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First of all, we would like to point out that we do understand not everybody is waiting for family travel on a budget. Some of us rather go on a luxury vacation, or maybe we would all like to do that now and than or if we had the budget. But for others, cheap family travel is the only way to discover the world.
Especially as a family, the costs add up quickly! So that’s why we wrote this article! For everybody who wants to travel with kids on a budget. You could be travelling close by or far away, for a short break, long term vacation or maybe you are thinking about fulltime family travel. Because in the end, the goal of this blog is to show how every family can travel! And after reading this, the budget will be less of a problem!
Table of Contents
How do we afford to travel?
One of the main reasons people don’t travel, is they think they don’t have enough money. It is actually the question we get most: ‘How do you fund your travels?’. A few people even accused us of secretly winning the lottery. And although that would be fantastic, we haven’t 😏, I promise you!
So how can we afford to travel the world, even though we are not rich? Let’s talk a little economics. There are of course two main money streams, which are the incoming and the outgoing streams. In order to be able to travel, you want to maximize the incoming and minimize the outgoing money. We won’t be talking about revenues here.
In this article, we will tackle the expenses, costs, outgoing money, … Don’t they just have too many words for that, it is just us paying for everything! Despite very rich people, who are probably not reading this article, we all want to get travel costs as low as possible! The only reason we could afford to travel fulltime is that we travel the world on a budget, as a family. So being experts in turning every coin, we’d love to give you all our tips!
General tips for family travel on a budget
Later on in this article, I’ll talk about saving money on accommodations, transport, activities, food and drinks. But let’s start with some general tips on budget family travel.
1. Choose your destinations wisely
Where to go
One of the easiest ways to save on money is to choose a destination where the cost of living is very low. We know how tempting it is… You just want to go for the easy option, which is fine too of course. Take the car for a trip to France or discover another state in the US, maybe drive down the coast in Australia when you are living there. It sounds easier and you would think it is much cheaper than taking a plane to an exotic destination.
Although your flight over there can be rather costly, you will easily even that out once you are there. A lot of countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas and even some in Europe are perfect to travel on a budget as a family. So in the end, you might be spending less than on your normal vacation. Or at least you have some amazing new experiences for the same budget.
So our advice: pick your destination wisely and travel further!
Choose an exotic destination with a low cost of living and for the same budget, you might as well walk here…
While choosing your destination, also check the exchange rate. If the rates are favourable, that can save you a lot of money!
Another thing to consider when choosing your travel destination is the cost of visas. When we were planning our long term family trip, we first wanted to go to China. As Belgian citizens, the visa would cost us €164,5/$183 per person. That would be €658/$735 for the whole family, just to enter the country! As we were travelling on a budget, we decided not to do that and choose countries with a low visa cost or even a free entry. We did, however, go to Shanghai on a transit visa. A nice option in a lot of countries. You can enter the country for a few days, under certain circumstances, without any visa fees.
Probably you all know that Australia and New Zealand are rather expensive, as are many countries in Europe and North-America. Here is a list of countries with a low cost of living, where you can easily travel around as a family for a budget of less than €100 per day or even less if you really cut the strings. This list is not exhaustive, but we chose these destinations that are also known for their exquisite travel experiences.
Cheapest countries in:
Asia: Nepal, India, Vietnam, Laos, Northern Thailand, Cambodia, The Philippines, Malaysia and Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
North- and South-America: Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Europe (or near Europe): Romania, Hungary, Poland, Greece, The Baltic States, Turkey, Czech Republic, Bulgary, Georgia, Ukraine and Croatia
2. Travel off-peak times
Embrace the less than ideal weather
I know, most of us want to have sunshine and as less rain as possible. Oh yes, and maybe not too hot (like dessert temperatures) if possible. We are still travelling with our kids which is an adventure in itself without them being roasted the entire trip. Which means you’ll catch the best weather if you travel during peak-time to the most popular destinations. There popular during those months for a reason of course… And you’ll pay loads of money for being there at the right time of the year.
