Family Travel on a Budget, Our Top Tips
Wild guess here but do you and your family want to travel on a budget??
Do you want to get the best experiences for the amount of money you have?
If the answer is yes then we want to share with you what we’ve learnt over the last few years, and we think they’re pretty great tips worthwhile of sharing so that you and your family can have a fantastic travel experience without necessarily having to take out a second mortgage.
But before we get to the all-important tips I want to mention the word budget and get you to think about what it means to you.
It can mean so many things to different people.
It may mean doing things as cheaply as possible or it may mean doing things within a certain budget.
So we’re just going to talk from what we’ve experienced and what budget means to us, which brings us to the first tip
Tip One – Do Your Research
We can’t stress how important this tip is.
It’s what underlies all of our travel.
You see when we talk about budget travelling, we think it all comes down to choices but you can’t know all the choices unless you do your research.
Whether your budget is rock bottom or high, you won’t know all the choices there are, unless you research.
Imagine being in a restaurant and there’s only a limited menu to look at, we would just make wild choices with little information.
We need the full menu to make informed choices.
Being on a budget may not mean you pick the cheapest thing off the menu but you would be making the choice that most suits your needs.
Research takes time, that’s why people usually don’t have all the choices in front of them and just plump for the best choice with the little info they have.
Trouble is you’re not seeing what may be the best deal or another way of doing something.
We research a lot, but we love it.
Why not get the family involved in the research and planning.
Children love to be involved and be part of the project, researching things.
Even though I do most of the nitty-gritty planning, we’re all involved in the decisions and research.
If you think you’ve found all the ways of doing something, have another look, you’ve probably missed something.
Remember though that research can be as simple as talking to local people at your destination.
Let me give you an example.
We had to travel from Tijuana in Mexico to Los Angeles.
We’d done a similar trip before, but we’d picked an option that was pretty straight forward and not, as we suspected afterwards, the cheapest, so the second trip gave us the opportunity to research more thoroughly.
Amazingly we got from the US side of the Mexican border to Los Angeles for $7.50 each ( December 2018 ).
Yep, that’s right, no typos, just $7.50 each.
All of our other tips are worthless if you don’t do your research.
Research, Research, Research
Tip Two – Travel Independently
Travel companies want to make money so they have to make a profit on everything they sell, which we have nothing against but you’re not getting the best deal on travel that you could.
Now you may want the ease of booking with a company or going on an organised tour and that’s fine, and we’ve done that if it suits us to, or if there aren’t any other alternatives.
But you need to know you are paying more than you have to sometimes.
It’s like the difference between going to a shop to buy something or going straight to the manufacturer.
The thing with this tip is that you can do some things independently even if you don’t want to do everything on your own.
We used to go on package holidays to get the ease of flights and accommodation all booked but then do all of our excursions once at the destination because we knew we were paying way more for organised trips than what we could do ourselves.
The thing with this is, BE BOLD.
You are way more capable of doing things on your own than you think.
Travel companies rely on people wanting things easy and being too scared to do things themselves.
Start small if it’s a challenge, just do little things then as you get bolder you can spread your wings.
Tip Three – Use Public Transport
You can save lots of money by using public transport.
It can be tempting to hop in a taxi for ease and sometimes it’s the best option but many times there are much cheaper alternatives.
Again this takes research and part of that research can be talking to locals.
Public buses are usually inexpensive or even free in some destinations.
There’s a bus in Long Beach, California (The Passport Red Bus ) that is completely free and loops around the city to all the main sights and out to the Queen Mary.
The trouble is that especially when we are in a foreign country people might be a bit nervous about catching local buses etc, so resort to taxies or shuttle buses.
The truth is it can sometimes be challenging but it’s all doable and there is usually someone who will offer help if you get confused.
I remember in China, we turned up at a bus station and had to get to a very small town quite a long distance away.
There was absolutely no way of knowing where to go but a local woman stepped up and offered help speaking the little English she knew.
She not only explained what we needed to do but got on the bus with us and got off with us where we had to change, then asked another complete stranger to help us with the next leg of our journey.
This other woman found our next bus and negotiated a price with the conductor who was trying to charge us too much.
That was a very challenging situation but we still got to our destination in one piece.
Using public local transport can be a lot of fun and a great way to meet people and do something locally.
Some destinations have some wonderful types of public transport.
Travelling on boats, trains, buses, tuk-tuks etc can be so much fun.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand you can travel all over the city by Songthaew which is a red pickup truck with a roof and bench seating in the back.
You wave them down and tell the driver where you’re going.
