Traveling to New York City for my grandmother’s 89th birthday was one of my top priorities in 2019. The only problem was figuring out how we would travel across the country with my 2-year-old son and my 3-year-old daughter. We had to be flexible about how we planned our flights and our budget for this New York City trip. On top of that, we had to find a place to stay since my grandmother’s home was already full at Dominican capacity. So, here is how we managed to travel on a budget with 2 toddlers to New York City this holiday season.
Booking our flights
Remember to use ‘Private Browsing’ when searching for flights
I follow a lot of accounts on social media who share some awesome tips on travel hacks. So, while scrolling on Instagram I learned about the benefits of searching for flights in private browse mode. If a site recognizes that you’re consistently looking for flights they will start increasing the prices and advertising to you. One thing they recommended was to search for flights in private browse mode on your phone or on your computer. This way they won’t be able to manipulate you into buying flights or other accommodations too quickly.
Save money by booking flights the day after the holidays
Since most of my family was traveling to NYC to celebrate Thanksgiving and my grandmother’s birthday, we naturally searched for flights before Thanksgiving. The only thing we found was extremely expensive flights even though it was months away. After doing some date switching, we realized that we would save around $1,000 if we traveled to NYC the day after Thanksgiving. We had a big decision to make, 1. Skip New York trip all together 2. Pick a super expensive flight before Thanksgiving or 3. Pick a less expensive flight and only attend the Birthday party. For me attending my grandmother’s Birthday party was more important, so we picked option #3. Traveling on the off-peak or right after the holidays is one of the top ways we save money on flights. We paid about $395 per ticket for 4 seats, totaling $1,580.
Accessories for traveling with toddlers
One of the first things we decided to buy was a car seat for the flight for our son Lee. He just turned 2 and he probably would have been a handful during the long flight. So we decided that a lightweight car seat was a must. I did a lot of research and every blog recommended the Cosco Scenera® Next DLX Convertible Car Seat. It weighs about 10 lbs, which is much lighter than our everyday car seat, and only costs around $45. We only used it for the flights and for the trips to and from the airport.
A good thing to know when traveling with a car seat is that you’re only allowed to install it next to a window. At some airports they allow families with car seats to board a little early to install the car seat without the rush. After a few tries, we got the hang of installing it very quickly. It was so lightweight and easy to use, that I even carried it around at the airport. It was a great asset to our trip and would highly recommend it for travel.
For our daughter Raelyn, we knew she would do fine during the flight without a car seat. So we decided to not travel with two car seats and just hold her during the car rides. Since New York City is such a fast-paste city, they have a law that exempts the need for a car seat when driving in a taxi. We definitely took advantage of that and made it a priority to travel by taxi for our long and even short commutes.
The next thing we got for the kids were two Kolcraft Cloud Lightweight Umbrella Stroller from Walmart for $26.88. We also got a stroller connector from Amazon for $16.99. The idea was to create a double stroller with the connector, but it was a fail. The two front wheels kept bumping into each other and I wasn’t able to push the stroller. So we only took one umbrella stroller to NYC for easy traveling. We used it at the airports and we checked it in at the gate at no additional cost. A great thing about the San Diego Airport was that we were given early access to TSA check-in and boarding due to us being a family with all the baby equipment. This didn’t happen in New York at all.
The original idea with the strollers was to make traveling and sightseeing a one-step breeze for NYC. But with it raining and snowing, we didn’t think it was a good idea for this trip. Next time we visit NYC we will definitely come in less weather restricting time to do some sightseeing with the kids.
OMG, we left the stroller in LAX!
During our returning flight, our connecting flight took a little longer than expected to land at LAX. Our flight to SAN was already boarded and being held for us and a few other passengers on our flight. So, unfortunately, we had to leave our stroller at the gate to catch our next flight. As of right now, we’re still waiting to hear from the airline if they’ve found it. Since it was such an inexpensive stroller and we bought two, I am not too pressed about losing $26.88.
Dramamine Motion Sickness Tablets
The hardest part about flying with kids is the motion sickness and when their ears start to pop. One thing that I was recommended by two moms was to get Dramamine Motion Sickness Relief for Kids. OMG, it only cost $3.97 and this helped my kids so much since my kids usually get car sick during road trips. Right, when boarding started I handed my kids one melt in your mouth tablet. My son didn’t want to take it, but it did taste like a grape so that helped.
The next biggest issues was my daughter’s ear-popping pain. I brought my son his old pacifier to help ease that pain and it worked due to the chewing motion. But for my daughter, I had no ideas. I did some research before our returning flight and found that sucking a lollipop could help with the ear-popping pain. When we got to the airport we went hunting for lollipops and found some with a toy. She was very happy and this also took her mind off of the ear-popping situation.
Entertainment (Tablets, Headphones & Portable Chargers)
The next thing I got was some earmuff headphones for the kids called CozyPhones for $16.49 and $18.97. We got them on Amazon and used our Amazon points to get one of the headphones for free. They worked fine, but the kids hated putting them on since they’re not used to putting anything over their ears. I think for kids who like putting hats or earmuffs on these headphones would be great. It also canceled a bit of the sound waves that bothered their ears on the way up and down.
One last tip I would recommend is to bring a portable charger and some type of electronic tablet with games and movies pre-downloaded. One thing a lot of parents don’t know is that you can download your kid’s favorite movie or show off of Netflix and Disney + for free. This helps since you don’t want to buy each kid wifi on the flight.
