Budget is a terrible word. It conjures up images of belt tightening, of self-limiting, of deprival. But that’s not how I use it. When I say budget, I mean thinking about how I like to travel, and figuring out how much that costs. Then I figure out how long I can afford to travel like that. That’s my budget!
I am a reformed vagabond backpacker who has distant memories of living in Spain as a 17 year old, wandering around Morocco and sleeping on various friends couches. That’s not how I like to habitate on the road at this juncture of my life (well, I would like to go back to Morocco, just not the couch bit), but suffice to say that I’m down with being flexible. As long as the place is clean, safe (remember, I am a mom with kids!), and reasonably quaint, charming, and adorable, I’m good. I’m not down with soulless, lice infested backpacker hostels in former eastern european prisons, for example. I do have a line.
If your idea of a vacation is an all-inclusive resort with a kids club, fancy restaurant, and valet service, this isn’t the post for you. I love those kinds of vacations too, but I’m talking about taking 5 weeks every summer to really travel with your kids. Travel in a different way, where you immerse yourself in the culture. So, how do I afford 5 weeks of travel every summer?
First of all, the single most important anchor in my travel plan is the glorious credit card mile. There are many blogs devoted to maximizing your earning and spending of bonus miles, and this is not one of those blogs.
But I will say, those miles are like gold, and I hoard them for my international trips.
Now, I must add that if you have trouble overspending, or don’t pay off your credit card each and every month, this is NOT a good method to use and I don’t advise it. Credit card debt is terrible, and should be avoided at all costs. I repeat: Do Not Go Into Debt To Earn Credit Card Miles. If you can’t pay off your card every month, rip it up and do not use it.
The second most important strategy that I use is SLOW TRAVEL. Once I get somewhere, I want to stay there for several nights. Sleep in, and venture out for a relaxing day of exploration.
I don’t rush madly through a bucket list of every Gaudi site in Barcelona, or have to see every single temple in Japan. No. I pick one or two, and spend hours enjoying each one. For example, when we were in the Loire Valley in 2015, my kids spent about 2 hours playing in the Chenonceau playground. We enjoyed a lovely little snack, and then of course toured the chateau itself (packed with tourists, that was the most expensive, but least enjoyable part of the day). The kids and I will always remember wandering the Chenonceau grounds, feeding the swans, and enjoying the glorious summer day picnic. We left relaxed, happy, and with plenty of good memories.
Would have happened if I was trying to cram in 3 chateau a day, as some tour groups do? Nope! 3 chateau a day is not my travel brand, baby. If you need to see the top 10 Chateau in the Loire Valley or you will feel like your trip was a failure, there are plenty of tour companies waiting to take your money and ferret you around the French countryside.
I spend at least 3 nights in each spot, preferably a week or longer. The exception is if I need to stay near the airport for an early flight, or if there is only 1 night available at a place I really want to stay. Generally speaking, the longer the better.
The third strategy, is Watch What You Eat. We try to eat out only once a day, but make it a really enjoyable meal. Why only once a day? First of all, eating out takes a lot of time. Especially in Europe, meals are meant to be savored. Kids don’t want to sit for more than 1 long meal a day. Beyond that it becomes tortuous for everyone. So go picnic style for dinner and just eat out for lunch (or vice versa).
Lunch is cheaper than dinner, so our one big meal is usually late mid-day. Maybe we’ve had a nice morning adventure, maybe we just stayed in our apartment and read books or did arts and crafts. Whatever. We venture out mid-day and hit up that hotspot lunch place that I’ve been dying to try.
If we stay in bed and breakfasts, that is one meal taken care of. I can usually squeak by until a late lunch, plus a little snack and treat for dinner. Throw in an ice cream or local treat, and there you go! Only one meal out, and everyone feels like they got something super special. (As a side note, I’m a bit of a sugar nazi at home, but when we are traveling, I loosen up quite a bit. A drippy cold ice cream cone can work wonders on a jetlagged kid.)
Otherwise, we stay in Airbnb’s with kitchens, and I stock up on yogurt, granola, cheeses, sliced meats, lots of fruit, veggies, and other “picnic” style foods that can be enjoyed quickly and with minimal cooking. I love to cook, but when I’m on vacation I want to avoid making a big mess in the kitchen. Plus, buying everything you need (spices, condiments, oils, vinegars for example) to cook a nice pasta, or a delicious soup really adds up, so I skip the big gourmet feasts for when I’m home. Its rare to find an Airbnb with a kitchen stocked for cooks anyway.
Stateside, we find the local organic grocery stores in whatever city we are passing- if there is a Whole Foods nearby, even better. Their salad bars are healthy and everyone can find something they like. Not the cheapest option perhaps, but it definitely beats fast food for dinner.
Fourth and finally, Stay in Nature. Cities are nice for a few days, but let’s be real. Kids don’t appreciate being dragged through museums, standing in lines, and being in crowds. I say skip as much of that as you can until they are at least 10. Nature is more relaxing, more enjoyable, and the countryside is often much cheaper.
So, if you want to travel for 5 weeks, avoid the big expensive resorts with their fancy pools, overpriced restaurants, and $20/day resort fees. Those are budget killers, and better saved for a girls weekend or a stay with your romantic partner. Go slow, enjoy the little things, appreciate a special meal, and truly live wherever you roam!