money or traveling light, but important for those of us living in the frozen tundra, remember to pack a collapsible shovel if you intend to park in the economy lot. Nothing says “welcome back to reality” like a three foot snow drift.

Do you have any tips or tricks for traveling light with kids in tow? Leave us a comment, we’d love to know!


About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine,, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at