Wondering how we have been travelling the world with our kids for less than $100 per day? In this guide about family travel on a budget, we give you all of our tips and tricks for affordable family vacations!
Although we travel with our kids on a budget, sometimes we just like to do something wild as well! So not all of our trips are on a budget of $100 a day. Cheap family travel, however, is the only way we are able to travel a lot and see the world.
As a family, the costs add up quickly!
That’s why we wrote this article. For everybody who wants to travel more and longer with their kids.
Whether you travel in your own backyard or far away, for a short break or a long term vacation, this guide will provide you with all the tricks and tips to travel with kids on a budget.
How do we afford to travel?
I can’t travel with my kids, I don’t have enough money for that! That’s one of the main reasons people don’t book a trip with their family, they simply (think they) can’t afford it. We believe, more often than not, that’s not true!
People pay way too much for travel! Simply because they don’t know how to travel with kids on a budget.
It is actually the question we get most: ‘How do you fund your travels?‘. A few people even accused us of secretly winning the lottery. And although that would be fantastic, we haven’t ?, I promise you!
So how can we afford to travel the world, even though we are not rich?
We minimize our travel expenses and costs as much as possible. Beside rich people, who are probably not reading this article, we all want to get travel costs as low as possible without giving in on the experience!
The only reason we could afford to travel fulltime is that we travel the world on a budget, as a family. So being experts in turning every coin, we’d love to give you all our tips!
General tips for family travel on a budget
Later on in this article, we’ll talk about saving money on accommodations, transport, activities, food and drinks. But let’s start with some general tips on budget family travel.
1. Choose your destinations wisely
Where to go
One of the easiest ways to save on money is to choose a destination where the cost of living is very low.
We know how tempting it is… You just want to go for the easy option, which is fine too of course. Take the car for a trip to France or discover another state in the US, maybe drive down the coast of Australia when that’s your home country.
You would think a trip in your own continent is much cheaper than taking a plane to an exotic destination.
That’s often not true! Although your flight over there can be rather costly, you will easily even that out once you are there. A lot of countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas and even some in Europe are perfect for family travel on a budget.
In the end, you might be spending less than on your normal vacation. Or at least you’ll have some amazing new experiences for the same budget.
Our advice: pick your destination wisely and travel further!
While choosing your destination, also check the exchange rate. Pick a destination with favourable exchange rates. It will save you a lot of money!
Another thing to consider when choosing your travel destination is the cost of visas.
When we were planning our long term family trip, we first wanted to go to China. As Belgian citizens, the visa would cost us €164,5/$183 per person. That would be €658/$735 for the whole family, just to enter the country!
We needed an affordable family destination, so we decided to choose a country with a low visa cost or even a free entry.
We did, however, go to China on a transit visa. It allowed us to enter China and visit Shanghai for 5 days, without any visa fees.
Read more: How to visit Shanghai on a budget and discover how much we actually spent there
Probably you all know that Australia and New Zealand are rather expensive, as are many countries in Europe and North-America.
Here is a list of countries with low cost of living, where you can easily travel around as a family for a budget of less than €100 per day. For example in Malaysia, we spent less than $70 per day.
This list is not exhaustive, but we chose these destinations that are also known for their exquisite travel experiences.
Cheapest countries in:
- Asia: Nepal, India, Vietnam, Laos, Northern Thailand, Cambodia, The Philippines, Malaysia and Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
- North- and South-America: Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
- Europe (or near Europe): Romania, Hungary, Poland, Greece, The Baltic States, Turkey, Czech Republic, Bulgary, Georgia, Ukraine and Croatia
2. Travel off-peak times
Embrace the less than ideal weather
Most of us want to have sunshine and as less rain as possible. Oh yes, and maybe not too hot either. We are still travelling with our kids which is an adventure in itself without them being overheated the entire trip.
Which means you’ll catch the best weather if you travel during the peak season to the most popular destinations. There popular during those months for a reason of course… And you’ll pay loads of money for being there at the right time of the year.
But if you want to travel with kids on a budget, you better consider travelling when the weather is less than ideal.
That does not mean it will rain the entire time or has to be freezing cold. If you’re only able to travel during school holidays, you could consider going to the tropics. In a lot of countries in South-East Asia, Middle-America, … it is shoulder season then because of the monsoon.
Those countries are still perfect for travelling then, you’ll just have to deal with a shower every day for an hour or more. The good thing is it doesn’t get cold, so you’ll still feel like being on a vacation.
Stay out of season/festivals/holidays
Cheap family travel is very hard when you visit a destination during high season, festivals or holidays. Accommodations prices easily double or triple, activities tend to cost a lot more and the budget options sell out quickly!
