Saving for anything is a pain (sometimes literally). But saving for travel is the only way to reap the benefits of exploring other cultures.
Of sparking curiosity and learning about life.
But travel can also be a money hungry monster!
If camping in the woods or splurging on a 5-star hotel is your thing, it still costs. Whichever way you travel, family vacation expenses can add up.
We are a family of 3, my 2 girls and myself, and traveling is a DIY thing for us.
We organize everything ourselves from scratch to save some money but also to experience things our way.
But it still adds up.
When I traveled solo it was always on a shoestring budget, but with children, there are many other things to take into consideration. And some level of comfort is one of them.
But we still have to keep costs down.
We are always trying to save in case our travel obsession takes over! You know, that feeling that makes you just want to pack up and gooooo..
Here are a few ways to save before and during travel.
Before implementing any type of savings action, you must know how much you need.
So, you must know where you want to go, how long and approximately how much it will cost you.
There are 4 main expenses in travel: Plane tickets. Lodging. Food. And everything else.
Each expense comes with its own level of flexibility. Plane tickets are the biggest part of the budget and usually not flexible.
For lodging, food and everything else, it’s flexible. Meaning you chose where you sleep, what you do and how you spend your time.
Before You Go Savings
I’m terrible at math but I do know that saving money for anything has to be thought out and planned according to income.
The idea of saving money for a specific purpose has to be followed by practical action – otherwise, the piggy bank doesn’t get filled up and the furthest you’ll travel is your local park.
Implement some small changes
It makes sense that money earned is always allotted to certain priorities first, like home, kids, bills. And if you’re like most families, there usually is very little left to travel.
The mindset of saving for travel may seem frivolous for some, but for me and my kids, it’s an essential part of life as the benefits of traveling together outweigh the pain of saving.
So I try to implement certain savings strategies like the ones below.
Cut Down On Expenses
What? what? But I don’t overspend on anything!
Really? I thought that too… Until I started changing my ways.
1.Set aside 10% of what you earn each month. This may be hard to do, but if you implement the other tips below you may not miss this amount.
Ideally, it should go automatically into a saving account and you shouldn’t touch it. Until travel time. I don’t have an official account, but I do
try to set aside the 10%.
2. If travel is a top priority, then practice daily downsizing. Each time you want to purchase something ask yourself: is it really a basic necessity or will I forget about it in a few days?
How many times do we see something and go crazy over it only to put it away and forget about it in no time?
Many times. Many many times.
3. Almost every morning before I go to work, I stop and have a few moments to myself, with a delicious coffee. It’s only a few euros and the only quiet time of my day. I buy few things so I consider this a daily present to myself.
But.. it adds up to a LOT of money at the end of the month, of the year. Do your math, you’ll be surprised. I was shocked! 1000$ per year? Seriously?
So choose your coffee wisely. Or your double chocolate caramel latte. Or your smoothie.
4. Food Food Food shopping. That’s another biggie that takes up most of our hard earned money.
Never shop hungry.
Try not to shop with kids. I try not to shop with my kids. Somehow at checkout, I find products they sneaked into the cart (plus usually unhealthy things) that I never intended to buy!
Plan meals ahead of time and have a list ready before you go. Change grocery stores if yours is too expensive but you just go there because it’s convenient.
Try buying generic names for things that don’t really matter but that you still need. It’s much cheaper and still does the job.
5. Eating out. Yes, eating is fun. You get to change your routine and eat different stuff. But it breaks the piggy bank when you do it too often.
Treat your family once in a while, not once a week! That includes ordering pizza and having it delivered. Or sushi.
Ohhhh sushi, our downfall. We used to order sushi twice a month as a reward for anything. We were very happy! But the piggy bank was left empty. So we learned how to make it. Less expensive and so much more fun 🙂
The same applies for avocado toast or whatever else you can’t live without. Learn how to make it.
