After a year 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?
I recently 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!”
Budgeting for a trip around the world
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. But I also knew that because of the number of places we wanted to visit, it would be hard to keep our transportation costs low. Still, I wanted to be as frugal as possible with our travels.
I scoured the internet for examples of how other families made affordable world travel possible. I tried to think of all the possible costs that could come up as we traveled. And 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, not exactly cheap, but also not outrageous. As I was planning for the trip, I budgeted a monthly spend of around $5,000 per month. But looking back on my meticulous records of our expenses, it turns out we are spending an average of $6,800 per month for travel (this doesn’t include any at home costs like the mortgage we have to pay or the student loans we’re paying off). 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?
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, “not traveling.”
Another 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 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? 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? 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? Can camping and RV-ing be possible for a digital nomad family who needs reliable internet connection for work?
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. You also need to consider internet costs, insurance, and supplies you may need on the road.
Additionally, 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? Do you have a home with a mortgage that you kept? I didn’t include any of these expenses in the $6,800 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. 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.
On average, we spent about $1,080 per month on transportation. This included $580 per month on air travel (flying into the country and flying around the country if necessary), and $500 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. 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. Sure, we would spend months at a time in various countries, but within those countries, we would travel to multiple cities. 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 second year if we slow down our travel speed even more.
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 $1,800 per month on accommodations. This breaks down to less than $60 per day. In countries like Mexico, our lodging costs averaged around $1,500 per month. 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. If you’re planning to camp or RV travel, you may not have WiFi 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.
If you’re planning on house-sitting, your travel schedule is limited by the house-sitting gigs that you can get. You also have responsibilities for the house you’re taking care of, which may take a lot of time commitment. One of our house-sitting gigs last year required us to water the family’s garden every other day, and walk the dog every day. The time commitment totaled about fifteen hours for the week that we were there.
One way we’ve lowered our accommodation costs is to do month-long stays on 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 second year of travel, we’re aiming for a budget of $1,450 per month for accommodations.
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. On average, we spent $1,600 per month on food during our first year 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.
Sometimes it helps to shop around! For our second year of our trip around the world, we’re aiming for a food budget of $1,200 per month.
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. On average, we spent about $240 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.
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. Life insurance costs us $335 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). 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 plan to purchase health and travel insurance through a company called WeExpats, which specializes in providing insurance to expats living abroad. This will bring our insurance costs to around $600 per month.
Build room in your budget for supplies
One thing we didn’t expect to spend so much money on was supplies. During our first year, this accounted for around $500 of our monthly travel budget.
Aside from the big supplies we purchased at the beginning of our trip – good quality traveling bags, good quality shoes, good quality all-weather jackets – we also purchase things as we travel. This can be small, like Amazon movies for entertainment, or a new Kindle book to read. Or it can be big, like a new iPad for our son, when his old one decided it was time to stop working. Medical costs, like vaccines or doctor visits, fall into this category of costs.
We’ve also found that we’ve had to buy household supplies from time, when our Airbnb is missing things that would be helpful for our family. 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. 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.
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. And 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 $730 a month on activities. 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. We also 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. We also 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 second year of travel, we’re aiming to spend around $450 per month on activities. We want to do better about finding free things for families to do while they travel.
Examples of average monthly costs for our family
As I mentioned earlier, our average monthly costs during our first year of travel was $6,800. 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 $10,200, 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 as food. We also spent almost $1,000 on in-country transportation, with train tickets, bus fare, car rental, gas, and tolls.
The United States was also fairly expensive, averaging around $8,100 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, like in Italy, lodging and food averaged to more than $2,000 per month.
The cheapest country for us to live in was Mexico, which averaged to around $5,300 per month to live. Our lodging came to around $1,500 per month, while food averaged around $1,200 per month. I reckon we could have done better about being more conservative with our money, but the affordability of things made us lax about our spending.
Moving forward, I think that our family can do better about doing family travel on a budget. Taking into consideration our at home costs, we actually spent about the same amount each month that we did back home. Clearly, there’s room for improvement on our end to make affordable world travel happen!
|Average Monthly Costs||USA||Mexico||Italy|
|Total Average Costs||$8,100||$5,300||$10,200|
Making a commitment to family travel on a budget
For our second year of our trip around the world, we’re making a bigger commitment to affordable world travel and sticking to our budget. We’re aiming to spend around $5,000 per month on travel. This breaks down to around $41 per day for each member of our family.
Looking at our spending this past year 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.
Much like 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.
Have you done affordable world travel with your family? Share some ways that you’ve saved money on a trip around the world in the comments. And feel free to share your costs with me if you feel comfortable!
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