How do you afford to travel? Answering travel budget questions and sharing tips for European travel. Tips on where to splurge and where to save.
We’ve traveled quite a bit in the last few years. Even before we moved to Germany, we made traveling with our kids a priority. We move around a lot and I think that helps get the travel bug.
We’ve never shied away from taking our kids places, regardless of how old they were. We’ve traveled with newborns and toddlers and older kids and now teens. (Admittedly, teens are a lot easier to travel with, but now they cost more. 🙂
I get a lot of questions about how we travel. How do we plan it? Where do we stay? How can we afford to travel? How do we pack? I can’t answer these all in one post so I will do a series to answer your questions.
I’m going to get the big one out of the way first. How do you afford to travel?
When we found out that we were going to Germany, we made a decision to put all of our available dollars towards travel. We knew that we had two years and would never have this chance again. We also went from two full-time incomes to one at the same time.
Did we save a lot while we were here? Absolutely not. But I’m proud to say that we did pay cash for all of our trips.
People look at my travel pictures on Instagram and DM me to ask how we can afford to travel. It can feel like a judgement on how we spend money. (Why is there so much weirdness around money?) Truthfully, I don’t mind talking about it at all. I actually love talking about it. It might look like we have a huge travel budget and can just jet off whenever or wherever we like, but I promise you, that is not the case at all.
The thing is that travel is something we prioritize. If something is important to you, you will find a way to make it happen.
And how that happens for us is that we don’t spend a lot on anything else. We can afford to travel because that’s where we have decided to put our money. Experiences over things is our motto right now.
How can we afford to travel?
We don’t own a house. Until we settle down, my furniture comes from Craigslist, Target, or Ikea. My grandmother and my mom buy a lot of my kid’s clothes and I fill in the gaps. They have three pairs of shoes at a time.
We give our kids what they need, but we’ve also made them work to pay for some of the extra things that they want. I’m not a big shopper and don’t have a lot of clothes. I got my first new car since before I had kids last year, and the one I had before that, Wes will drive until it dies. We live a pretty simple life.
I’ve also picked up some freelance jobs that I wasn’t super stoked about, I did them because I knew that it would pad my travel account. Work isn’t always fun or rewarding or fulfilling, but it is necessary to be able to do the things you really want to do in life.
Here’s where I am coming from, travel needs to be a fun and pleasurable experience, otherwise I can’t convince my family to do it. I need to balance cost-effective travel with convenience.
There are places where I am willing to spend more if it means the day runs smoother and things that I am able to save money on. We also usually have a short period of time to be there, so you need to pick and choose where to spend and save to maximize joy and overall satisfaction.
Travel in Europe is nowhere near as expensive as it is in the US. I often pay less for five round trip tickets than I do for one ticket flying solo to another city in the states. I’ve flown all five of us for under $200 many times. Hotels and apartments are also less expensive.
Budget airlines have sales all the time. Sign up for their newsletters and see what you can find. I have often found really cheap plane tickets just putting in random dates and places. Ryan Air, Eurowings, and EasyJet are the ones we fly on most often.
I am also a big fan of off-season travel. We have scored some incredibly cheap trips really close to the beginning or right after peak season, but not in the thick of it. Which makes for cheaper travel and more pleasurable experience. I’m always a fan of fewer people.
I have no problem letting my kids skip a few school days. Travel is education. If I need some wiggle room for travel days, I’ll take them. Being flexible saves us a ton of money.
One of the greatest things about travel while living in Europe is that our long weekends and vacations don’t match the European school calendar. Guess what? No one cares that it is Thanksgiving in Spain. German kids are in school until July, so mid-June travel is great.
When you find cheap tickets, before you hit the buy button, do a quick search for a place to stay. Quite a few times I’ve found super cheap tickets, but then look and see that lodging prices are insanely high. Do a precursory check before you commit.
Always budget for more than you think. There are always random things that pop up that may not have thought of or cost more. Car rentals are the first thing that comes to mind.
A few tips for getting to and from //
Just get there / Buy the cheapest ticket you can find to Europe. Once you are here, it is really easy to get around for less. Major cities have various inexpensive ways to get to other places in Europe.
Clear your cookies / Have you ever noticed that you will look for a flight and then come back and the price has increased? Websites are smart and know you’ve been looking, so when you clear your history, you might get the same or better price.
Budget airlines / Budget airlines are just that, budget. You aren’t going to get amazing service or even a drink, but it gets you from point A to point B without blowing your travel budget on transportation. They have strict rules about bags, and there are a lot of fees that add up. Even still – totally worth it.