But if you want to travel with kids on a budget, it might be better to consider travelling in those seasons, when the weather is less than ideal. That does not mean it will rain the entire time or has to be freezing cold. If you can only travel during school holidays, you could consider travelling to the tropics. In a lot of countries in South-East Asia, Middle-America, … it is shoulder season then because of the monsoon. But those countries are perfect for travelling then, you’ll just have to deal with a shower every day for an hour or more. The good thing is it doesn’t get cold, so you’ll still feel like being on a vacation.
A shower approaching Kuala Lumpur during monsoon season, still a beautiful sight!
Stay out of season/festivals/holidays
Cheap family travel is not possible when you go to your destination during high season, festivals or holidays. Accommodations prices easily double or triple, activities tend to cost a lot more and the budget options sell out quickly!
Travelling out of season can be difficult if you’re bound to school holidays. Unless you are willing to travel further (the other hemisphere and the tropics) or you are willing to travel to less perfect weather as we mentioned above.
Another thing to consider is avoiding big holidays or festivals. You don’t want to travel to popular places during Chinese New Year or The Golden Week when you are in Asia. Prices will be crazy as all the Chinese people travel around. So be sure to check not only your destination but also the entire region.
3. Travel outside the school holidays
One of the biggest frustrations for us, travelling parents, are the school holidays. If your kids attend a school or you are a teacher, you are bound to fixed holidays to travel the world. Which immediately means travelling during peak times, resulting in higher costs for transportation, accommodation and activities. Not ideal if you want to travel with kids on a budget. What are the solutions?
The first thing you could do to avoid travelling during school holidays is to take your kids out of school 😉! I know what you are thinking… I could never teach my own kids! That is not possible with my job. What will be the effect on the kids? Or maybe you were already considering it, but just need to take the final step?
Just think about this, what if the world was your kids’ classroom? What if you can travel the world together without having to worry about school and the fixed holidays? We took our kids out of school, to start our fulltime travel adventure. So we know what we are talking about. It is not always easy, but we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way! And that way, you can perfectly travel to countries in the shoulder season.
Homeschooling is a great way to travel the world together with your kids!
Travel when the kids are young
Another way to avoid school holidays is travelling when the kids are young. At least in Belgium, until they are 5 or 6 years old, you can take them out of school for a couple of weeks and travel. And I know it is like that in most other countries too. So that’s why we were very busy travelling in those early years. We’ve been to the USA, Ireland, Israel, Thailand, … all during off-peak times.
Travel long term / Full-time travel
We know it is not everybody’s dream or possibility to travel long term. But it is the perfect way to avoid school holidays. You can just fly or travel around avoiding all the high seasons, which means you will be able to travel with kids on a budget. Go to New-Zealand in there spring or autumn, and avoid there summer months (January and February). Go to Thailand in February or March, when it still cold in Europe but ideal there! Try Italy in the autumn months. And so one… You will save lots of money by travelling full-time.
4. Prepare your cheap family travel before you leave
Do your homework
Cheap family travel already starts before you leave. If you want to travel with kids on a budget, you need to do some research. There are two things I generally do before I leave: buy a Lonely Planet and skim the internet with all my questions. I read lots of travel blogs, look for budget accommodations and their reviews, look for cheap ways to travel from one place to another, … It takes quite a lot of time, but it will save you lots of money! And planning the journey, is part of the joy, don’t you think 😉.
It is a mistake we made in the beginning… You’re leaving for a holiday, whether it be short or long, and you want to be prepared. So you go shopping for the right gear, some new clothing and some other stuff you see along the way. In the end, you have spent quite a lot of bucks, which doesn’t help if you want to travel with your kids on a budget. Especially when you are heading over to countries with a low cost of living, don’t spend big! They’ll have everything there, for much cheaper prices!
A second thing to consider is, you really don’t need that much! Travel light, less is more! We were heavily overpacked for our fulltime family travel journey. We learned over the month’s, less luggage is much more valued over that extra pair of jeans. Share and wear, and you’ll spend less and be happier when you have to move your luggage from one place to another.
At the beginning of our trip, we had too much luggage with us (this is only the kids their luggage…).