6. Lunch. That’s another biggie. Buying a quick sandwich between class or to take back to work. If you do it once it’s fine. But if you have a quick lunch out a few times a week, then do your math. In the end, saving is the big benefit.
Seriously take a pencil and paper and write it all down. Now calculate.
Learn how to make delicious lunches at home and take it with you!
7. Digital: There is a net decrease in magazine and newspaper subscriptions, but if you’ve kept yours, then cancel them.
You can find information so easily that it’s not worth the cost. If you really can’t part with your favorite magazine, then suspend it for a couple of months and see what happens.
You can always re-subscribe.
8. Apps. Apps are like coffee. A few dollars here for something we are convinced we can’t live without. Owning the latest app is cool, but it won’t buy you that plane ticket. Unless it’s a new Beam Me Up Scotty app??
Stick with free apps and save for your trip.
.9. Swap going to the movies for a rented one at home. Make some really good popcorn, turn off the lights and enjoy.
Swap books. Swap services. You get the idea.
.Magic Ticket Savings
You’re on a treasure hunt for THE best-priced tickets. That’s your magic ticket for the next trip.
But..there are so many theories about this.. certain people are convinced that 3 months in advance is a perfect number, while others insist on 6. Others swear if you buy it on a Wednesday it’s a steal.
And still, others will recommend buying on Tuesdays for sure between 3 pm and 4 pm.
Now to their benefit, it may all be backed up with some stats. But in my experience (and only mine) I have tried many of these and honestly, I have not seen much of a difference.
Your best bet: know exactly what country you want to go to and the dates you have available. Then start doing some research.
Check out several sites over a couple of days and if the ticket price fits your budget, then go for it.
If you wait, chances are it will go up.
Sleep Land Savings
The options depend on where you want to go and your budget. Obvious right? Right.
But the budget part of the equation takes time. You really have to sit down and calculate what you can afford.
So back to research!
Hostels: Not all hostels are created equal. Still, it’s the best way to exchange travel stories with like-minded people and enjoy a few advantages, like the kitchen or walking tours to check out the city.
We’ve had some amazing experiences in certain hostels. We’ve also had some “I wish we hadn’t stayed here” type of moments. Unless there are raving reviews, it can be a hit or miss thing, but we’ve had mostly hits.
And in most cases, it’s the cheapest option after camping.
Try to find hostels that are family friendly.This is important as some hostels don’t allow young children or have an over 18 rule, so make sure to check. You can book an entire 4-5 or 6 room dorm just for your family.
Airbnb: A good option if you have a large family. Choosing “entire apartment” will be cheaper than booking 2 rooms at a hotel.
You’ll have access to a kitchen, all the amenities, and privacy, especially with younger kids, this could be a winner.
Hotels: Under hotels, you have a lot of choices, from chic boutique to bare bones.
On certain sites you just put in the requirements you’re looking for and narrow your search. Think about your budget and click what you can afford! Do it.
Otherwise, you’ll just torture yourself when looking at that seawater infinity pool surrounded by a dreamy view – at 1.000$ a night.
Camping: Now this is not for everyone. Some people love it while others cringe at the thought. But sometimes you don’t have a choice.. and I can attest to that!
We took a 3-week road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco via Grand Canyon, Arizona, Bryce Canyon and up H1.
Well.. sleeping was so expensive that we had to opt for camping. (which most of the time was fun 🙂
The only place with complicated camping was in San Francisco and so we opted for a hostel, which alone cost me 1/3 of our budget.
But that’s another story..
Back to camping.
Campgrounds are widespread in the US, find them in national parks, private campgrounds, special RV campgrounds, the list is endless.
Try to find what best suits your needs.
Outside US options:
Some countries are perfect for road trips, and renting a van to sleep and cook in could be an option if you’re ok with basics.
We did this in Iceland. It was very cold! But it was fun and we cooked meals on a small stovetop right inside the van.