Travelling off-season can be difficult if you’re bound to school holidays. Your options are to travel further (the other hemisphere and the tropics) or to embrace the less perfect weather as we mentioned above.
Another thing to consider is avoiding big holidays or festivals. Don’t travel to popular places in Asia during Chinese New Year or The Golden Week. Prices will be crazy as all the Chinese people travel around.
Be sure to check the season, festivals and holidays of your destination but don’t forget to check the entire region as well.
3. Travel outside the school holidays
One of the biggest frustrations for us, travelling parents, are the school holidays.
If your kids attend a school or you are a teacher, you are bound to fixed holidays to travel the world. Which immediately means travelling during peak times, resulting in higher costs for transportation, accommodation and activities.
Not ideal if you want to travel with kids on a budget. What are the solutions?
The first thing you could do to avoid travelling during school holidays is to take your kids out of school ?!
A little drastic, I know, but have you ever considered it? A lot of you are probably thinking you could never teach your own kids! Or that your job doesn’t allow it. What will the effect on the kids be?
Just think about this, what if the world was your kids’ classroom?
What if you can travel the world together without having to worry about school and the fixed holidays? We took our kids out of school, to start our fulltime travel adventure. So we know what we are talking about.
It is not always easy, but we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way!
Travel when the kids are young
Another way to avoid school holidays is travelling when the kids are young.
In Belgium, until they are 5 or 6 years old, you can take them out of school for a couple of weeks and travel without having any problems. I know it is like that for a lot of other countries too.
That’s why we were very busy travelling in those early baby and toddler years. We’ve been to the USA, Ireland, Israel, Thailand, … all during off-peak times.
Travel long term / Full-time travel
It is not everybody’s dream to travel long term. But it is the perfect way to avoid school holidays. Plan a gap year, a couple of months or travel full-time.
That way you can easily avoid high season everywhere.
Go to New-Zealand in there spring or autumn, and avoid there summer months (January and February). Go to Thailand in February or March, when it still cold in Europe but ideal there! Try Italy in the autumn months. And so one…
You will save lots of money by travelling full-time.
4. Prepare your cheap family travel before you leave
Do your homework
Family travel on a budget already starts before you leave. If you want to travel with kids on a budget, you need to do some research.
There are two things I generally do before I leave: buy a Lonely Planet and skim the internet with all my questions. I read lots of travel blogs, look for budget accommodations and their reviews, look for cheap ways to travel from one place to another, …
It takes quite a lot of time, but it will save you lots of money! And planning the journey, is part of the joy, don’t you think ?.
Don’t spend big before you go
It is a mistake we made in the beginning…
You’re leaving for a holiday, whether it be short or long, and you want to be prepared. So you go shopping for the right gear, some new clothing and some other stuff you see along the way.
In the end, you have spent quite a lot of bucks before you even left, which doesn’t help if you want to travel with kids on a budget.
Especially when you are heading over to countries with a low cost of living, don’t spend big! They’ll have everything there, for much cheaper prices!
A second thing to consider is, you really don’t need that much!
Travel light, less is more!
We were heavily overpacked for our fulltime family travel journey. Share and wear, you’ll spend less and be happier when you have to move your luggage from one place to another.
If you do have to shop and you’re buying online, consider cashback sites. They will give you a little bit of ‘cash’ back, when you buy your goods on your favourite webshop, through their site.
This works of course only if that webshop subscribed to the cashback site. Sometimes, when you need to buy some more expensive pieces for your family travel, such as luggage, it can pay off to check these cashback sites.
Read more: Find the best travel luggage for kids
5. Adjust the way you travel and spend
Organise your travels by yourself
If you are willing to plan everything yourself, you’ll save loads of money.
That means you arrange your own transport, book your own hotels, plan your own activities and tours.
Sometimes we book an organised tour, especially if that is the only way to reach certain spots or really enjoy a highlight.
But it will be much cheaper if you plan it by yourself. Take the local transport to that temple, bring along your guidebook and walk around by yourself. Ask a local boatman to take you on that snorkel tour, instead of booking an expensive organised tour.
Get off the beaten track
Of course, we all want to see those highlights. But family travel on a budget will not be possible if you run from one highlight to another and only stay at those really touristic places.
Leave the beaten track, and explore the undiscovered! Or not even undiscovered, but the less famous path. Your spendings will drop considerably!
The faster you travel, the more you’ll spend.
And let’s face it, isn’t it nicer anyway to travel slower with kids? Because in the end, besides exploring the country, we want to have fun! Which also means, relaxing, wandering around a place without hurrying and giving the kids time to play.