If you do have to shop and your buying online, consider cashback sites. They will give you a little bit of ‘cash’ back, when you buy your goods on your favourite webshop, through their site. This works of course only if that webshop subscribed to the cashback site. Because sometimes, you need to buy some more expensive pieces for your family travel, such as luggage, it can pay off to check these cashback sites.
5. Adjust the way you travel and spend
Organise your travels by yourself
If you are willing to plan everything yourself, you’ll save loads of money. That means you arrange your own transport, book your own hotels, plan your own activities and tours. Sometimes we do book an organised tour, especially if that is the only way to reach certain spots or really enjoy a highlight. But it will be much cheaper if you try to do it by yourself. Take the local transport to that temple, bring along your guidebook and walk around by yourself. Ask a local boatman to take you on that snorkel tour, instead of booking that expensive organised tour.
Get off the beaten track
Of course, we all want to see those highlights. But family travel on a budget will not be possible if you run from one highlight to another and only stay at those really touristic places. Leave the beaten track, and explore the undiscovered! Or not even undiscovered, but the less famous path. Your spending will drop considerably!
The faster you travel, the more you’ll spend. And let’s face it, isn’t it nicer anyway to travel slower with kids? Because in the end, besides exploring the country, we want to have fun! Which also means, relaxing, wandering around a place without hurrying and giving the kids time to play.
So our advice is, even when you are flying to a destination further away, take it slow! Don’t try to do it all in a couple of weeks. Stay longer at one location. Not only will everybody be more relaxed and happy, but you also get to really know a place and meet its people. It will buy you some free time where you do nothing.
If you are travelling fulltime, it’s even a great idea to stay somewhere for a couple of weeks. We did that in Kuala Lumpur and we loved it. For a while, we went back to the ‘normal’ life, only in another country. And those weeks were our cheapest weeks of all!
Collect experiences, not things
Another great way to save money is by reducing the amount spent on souvenirs or other things you see during your travels. You will value experiences much more! Of course, we all like to have some beautiful souvenirs, but if you do decide to buy some, try to go to local artists. It will save you a lot of money. don’t buy them in the touristic hotspots, prices can really be outrages there! If you go off the beaten track, however, and look for the local artists, you’ll find the same stuff for less money. Often the quality will be better and you are sure it is originally made in that country, and not ‘made in China’ 😉.
Visiting a local artist in Ubud, instead of buying souvenirs at the Ubud Market
5. Bank/Mobile/IT issues
Our first advice here if you want to travel on a budget is buying a local SIM card! Especially if you need to stay online during your travels, but also if you want to book local transport for example. Often you can find them already at the airport, or in more touristic places. It can help to look up some information before you leave, so you make sure which providers are the best or have the best mobile or data plan for you.
Another thing to consider is getting a local bank account. Of course, this only pays off when you are staying in a country for a longer period of time. But it will prevent you from paying loads of money on banking fees. Every time you withdraw money from the ATM with your credit or debit card, you pay a rather large bank fee or percentage. Which adds up quickly if you are travelling for longer periods of time.
If you don’t take a local bank account, check in your home country which bank charges the least on foreign withdrawals. There can be big differences between banks so you might want to consider a new credit or debit card before you leave.
And one last tip, don’t change any money at the airport! You’ll pay way to much! Either withdraw money from the ATM or change once you are in the city.
Cheap family accommodation for family travel on a budget
Booking accommodation can easily soak up most of your budget if you don’t watch out! Especially with children as you need more beds, bigger or multiple rooms. Travelling with kids on a budget does not necessarily mean, however, you only get to sleep in dodgy guesthouses with 4 in one bed. Although that might have happened to us 😆. But we also had beautiful apartments, with a swimming pool, fitness and sauna for only €30/$35 per night. So how do you find those cheap family accommodations?
