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8 Tips to Family Travel on a Budget

If I had a dollar for every time someone said “how do you manage to go away for a whole month?” I am certain I could afford another one month vacation! I am no novice to the travel scene. I am a gypsy at heart and after 20 years of travelling locally, nationally and internationally I feel like I might have a good grasp at making my travel dollars go further (A handy skill for any travel loving family).

Travel isn’t for everyone and isn’t always all bacon and pancakes. With lots of travel comes packing, flight delays, bus breakdowns, finding dog sitters, extended school leaves, and stressful decisions. But to us, it’s totally worth it. The memories, the experiences, the cultures, the food, the simple pace and the diverse people….that is ALL worth every penny and moment of chaos.

So how DO we DO it? How do we budget our annual travel and still maintain a home base? Here are some of the key tips to stretching our dollars further to allot more to the travel jar:

1. Go in the off-season. I realize this is hard for some but if you can swing it and suck up taking the kidlets out of school…..DO IT. November is our FAVOURITE time to travel. Great rates, and little crowds.

2. Go for longer. Trust me here. The longer you go the cheaper it gets overall. Example: ten days in a condo costs us $2000US two years ago. One month in a condo this year cost us $2500US.

3. Rent a condo. Skip the all-inclusive especially if you want to go away for longer. Mull over the accommodation options on VRBO and AirBnB and you will soon discover the deals are there for longer stays.

4. Bring your mother. Or sister, or friends, or whomever you can get along with for an extended period of time. This really, really reduces the cost of accommodation and other things like car rentals. Splitting our condo cost in half was the number one reason we were able to spend a month away this year.

5. Collect points. But what you probably what expect is what I will tell you to use them for: airport parking, and airport hotel stays.  We put everything on credit cards monthly (and pay it off monthly too) and use those points annually for the travel extras which can really add up. What not to use them for: car rentals. Because points never cover insurance and unless you pay on your credit card for car rentals then your cc insurance will not cover the car insurance. Mistake learned: in Costa Rice one year, we used points for a car rental and still had a $600 insurance bill!

6. Give the gift of travel. Let’s just be clear now, we make sacrifices to travel so much. And one of those sacrifices is stuff. We give one or two gifts for birthdays and Christmas with tight budget guidelines. And that is it. But we all understand that in turn we get to travel a few times a year. And for us, that is well worth the exchange for lots of gadgets and toys.

7. Eat local (but smart). Our last trip to Mexico we found a local ‘shop’ that sold a fresh chicken taco meal for $9 Cdn. This fed four people (two big eaters) for dinner with lunch leftovers. That’s about $2 each for a meal. The other condo plus is the kitchen. Eating IN vs eating OUT can greatly reduce expenses.

8. Skip the excursions. When we stay for longer then a week we pick ONE touristy activity to do. Whale watching, conservation area boat tour, aerial park etc. Once we decide on the activity we seek out a private LOCAL person to guide us. We skip the excursions by the big commercial companies all together. This saves us hundreds.

My family and I have three top priorities for our household budget: quality everyday food, physical activity and regular travel. All the other things in life: clothing, toys, cars, electronics, houses etc. that are not at the top of the list, we are frugal with. We buy used and we really just don’t buy. We also both work somewhat flexible jobs with the ability to have lengthier time off, we don’t have any personal debt, and we have just one kid and one pet. All these things obviously aid in our ability to travel often and sometimes longer. BUT travel is also possible for those in other life situations. It just requires you to think beyond the 1-week lavish hotel activity-filled tropical dream vacation. Think out of the box, apply as many of the saving tips above and crunch the numbers.  In the end you may be surprised at what’s possible for you and your family as far as travel goes. And I promise you, afterwards you will NOT be disappointed with making family travel happen.

Collect moments not things. To travel is to live.

About Cheryl