Last week, I went walking with a friend around Spring Lake, truly a beautiful park and a place I have to write about, soon! My friend had brought another friend along with her and so we introduced ourselves, and chatted about our kids, as mothers around the world do. After comparing strollers (sorry, BOB, we’re still SO happy we got the UPPAbaby Vista – and yes, our daughter really does like riding in the RumbleSeat), our kid’s ages (yup, she’s VERY tall for her age – wonder where she got that…) and agreeing that they really do grow up too fast, our mutual friend brought up travel.
“Did you take the kids with you to India?” Nope. That was befo
re kids. “Would you have taken them to India?” Um, well, no. (Whether that’s overly protective or reasonable depends on your point of view – we know). And so the conversation turned to where we had gone since the kids were born.
Canada doesn’t count. Not because it’s not a great place to travel with kids. It is. It’s just that we’re both Canadian. So, even though we’re also US citizens and have lived in California for more than a decade now, going to Canada is still just going “home”. We spend most of those trips visiting family and pretty much never get lost. Clearly, then, we’re not traveling.
Well, having two kids in less than two years definitely eats into your travel time. Unless you’re one of those Wonder Woman types who seem to pop ‘em out and just keep on going! For us, though, despite all the suggestions to “travel before they’re mobile!” we feel strongly that the best time to start traveling with a baby is when they sleep through the night. Reliably. Until then, we’re pretty much too zonked to do anything but make coffee. Crawling through airports we can deal with (and have). Not sleeping doesn’t agree with us. So, given those constraints, we’ve only managed two “real” trips in the past two years. (Along with an additional 5 trips back home to visit family in Canada). We spent a wonderful three weeks exploring both the North and South Islands of New Zealand, and a fabulously relaxing week in Aruba on a second “babymoon”. (Our second child has yet to fulfill his end of the bargain, so the only place he’s been is Canada. Sigh.)
Next came the question I’ve been asked dozens of times. “How can you afford to travel like that?” So, of course, I started explaining it, and this blog came up and she asked the obvious question – “So, you explain how to travel cheaply on your blog?” Um, oops. No. Apparently despite how many times we’ve been asked we have failed to write about it! DOH.
So, thank you, new friend, for pointing out the unbelievably obvious, and inspiring me to finally write this long-overdue post!
7 WAYS TO SAVE MONEY WHILE TRAVELING (Yes, even if you travel with kids!):
1) Shop around for airfare. Airfare is almost undoubtedly the single most expensive part of any trip. Particularly if you live in North America and everyone else is just so gosh darned far away. Ok, naturally you could just opt to stay closer to home. But that’s not really the point, is it?
Check different days. Different times. When we went to Egypt, we saved $1000 simply by returning on Tuesday, rather than Sunday. I had to take 2 days off work, unpaid, since the school break was over. You probably already figured out that as a teacher I wasn’t earning $500/day. Nor did it cost us $500/day to stay in Egypt!
Sometimes, booking two separate flights is cheaper than booking one flight – even if the one flight is two connecting ones flying the same route. When we went to Tunisia, there were no direct flights. The flight we were looking at was through Paris and was WAY over budget. Then we looked at booking a flight to Paris, and then another flight on to Tunis. Bingo! The flight was almost half the price, and we enjoyed a lovely 12 hour layover in Paris (thanks to a quick hot shower at a friend’s house!) and then 3 more days there on the way home. Had we bought the tickets as one ticket, we would have had to pay an additional fee for a layover! (If you do go this route, you’ll want to allow plenty of time to make the connection since the airline doesn’t have to help you out if anything should go wrong. This extra time can be a bonus though – helping to break up a long flight, particularly if you travel with kids).
2) Go grocery shopping. Ok, we’re lazy and don’t feel like cooking on our vacation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t eat breakfast, lunch and the occasional dinner from the local grocery store. Not to mention snacks… (Bring plenty of Ziploc bags with you and it’ll be easy to store food once you’ve opened up the big package of cookies, or chips, or…hmm…turns out we don’t choose too many healthy snacks!) We’ve eaten Laughing Cow cheese in enough countries that we should really have some sort of spokesperson role for them. We even found it in a Carrefour that we were ridiculously excited to find in Chongqing, China– right before we left on our cruise down the Yangzte. Since we were the only non-Chinese people on board, I’m pretty sure we were the only ones eating Laughing cow sandwiches for breakfast, but hey – they were good! And that stuff NEVER GOES BAD! Even unrefrigerated. In 40C! Amazing! (Or scary. Or both. But USEFUL!)