It all depends of course where you are travelling. In those countries who have a low cost of living, you can easily find some gems without breaking your purse. In big cities or more expensive countries, it’s sometimes impossible to find a decent spot for a cheap price. But one golden rule, we always rely on reviews and didn’t have a lot of disappointments during our travels. Here are our tips on finding cheap family accommodations for family travel on a budget…
1. Be thoughtful when you book your accommodation
You either want to book your hotels, guesthouses, hostels way ahead or really last minute. You always lose when you book somewhere in between. We usually book last minute through for example booking.com and it never got us in any troubles. Especially in Asia, that is the best way to go. We got to stay in some amazing places, often with a lot of discounts because we booked so late. Don’t be afraid to ask for an extra discount either, or an extra free breakfast. Mostly they just want to fill up the room and agree to what you ask for.
However, if you always book last minute, the real budget gems will be gone by then. So if you, during the planning of your travels, bump into an amazing place for a very reasonable price with great reviews, book!
2. Be creative, there are other options
If I talk about booking accommodation, we all immediately think about going to booking sites and looking for hotels, resorts, guesthouses, hostels, … But think outside the box, be creative! There are lots of other options! Of course, there is Airbnb, which is an amazing site to book a room, complete apartment or even a house for cheap prices. We use this site all the time and it got us some fantastic places to stay!
Housesitting or house swapping
This is an amazing opportunity to go on vacation and stay in that country for free!! The concept of a house swap is a people staying at your house, while you stay at theirs. You exchange houses. You have lots of great websites to meet other interested families, such as HomeExchange. A housesit means you look after the house (and often the pets), while the owners are off on a vacation. Again, there are a lot of great websites, such as TrustedHousesitters. We had our own housesits in Brisbane, Australia. It was a great way to live like a local for a while, without having to pay for the accommodation. A win-win situation!
Celebrating Christmas at our amazing housesit in Brisbane, Australia
Couchsurfing is another great way to find accommodation. The concept is you can stay in people’s homes, sometimes on a couch (hence the name Couchsurfing) but it’s also possible you get your own room. Even with kids, it can be a good option! The site allows you to filter on how many people need to be accommodated and if it’s kid-friendly or not. We had some amazing experiences with this, for example in Malaysia. It allows you to really go local, meet amazing people and even end up with friends! Especially if they have kids of their own, your children will be delighted!
Go local and pay less!
A really nice site is HomeStay. HomeStay has a database of thousands of local hosts, that let you stay at their homes. A cool feature is you can even filter on hobbies, which makes it possible to match your interests. You’ll easily have an amazing experience with local people through a site like this one.
Camping with a tent or with a van is always a great option with a family! Especially in those countries where it is rather expensive to book accommodation, such as Australia, NZ, North-America and Europe. Although the cost of renting a campervan is not to be underestimated, it’s still cheaper than sleeping in hotels and renting a car.
There are some great ways to reduce costs as well when you are camping. For example, check the possibilities for free camping. It is not allowed everywhere, but if it is, you often get the best spots for free!
Free camping in New Zealand, while relocating this campervan. Family travel on a budget!
4. Kids discounts
When you book your accommodation, you do not always have to book a separate bed for each kid. A lot of hotels let the kids stay for free if they don’t use extra beds. Which means if they sleep on the couch, with two in one bed or in between their parents in the big bed, that’s perfectly allowed.
A real money saver is if the kids sleep together in the same room. We’ve had a few times real cheap family accommodations because we booked a bigger double room, where the staff put two extra mattresses on the ground. Because after all, how much time do you really spend on your room when you travel. Although we don’t mind doing that, we do have to admit these rooms need to alternate with normal family rooms for us. Sometimes, you just need a little bit of space.
5. Save up a night during travel days
When you are travelling from one place to the other, consider travelling during the night. Take a night bus, train or flight and you’ll save a night’s accommodation. Those moments probably won’t be your most enjoyable memories, although they will be memorable 😃! Another thing to consider is staying at the airport if you have a very early flight. We did that once in Auckland, New Zealand. The kids found it exciting and slept on the couches after a while. And we, we didn’t sleep much but oh well, we survived!
Family travel on a budget: how to save on transport
Getting a cheap flight
There are tons of articles on how to find a cheap flight. One article we love a lot on finding cheap flights you can find here. We’ll write a whole article just on that topic in the future, but we’ll stick to a few tips we use ourselves here.