So our advice is, even when you are flying to a destination further away, take it slow! Don’t try to do it all in a couple of weeks. Stay longer at one location.
Not only will everybody be more relaxed and happy, but you also get to really know a place and meet its people. It will buy you some free time just to do nothing.
If you are travelling fulltime, it’s even a great idea to stay somewhere for a couple of weeks. We did that in Kuala Lumpur and we loved it. For a while, we went back to the ‘normal’ life, only in another country. And those weeks were our cheapest weeks of all!
Collect experiences, not things
Another great way to save money is by reducing the amount spent on souvenirs or other things you see during your travels.
Value experiences more!
Of course, we all like to have some beautiful souvenirs. If you decide to buy some, however, go to local artists. They often the same or even better quality for much less. It will save you a lot of money. Don’t buy them in the touristic hotspots, prices can really be outrages there!
6. Bank/Mobile/IT issues
If you need to stay online during your travels or if you want to book local transport, buy a local SIM card! It will save you a lot of money. You can find them at the airport, or in more touristic places.
It can help to look up some information before you leave, to you make sure which providers have the best coverage or have the best mobile/data plan for you.
Another thing to consider is getting a local bank account. This only pays off when you are staying in a country for a longer period of time.
It will prevent you from paying loads of money on bank fees. Every time you withdraw money from the ATM with your credit or debit card, you pay a rather large bank fee or percentage. Which adds up quickly if you are travelling for a few weeks or more.
If you don’t take a local bank account, check in your home country which bank charges the least on foreign withdrawals. There can be big differences between banks so you might want to consider a new credit or debit card before you leave.
And one last tip, don’t change any money at the airport! You’ll pay way to much! Either withdraw money from the ATM or change once you are in the city.
Cheap family accommodation for family travel on a budget
Accommodation can easily soak up most of your budget if you don’t watch out! Especially with children, as you need more beds and bigger or multiple rooms.
To travel with kids on a budget does not necessarily mean, however, you only get to sleep in dodgy guesthouses with 4 in one bed. Although that might have happened to us ?. But we also had beautiful apartments, with a swimming pool, fitness and sauna for only €30/$35 per night.
How do we find those cheap family accommodations?
It all depends on where you are travelling. In those countries who have a low cost of living, you can easily find some gems without breaking your purse. In big cities or more expensive countries, it’s sometimes impossible to find a decent spot for a cheap price.
One golden rule, we always rely on reviews and didn’t have a lot of disappointments during our travels.
Here are our tips on finding cheap family accommodations!
1. Be thoughtful when you book your accommodation
You either want to book your hotels, guesthouses, hostels way ahead or really last minute. You always lose when you book somewhere in between.
We usually book last minute through for example booking.com and it never got us in any troubles. Especially in Asia, that is the best way to go. We got to stay in some amazing places, often with a lot of discounts because we booked so late.
Don’t be afraid to ask for an extra discount either, or an extra free breakfast. Often they just want to fill up the room and agree to what you ask for.
However, by booking last minute, the real budget gems might be gone. So when you, during the planning of your travels, bump into an amazing place for a very reasonable price with great reviews, book!
2. Be creative, there are other options
If I talk about booking accommodation, we all immediately think about going to booking sites and looking for hotels, resorts, guesthouses, hostels, …
But think outside the box, be creative! There are lots of other options!
Most of you probably know Airbnb by now (if not, use this link to get $40 off your first booking). Airbnb is an amazing site to book a room, complete apartment or even a house for cheap prices. We use this site all the time and it got us some fantastic places to stay!
Housesitting or house swapping
This is an amazing opportunity to go on vacation and stay in that country for free!!
The concept of a house swap is a people staying at your house, while you stay at theirs. You exchange houses. There are lots of great websites out there to meet other interested families, such as HomeExchange.
A housesit means you look after the house (and often the pets), while the owners are off on a vacation. Again, there are a lot of great websites, such as TrustedHousesitters.
We had our own housesits in Brisbane, Australia. It was a great way to live like a local for a while, without having to pay for the accommodation. A win-win situation!
Couchsurfing is another great way to find accommodation. The concept is you can stay in people’s homes, sometimes on a couch (hence the name Couchsurfing) but it’s also possible you get your own room.
Even with kids, it can be a good option! The site allows you to filter on how many people need to be accommodated and if it’s kid-friendly or not.
We had some amazing experiences with this, for example in Malaysia. It allows you to really go local, meet amazing people and even end up with friends! Especially if they have kids of their own, your children will be delighted!