There might be several other people riding in the back and the driver will just let people off as he gets to their destinations.
You pay one price, no matter the distance, which we always checked with the driver beforehand.
It’s fun and we chatted to all sort of people.
I even had a great conversation with a Buddhist Monk one time.
Step out of your comfort zone and give it a go. You may be surprised.
Travel On Public Transport
Tip Four – Eat Where The Locals Eat
There’s usually a huge range of places to eat in, at your chosen destination.
Quite a few of those places may be aimed at catering for tourists with higher prices than if you go to a place that caters to locals.
In some parts of the world these places might not look much from the outside or even inside but if there are plenty of local people there, then you’re in the right place.
The benefit of this is, not only is it usually a lot cheaper than tourist places, but you get to try local food and eat the way locals eat.
I’m writing this while we are staying in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and let me tell you that there are tons of places that are tourist restaurant and priced accordingly but there are little local eateries tucked away if you know where to look and you’ll pay a fraction of the price just because locals won’t pay tourist prices.
Think of a simple local eatery near to where you live and think about what price they may charge, then think about how they would charge more if they were in a prime tourist location.
Another aspect is to eat simply or cheaper still, if you’re staying somewhere you can cook, go get some groceries and prepare meals for yourself.
There are some places in the world that cooking for yourself is not the cheapest option.
In much of SE Asia, it’s actually cheaper to eat street food than to cook for yourself.
Street markets have tons of food stalls with delicious local food to try.
Don’t be afraid to eat street food!!
Just be sensible about it.
Watch what the locals do.
Are they eating at specific stalls?
Are some busier than others?
Are they staying well away from certain stalls?
Make sure the food is freshly prepared and hot if cooked.
We’ve eaten loads of street food and never been ill from it ( touch wood ) but we have been ill from hotel restaurant food.
Eat Where The Locals Eat
Tip Five – Getting To Your Destination
Instead of going to your local travel agent or your favourite airline for a flight abroad take a look at flights on a database.
This can save you loads of money.
We always use Google Flights for any flight we are researching.
Skyscanner is another site but I prefer Google.
Stick in an origin airport or city, pick a destination and it will come up with lots of flights you can book.
Now the thing is that you’ll get good priced flights because they may not be the big airlines or they may not be direct and you may have a change of planes but the saving you’ll make can be huge, opposed to a countries main carrier.
Play around with destinations, so for instance if I want to travel from Mexico to the UK say.
If I look up direct flights from Mexico to the UK with the main airline it will be an astronomical price but if I say right let’s look at flights from Mexico to the US and then onto the UK, I’ll get some much better deals. And I’m talking hundreds of dollars or pounds difference, sometimes.
You can also play around with dates and destinations.
On Google, you can input your origin and then just get a map and see all the different prices to anywhere in the world so you can just look for cheap flight and let that dictate where you go.
This may not work so well if you are tied to a certain time on a certain date but it’s still worth looking.
We flew from the UK to Mexico City for £200 each by flying from Manchester and changing aircraft in Orlando, Florida.
We also flew from Kuala Lumpur to Perth, Australia for £65 each.
I think the best deal we have seen so far is a flight from Bangkok to Auckland, New Zealand for ( drum roll please ) £25 pounds per person.
We were going to book them but had a problem with our credit card ( nothing to do with the site ) and missed them as there were only three seats left.
That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?
Sometimes the main airlines will have great deals too as they may sell off seats more cheaply to get enough people on the aircraft and then put the price up.
Some budget airlines won’t be listed on the site so we always check them separately.
Airlines like Easyjet in the UK or Southwest in the States don’t list their prices.
After you find your flight you can follow the link through to the airline’s website and book directly with them so there’s no worry of booking through an unknown site but it will also give you links for booking through Expedia etc.
Now that’s flights but what about sailing?
Well, we can’t really talk at any length on this because we haven’t done it, but you can get some really great deals by booking onto a relocation cruise.
A what? I hear you shout!!
Cruise ships end up in all sorts of places when it gets to the end of the cruise season, so the ship has to get to where it’s going to start from the following season, so companies offer relocation deals.
On the cruises, there might be limited stops but usually, all the facilities are up and running as normal.
You can get great deals on Transatlantic cruises, even on ships like the Queen Mary 2.
There are sites that deal specifically in relocation so check them out.
Talking of relocations, have you ever hear of Camper relocation?
Camper companies want their campers back in the right location so they offer silly cheap deals to anyone that will drive them back for them.