For family travel on a budget, it really helps to find a cheap flight. And that is easier when you can keep your destination open. Especially if you are travelling long term, don’t decide where you’ll go just yet. Maybe let the price of the plane tickets make the decision for you. We certainly do that during our fulltime travels. A nice way to look that up on Skyscanner, where you can put ‘Everywhere’ as your destination. That way the cheapest destinations will show up.
We always use different flight comparison sights such as Skyscanner or Momondo to book our flights. They also check budget airlines and smaller companies. Another thing you can do is subscribe for flight deals and ask them to notify you when prices on a flight drop. And last but not least, a lot of people fly cheaper through the miles collected from earlier flights or with purchases through a credit card (travel hacking).
If you fly with budget airlines, you will save money if you don’t have luggage to check-in and bring your own food. They charge you extra for those things. But of course with kids, it will be harder to have no checked-in luggage. However, if you only check in one or two, instead of for every family member, you’ll already save some money.
We flew a lot with Air Asia, a low-cost airline but with excellent service!
Our last tip is, before the age of 2, kids fly for free (if they don’t occupy a seat). The only thing they need to pay is a little tax. It is the ideal period to take your kids cheaply to destinations far away. We certainly did when they were that small.
Use local transport
Finding transport will never be a problem, but you have to be careful or you will pay way to much. If you want to go really cheap, always take local transport. A local bus or train will bring you to your destination for a lot less than a taxi or private minibus. The downside is this kind of transport is often slow, busy and doesn’t always have airconditioning. So do your research before you step into an overloaded, hot bus with your kids. But we do use it a lot!
Apps such as Grab or Uber are another great way to find cheap local transport. You install the app, ask for a driver and they come and pick you up. Some countries even have their own local versions, such as Go Jek in Indonesia. Be sure to install the app before you leave, and buy a SIM card at the airport. That way you can already take one of these on your arrival, instead of the very expensive airport taxis. We found these apps to be very handy and cheap, especially with a family. You would have to buy several bus tickets, but you pay the same price for a Grab or Uber even if you are with four. The only downside is it isn’t allowed in some places or even in some countries. Again, do your research before you leave.
Relocate a vehicle
A great way to save money while travelling is by relocating a campervan or car. The concept is that the renting companies have a vehicle in place A, but they need it to be in B because someone is renting it there. So instead of paying someone a wage to replace the vehicle, they look for people who are willing to do it for them. And they usually charge only a couple of euro/dollars per day. Maybe a bit more if you want extra insurance. And they often even give you some free fuel too! A great way to travel cheap, although the downside is most of the times you do not get a lot of time. You’ll have to travel a bit faster. We did a relocation of a big campervan in New Zealand, from Christchurch to Auckland, and we are wildly enthusiastic about it! A great site is for example Imoova.
Have you ever heard of repositioning a cruise? Neither did we before we looked into the subject. The principle is a bit the same as relocating a van or car, although you won’t be behind the wheel 😉. Cruise companies need to reposition their ships in spring and autumn for the new high seasons. When they do that, you can come along for really cheap prices. For example, cross the Atlantic Ocean for €60/$50 a day or sometimes even half that price. Which is really cheap if you think about it. You have accommodation, food, transport and a great experience! No need to buy a plane ticket anymore. CruiseDirect is a great site for example to find these deals.
How to save on activities when travelling on a budget
Entrance fees to attractions, buildings, touristic highlights and other activities can easily blow up your budget. And it is difficult to resist of course, as you are charged for a lot of really nice experiences. But don’t despair, you’ll still have an amazing family trip if you don’t try to do all the highlights or at least choose those that are budget-friendly.
First of all, appreciate active activities over attractions. You could book a tour to go over to a viewing point. But you’ll appreciate the experience so much more when you walk over there with the kids, really breath the air and see all of the surrounding nature and animals. When you have to take the kids out because they are getting annoyed inside, choose to go for a walk through the city, maybe stop at the playground and have a picnic in the end. They’ll have probably as much fun as when you were to take them to some theme park with a high entrance fee.
