How To Budget For Family Holidays Overseas

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We love taking family holidays overseas. Three years ago, my family and I went on our very first overseas family trip together. My husband, 14 year old step-son, 22 month old daughter, and I all boarded a plane to embark on a three week tour of Southeast Asia. During that trip, we visited Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Japan.

It was a whirlwind three weeks. We all had a blast spending time with each other while we explored the different countries. But I would be lying if I said that it was a breeze planning such a trip.

My stepson and daughter in Indonesia (July 2012)

Budgeting for family holidays overseas

For many families, one of the biggest obstacles of family holidays overseas is the expense. Travel with kids is not cheap. This is especially true when you take into consideration the extra tickets, food, and activities.

In my years of travel, I have found that traveling with your kids requires a change in mindset. This is particularly true in terms of travel style and how you spend your money.  You can’t travel the same way with kids as you would with adults. Here are some of things I’ve found to be helpful in budgeting for family holidays overseas.

Airfare

More than likely, airfare will end up being the biggest expense of your trip, especially for family holidays overseas.  With kids, there’s no way of getting around paying for the extra ticket. If your child is over two years old, you’re paying for their ticket.  However, shopping around can help you find more affordable options for flights, rather than just going with your usual airline. 

Being flexible with your dates, as well as flight destinations can also help save you some money. Personally, I have used websites such as Kayak, Vayama, and Hipmunk to search for flights.  

When planning for a trip, it’s generally cheaper to fly into a hub city, rather than flying into a less frequented one.  During our Southeast Asia trip, even though our main destinations were Jakarta and Manila, we ended up saving money by flying into Bangkok instead. Bangkok was cheaper because it is a more common destination for travelers to that region.  

Even when we took into account the cost of buying additional regional flights, the total airfare cost was cheaper than flying into either Jakarta or Manila.  The one thing I like about Kayak is that it will search for the major airlines and also the lesser known airlines. So you end up being able to see a variety of flight options on one site.

The view from the air on an AeroMexico flight (October 2018)

Lodging

Finding adequate accommodation for family holidays overseas can be difficult.  Most hotel rooms only offer double occupancy. In most parts of the world, this equates to two Twin beds, or one Queen sized bed.  

When looking for lodging, try and find hotels that offer family rooms or triple rooms.  Sometimes hostels can be an option if they have private rooms that can accommodate small groups of 4 people or more.

Recently, I have been using Booking.com to look for rooms. I prefer their user experience compared to other booking sites.  However, I’ll also use Trip Advisor to research hotels. Trip Advisor allows me to see reviews from other travelers, which is really helpful when trying to decide on a hotel room.

Another option for family holidays overseas is to look for vacation home rentals.  My family and I have been using Airbnb since 2009, and for the most part have been satisfied with the experience.  We have used Airbnb in the United States, Canada, and the Philippines, and have stayed at some pretty gorgeous homes.  

In most cases, Airbnb was the more affordable option for us, since we are usually traveling as a family of four of five. Other families in the United States have used VRBO to book home rentals as well. But I tend to default to Airbnb when looking for lodging.

Couch surfing is another option for families, but it can sometimes be hard to find a couch that can accommodate a family of four or five, and you have to be open and up front about what your needs are, especially if you’re traveling with young children.

Budgeting for lodging can be somewhat flexible, depending on whether you want simple or luxury accommodation.  For developing countries, I tend to budget under $100 a night for lodging.  For more developed countries, I’ll aim for $150-$175.

Our locally owned guest house in Sumatra (September 2015)

Food

This is the area in the budget where you can have the most flexibility.  If you’re willing to be pretty strict about spending, or if you’re traveling in a cheap country, you can probably get by with having a food budget of $100 a day for a family of four.  That takes into consideration $5 for breakfast, $7 for lunch, $11 for dinner, and $2 for snacks per person.  

For most of my family trips, I’ll usually budget about $140 a day for food. That breaks down to $7 for breakfast, $10 for lunch, $15 for dinner, and $3 for snacks. Some days we’ll go over this amount. And some days we’ll go under. In either case, it’s helpful to have a budget to make sure we’re not always eating out at fancy restaurants during our trip.

Some creative ways to save money on food is by visiting a grocery store or market and making your own meals.  We have done this in Manila and New York.  In both times we were staying at an apartment, so for breakfasts, we made our own meals using food we bought at nearby grocery stores.