In some countries, (like Iceland) you can park the van anywhere for the night, but in other countries make sure to check the designated spots.
The biggest advantage (after saving) is the view when you wake up in the morning! Which changes daily.
We’ve also used Couchsurfing intensely in different parts of the world. The idea of Couchsurfing is to meet new people while staying with them free of charge.
You can also accept people at your house. If you already have a place to sleep, you could just meet up for coffee or a enjoy a night out with different people or whatever else is happening.
We had some great times and still keep in touch with some of the hosts we’ve stayed with and guests that have stayed with us.
But a few years ago the entire structure of Couchsurfing changed and unfortunately (for us) it now has an impersonal and even commercial feel to it, so we don’t use it as much.
However, this is just my personal opinion, it may still be a good option for some.
While you’re there Savings
Foodie or not a foodie? Either way, we have to eat whether for survival or sheer pleasure and food raises the costs.
On vacation, we eat all the time trying out everything under the sun!
Not quite survival mode but it’s vacation, right?
A few tips to keep food costs down
Consider the country you’re going to and adapt what works for you.
Street Food: Oh yesssss !
Take advantage of all the different street foods often cooked up right before your eyes.
Immerse yourself in the smells and textures new to your taste buds. So delicious.
And save a ton of money.
Picnics: When the sun shines this is such an easy way to save money – if you do your shopping at the local grocery store.
Find a great park or even the beach and enjoy local food in local surroundings.
If the weather is bad: We’ve had days when violent downpours forced us to stay inside. So have a pizza or other easy food back in your room until the sun shines! If you make it fun it’s worth the small savings.
Happy Hour: Pubs are notorious for music and drinking. But that usually happens later in the evening, when families won’t want to be there anyway, but Happy Hour is early and it’s a good thing.
Some pubs allow kids under 18 during Happy Hour. So take advantage of this. Having some pub food at low prices and feeling the good vibes is a good deal!
See The Sights Savings
Tours: When you get to a new city you are often at a loss as to where to go and what to see, and how to do it.
Expensive Hop on Hop off buses everywhere, coupons for complicated itineraries at high prices, people on the street giving out flyers claiming great deals – which really aren’t.
So what to do?
Take a walking tour: My absolute favorite thing to do when I go to an unknown city is to walk. Walking is good, at an easy pace with lots of stops to explore.
I try to contact local guides who offer free walking tours. You can give them a tip, big or small, according to how much you liked the interaction.
It’s fair enough and always cheaper than a high priced deal.
We’ve done this a lot and have always enjoyed it!
Museums: Visiting a museum can add cost. We used to avoid them for this reason. But some cities offer a free a day in the week or at a discounted price. Of course, it depends on where you are going, but make sure to check that out.
If you’re visiting the south of France check out this post for some fun culture: Museums .
City Cards: If you’re a high activity family and need to check lots of boxes daily, then City Cards may be a good solution to save money on entrance fees. Most big cities have them, so check out the activities you’d like to do and compare cards. Note that some city cards have a limit in time.
Tourism Office: An essential stop! They have a great deal of information, free maps and coupon booklets that you can take advantage of. Plus they can steer you towards non-touristy restaurants if you strike up a nice conversation.
Saving is not easy, and there is a lot more to do in order to buy those tickets. But if you implement these few tips, you will see a difference in only a few months.
Start writing down everything you buy for a couple of weeks. This will establish a pattern so you can analyze your spending habits and start saving.
It’s important to understand where you spend your money before you can start saving! So do it, and start cutting out what isn’t essential.
The coffees, the smoothies, the quick lunches, the overpriced internet fees, the extra 100 channels that you don’t watch.
And everything single thing, big or small, that requires money.
You’ll be surprised how the small things you thought were insignificant, become big when added up back to back.
When you get to Travel Land you’ll be glad you did the work!
Make sure once you’re there you implement these Travel Safety Tips.
Go Play. Together.