How to Travel with Family on a Budget
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!
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