Nikki Soddy is a primary school teacher from Surrey. She is currently travelling the world with her husband and two children (@backpackingbabies).
Once we had decided we wanted to take our children travelling for a few months, we were adamant that we would see it through. That said, we knew it would have to be a budget-friendly adventure. Sure, we have good jobs and are savvy savers, but we didn’t have an endless pot of cash designated for our unpaid sabbaticals – nor were we in the position to sell all our belongings and buy a one-way ticket like some of the incredible adventurers we follow on Instagram. We needed to return to normal life at the end of it all and still be able to pay August’s mortgage. Here are a few ways we looked after the pennies:
Set a sensible budget
We had read that it was reasonable to assume family travel would cost £100 a day, after accommodation. Many days we spent far less of course, but it made us feel better about the occasional splurge (here’s looking at you, scenic flight over the Okavango Delta…) and it meant the trip came in under budget overall. It is also worth checking the current exchange rates. We had fondly remembered Thailand being so affordable (seven years ago) but our money didn’t stretch nearly as far this time and, interestingly, we spent more money in Cambodia in the shortest amount of time than anywhere else in the world. We were being classic tourists and if you want to see "the sights" then you will need to part with some dollars. Next time we will be taking the path less travelled to save some dosh! I like to get inspired by the in-flight magazines on the way to the next destination – they always have good insight, as does the massive family-travel Instagram community.
Spread the cost
It sounds simple, but we actively set aside money each month in a savings account for several months. We booked and paid for all bar two of our 21 flights six months before we left and were astonished at how cost effective it was to book them on one ticket through Flight Centre. We were saying "…and is that each?" "No, it’s the total cost," our lovely Travel Expert Rachel told us as we grinned with amazement. She was on-hand the entire time we were away, updating our schedule where necessary. Our youngest was under two – a bonus for both cheap flights and entrance tickets to most places we visited. We used air miles for our first and last flights and staggered our accommodation payments before we left. Using a combination of camping, self-catering, home rentals and hotels, we got cheap deals on all of our accommodation and paid for most of it before Christmas had even come around. Talking of Christmas – ours and the children’s Christmas lists were brimming with bits and pieces we needed – fleeces, pack-a-macs, head torches and binoculars. Our birthday money went towards the Vic Falls helicopter flight we were so keen to do. We also stayed with friends and family along the way where we could.
Affordability vs spontaneity
You’ll have to weigh up the pros and cons. It might be romantic to presume you can play it by ear, see where the wind takes you, stay longer in places that really float your boat. From a bit of research, however (especially after we fell in love with a safari lodge Namibia at which we were desperate to stay longer), travelling spontaneously would have increased the budget somewhat. That said, just because you’ve pre-booked your flights and accommodation doesn’t mean there’s no room for last-minute experiences! We didn’t plan to spend an afternoon feeding and bathing a rescue elephant in Jaipur. We didn’t plan to take that tiny wobbly plane in Botswana to see the wildlife from above. But with small children in tow we had to keep grounded in our travel purpose: spending quality time together. For us it was nice to have the security of knowing where we were going to sleep every night so that we could focus our time on our children and our shared experiences.
In each new country we didn’t leave the airport without buying a local sim card. It’s amazing how much data you can get for your money and we really couldn’t have relied on local Wi-Fi – not when our 4X4 was broken down in the isolated Skeleton Coast in Namibia. We used a travel-savvy credit card from Barclaycard which we used to take out cash – always choose to pay in local currencies – and we used the app to pay off our card before leaving each country. We liked to get chummy with decent taxi drivers (trust your instincts on who!) or even hire a driver for several days which allowed us to barter cheaper rates, as well as ensuring we had a local’s view of the area. Our driver in Sri Lanka had a big van in which we could spread out; he helped us with the children, often pushing the buggy while we listened to guides and took our luggage on to our next destination while we took scenic train routes. He was our tour guide, nanny, DJ, translator – any time of day or night – and for no more than we might have paid in tuk-tuks.
Offset your at-home costs while you’re away
Lastly, we wanted our responsibilities back home to be cost-neutral. We rented our house out to cover the mortgage, put some cash aside for the first month we’d be home and rolled over as much holiday as possible into our sabbatical allowance. A little bit of planning allowed us to go a long way… 10 countries in three months, in fact, without completely breaking the bank. Which means now we can start working on the next trip!
