Affordable World Travel With A Family: Is It Possible?

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After two years of traveling on the road, I think it’s worth taking some time to candidly discuss the topic of money. Is affordable world travel really possible for a family? How much does it really cost to take your kids on a trip around the world, and is such a thing achievable for the average family?

Last year, I took part in a Facebook thread discussing whether it is possible to do family travel on a budget. The original poster of the thread asked whether they could travel around Europe on $1,000-$2,000 a month for a family of four. And it sparked a long discussion about the costs of world travel.

A few traveling families responded, “oh yes, you can totally travel on that budget!” But I was one of several responders who said, “absolutely not!” 

This post was updated on May 20, 2020.


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Visiting Venice as a family (June 2019)

Budgeting for affordable world travel

Before we set off on our trip around the world, I put together a loose budget for our trip. I knew that we wanted to keep things affordable. However, I also knew that because of the number of places we wanted to visit, it would be hard to keep our transportation costs low.

To prep, I scoured the internet for examples of how other families made affordable world travel possible. And I tried to think of all the possible costs that could come up as we traveled. So I hoped that we would be able to make enough to cover those costs.

Bloggers like Nomadic Matt say that you can travel the world on $50 a day. So for a family of four, that translates to around $6,000 a month. As I was planning for the trip, I had hoped to have a monthly spend of around $5,000 per month.

But looking back on my meticulous records of our expenses over the past two years, it turns out we are indeed spending an average of $6,000 per month for travel (this doesn’t include any at home costs like mortgage payments or student loan debt). Yikes!

While this amount is less than what we were spending living in Seattle, it’s also more than what we expected to spend. Not exactly family travel on a budget, right? So what are we doing wrong? Why are we spending so much?

A silver SUV with a roof rack, and pine trees in the background.  The car was used for affordable world travel.
Road tripping to keep costs low (July 2018)

The danger in not addressing the true cost to travel the world

I received a lot of criticism on that Facebook thread for admitting how much we were spending each month on travel.

“Oh, you’re just TOURISTING,” one person said, “you’re not traveling.”

Another person commented on how we must be staying at luxury accommodations, doing tourist activities, and eating out all the time.

“We NEVER spend more than $3000 a month on travel, where ever we are in the world,” another commenter said.

I have to admit, part of me felt a bit disheartened and ridiculed for being so careless with my money. Why were we spending so much on our trip around the world? And how can I really encourage others to travel if I can’t do affordable world travel myself?

One thing I noticed from the thread, though, was that while many families were saying they did budget travel, few were actually providing concrete examples. What were their actual costs each month for lodging? How much did they spend each month for groceries? And are they including insurance, medical expenses, or the cost of owning an RV (if they are an RV family) into their cost to travel the world?

There’s a true danger in glossing over the details of a travel budget, especially if others are looking to you as an example. Is doing a work exchange (where you stay at a place for free in exchange for work) really plausible if you have to maintain a job to fund your travels? Also, can camping and RV-ing be possible for a digital nomad family who needs reliable internet connection for work?

Practicing counting money in Washington, DC (September 2018)

How to make affordable world travel work for your family

When you’re examining the cost to travel the world, you need to look at ALL the costs of travel, not just the basics, like transportation, lodging, and food. Additionally, you need to consider internet costs, insurance, and supplies you may need on the road.

Furthermore, you need to consider your at home costs. If you didn’t sell everything, how much will it cost to store your stuff? Are you like my husband and me, who still have student loan debt to pay off? And do you have a home with a mortgage that you kept? I didn’t include any of these expenses in the $6,000 per month amount that I quoted above. So, you’ll need to make sure you can cover these costs in some way when you travel.

With all this said, I absolutely think it is possible to do affordable world travel with a family. The key is being realistic about what will work for your individual family. Not everyone is going to be able to housesit. Plus, not every family will be able to camp where ever they go. And not everyone wants to skimp out on eating at restaurants or trying local tours and activities.

