How the travel expert does it: Samantha Brown’s money-saving family trip hacks

For over 20 years, Samantha Brown has been showing television audiences the best places to visit and how to make the most of every adventure. As the former host of several Travel Channel series like “Great Hotels” and “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love”, this globetrotting expert has explored destinations around the world.

But some of her most insightful tips come from her own experiences traveling with kids. As a mom of 10-year-old twins, she knows first-hand the joys and challenges of family adventures. In a recent chat with Motherly, Samantha dished on her must-have gear, budget tips, and sanity-saving travel tricks for epic vacations with little ones in tow.

Samantha Brown’s best tips for traveling on a budget

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to go broke making lasting memories. “Kids just want to run, yell, and laugh,” says Brown. Her cost-saving tips? Book lodging outside of the touristy areas and find stays near parks and community centers with free amenities. “My family recently stayed on Marco Island in Florida which is more upscale. We found the Community Center where everything was free for residents as well as visitors: basketball, billiards, ping pong, and bocce ball. It was incredible.”

Another travel cost that adds up fast is food–but there’s definitely ways to economize. “Eat a big breakfast since that’s usually the cheapest meal of the day, have light snacks on hand for lunch, and then eat out for dinner. Or choose lunch as your biggest meal around 4 pm–lunch menus are similar in size but usually have cheaper pricing than dinner entrees. Dinner can be something light or take advantage of a grocery store’s prepared food section,” offers Brown.

When it comes to vacation, generally flights and hotels are the biggest expense. Brown has a trick up her sleeve for that too–and it’s not one that makes hunting down deals a part-time job. Instead, Brown relies on Klarna, a buy now, pay later service that allows customers to split larger purchases into interest-free installments. “Even though I see a lot of influencers talking about using points, that’s a strategic game in itself. Not to mention summer can be a tough time to redeem those points unless you are super flexible. This is why I find Klarna game-changing–the flexible pay in 4, interest-free payment option helps alleviate the burden of paying for travel-related purchases which can be a lot all at once. From flights to lodging, Klarna works with Airbnb, Expedia,,, and Uber to ensure you’re getting the best price and flexibility in how you pay.”

Klarna is also a deal-hunter’s BFF. With their super handy Search & Compare feature you can compare prices and find the best deal possible on all kinds of travel needs (a new bathing suit is an absolute need, right?) as well as a money manager tool to help you stay within budget.

Samantha’s must-haves for traveling with kids

Chances are, if you’re traveling with kids, you’re also traveling with a metric ton of luggage and gear. (Give or take a few pounds.) But if your little ones are old enough to sit in a regular plane seat and you’re gate checking their car seat, you can use this to your advantage. “The great thing about traveling with checked car seats is that they are free checked luggage and you can fill them with other stuff too!” she explains. When her kids were in that sweet spot, Brown would stash bulky items like jackets and outerwear in the car seat bags that wouldn’t fit well in normal suitcases. “We’d put all our jackets or outerwear that would be too bulky in our normal suitcases into the car seat carriers. Not too much though, as the zippers are never as strong as regular luggage.”

When it comes to the gear she packs for family trips, Brown has a few essentials that help make exploring new places a breeze with her 10-year-old twins. “Solid planning and preparation take so much of the stress out of traveling,” she notes. In addition to kid-sized headphones with volume limits and the ever-popular Amazon Fire HD (because, obviously) her travel must-haves for families include:

Aden + Anais Blankets



Aden and Anais swaddling cloths are for swaddling babies but also so much more! They are the perfect travel blanket, super soft and light and they don’t take up any room or add any weight. I STILL keep them in my travel bag for my kids. We use them as beach towels if we unexpectedly stumble on a Splash Pad, and a small blanket if the kids get cold. They can be used to wash faces, clean up spills, and drench them in cold water to cool down on hot days. Ten years later we still use my swaddling cloths!

Gaffer Power Spike TapeGaffer Power Spike Tape

Gaffer Power


As soon as you walk into a hotel room or rental home do a security check of windows, outlets, unlock doors down to basements etc. You can use the tape over outlets that won’t be used, tape the dangling cords of drapes high onto the wall where a child can’t get to them, and tape close the mini bar that automatically charges you when items have been lifted.

Funboy Convertible Kids Sleepover Air MattressFunboy Convertible Kids Sleepover Air Mattress



One of my all-time favorite must-have items, which I included in a list of my travel essentials in my Creator Shop on Klarna, is this Funboy Air Mattress. Traveling with our own air mattresses was a game changer for us and our twins. You never know what the condition of the cots from the hotel will be, or when they were going to be delivered, and being on the ground made us feel like less could go wrong.  Our kids loved the idea of sleeping on what they thought were pool rafts. We got them when they were 4 and at 11 years old they still love to sleep on them!

The clown car is coming through!

Keeping kids entertained during travel downtime is one of the biggest challenges for parents. Samantha Brown recommends thinking like a clown and packing a bag of tricks. “When traveling with my twins, I always asked myself ‘What would a clown do?’ because that will be your second profession while in transit–car or plane. You have to have options when others fail for that tough crowd–your kids.”

Two of Brown’s failsafe entertainment options are balloons and bubbles. “I would have super large balloons in my purse to inflate and work off energy, say in a quiet corner while waiting for bags. Balloons are great in hotel rooms too since it doesn’t matter how hard you hit one.” Bubbles serve a similar purpose. “The kids all jump in the same space, no running, just jumping and laughing.”

With Brown’s creativity and budget-minded approach, families can focus less on logistics and more on the real prize–experiencing the joy of new places and cultures together. Her insights are a master class in making the most of every adventure, one incredible memory at a time.

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