You’ll usually get a certain number of days to do the journey in, and it may be something like a dollar a day ( they might all be slightly different deals ) then if you want longer sometimes you can rent them for the extra days at a reduced price to the normal daily rate.
The same thing happens with cars in some destinations so make sure you follow Tip One.
How Will You Get To Your Destination?
Tip Six – Money Matters
Now we don’t think too much about how we pay when we’re travelling, right, but it’s really important.
If you use a credit card what sort of charges are you paying to use it abroad?
Does your bank charge you to withdrawer money out of an ATM with your bank card?
Is it better to use cash or card?
These questions need addressing because you may be paying a lot in charges and only realise it when you get your next bank statement.
Get cards with free cash withdrawals and credit card with no or little foreign transaction charges.
Again you must research and ask your bank for details.
Don’t just assume and be hit with huge charges.
Here’s a bonus tip, does your mobile phone have roaming charges?
Will you be charged for receiving calls or texts while abroad?
If we need to use a mobile we’ll always get a local SIM card so if you have an unlocked phone that will allow you to do this, great, if not then not so good and only use your phone if absolutely necessary.
Know Your Money Options
Tip Seven – Don’t Spend Like You’re on Holiday
Right so I don’t know if you’re travelling on a short holiday or long term but if you really want to travel on a low budget you need to spend like you’re living rather than on holiday.
When we go on holiday we usually save hard all year and we have an amount we are willing to spend and so we might be able to eat out in nice places all the time or do lots of activities etc.
I remember when we went to Orlando, Florida and wanted to do everything.
We’ve never been silly with money but we were willing to spend all that we had allowed for it, so we pushed the boat out.
Travelling longer term might mean being very aware of what money you are spending so don’t live like you’re on holiday.
Don’t eat out every night ( unless it’s cheaper than eating in), don’t buy expensive coffee’s in Starbucks, limit the number of activities you do or at least find the better deals.
I’m not saying don’t enjoy yourself while travelling, but if you’re watching the pennies then they will soon go if you live it up too much, but hey that’s a choice and you may want to blow it all and go out with a bang.
Do what’s important to you.
We still do the activities and sights but only the ones we really want to do that are meaningful to us.
Be Careful With Your Spending
Tip Eight – Choose Your Destination Carefully
This goes back to research again, but think about when and where you are going.
Is it high season at your destination?
Will the prices for everything be higher than in low season?
Will the activities you’re planning as a family be extortionately expensive?
Remember that as a family you can have lots of fun doing things that have little or no cost.
There are tons of free places to visit and things to do, whether in cities, at the beach and in the country.
Our daughter Annabel loves the beach and swimming and it’s free.
We love hiking in the wilderness and usually, it’s free.
We don’t always have to provide huge activities to have a great time.
In fact, the simpler the better sometimes as it forces us to interact and be a close family.
Go learn something together.
Think outside the box.
Lots of museums around the world are free and really interesting.
There Are So Many Free Things To Do
Tip Nine – Save on Accommodation
There are three of us travelling full time so we’ve stayed in a lot of different places.
We’ve learnt to adapt to living closely together ( although on occasion we do want to kill each other :).
We don’t splurge on places to stay.
We’re quite happy staying in hostels or Airbnb’s.
As long as it’s clean, we’re good.
We’ve stayed in one room for five months and it worked out fine.
Annabel had a fold out bed that the hotel put in the room and it worked out and saved us a packet on room charges.
If it’s a short stay ( I mean one or two nights maximum ) we can all share one bed and in the US that bed is usually Queen size.
So that’s even better.
Don’t be afraid of staying in a hostel.
Most are great and have family rooms with private bathrooms.
Usually, a room is just somewhere to sleep so we don’t spend too much.
Have you tried airport sleeping?
We’ve had several occasions when we’ve had to fly out early from an airport, so instead of booking a hotel room close by we’ll just grab a spot in the airport to sleep.
Once we even had to catch an early bus nearby San Diego airport so we stayed in the airport rather than a hotel.
It’s quite an adventure really and we love it although admittedly we don’t sleep a great deal.
If you’re staying somewhere a little longer then think about an apartment with cooking facilities, if you’re in a destination where it’s expensive to eat out.
Have You Tried Airport Sleeping?
There you go then.
Wow, that was a much longer post than I expected.
The core of that is the research part.
Once you have all the facts and figures you can make an informed decision on what suits you, your family and your budget best.
Make the research part of the trip, and make it fun instead of a chore.
Why not get the family involved in the research.
Older children love a project to get their teeth into.
Be armed with the information so that when you reach your destination, you at least have some idea.
Happy planning and enjoy your travels.