When you’re budgeting for a trip around the world, make sure you’re doing something that feels comfortable for your family.

Swinging at a park in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (November 2018)

Make affordable world travel happen by slowing down!

On average, we spent about $1,050 per month on transportation. This included $770 per month on air travel (flying into the country and flying around the country if necessary), and $280 per month on buses, trains, or car rental. In most cases, we tried to pick the most affordable option, but sometimes we went with what was most convenient or comfortable.

Having a car to drive is probably the most convenient for a family, but you’ll need to consider the cost of gas, tolls, extra insurance, and maintenance you’ll need to do on the car. Additionally, trains and buses can be affordable, but you’ll need to incorporate travel time as part of your non-monetary cost to travel the world.  

One of the reasons why our transportation costs were so high was because we were traveling relatively fast. We visited over 50 cities over the course of our first year of travel.

If you’re planning on making affordable world travel work for your family, you’ll need to really slow down your travel. Plan to spend at least two or three months in one country. And once in that country, only plan to stay in one city, to really minimize your in-country transportation costs.

We are explorers at heart, and love experiencing the diversity of a country, so only visiting one city was something that we didn’t want to do. With that said, we might be able to bring our transportation costs to around $800 per month in our last year if we slow down our travel speed even more. 

An aeriel view of Guanajuato, Mexico, an affordable world travel destination. In the center is a yellow church, with colorful buildings surrounding the church. The city is set in a valley, with hills in the distance.
Guanajuato, Mexico, where we lived for a month (December 2018)

Consider your accommodations carefully

When you’re trying to make affordable world travel happen, your lodging can make or break your budget. On average, we spent $1,400 per month on accommodations. This averages to less than $45 per day.

In countries like Indonesia and Vietnam, our lodging costs averaged between $800-$1,100 per month. And in Mexico, lodging averaged around $1,500 for one month in Mexico. But in countries like the U.S. and Italy, hotel costs made our lodging skyrocket to upwards of $2,000 to $3,600!  

Families can certainly find ways to make accommodation more affordable if they’re trying to do family travel on a budget. But keep in mind that these cheaper lodging options may have non-monetary costs. For camping or RV travel, WiFi may not be available to you where you camp. Our family needs reliable and strong internet connection to be able to work. So this option was not a good fit for us.

For house-sitting, travel schedules are limited by the house-sitting gigs that you can get. And you also have responsibilities for the house you’re taking care of, which may take a lot of time commitment. So for families who have to work, you will need to take this into consideration.

One way we’ve lowered our accommodation costs is to do month-long stays at Airbnb when we can. This allows us to take advantage of the discounts that come with longer rentals. But even then, remember that you lose the ability for a refund if you book a month-long stay.

For our last year of travel, we’re aiming for a budget of $1,300 per month for accommodations.

Hanging out at our Airbnb in Puerto Escondido, Mexico (January 2019)

Shop at the markets more

Our guilty pleasure is food. We love eating local food when we travel. And we also know that a locally-owned restaurant is going to make much better local food than we ever could. In Mexico, our favorite places to eat were taco stands and birrerias, which were relatively cheap. But in Italy, eating at the osterias were a bit of a strain on our wallets. So on average, we spent $1,220 per month on food during our past two years of travel.

If you’re trying to calculate the food cost to travel the world, think about your family’s eating preferences in general. Do you enjoy eating at restaurants? Do you like cooking your own meals? Even if you’re not a phenomenal cook, you can still sample local food by buying local ingredients at a market.

In countries like Mexico, the farmer’s market can be affordable places to buy produce. But in the U.S. and parts of Europe, sometimes you can get better prices for food at the supermarket.

Essentially, sometimes it helps to shop around! For our last year of our trip around the world, we’re aiming for a food budget of $1,100 per month.

