One common excuse for not travelling with children is the sheer expense of the feat. We believed the same thing until we planned and took our two month road trip around Italy and France in 2013.
Up until that point we had always assumed that long term travel would be expensive and unaffordable. The planned road trip was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime. Instead it turned out to be a considerable eye-opener for us, making us realise how affordable travel with a family – even a family our size – actually is. This proved to be the turning point in our plans and ended up steering us onto a completely new direction that we had never anticipated taking.
How much does it really cost?
Let’s take a trip from this year, for example. We – that is two adults along with 11 children – stayed in Italy and Germany for just over six weeks. Five weeks of our stay was in the supposedly expensive region of Northern Italy. Now, whenever we travel I keep a notepad with me in which I record all our expenses. Everything is included; fuel, food, entertainment, even the tolls. When we returned I worked out our total spend which also included our accommodation costs.
The total spend is provided in Euros because everything was calculated as such. To convert to sterling would see it equalling approximately £4061 for a total of six weeks and one day.
For 13 of us.
If we break that down it comes to €10.47 or £7.43 per person, per day or €73.34 or £52.00 per person, per week from the beginning of June to the end of July.
This comes in even cheaper than a traditional ‘budget break’. We compared this cost with staying in a caravan in Essex through a well-known holiday park. If we were to hire a caravan on a self-catering basis for one week at the beginning of June it would cost us between £280.77 and £405.72 per caravan. We would need to divide our family over two caravans so the total cost for us would be between £561.54 and £811.44 for us to stay in a caravan in Essex for a week. Broken down that comes to between £43.19 and £62.41 per person, per day.
Here is an at-a-glance look at the comparisons:
Six weeks and one day in Germany and Italy for 13 people (all accommodation, food, fuel/transport, tolls, expenses, entertainment etc included) = £4061 for more than six weeks (or £7.43 per person, per day).
One week in a caravan in Essex for 13 people (that is only caravan hire. No additional food, fuel/transport, expenses, entertainment etc included) = between £561.54 and £811.44 for one week (between £43.19 and £62.41 per person, per day).
If the costs of the caravan break were multiplied by six to cover the same period as our travels in Germany and Italy the total cost would be between £3,369.24 and £4,868.64 just for the cost of the caravans alone. That is assuming that the costs remain the same throughout June and July, costs which in reality are increased week by week as the summer season progresses.
This illustrates the first rule of thumb:
Don’t assume that a basic break means ‘cheaper’.
Don’t look at the price of package deals in travel agencies and, after multiplying it by the number of people in your family by x amount of weeks, think that that is the extortionate amount it would cost you to travel medium or long-term.
How did we do it so cheaply?
The first thing to do is to change the way you think. Travelling is different to holidaying. You aren’t on holiday. You’re basically living your usual life in a different place. When you holiday, you are setting all out to rest, relax and have a good time. This typically means eating out all the time, not paying attention to any budget, splurging on things you wouldn’t normally spend money on and generally just spending in general, all the time, every day. And you justify it because you are on holiday.
Let me repeat: Travelling is not the same as being on holiday.
If you are travelling for an extended period of time you will not be splurging on hotels, half board or all inclusive meal options, room service and the like for every day you are away.
Your accommodation, transport and general expenses can be as expensive or cheap as you make it.
We book accommodation that we can all fit into, which usually means a villa or house. We tend to avoid apartments where possible – i) because there are a lot of us, ii) because most of the family is very young and, iii) consequently, we can be a little bit noisy at times. Whilst we can tolerate it (sometimes), we don’t think it’s fair to inflict our noise upon others who are also on holiday. People in apartments below might not want the pitter patter of not so tiny feet banging away at 5am, so to save other people getting upset and us stressing about the upset we may be causing to others we tend to look for detached villas with a bit of a garden that we can relax and burn energy off in.
We look for somewhere that will be our home from home. Owners are often willing to negotiate on the advertised price so don’t feel embarrassed about haggling. If you prove yourselves trustworthy tenants who take care of their property, they’ll usually be happy to do a deal for any future bookings too. Some places charge additional fees for electricity and gas consumption. We try to avoid these where possible. The advantage is not just that you’re saving on paying out for extras but you’re also saving on your bills at home by not using this energy there. Laundry facilities are high up on our list of necessities as are adequate cooking facilities which brings me onto my next point…
Live like a local
When you are travelling you live less like a holidaymaker and more like a local. That means shopping for fresh fruit and veg at the market. It means doing your grocery shopping at the local supermarket (we love Lidl both at home and away!), and it means cooking from scratch rather than eating out every day for each meal. Remember, you’re not on holiday, you’re travelling. Our average grocery spend was around €100 a week and we ate well (and that included a glass of two or wine every evening for three of us).
Budget for it
And that means budgeting. If you don’t already budget to some degree you really should. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you earn, if you don’t know where your money is going you’re wasting it. We set a weekly budget that we try to stick to as much as possible during our time away and, as I mentioned earlier, I keep a running record of all our spending. We save our spending money before we even leave so that we have it available while we travel. Tricks that work for us are changing up a percentage of our income into Euros each month. Alternatively you might find loading prepaid cards that you can use abroad a handy way of saving up spending money for you to use at a later date.
Budgeting doesn’t mean going without doing the things you want to do while you travel. By all means, eat out as many times a week as you want, visit the places you want to see and do the excursions you want to do but work it all into your budget first. Many sights are free to visit and a lot of very cheap indeed. Almost everywhere now has a dedicated website so you can check the prices of any particular things your family wants to do while you are planning your trip. If you want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower check the prices first and save the money to cover that expense.
Look for deals
A lot of loyalty cards allow you to cash your points in for air miles or Eurotunnel crossings. Alternatively you might get a good deal on travel insurance (never go anywhere without arranging this), or road cover for your vehicle if driving.
Do your homework
Doing a bit of research beforehand can uncover ways to save money. Many sights and places of interest offer discounted entry at particular times or for pre-bookings, for example. One way we saved money is by changing the route we took to travel to Italy by car. By driving to Italy via Germany instead of France as we had done the previous two years we managed to save a small fortune on toll charges which made a tremendous difference to our overall spending.
The best things in life are free
We don’t tend to do many paid activities. Like I said, many places are free to visit so we load up with water bottles, a picnic and we set off for the day returning back to our home from home for dinner, bath and bed. Slow travel, that is, staying in one place for any length of time, allows you to really get to know it. You’ll know the best places to shop, where does the best deals and the best times to get the most for your money.
Earn while you travel
While we appreciate that this isn’t possible for everyone, this is something that we are lucky enough to be able to do. Our job means that we don’t need to work from any particular place meaning that we are location independent – we can work from anywhere in the world. As we already save a bulk of our planned spending beforehand any money we earn while we are travelling will go towards covering our usual bills back home, any extras we fancy doing (‘Hey, we had a really good week this week. Let’s go to…’), or saving up for our next trip because inevitably, we’ll be planning that before we even return home! One option for us later on is the possibility of renting out our home in order to travel more continuously, though we’ll probably do this once we are in a position to plane-hop with older kids.
Do you travel medium or long-term with your family? What tips would you give to those who think extended travel with kids is financially impossible? We would love you to share your thoughts, advice and comments with us below.