It has been a long time (years – in fact) since I posted here.
A LOT has happened. We now have an almost 1 yr old baby.
Once the pandemic is officially over. We will for sure, book our plane tickets right away and fly to somewhere amazing.
To tell you the truth, it was very challenging to look for the right material that says it all – how to budget for family travel and all the juicy details that comes along with it.
Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before. – Dalai Lama
Family travel doesn’t have to be expensive. It may be trickier – yes, but with careful planning it is totally doable and can be more fun.
These are the things you have to keep in mind.
Slow travel may be underrated to a lot of people but if you don’t hop from one place to another. You will find the quiet and simple joy of just being there. You also save significant transportation costs like from airfare, trains, taxis, rental car, boats and buses.
I know it is very hard to resist that urge to see everything. With having small children, hauling luggage and backpacks in and out of the airport, hotels and trains will give you a different kind of headache, one that you’ve never experienced before. You will begin to dread the travel days and I mean, what’s the point of traveling then if you do not enjoy it?
Balance the amount of fun you packed into a vacation. Try to not crammed in so much activities. Relaxing is one of the best things to experience during a vacation but often it’s forgotten. Not only that your kids will thank you for it, for they will have more time to spend in random playgrounds or run around the park, but just being there and breathing, savoring and drinking the sight of the place will give you so much joy and deep appreciation for life.
You will remember why you enjoy traveling in the first place. To appreciate and experience different cultures. To trying to understand the people who are very different from yourself. Your kids will also learn things in depth and not take things for granted (at least that’s the hope).
Most of all, you will also avoid travel burn-out. This is very real and I know we try to deny this as much as we can for our time to travel is very limited because of work and school.
There are many ways to travel cheaply but not all of them are wise.
Travel is also personal or subjective. It depends on you, what brings you joy on your travels are different from others. Reflect on what those are and prioritize accordingly.
If museums are your thing, try to cut down on dining. If dining is is more your thing than museums then do not feel guilty dining out more often during your vacation. Or you can just find your happy middle. Balance is usually the key to everything.
With kids, you have to consider them into your itinerary planning, that means… if you’re a museum person. Ideally, just do one museum in a day and start your morning there. This gives you a free afternoon to do whatever you want and even have a time for a nap.
Airbnbs, VRBOs, Bed and Breakfasts or renting apartments on Booking.com are cheaper than staying in hotels. You also have the option to cook for your family and not have to stress if the restaurants are kid-friendly or not. Plus that wonderful option of doing laundry on your travels. You don’t have to haul a stupidly huge luggage. Try to travel light as possible as you can.
Buying groceries during your travel is one of the best ways to cut costs significantly especially when you have more than two kids and especially if they are growing teenagers who can eat the whole house.
It’s also an amazing experience to see what’s in the grocery or farmer’s market. You get to see the glimpse of how they live their everyday life. The food they bring home to their families.
It’s also fun to read the different language on the labels of food. The items that are popular. The culture is right there in the mundane of life.
If you want to bring home cheaper travel souvenirs or what we call pasalubong in the Philippines… any knick knacks or goodies from your travels. This is the best place to find them especially the local chocolates or random cool-looking hat or even a quirky broom, a cup or a spoon. Stuff that are not aimed for the tourists but locals actually use them at home.
For parents with very young kids, this is for you. Maximize your travel during the off peak season or shoulder season. This means travel during Winter, Fall and Spring.
Prioritize the most popular destinations that you have on your bucket list like Paris, London, Rome and Santorini. Try to travel before your kids start going to school. Kids under two also can have free domestic airfare and some airlines offer half the price for international flights.
Summer is always the peak season wherever you go. So if you’re trying to save as much as you can. This is the best way.
You also get to experience the place without the crowds. That’s the big part of travel that became a luxury. So enjoy that while you can.
For those who have older kids, either travel during the spring or winter break. This is a massive headache in itself, so another obvious tip is travel to cheaper or less popular destinations during the summer but are also equally beautiful. Top of my head would be Slovenia, Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Estonia and Poland.