Our kids really learned to appreciate active experiences, sightseeing and exploring as much as the typical children’s activities where you need to pay an entrance fee.
You would also be surprised how much amazing activities are for free! But you’ll have to do some research to find those free things to do. One of the first things we do when we arrive in a new place is lookup on the internet or in our guide what the free activities are. We’ve been to amazing playgrounds, have seen fountain or light shows, beautiful performances, stunning musea and so much more, all for nothing!
We watched this great fountain show at KLCC, the bottom of the Petronas Towers, two times. It was great fun and free!
And last but not least, check for family discounts. Don’t be afraid to ask. When we book a tour, we always ask discounts for the kids. Go to the visitor centre and ask for any multi-passes, city cars or discount cards. Especially when you are exploring a city, these can make a huge difference! Also, check the free museum days. A lot of them have 1 or 2 days a month where they let you visit the museum for free. Have fun!
Family travel on a budget: how to save on food or drinks
Snacks – snacks – snacks!!
Everybody who has kids knows the drill for a day out, pack snacks for on the go! And if you want to travel on a budget, go to a supermarket and buy all your snacks there, so you’ll survive the rest of the day. Take some fruit, cookies, biscuits and your all set! It will save you lots of money if you don’t need to buy them on the spot when one of the kids suddenly gets all cranky or even completely unmanageable 😅. We all know what I am talking about!
Another huge money saver is eating local! Although we do realize kids often don’t like local food, you’d be surprised how much they will like it in the end! Look for those local restaurants, away from the main highlights and tourist streets.
Have you tried street food before? In Asia for example, you can eat an entire meal for only €1/1$ per person if you give those street stalls a change! You won’t be sick, I promise. The one thing you need to be sure, is they cook or bake it right in front of you. Then you are sure it is good. And never buy fresh food there. But we had our best food experiences, also with the kids, trying out the local street food!
Delicious food at the hawker stalls in Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur for really low prices!
Prepare it yourself
Although in some places eating street food is cheaper than preparing the food yourself, most of the times this is a real money saver! An important tip, however, is to focus on the local products. So don’t try to buy all of the ingredients you would purchase at home. You’ll have to say goodbye for a while to your favourite cheese, spread or vegetable and embrace the local cuisine.
A lot of hostels and guesthouses give the opportunity to prepare your own meal, but we also Airbnb apartments are perfect! If you have a fridge, don’t throw away your leftovers! Another way to save some money.
And last but not least, eat out in the open! Prepare yourself a picnic, instead of eating in a restaurant. The scenery will probably be much nicer, the kids can run around and you’ll enjoy your quality moment. Or when you are camping, what’s a better experience than preparing a delicious barbecue or having a campfire cook! Those will be the moments you’ll remember!
Choose wisely at the restaurant
If you do go to a restaurant, first of all, enjoy! But still, don’t lose sight of your expenses. You can easily spend your weekly budget if you’re not paying attention! Our kids usually share a plate, which saves us an extra meal. They wouldn’t finish it anyway. In some restaurants, kids eat for free or you have family discounts. And then, of course, most of the times there is a kids menu. But if you don’t want them to eat only fries, chicken nuggets or spaghetti, you might consider sharing a plate of the adult section!
Save on drinks
By carrying your own water bottles, you’re not only looking after our planet and reducing your plastic waste, but it will also save you a couple of bucks. In a lot of guesthouses, public areas, tourist highlights, … you have the opportunity to fill up those bottles.
Something else to consider is to limit the drinks you order in a restaurant. Save that juice, wine or beer for later and order a cheaper drink. Later on, go to a supermarket or street stall and you’ll still get that delicious drink.
That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed reading our guide to family travel on a budget and got some ideas for your next family trip! If you have any comments or other tips we should add to this guide, please leave us a message below this article! And of course, enjoy your family travels!!
Heleen is a loving mother of two beautiful girls Yuna (2010) en Hanne (2011) and married to Jurgen. Her passions are travelling, photography, gardening and just being together with her family. Travelling together around the world is a dream coming true.