Lodging and Transportation in NYC
Yes, I know we all know about Airbnb and comparing it to hotels or staying with friends or family. Since we were the last to arrive at my grandmother’s, there were about 10-14 family members staying over on any given night. We didn’t think adding 4 more people to the slumber party was a good idea. So we decided to get the closest available lodging to my grandmother’s home. Which ended up being a beautiful 2 bedroom Airbnb basement apartment about 1.2 miles from my grandmother’s. For half the trip we decided to stay there paying around $150 per night for 3 nights. Then once family guests start to head home we stayed at my grandmother’s.
It’s funny because at first, most of my family members were upset that we didn’t stay at my grandmother’s. But surprisingly, this worked out so well that all of my family members wished they would have gotten an Airbnb. Because after a few days of being underneath each other, everyone wants a little me time. Moral of the story, some things in life are worth saving money and others are investments for your little bubble.
Curb: On-demand taxi service app
One thing that I was concerned with was riding around without a car seat for our 2-year-old son and our 3-year-old daughter. As I mentioned earlier, one of the cool things about taxis in NYC is that you’re exempt from needing a car seat for young children. Commuting to my grandmother’s from our Airbnb was a breeze. We sat the kids on our lap and enjoyed a cuddling 1.2 miles ride to my grandmother’s. We used the app called Curb, which is just like Uber and Lyft but for Taxis. Each ride costs about $8-$10, tip included.
This app worked great until we started noticing a $20 fee. We weren’t sure if it was just a holding fee or if it was a mistake. We got paranoid and stopped using the app until we figured out what was going on. But once we got home we saw that the $20 per ride was returned to the card. I didn’t like the experience of being charged a $20 holding fee per ride. It felt off and should have been made clear that it was going to be returned. Luckily, my aunt is a taxi driver and drove us in her taxi to the airport free of charge.
We’re pretty comfortable using Uber when traveling, so when it came to getting to the airport we simply scheduled a ride. We had all of our luggage and hooked my son’s car seat into the car with no complaints. Uber has a guideline that allows extra time to hook your car seat in with no hassle from the drivers. New York City did something cool and now has an option to order an Uber with a car seat already installed for an extra $10 fee. It was nice to know that we had this option for those long traffic-jammed rides in New York.
OMG, we left the carseat in the Uber!
A funny moment of the trip was after getting dropped off at our Airbnb and the Uber driver asked if we had everything and we said yes. That was a lie, we left the car seat in the Uber and had to call the driver to come back. My husband gave him a cash tip for going out of his way and coming back. I was so happy we didn’t lose the car seat.
For our short commutes, we took an uber and just held the kids as if it was a taxi. The rides cost the same as the taxi. The drivers didn’t say a thing about us holding the kids and not being in a car seat. Instead, the Uber drivers shared tips on how to get discounts for our future Uber rides. One tip they told us was to check our email for discounts from Uber once you’ve completed a certain amount of rides. They also warned us about the $3 fee for if your Uber gets canceled. They recommended to call customer service and that they usually will return your $3 with no hassle. And for the last tip with Uber, you’re actually able to get 5% off your ride if you add funds to your Uber Cash account.
Saving Money on Food and Drinks
The greatest thing about my Dominican family is that they can’t cook in small portions. They had enough food and drinks to feed a village. Just trying to finish the large plates of food was an extreme sport on its own. We literally didn’t spend a dime on food nor drinks the whole trip. The only time we spent money on food was during our one date night that cost $70. I also had the privilege of buying my grandmother’s birthday cake at Valencia’s Bakery for about $50.
Turning a F**k up into a date night
We ended up booking our Airbnb for one night too long. On Sunday all of our family started heading back home and my grandmother’s home was an empty nest. Checking out one day early would have saved us a little over $200. To take advantage of this planning error, my husband and I decided to do a date night. We left the kids with my sister at my grandmother’s for the night and the next morning check out of the Airbnb without having to deal with the kids. This made checking out much easier since we had a lot of baggage and baby gear. So in one way it worked out and in another, it did cost us a little more money.
Things that worked out
One of the things that worked out surprisingly well, was our flights to New York City. But to be honest, at first, it was a mess. We originally booked a direct flight to the JFK airport in NYC from San Diego, CA. That was going to be a quick less stressful flight in our opinion. But our flight got switched all over the place with multiple stops to get to our destination. As a mom traveling with 2 toddlers this was a no go. So I called the airlines to see if we could get a better flight.
Well during my call with the airlines I asked if we could fly to La Guardia instead of JFK. Since my grandmother lives in the Bronx, the closest airport is actually La Guardia. I never buy flights to La Guardia airport because the flights are always more expensive than JFK. So when they said yes, I did a happy dance and switched my flight to La Guardia. The reason I did a happy dance is that I secretly got a more expensive flight than the one I booked. Since the Bronx is so much closer to La Guardia airport, the Uber ride was much cheaper too. This was a big win that saved us about $120 per ticket and $35 on our uber fair, equalling $515 in savings.
Our total budget
We budgeted $3,000 for our family trip to New York City and it actually cost us about $2,8000. The reality is that traveling as a family of four is very expensive and I’m not going to sugar coat it for anyone. Setting a realistic budget, saving, and not going into debt for my grandmother’s birthday was very satisfying. I know it might sound crazy saving $3,000 for a trip, but it’s possible to save for a holiday trip using a sinking fund. A sinking fund is one of the most functional ways to save with purpose and enjoy the most important moments of life without the financial burden.