Go local and pay less!
During or travels we often try to stay with locals. Either in a homestay or very local guesthouse. That way we support the local people, get more out of the experience and pay less.
A really nice site is HomeStay. HomeStay has a database of thousands of local hosts, that let you stay at their homes. A cool feature is you can even filter on hobbies, which makes it possible to match your interests. You’ll easily have an amazing experience with local people through a site like this one.
3. Let’s go camping
Camping with a tent or van is a great option to travel with kids on a budget! Especially in those countries where it is rather expensive to book accommodation, such as Australia, New Zealand, North-America and Europe. Although the cost of renting a campervan is not to be underestimated, it’s still cheaper than sleeping in hotels and renting a car.
There are some great ways to reduce costs when you are camping. For example, check the possibilities for free camping. It is not allowed everywhere, but if it is, you often get the best spots for free!
4. Kids discounts
Don’t always book a separate bed for each kid. A lot of hotels let the kids stay for free if they don’t use extra beds. Which means if they sleep on the couch, with two in one bed or in between their parents in the big bed, that’s perfectly allowed.
Especially in expensive cities or countries, we sometimes book a bigger room for two or three and the staff agrees to bring one or two extra mattresses for the kids.
Because after all, how much time do you really spend in your room while travelling with kids.
5. Save up a night during travel days
When you are travelling from one place to the other, consider travelling during the night.
Take a night bus, train or flight and you’ll save a night’s accommodation. Those moments probably won’t be your most enjoyable memories, although they will be memorable ?!
Another thing to consider is staying at the airport if you have a very early flight. We did that once in Auckland, New Zealand. The kids found it exciting and slept on the couches after a while. And we, we didn’t sleep much but oh well, we survived and didn’t have to pay very expensive accommodation in Auckland!
Family travel on a budget: how to save on transport
Getting a cheap flight
There are tons of articles on how to find cheap flights. One article we love a lot on finding cheap flights is this one by The Flashpacking Family.
Family travel on a budget isn’t possible if you can’t find cheap flights.
Try to be flexible when you’ll fly and where to. Especially if you are travelling long term, don’t decide where you’ll go just yet. Let the price of the plane tickets make the decision for you. We do that all the time during our full-time travels.
One of our favourite sites to achieve that is Skyscanner. On Skyscanner, you can put ‘Everywhere’ as your destination. That way the cheapest destinations will show up.
Subscribe for flight deals and ask them to notify you when prices on a flight drop. And last but not least, a lot of people fly cheaper through the use of miles collected from earlier flights or with purchases through a credit card (travel hacking).
Flying with budget airlines saves you a lot of money if you only have carry-on luggage and bring your own food. Travelling with kids and too much luggage? Try to check only one bag for every two people.
During our time in Asia and Oceania, we flew a lot with Air Asia, a low-cost airline with excellent service!
Our last tip is, before the age of 2, kids fly for free (if they don’t occupy a seat). The only thing they need to pay is a little tax.
Use local transport
Finding transport will never be a problem, but pay attention to what you book or you will pay way to much.
If you want to go really cheap, always take local transport. A local bus or train will bring you to your destination for a lot less than a taxi or private minibus. The downside is this kind of transport is often slow, busy and doesn’t always have airconditioning.
Transport apps such as Grab or Uber are another great way to find cheap local transport. You install the app, ask for a driver and they come and pick you up. Some countries even have their own local versions, such as Go Jek in Indonesia.
Be sure to install the app before you leave, and buy a SIM card at the airport. That way you can already book one of these on your arrival, instead of the very expensive airport taxis.
We found these apps to be very handy and cheap, especially with family. Four bus tickets were often more expensive or equal to using Grab or Uber, and these cars drop us off at our location. The only downside is it isn’t allowed in some places or even in some countries. Again, do your research before you leave.
Read more: 10 travel apps every traveller should have
Relocate a vehicle
A great way to save money while travelling is to relocate a campervan or car.
The concept is that the rental company has a vehicle in place A, but they need it to be in B because someone is renting it there. So instead of paying someone a wage to replace the vehicle, they look for people who are willing to do it for them.
They usually charge only a couple of euro/dollars per day. Maybe a bit more if you want extra insurance. And they often even give you some free fuel too!
A great way to travel cheap, although the downside is most of the times you don’t get a lot of time. You’ll have to travel a bit faster. We did a relocation of a big campervan in New Zealand, from Christchurch to Auckland, and we are wildly enthusiastic about it! A great site is for example Imoova.
Have you ever heard of a repositioning cruise?