3) Stay at hostels. Yes, I know, you have a family and now that you travel with kids you thought your hostel days were over. But they don’t have to be! Over 30? Don’t feel like being woken up by drunken revelers at 2AM? Right there with you! Hostels don’t have to be the frat house party scene that most people we talk to seem to envision. We’ve stayed at lots of lovely hostels complete with our own bathroom (very handy if you travel with kids and just a nice perk in general). We have lots of people who wonder how on Earth we can afford to stay in hotels when a night in a hotel costs $150 a night. Well, we wonder how on Earth you could afford to do that, too! Yes, we have splurged on lovely accommodation, like the fabulous Radisson Aruba Resort we stayed in, or when we rang in the New Year on Bourbon Street, and then walked only 5 minutes back to the fabulous Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans. Then, there was the time we stayed at the gorgeous Sheraton in Sharm-el-Sheik. Which leads me to…
4) Shop around for hotel rates. Because you just never know. You might suddenly find that the Sheraton has a huge sale on what should be a very expensive room. Even though you’re headed for a resort town. On Christmas Eve. Yes, $80USD isn’t really what you might think of as “budget” (although all that bought us in Reykjavik, Iceland, was a stay at the Salvation Army). But when you show up in a giant marble floored lobby, and everyone else is in a very expensive suit. Or dress. And you’re dressed like, well, us. In your convertible pants and Tevas, well, the gentleman at Reception who checked us in wanted to know how we’d gotten that rate – because everyone else was paying 200. EUROS. That’s when the guy behind us in line left and went over to talk to another employee, wanting to know how he could get the same rate.
Don’t be afraid to ask for deals. Or upgrades. Times are tough and hotels are hurting. That means they’re more likely to work with you to fill the room. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know! There’s no harm in saying that a room rate isn’t within your budget and asking if they have any specials going on.
Shop around lots, and then check Priceline. We have scored some downright amazing deals on Priceline. Because even though we don’t mind staying in hostels, we’d rather stay at the Hilton. Or the Hyatt. Wouldn’t you? (Just keep in mind that if you’re traveling by car, you need to factor in the cost of parking). There are several sites to help you plan your Priceline approach – we’ve had good luck with www.betterbidding.com.
5) Make sure your credit card doesn’t charge you foreign exchange fees, and withdraw as large an amount of money as you can when you use your ATM card.
Basically, the banks would like you to pay for your trip twice. Avoid that by cutting down on (or eliminating) bank fees. We use credit cards that don’t charge a foreign exchange fee while we’re traveling and our bank allows us to withdraw money from any ATM without paying a fee. You’ll still pay a fee to the bank who owns the ATM, though, so plan on withdrawing the most amount of money that you can at once. (This is where it comes in handy to have a money belt). Choose a credit card that earns you miles (particularly one where they offer you a hefty sign-up bonus) and you’ll pay for your next trip while you travel, rather than paying the banks a gratuity for the use of your own money!
6) Calculate the true cost of staying home. We don’t just mean the emotional one. Sure, we obviously prize our time spent traveling and would rather spend money on a trip than, well, just about anything else. But, while it’s easy to calculate the cost of the trip (it’s right there on the credit card statement) it can be harder to figure out the financial cost of staying home. Heading somewhere in the dead of winter? How much will you save on your heating bill while you’re away for a few weeks? Yes, you’ll have transport costs on vacation, but how much would you spend on gas if you stayed home? Eating on vacation costs money, but so do groceries bought at home. Would you really just eat at the grocery store? Or would you treat yourself to a meal (or 2, or 3) out? Most of us wouldn’t spend our vacation time just sitting at home. So add up the cost of all the activities you would be doing there, the cost of gas, the cost of heating (or cooling, or water if you live in California), the shopping you might be tempted to do, etc. Then subtract it from the amount you were planning on spending on your trip. You’ll probably find it makes the bottom line look a lot more do-able.
7) Choose your destination and timing wisely. Going off-peak can mean the difference between not being able to afford a destination and having a great time there. This is definitely a luxury we’re enjoying now that Wendy’s not teaching! Before, we would have had to go to New Zealand over Christmas, when hotel prices and airfares spike up, and it’s also a lot more crowded. It was awesome to be able to travel there in February, instead! Some places are just a lot more expensive than others, no matter the time of year. Looking for a cheap getaway? London isn’t it. Head to Thailand and your travel dollars will go a lot further. Take your beach vacation in Tahiti and you can expect the costs to pile up a lot faster than if you head to Malaysia. Or even right “next door” in the Cook Islands. Sure, there are ways to cut costs no matter where you’re headed, but you’ll have to work a lot harder at it in more expensive destinations.
Have your own tips for saving money while traveling? How do you cut costs and still make sure your vacation is still a vacation? We’re always up for learning new secrets – so, please share!