A typical meal in Costa Rica as part of affordable world travel. Grilled fish with sauce, and plaintains and vegetables, along with rice, black beans, tortilla, and salad.
A typical local meal in Costa Rica (March 2019)

Get around like a local

Getting around a city can pose a challenge, depending on where you are staying. It’s one of the conundrums of affordable world travel: do you save money on accommodations by staying outside the city (which would require having a car), or do you find a convenient location inside the city (at the risk of paying more for accommodations)?

During our first year of travel, we did a combination of car rental, public transportation, taxis, and ride sharing. So on average, we spent about $280 per month on in-city transportation.

The cheapest way to get around a city, of course, is by walking. But when you have little kids, sometimes walking can get tiresome. We enjoy taking public transportation when ever we can. But sometimes the bus systems can be difficult to navigate. And other times, as in the case in Puerto Escondido, the cost of four tickets on public transportation was roughly the cost of one taxi ride.

Even if you’re planning to drive your own car when you travel, you’ll still need to think about gas costs. Additionally, you need to think about insurance costs and tolls as well. We rented cars while we were in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Italy. While it made getting around quite convenient, it also made our in-city transportation costs pretty expensive.

For our second year of travel, we’re hoping to rely less on taxis, and more on public transportation and walking. We’re aiming for a budget of $200 per month on in-city transportation.

Riding bikes at a park in Guadalajara, Mexico (March 2019)

Don’t disregard insurance

One of the things that many travelers overlook is insurance. When I was a solo traveler, I never thought about purchasing insurance, whether it’s travel insurance, health insurance, or even life insurance. But now that I’m a parent, it’s a must. Unfortunately, it’s a cost to travel the world that many world traveling families tend to gloss over or overlook.

During our first year of our trip around the world, we spent a whopping $10,200 on insurance (life, health, and travel), which averages to $850 per month. Now, our insurance costs us $600 per month, but it’s one of those costs that we don’t want to skimp on. We want to make sure our kids are taken care of, in case something does happen to us while on the road.

Health insurance and travel insurance are similar in that sense. As a family, you don’t want to travel without either. But there are certainly cheaper options than what we went with.

Since we were traveling in the United States for the first part of our trip, we were required by law to have health insurance (the U.S. government will actually penalize U.S. citizens on their taxes for not having health insurance). So we purchased private health insurance, which set us back over $1,000 per month.

Now that we’re no longer U.S. residents, our options for health insurance is a lot more affordable. We purchase health and travel insurance through a company called WeExpats, which specializes in providing insurance to expats living abroad. As a result, our insurance costs now average around $600 per month.

Hanging out with my kids in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (April 2019)

Build room in your budget for supplies

One thing we didn’t expect to spend so much money on was supplies. During the past two years, this accounted for around $550 of our monthly travel budget.

Aside from the big supplies we purchased at the beginning of our trip – good quality traveling bags, comfortable shoes, durable all-weather jackets – we also purchase things as we travel. For example, we purchased small items like Amazon movies for entertainment, or a new Kindle book to read. And we purchased big items, like a new iPad for our son, when his old one decided it was time to stop working. Additionally, medical costs, like vaccines or doctor visits, fall into this category of costs.

Also, we’ve sometimes had to buy household supplies from time, when our Airbnb is missing things that would be helpful for our family. Some examples of things we have purchased in multiple locations are brooms, plungers, various pots and pans, stools or step ladders, and even a fan.

If you want to have at least some level of comfort while you’re traveling, build in some room in your budget for supplies. Essentially, affordable world travel can still be possible. But just be prepared for unexpected supply needs that come up during your travels. For our second year of travel, we plan to spend $300 per month on supplies.

A set of shoes for affordable world travel. A pair of black Dansko Mary Jane shoes, one small blue pair of Keens children's shoes, one purple pair of Keens children's shoes, and one pair of dark black male shoes.
Our shoes for travel (May 2018)

Consider what your family might enjoy

Your activities budget is the one part of your budget that can be as big or as little as you want. Some families enjoy splurging on activities while they travel, while others will only seek out free activities on the road. Our family is more in the middle, as we do enjoy doing tourist activities when we travel. So we often find that museums and tours can be a great way to worldschool our kids.

