Traveling on a Budget

Clearly, everyone’s idea of “budget” is different, so I am not going to talk numbers. What I will say is that I have been able to prioritize many long international trips throughout my life with careful planning and modest expectations.

For example, our family of four was recently able to take an amazing three week trip to France, for less than what many may spend on a week in Hawaii. A few tips:

Shop early and often for airfare. Last fall, airfares to Copenhagen purchased ten months in advance were shockingly cheap, less than $600 per person!
Fly out of the nearest big city airport instead of smaller local airports. Our family flew out of the nearest big city instead of our smaller local airport, because flights were dramatically cheaper.
Be flexible about the city you fly into. “Puddle jumpers” are often so cheap in Europe that it may make sense to fly into a different city than your final destination and hop a shorter flight. One person I know simply searches “cheap flights to Europe” and then plans a side trip to whatever city he started in before making his way to his final destination.
Travel during the shoulder season if possible. In shoulder season, rates will be more affordable, and you will encounter less crowds.
Settle down in a home base and prepare many of your meals in. We love food and experiencing local cuisine. But let’s face it, eating out with kids is a challenge in the best of circumstances, so why not keep things easy on your budget and eat in much of the time. In France, we stayed in a small apartment in Paris, a cottage in Arles, and a lovely little apartment in the Riviera. During these stays we took the bus or rental car to the local grocery store and stocked up on breakfast items, picnic lunch items, and some dinners. We treated ourselves to daily baked goods from the local boulangerie, picnic additions such as special cheeses from the local cheese shop, an occasional nice lunch or dinner out, and daily treats like ice cream, a glass of wine, or a coffee. We never felt deprived and were able to save money and keep on the fairly healthy diet that our family was used to.
Explore on foot and by public transit, and consider whether the long lines and admission fees for certain attractions are worth it. For example, we took in the amazing splendor of the Eiffel Tower as well as taking some stunning photos, but we did not end up going on it. Art museums are typically free for children under 12, and so we prioritized that. By simply hitting the streets on foot and via public transit we were able to stumble across unexpected gems, such as the best macaron shop, or a pocket park that the kids loved.
Spend many of your days simply savoring free local activities. Examples: exploring a sprawling outdoor market, spending the day at the local (free) public beach, or hiking to a ruined castle with an amazing view.
Create a travel fund. Last but not least, if travel is a priority for you, create a fund specifically for travel savings, and make it a priority. Perhaps there is something else in your discretionary budget that you can live without and divert towards your travel goal instead.


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