South and Central American countries like Belize, Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico to name a few and Southeast Asia like my home country with the most beautiful white beaches to boast, The Philippines as an example.
Some of the cheaper destinations are harder or trickier to reach by plane because there are less popular as travel destinations. Nonstop flights are rarer to come by. In fact, you will pay more for the airfare but once you are there, everything is cheaper and you will end up ahead with your budget and actually save more than you think.
The biggest tip is instead of your chosen destinations dictating your travel let the good airfare deals dictate your travel.
Create your travel bucket list and do not assign any dates or a year. Instead put them into categories like Summer Destinations or Spring/Winter Break Destinations and just use this as a guide.
Using Explore on Google Flights (you can drag the map and zoom out to expand your options), you will be able to tell where the cheapest to fly and when. Let this dictate your travel plans.
If one of your bucket list destination is showing with a good airfare deal then that’s where your family is traveling that year. Be flexible and it will pay off.
If you really must travel to that place or your top destination like for example it’s Japan for me. All you got to do is track the prices using Google Flights and play with the estimated dates you have in mind. Save the dates and the destinations and Google will email you for any price changes and updates.
The best way to travel cheaply as a family is to travel within the country. You are also helping the national economy and especially the local businesses. This became very apparent during the pandemic. Tourism will greatly help with the recovery.
Domestic Flights are the cheapest and also the most time-saving because non-stop flights are so much more common. Appreciating and seeing the beauty of your own country is also something you just got to experience. It is your very own country after all.
The world may be big but your very own backyard also offers beauty so spectacular that people from other countries feel incredible joy when they get to see it. Here in the USA are the national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and Grand Canyon to name a few.
For big families, driving or road trips are the most cost-effective. You don’t have to fly that far and pay for insane plane tickets to travel. You just have to know where to look.
If you live in the Midwest like us, you can travel by driving to Chicago and see Lake Michigan or Colorado and hike in the Rockies.
As you already know, International Flights costs so much more. This is where Family Travel becomes extra challenging especially with older children or more than two kids. One of the ways to offset this is to travel internationally every other year and to travel locally or fly domestically instead so that travel don’t have to be expensive.
AIRFARE OR TRANSPORTATION
This is typically the most expensive category on Family Travel. There are now five plane tickets you have to buy instead of just two.
This can easily rack up quite a bit if you’re not careful. Track flight prices on Google and try to book them earlier to snag a good deal at least two months before.
I recommend to choose one up to three destinations when planning. Spend at least three nights in one place. So you don’t spend all your vacation time rushing from one place to another. Fares from trains, taxis and even boat rides can easily accumulate if you don’t track them. Simplify your itinerary and it will show.
Count travel day as one day gone. This give you room for travel delays and if not, more time to relax and just nap after a long train ride. No stressing out into meeting your itinerary.
Try avoiding staying in the hotels and if you must, choose the one that comes with Free Breakfast. So you got a full stomach and have the energy to explore for the day.
Do not stay in expensive areas and instead choose the low-key and safe neighborhoods. You don’t have to stay in an Airbnb that has the Eiffel Tower view because that I’m sorry to say have a hefty price tag.
If you want a cheaper way to travel as a family, you have to be willing to sacrifice some luxuries. You now have many options with Airbnb, apartments on Booking.com, VRBOs and B&Bs. Do your due diligence and choose wisely depending on your budget.
My friendly advice is to keep it simple. Choose the place that offers kitchen and laundry. At the end of the day, you are there to travel and just needing a place to sleep.
The cheapest accomodation for families is camping. This is perfect for National Parks and you can pair this with cooking on your own (having access to cooking facilities) and having picnic lunches.
Camping is not always practical or reliable though especially when you have very young kids. Teens will enjoy this more and you don’t have to “always” keep your eyes on them. It also depends on the environment and you have to be very well prepared. Sometimes paying for a little more, not only guarantees comfort and safety but also sanity and peace of mind.
Travel is personal so do you.