During our first year of our trip, we spent around $880 a month on activities. For example, some of the activities that we did included visiting national parks like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, going to museums like the Denver Science Museum, visiting castles in Europe, or taking a tour of Teotihuacan pyramids in Mexico. Additionally, we did outings like horseback riding, fishing, and boat tours. And we also splurged on fun stuff like Great Wolf Lodge or Kidzania, or going out to movies.

If you’re trying to make affordable world travel possible, there are ways to lower your activity costs when you travel. We joined a science museum before we left Seattle, and took advantage of the museum reciprocal programs while we traveled throughout the United States. Additionally, we purchased a National Parks pass. Internationally, you can do a little research ahead of time to see if the museums in your destinations offer free days.

For our last year of travel, we’re aiming to spend around $700 per month on activities. We want to do better about finding free things for families to do while they travel. But we also know that our family values doing activities together.

A dolphin sticks his dorsal fin out of the water in the middle of the ocean, as part of a sea safari during an affordable world travel tour.
Dolphins during a sea safari in Puerto Escondido, Mexico (January 2019)

Examples of expensive countries for families

As I mentioned earlier, our average monthly costs during our travels was $6,000. But the actual costs varied from month to month, depending on where we traveled.

Italy was our most expensive country. During our month in Italy, we spent around $10,450, inclusive of airfare, which was around $2,400 for our family of four (the cost of travel from San Diego, U.S.A. to Rome, Italy). Lodging cost us over $2,000, as did our food. We also spent almost $1,500 on transportation, with train tickets, bus fare, car rental, gas, parking fees, and tolls.

The United States was also fairly expensive, averaging around $8,000 per month to travel. While we didn’t need to spend any money on airfare, it was the insurance costs (primarily health insurance), that made our trip expensive. Additionally, lodging and food combined averaged to more than $2,900 per month.  

Exploring the city of Venice, Italy (June 2019)

Examples of cheap countries that are ideal for affordable world travel

The cheapest country for us to live in was Vietnam, which averaged to around $2,500 per month to live (not including airfare). Our lodging came to around $800 per month, while food averaged around $400 per month. It is worth noting that we were in Vietnam during the COVID-19 global pandemic, and the country was essentially in lockdown. And we also ended up cooking a lot of our food at home in our Airbnb. Additionally, we hardly did any activities.

Other cheap countries to live in were Mexico, Philippines, and Indonesia. For example, we spent $5,000 per month in Indonesia, not including airfare. And in the Philippines, we spent $4,520 for a month, also not including airfare. Additionally, for Mexico, our monthly average was $4,950.

So moving forward, I think that our family can do better about doing family travel on a budget. For example, taking into consideration our at home costs, we actually spent about the same amount each month that we did back home. So clearly, there’s room for improvement on our end to make affordable world travel happen!

Enjoying cheap food in Hanoi, Vietnam (March 2020)
Average Monthly CostsUSAMexicoItalyFrance
Air Travel$1,200$600$2,400$2,600
In-country Transportation$500$200$950$500
Lodging$1,400$1,500$2,200$1,000*
In-city Transportation$300$300$500$350
Food$1,500$1,200$2,100$1,650
Supplies$1,500$350$700$725
Insurance$1,200$600$600$600
Activities$400$800$1,000$1,400
Total Average Costs$8,000$5,550$10,450$8,825
*We housesat in France for three weeks
Average Monthly CostsIndonesiaPhilippinesVietnam
Air Travel$2,100$1,900$1,600
In-country Transportation$120$50$0
Lodging$1,100$900$800
In-city Transportation$150$300$100
Food$860$1,200$400
Supplies$600$1,000$530
Insurance$600$600$600
Activities$1,600$500$100
Total Average Costs$7,130$6,450$4,130

Making a commitment to affordable world travel

For the last leg of our trip around the world, we’re making a bigger commitment to affordable world travel and sticking to our budget. Ideally, we’re aiming to spend around $5,000 per month on travel. For each member of our family, this breaks down to around $41 per day.