Want to start planning your next family holiday? Chat to your Travel Expert about booking an adventure that will suit everyone.
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There is a lot to be said for seeing the raw beauty of an African safari adventure through the eyes of children, witnessing first-hand the sizes, shapes, sounds and smells of the animals they read about in their stories. After all, there is an innocent childishness within everyone that is awakened by this real life version of the Lion King playing out in front of us. And it’s not just the animals; last week we sat our children on a bench by the waterhole in their pyjamas with a bowl of pasta each (and a couple of beers for us) and watched the sun disappear into a purple sky while we played ‘spot the reflection’ on the still water’s edge. Zebras, mainly. Stargazing, campfires, picnics and splash pools are all bonus features of the safari holiday. What’s not to love?
So if you're heading out on your first safari holiday with kids in tow, here are some tips to help you make the most of your trip:
Swot up on the animals and your destination
It’s worth prepping your children in advance - learning the names and properties of the animals they will see, not just the elusive Big Five but the ones they will see more regularly such as the humble impala, ostrich and zebra - let’s get excited about them too. Knowledge is power; it’s worth checking what the conditions will be like where you’re going, for example, in Hwange the elephants were plentiful but the facilities were less child-friendly. In Etosha the campsites had kids’ pools and ice cream but they wouldn’t take children under 6 on guided drives. Also, I prefer taking our kiddies in the African winter months (our summer) as the trees are bare and animals more easily spotted. It’s worth being open minded too; we saw more game from an hour’s scenic flight than we did in three days on the ground and the children loved it. Once you’ve sussed where you’re going, got the right vaccinations and bought your anti-malarials (Asda is still the cheapest for these) there’s the question of what to take.
Pack snacks, toys and more
Snacks - so many snacks. A toddler sling for guided walks, layers for cold morning game drives (but don’t dress in red), games and - dare I say it - carefully loaded tablets for the kids. Older toddlers will manage ‘real’ binoculars and I can recommend non-spill water bottles for those times when you just can’t have your eyes on the back seat of the car at the same time as scanning the savannah for paw prints. Did I mention snacks?!
Consider a self-drive safari
The trouble with safari is the long periods of waiting, watching, wishing for these animals to reveal themselves. When they do you are rewarded - little ones will love to scramble over you to get the best view of a stalking lion or slurping elephant. If you choose a self-drive safari you can control the times you go (sync with nap times to combat the aforementioned long periods of waiting), you can bring all the toys and snacks you need and you have the flexibility to turn round if a tantrum kicks off. We also took a cheap, light car seat with us which was high enough to see out of the windows. You can’t ask your toddler to show an interest in searching for leopards in the undergrowth if all they can see from their seat is the sky.
However you don’t have the same understanding as an experienced game driver. Again, knowledge is power; ask the rangers and reception staff before you go what’s happening and where’s best. Be aware that if you are taking your children on safari there may be long drives, early starts and tedious waits. And that routine you had so carefully perfected? You might need to let that go for a while. Tracking prints in the sand, analysing the freshness of elephant dung and spotting swarms of parked 4X4s up ahead will be as important as spotting the animals themselves. Guided game drives are great as the rangers communicate on radios about what they’ve seen, they can tell you so much useful information about the park, birds, vegetation and, er, poo... and, frankly, some terrains are better left to the professional guide/driver. However you can be out in the bush for hours without a potty and it’s not really the time or place for a ‘nature wee’...
Make a photobook
It’s important to keep re-living the memories if you want your children to remember their safari experience. With the right app (I like ‘Free Photobooks’) you can make a little book of pictures from your phone and it will be there on your doorstep for when you fly home, ready to show grandparents and nursery friends everything they’ve seen on their beautiful adventure.
Taking your children on safari can be such a rewarding experience. When the whole Jeep falls silent as a male lion walks purposefully towards your vehicle and your little one shouts: ‘Look! A daddy rahhh!’ you won’t know whether to shush him, kiss him or burst into a rendition of The Circle of Life. So pack your snacks, load up the Trunki and let your toddler experience the wonder of Africa’s greatest show.