Dreaming of traveling again? Me too. From my college backpacking days to today, travel has been a life-long passion, a passion I managed to fund while paying for half of my college expenses and working a variety of nonprofit jobs. Once our family grew, though, global travel felt out of reach. By applying some of the strategies I had used to fund my travels in the past, we were able to spend an amazing three weeks in France for less than many families would spend on a week in Hawaii.
With vaccinations picking up and restrictions being eased in parts of the world such as Europe, I wanted to share a few tips that have helped our family travel more, while keeping in mind that everyone’s idea of “budget” is different, so I am not going to talk numbers. A few tips:
(1) Create a travel fund. If travel is a priority for you, create a fund specifically for travel savings, and make it a priority. My husband pokes fun at my earmarked accounts, but this has always worked well for me and I have a specific bank account entitled “Travel Fund” that receives monthly allocations along with retirement, general savings, and other priorities. Perhaps there is something else in your discretionary budget that you can live without and divert towards your travel goal instead.
(2) Shop early and often for airfare. Searching flights in the fall before our planned summer trip yielded shockingly cheap flights. In general, keep an eye on the deals, but the best options on European flights are often in the middle between when they are released (about eleven months in advance) and when the trip occurs. We ended up snagging a very good deal about four months in advance, but in general, I’d prefer to have my flights locked down earlier.
(3) 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. It was worth the long drive to take advantage of this great deal.
(4) 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.
(5) Travel during the shoulder season if possible. In shoulder season, rates will be more affordable, and you will encounter fewer crowds.
(6) Settle down in a home base and prepare many of your meals. This is probably the biggest money saver. 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.
(7) Make sure to budget for treats, though, you are on vacation after all! While preparing many of our meals at our home base, we made sure to treat ourselves to something special every day, and experience the local cuisine on a budget. Fresh croissants from the local boulangerie each morning, special cheeses from the local cheese shop for our picnic, pan bagnat from the open-air market on a park bench in Nice, unique ice creams, pastis in Provence, diabolo grenadine, tourte de blettes… These flavors will remain in my mind longer than a mediocre tourist restaurant ever would. We never felt deprived and were able to save money and keep on the fairly healthy diet that our family was used to.
(8) 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.
(9) 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.
(10) Start saving again! If your trip was amazing and worth it, as ours was, immediately start setting aside for your next one.
How have you funded your global travels? I’d love your tips.
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