Looking at our spending these past two years really opened our eyes to how easy it can be to burn through your money when you travel. While we weren’t exactly living like kings, I think there’s definitely opportunities for us to cut back on some of our spending habits.

Similar to what families have to go through back home, affordable world travel is about making choices on how you want to spend your money. I certainly think that affordable world travel is possible. But at the same time, each family is different. Like every family in this world, we’re just trying to find ways to make things work.

So have you done affordable world travel with your family? If so, share some ways that you’ve saved money on a trip around the world in the comments. And, if you’re comfortable with it, feel free to share your costs with me!

Affordable World Travel With A Family: Is It Possible? | The Wandering Daughter |
A mother looks at the cost to travel the world, and contemplates whether affordable world travel is achievable for a family. #familytravel #travelbudget

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6 Responses

  1. You’re so right that everyone does this differently – you can save money if you cook food where you are staying and shop in cheap supermarkets etc, though those can be hard to find if you’re in the centre of a city. I think it’s all down to what you want to do as a family and what you want to get out of travelling – how much do you want to be spoilt on holiday and how much do you want to save the money and have it a bit rougher! All your tips and advice are great. Maybe it’s where you are in life – the money you have, the ages of your kids – which helps you decide what’s right.

  2. Thank you for being so honest about full-time family travel. I agree in that I think some people simplify and forget to take into account all the extras that pop up. This is refreshing to read!

  3. Yes, every family travels differently and budget or extreme budget travel does involve making sacrifices, sometimes this involves a level of discomfort – the tolerance level depends on the family. It is about that balance of adventure vs comfort. That balance of finding meaning/ connection vs doing the tourist thing.

    One of the true secrets of extreme budget travel which our family of 5 have done e.g. living on less than US$20 per day in Laos is “local genuine connection”. [An idea of costs when we were there – $7/night for two double rooms (in the centre of the old town in Luang Prabang) plus ensuite free bottled drinking water, daily bananas & tea plus occasional room/linen cleaning service. Large local meals under $1each inc a drink. We always carried water with us too – usually buying the cheaper bigger bottles & divide into smaller bottles. Our kids could not eat a whole meal so we would buy 2 or 3 meals and share it with no waste. We would have a cold meal for lunch and a hot meal for breakfast or dinner. When travelling we don’t eat if we are not hungry and in the tropical heat usually only had 2 meals a day each. We often got invited to join people for meals in their homes…Transport was sometimes free e.g. If we were volunteering or going to a textile place out of town or we would negotiate with a driver to take us by tuk tuk or local boat (we got to know the drivers and the rates, they always gave us a great price) but where possible we hiked or caught local public transport. We sometimes got offers of free lifts from friends. Activities: We volunteered at a place that produced local handcrafted textiles – (they gave us a tiny token stipend towards expenses, some free transport & occasional free meals) & learnt all about it, we taught English at three different organisations inc a monastery, we were invited to events by locals – a wedding, boat races, festivals, birthdays. We Geocached for free. We connected with the expat community there and went on a free Halloween holiday parade – we made costumes out of paper & recycled items…

    So Listening, interacting with, allocating time to each location and making genuine friendships with locals is key. Accommodation: Staying longer periods in one place or using a place as a base. We often use hospitality clubs to stay with locals for free too. Transport: Using local transport where possible and mostly overland – we usually only fly in and out when we holiday. Food: Cooking where possible especially when the cost of eating out is more than the cost of cooking. In Asia it is often the opposite. Activities: Be flexible and take opportunities as they come. Keep them local where possible and cost free if possible but yes, splash out for key experiences. Volunteering when possible is also a win-win for all concerned. Insurance: We used free travel insurance through our CC company. Medicine: We carried a first aid kit with standard medications & if needed went to local chemists & doctors.]

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