Other ways we’ve saved money on family holidays overseas is by having street food lunches.  One thing to keep in mind, especially when traveling in developing countries, is to make sure the food you get from street vendors are properly cooked. That way, neither you nor your kids get sick.  

I don’t agree with folks who avoid street food at all costs. But as a parent, I do think it is important to be cautious about what foods you give your kids.  The general rule is to make sure the food is fully cooked and hot. You also want to avoid eating raw food that has been washed in the local water.

A father and son taking family holidays overseas
Walking through a market in Guanajuato, Mexico (December 2018)

Local transportation

Unless you’re planning on renting a car or using taxis during your stay, a great way to save money on family holidays overseas is to utilize public transportation.  Most major cities around the world have reliable public transportation systems. I always find this is a great way to get a feel of what it’s like to live like a local.  

I’ve taken my kids on public transportation in cities like New York, Bangkok, Singapore. We’ve also used public transportation in Paraguay.  The kids always enjoy people watching. And for our family, it’s almost like a mini adventure, trying to navigate our way around the city.  

Before you go on your trip, research what the public transportation options are in the place where you’ll be. That way, it will be less of a shock when you get there.  I usually budget around $20-30 a day for local transportation, just in case there are days when hiring a taxi is a necessity.

My daughter riding public transport in Bangkok, Thailand (July 2012)

Activities

This is the part of the overseas family trip budget that can sometimes be overlooked.  If you’re not careful, it’s easy to go over-budget on activities during your family holidays overseas.  There’s always something interesting to do. And more than likely, those things aren’t cheap.  

One thing that’s helped me in the past is to only choose one or two things to do per day.  I also try and alternate the days with free activities.  Beaches are usually free. Parks are also free, as are monuments or walking tours of neighborhoods.  

My kids enjoy museums for the most part. But they also enjoy just hanging out at a playground.  It’s okay if you don’t see every site listed in your guidebook. The most important thing is that you’re spending time with your family exploring a new city.

Playing at a park in Delhi, India (June 2016)

Souvenirs

More and more, I have tried to avoid buying souvenirs on family holidays overseas. Mostly, it’s because my house is beginning to get cluttered with the random knick knacks we’ve acquired throughout our travels. Photos have become my souvenir of choice. And aside from the cost of printing photobooks, they’re virtually free!  

But if you must buy souvenirs on your overseas family trip, try to set a cost limit for each of your family members. For my family, it’s usually $20-50 a person, depending on how long of a vacation we go on and how many countries we visit.  During our family holidays overseas, we usually spend our souvenir money on things like snacks that are specific to that country. We also like buying postcards or wearable local crafts.

Enjoying a drink of terrere from Paraguay (June 2013)

Visas, travel insurance, airport tax, airport transport, and baggage storage

Do some research ahead of your family holidays overseas to see what visas will be needed for the country that you’re visiting. You also want to research the best way to obtain that visa.  

Some countries will offer visa processing by mail through their embassies. Other countries offer visas on arrival.  Either way, it’s good to be prepared. We once spent over an hour at the airport in Asuncion, Paraguay waiting to get our visa-on-arrival processed

Another travel cost to consider is travel insurance.  When I was a solo traveler, I never bought travel insurance.  But now that I’m a mom, I’m a lot more careful about how I travel. These days, I always buy travel insurance for my family and me.  

When we went to Southeast Asia, my husband came down with a pretty bad case of amoebas. Having the travel insurance on hand really helped save us some money on the doctor visit.  Insure My Trip is a good site to shop for travel insurance.

Other costs that may arise include airport tax, airport transport, and baggage storage.  Some countries like to charge airport tax or a departure tax.  Make sure you research this ahead of time, so that you’re not caught off guard at the end of your trip, and you’ve spent all your local currency. Also, be sure to budget transportation to and from the airport.  

I’m a major proponent of public transportation. But when it comes to getting to and from the airport, I usually err on the side of convenience. Hiring a shuttle or a taxi is usually much easier than trying to lug multiple bags and kids between trains and buses.  

The only exception would be in Tokyo, where a taxi from Narita airport into the city can cost over $200!  In that case, I’ll gladly use the public transportation system.

Baggage storage is a cost that you may want to include in your budget. Sometimes there are things you’ll need to bring on the flight that you won’t need for the rest of the trip.  In our case, it’s usually the car seat, which I like to bring on the plane for my kids.  Other times we’ve used baggage storage is when we’ve had long layovers in a particular city and we want to do some sight-seeing in between flights.  