Neither did we before we looked into the subject. The principle is a bit the same as relocating a van or car, although you won’t be behind the wheel ?.
Cruise companies need to reposition their ships in spring and autumn from one continent to the other to prepare for high seasons. When they do that, they let you come along for really cheap prices.
For example, cross the Atlantic Ocean for €60/$50 a day or sometimes even half that price. Which is really cheap if you think about it. You have accommodation, food, transport and a great experience! No need to buy a plane ticket anymore. CruiseDirect is a great site to find these deals.
How to save on activities when travelling on a budget
Entrance fees to attractions, buildings, touristic highlights and other activities can easily blow up your budget.
Unfortunately, most of the real fun activities cost a lot. But don’t despair, you’ll still have an amazing family trip if you don’t try to do all the highlights or at least choose those that are budget-friendly.
Appreciate active experiences over attractions.
You could book a tour or guide to see a viewing point. But you’ll appreciate the experience so much more when you walk over there with the kids, really breath the air and see all of the surrounding nature and animals.
When you want to take the kids out for the day, choose to go for a walk through the city, maybe stop at the playground and have a picnic in the end, instead of a theme park.
We always research the free things to do when we visit a city or region. We’ve been to amazing playgrounds, have seen fountain or light shows, beautiful performances, stunning musea and so much more, all for nothing!
And last but not least, check for family discounts. Don’t be afraid to ask. When we book a tour, we always ask discounts for the kids.
Go to the visitor centre and ask for any multi-passes, city cars or discount cards. Especially when you are exploring a city, these can make a huge difference! Also, check the free museum days. A lot of them have 1 or 2 days a month where they let you visit the museum for free. Have fun!
Family travel on a budget: how to save on food or drinks
Snacks – snacks – snacks!!
Everybody who has kids knows the drill for a day out, pack enough snacks for on the go!
Don’t buy your snacks at the tourist hot spot.
If you want to travel on a budget, go to a supermarket and buy all your snacks there, enough to survive the rest of the day. Take some fruit, cookies, biscuits and you’re all set!
Make sure you have everything with you when one of the kids suddenly gets all cranky or even completely unmanageable ?. We all know what I am talking about!
Another huge money saver is to eat local!
Although we do realize kids often don’t like local food, you’d be surprised how much they will appreciate it in the end! Look for those local restaurants, away from the main highlights and tourist streets.
Have you tried street food before?
In Asia for example, you can eat an entire meal for only €1/1$ per person if you give those street stalls a chance! You won’t be sick, I promise. The one thing you need to be sure, is they cook or bake it right in front of you. Never buy fresh food there.
We had our best food experiences, also with the kids, trying out local street food!
Prepare it yourself
Although in some places eating street food is cheaper than preparing the food yourself, most of the times cooking your own meal is a real money saver!
An important tip, however, is to focus on the local products. Don’t try to buy all of the ingredients you would purchase at home. You’ll have to say goodbye for a while to your favourite cheese, spread or vegetable and embrace the local cuisine.
Book a room or apartment with a kitchen. A lot of hostels and guesthouses give the opportunity to prepare your own meal, but Airbnb apartments are perfect too! If you have a fridge, don’t throw away your leftovers! Another way to save some money.
And last but not least, eat out in the open! Prepare yourself a picnic, instead of eating in a restaurant. The scenery will probably be much nicer, the kids can run around and you’ll enjoy your quality moment.
Or when you are camping, what’s a better experience than preparing a delicious barbecue or having a campfire cook! Those will be the moments you’ll remember!
Choose wisely at the restaurant
If you do go to a restaurant, first of all, enjoy! But still, don’t lose sight of your expenses.
You can easily spend your weekly budget if you’re not paying attention!
Our kids usually share a plate, which saves us an extra meal. They wouldn’t finish it anyway.
In some restaurants, kids eat for free or you have family discounts. And then, of course, most of the times there is a kids menu.
If you don’t want them to eat only fries, chicken nuggets or spaghetti, you might consider sharing a plate of the adult section!
Save on drinks
By carrying your own water bottles, you’re not only looking after our planet and reducing your plastic waste, but it will also save you a couple of bucks.
In a lot of guesthouses, public areas, tourist highlights, … you have the opportunity to fill up those bottles.
Something else to consider is to limit the drinks you order in a restaurant. Save that juice, wine or beer for later and order a cheaper drink. Later on, go to a supermarket or street stall and you’ll still get that delicious drink.
That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed reading our guide to family travel on a budget and got some ideas to plan an affordable family vacation!
If you have any comments or other tips we should add to this guide, please leave us a message!
And of course, enjoy your family travels!!