If you care about sitting together as a family, you need to pay for seats. / Gone are the days when you could switch with someone when you weren’t seated together. I was flying by myself and purchased my seat. (I like an aisle toward the front of the plane.) A couple asked me to switch with them because they weren’t seated together. I felt like a real B for not wanting to move, but I purposely paid for the seat I was in. Moral of the story, don’t assume you will be able to sit together.
Pack light / Baggage is where they getcha. Learning to pack light has truly been a game changer in our travel experiences. The only time we’ve checked bags is the flight when we moved here.
Check the airline’s carryon policy and adhere to it. We have Away bags and the kids have hiking backpacks and they have served us well. Get yourself some packing cubes. You can cram so much more into your carryon and I like how organized my clothes are.
Sometimes the cheapest flights aren’t the best flights / You might get a cheap ticket, but is a 6 am flight worth it if you need to spend the night in a hotel to make it? Is the cheap flight with the long layover going to make a difference if you spend the same amount keeping your kids entertained in the airport when you could have spent a little more to fly direct?
Be open to last minute travel / This is great for a non-planner like myself.
Sometimes it is not cheaper to drive / Tolls, gas, and parking are really expensive here, so trains and planes often are less expensive.
We haven’t done a ton of train travel, so I can’t speak too much on it. I do know that you need to book early to get the best rates.
Hotels, AirBnBs, and other places to rest your heads //
When traveling with a family of five, you are required to have two hotel rooms. This is standard around Europe and not something that hotels will budge on. Even when you have babies. In the states, you can cram as many people as you like in a hotel room, but not here. On the plus side, hotel rooms are less expensive here so it doesn’t cost an astronomical amount to have two rooms.
If we are someplace for one night, I usually get two rooms in a hotel. It’s easy to check in and check out and normally this is on a travel day.
Booking.com is where I find most of our lodging for two nights and beyond. It is the easiest I’ve found to book travel for five people. It lists hotels, but also AirBnB type accommodations. If I am looking for a house, I use Airbnb or HomeAway. I’ve had really good luck and found some amazing places.
Where to splurge //
I will always pay for convenience / There are a lot of unpleasant parts of travel and things that make our travelers less than enthusiastic about leaving the comforts of home. There are times where I am more than willing to spend more if it makes life more pleasant.
That might mean a better location so that we don’t waste a ton of time getting back and forth from the sights and where were are staying. A great hotel deal is good in theory, but not if you spend half the day on a train going back and forth. Or if that train is expensive too.
I am willing to spend a little more for a good location with some room. Travel days are better when people can spread out at night when we get back after a long day.
If we are staying in an Airbnb and the host offers transportation to and from the airport, sign me up. I’ll take all the public transportation available while we are actually there, but getting to and from with tired kids, bags, and a long flight it is always worth it to not make that a pain point.
(In Morocco, if we didn’t have the driver from the riad, we never would have found it.)
I’ll buy skip-the-line tickets or book a tour / One, it saves a lot of time, but we’ve also learned a lot and had a better experience on a tour.
Where to save //
Food / In Europe, a meal can take hours. My kids are really well-behaved, but a 3-hour dinner is an ask. If we are going to sit down and eat in a restaurant, it will be for lunch. Reservations are necessary for most places and I’m not much of a planner anyway.
We typically go to the grocery store or nearby bakery and buy breakfast things and snacks.
We eat at weird times. We usually eat a late breakfast and then a late lunch/early dinner. Sometimes dinner is gelato. Sometimes it is a baguette or a crepe from a street vendor.
Water bottles / We all have Hydroflasks and use the public water fill up stations that are all over the place.
Souvenirs / We rarely ever buy a souvenir. On the last two trips, I gave each kid 25 euro for the whole trip and let them use it for whatever they wanted. My pictures are my souvenirs and I don’t really like stuff or dealing with getting it back home in a carryon.
We don’t do everything / Even if we went to London 17 times, we still couldn’t do or see it all, so we don’t even try. We usually do one or two big things a day. We really enjoy walking around and exploring neighborhoods or parks. We’d rather sit at an outdoor cafe and people watch.
I think that people put off travel because they think that they can’t afford it. But do you know that you can’t? Have you priced it out? Do you have some credit card miles in your account? Can you go somewhere next weekend? Can you do something to make some extra money?
Life is short, if you really want to travel, you will find ways to make it happen. My answer, when asked if I want to go somewhere, is always yes. I tend to figure out how to pay for it later. Weirdly, I’ve always been able to do it. It makes you resourceful, it makes you mindful of where your money goes.
Don’t put off seeing the world because you think that you can’t afford it. Make it a priority and decide where you will splurge and where you can save.
I think that about covers it how we afford to travel. If there is something that I haven’t answered, or you would like to know more about, feel free to ask me. I’m happy to help!
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