THINGS TO DO
Kids are simple they don’t like museums and loves to play all the time. So playgrounds and running around the parks are their absolute favorites when traveling and the best thing about it is… it’s free.
Indulge them by having free afternoons. Plan something on the mornings. If you must visit Anne Frank museum, book the earliest time to get in. Kids are the nicest when they just woke up, well-rested, still fresh from a long night sleep and just had a hearty breakfast.
When you plan for only one big thing to do everyday that also pushes you to prioritize and reflect on what you really want to do on your vacation. This here folks is cost-saving.
Remember you cannot do or see everything.
More excuse to travel there again because you know you can always come back, if it became your favorite place in the world, trust me you will find a way.
Kids are also nicer after a nap. So spend those wonderful free afternoons relaxing, people watching, licking a gelato, somersault in the park and just be.
The best joys of being in Paris is to simply dine for four hours. That’s the essence of travel right there.
FOOD AND DINING OUT
If you’re a breakfast person, enjoy having breakfasts around the world. It is an absolutely fantastic experience to be eating different cuisines so do not feel guilty. Spend the money that brings you the most joy during your travels.
Don’t be that person who flew to the other side of the world and still eating crappy food. If you don’t enjoy cooking your own. You paid so much already for the flight might as well enjoy your trip. As long as you don’t go overboard, I dare say enjoy the pasta. You got to eat what Romans eat.
This is an enjoyable part of travel. Experience the cuisine and move on.
With family travel though, costs in dining out can also rack up very fast especially with older kids with large appetites. If dining out is very important for your family, try to eat in the restaurants during breakfast and lunch because dinner costs double.
For cheaper destinations, dining out often isn’t really a big deal. For the best bang to your buck, buying from local grocery stores and farmer’s markets, good street food, cooking in your rented apartment’s kitchen and packing picnic lunches are the most affordable tricks.
Another way is to simply look for the cheap and no frills restaurants, trying out the street food and convenience stores for their ready made lunches.
In Japan for example, they have amazing convenience food. Discover where the locals eat and you will often find the hidden gems. If you’ve found a good yet affordable restaurant, eating there more than once is not a bad idea at all.
For international travel, aim for $10,000 annually and try to fly as cheaply as you possibly can.
For domestic travels, aim for $5,000 budget annually. Nonstop flights are still around $300 per person within the United States. So to maximize your budget you got to drive to your destination. Road trips are fun and memorable experience for young minds so this is a must.
If traveling as a family is very important for you. You will find a way. Try to budget your everyday spending. I sacrificed my Japanese milk tea that costs $30 every month because I want to travel to Japan and drink the milk tea there instead or will use that money to splurge and soak in onsen (which trust me costs a lot).
Your little splurges might be cheap for you today but those little things can add up fast. So it’s true, my Japanese milk tea can be my flight ticket to Paris, that’s all I’m saying.
Big tip is to automate your savings per paycheck and have a dedicated travel fund. $5,000 is a nice ballpark figure for domestic trips and $10,000 for international.
Everything you buy, the recurring bills, subscriptions (Netflix, Disney+, Hulu) and online shopping. If you bother tracking your spending. You will discover that it all adds up. Some purchases are worth it and are truly what you need but most you can live without. Be conscious with spending and you will be able to actively save for travel.
This is especially true for family travel. For it to be affordable or possible. We got to live below our means. This is a challenging adventure that has a wonderful promise of bringing us to beautiful places – so let’s do it!
Don’t plan everything when you travel especially with kids. Be open to the experience of discovering all the pretty neat corners and just be.
The art of flâneur (to wander with no purpose) may not be near your radar now but once you experience this, you will see the same wonder that sparkles the eyes of your little ones.
Traveling is not about ticking it off the bucket list or having the perfect photos.
It’s the “in-between’s”. It’s the memories you will forever keep inside your heart and mind. The family bonding, laughter, kisses, cuddles and the stories you will share.
Awaken your inner child. See the beauty of the place through their eyes. Relive that same childhood innocence, enthusiasm and curiosity we all shared when we were young because no one is too old for adventures.
Good luck and have fun on your travels.