On my way to India last year, I had a layover in Amsterdam and used the baggage storage at the airport to store my carry-on while I went and explored the city.

Taking the shuttle bus to the airport (July 2014)

Miscellaneous costs

The last thing I always budget for when planning family holidays overseas is miscellaneous costs.  No one can predict what will happen on a trip. Since I’m usually traveling with my kids these days, I like to be somewhat prepared for the unexpected.  

I usually budget around 1-5% of my travel costs for miscellaneous costs. This gives me a small cushion of funds, in case I go over-budget on the other expenses.

I have always been a planner, and to me, part of the fun of family holidays overseas is in the planning.  There’s something exciting in the anticipation and uncertainty of preparing for a trip.  

I’m also a big advocate for family travel.  To me, nothing is more educational and enriching for your kids than exposing them to a new culture or place.  I hope these tips on budgeting for family holidays overseas are helpful in getting you and your family started on an adventure of your own.  Bon voyage!

Do you like going on family holidays overseas? What are your favorite budgeting tips for overseas travel with your family?

How to Budget For Family Holidays Overseas | The Wandering Daughter

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18 Responses

  1. These are excellent tips for a family. When we traveled together as a family when I was younger (3 kids and the parents!), my mother would always look for apartment style places to rent so we could all be together. It’s a lot easier now with Airbnb, we also use flipkey sometimes and have had success with that.

    1. Thanks Annie! I haven’t tried FlipKey yet, but have heard a lot about it. Maybe a future blog post idea? 🙂

  2. You have taken all important cost factors into consideration. It does make a lot of sense to take public transportation within city, but familiarisation with the system takes time.

    1. I agree, Indrani. We don’t always do public transportation, especially if we’re unfamiliar with the language or the routes.

  3. All excellent points on travel budgeting. I too have become a big Airbnb fan, especially with longer stays or if I’m traveling with friends or family. Having more room for often less than the cost of a basic hotel room, can make a huge difference. Plus, I get to shop at food markets, meet more locals, and can have nice relaxing breakfasts at home without having to get out of my PJs!

  4. Excellent tips and they all work very well even for solo travel! I love couchsurfing as well but have never done it with my girl-friend, but if you find the right host it could be fun with the family too 🙂

    1. I’ve always wanted to do couchsurfing, but have always felt uncomfortable with imposing my whole family on someone! Good to know that there are folks out there who wouldn’t mind taking in a family.

  5. Amazing tips! I am always in awe at how my parents managed to take fun family vacations almost every year! They must have been budgeting master. I’m over here as a mostly solo or couple traveler and I can barely manage haha. I’ll have to keep these in mind for myself.

    1. It’s definitely an art, not a science! But exposing your family to the world makes it all worth it.

  6. This is great insight into what it costs to travel with kids! My partner and I hope to continue to travel once we start our family, so it’s helpful to know what resources you use and how much to budget. Cheers!

    1. I hope you do continue to travel once you have a family. It’s such a rewarding experience, and not as overwhelming as you think!

  7. Great tips – I heard yesterday that airlines are now bringing in a charge for kids under two as well – something like 10% of the ticket. Which is stupid in my opinion if they’re not taking up an extra seat! Our biggest savings on family trips is by using Airbnb and making sure we find a room / apartment with kitchen facilities so we can shop locally and do our own cooking. Not eating out really keeps expenses down 🙂

    1. I can’t believe some airlines would do that, Megan! I agree with you about finding rooms and apartment rentals with kitchens. We love cooking too, and going to a local market or grocery store to shop is an experience in and of itself!

  8. It’s funny how the process starts off the same. Looking for cheaper flights, trying to be flexible with your flights etc…I like booking.com and have also used Trivago. My first choice is Airbnb. I’m always amazed with families that travel with their young children. I thing that is awesome! My friend Kevin from The Wandering Wagars brings his kids everywhere. I give you guys props and as a person who’s profession specialized in child development I doin’t think I’d be able to bring kids on a plane to a different city…lol

    1. Christopher, I think sometimes it depends on the child. And to be honest, we usually end up giving our kids iPads to watch on long plane rides! But the experience of sharing the world with my kids is totally worth it.

  9. I need to share this with people who think they can’t do this. Great post. It all comes with some research and really understanding that budgeting will go a long way.

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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