“How can you possibly afford to travel the world with your family??”
If you’re a World School Family, you’ve been asked. When you look at their wide eyes, you know what they are thinking. You must be soooo lucky!! You won the lottery? Got a huge inheritance? Neither of those? You must be a trust fund baby.
Of the hundreds of World School Families I’ve met, not one of them has won the lottery, gotten a huge inheritance, OR have been trust funders. None of the above. To be fair, it’s quite possible that they’re out there. As a matter of fact, they are probably out there, but they likely hang in different circles. As I’ve never stayed in the Hilton, maybe there’s a posh family there blowing money they never earned. But I’m guessing this is the exception, not the rule.
So, how do we do it?? How do all these families manage to go out and experience the world? The answers are as varied as “who is out traveling the world?” Some people had a very lucrative career. Some lived very frugally in exchange for the huge pay off of experiential learning as a family. Some are working while they travel. Some invested in a house and are able to survive on the rental income. Others run businesses from a distance, yet others go home to work and travel part time. There’s lots of ways to make it happen, here is a comprehensive look at the most common approaches.
How much does it cost to travel?
Really? How much does it cost to have dinner in Paris? My sister and I would have a fresh baguette and a peach. So, $2? Others may have an incredible indulgence in the amazing local cuisine, which could easily run you $50 a plate and more. Want to try the local wines? Dessert? You could be talking $150 for a meal for 2 easily!!
And how much does it cost to stay a night in Paris? Hmmmm. Are you a couch surfer or house sitter?? $0.00. Or, do you prefer the comfort of your own place? Perhaps a place with a view of the Eiffel Tower? And a work-out room. A sauna. A lap pool. And maybe a tennis court. Well, that could run you in the thousands.
So, as you see, the cost to travel is as varied as the people doing the travel!! The higher your expectations, the higher your budget needs to be. If you want to leave tomorrow, no problem, do it!! BUT, realize there’s a sacrifice to not planning and saving. You’ll be taking local buses, couch surfing, and eating crackers and an apple for lunch. And that’s OK!!! Maybe you’ll take a job at a wwoof (organic farming) and you can have food and housing? You could even take a job as an au pair for a family and have room and board and income, even a work visa (not likely going to work to bring a whole family for that job, but great opportunity when you’re young!!)
Major expenses include:
Entry fees to attractions
To help you plan your budget, what are your expectations in each of these categories? Usually accommodations are one of the most expensive parts of the budget. Family couch surfing is a bit difficult for the longer range. You can set up house-sitting gigs, which is great, but you have to worry about making sure you leave the house in as good of shape as you arrived. Sometimes this will have you on edge as kids don’t always understand being careful. You can learn to free camp throughout your journey and put time into researching it if you are OK with tent camping! Makes for an adventure. Or you can travel by RV. Your home is right with you and you always sleep in your own bed. It adds up to park it in campgrounds and use hookups, but if you are resourceful, you can find free places to park your home as you go. You just have to trade that off for the fuel costs to move it around and difficulty parking when you arrive. Often people tow a car (a toad), then park the motorhome centrally and use the car for outings. You can also travel by boat. On a sailboat, you have the same features as an RV, you are always home and sleeping in your own bed. And you can power under sail, so no hefty fuel costs either. You may pay marina fees and hook up fees, but most boaters choose to anchor out and use solar power and stay completely off the grid. You just have to learn to sail (things could be worse!)
After accommodations, food is usually the next most costly item in any budget. I mean, you like to eat almost every day, right? Sometimes even more than once? Again, food budget varies dramatically. When making accommodation decisions, a kitchen is a big consideration. Eating homemade meals are about 1/10th of the cost of eating out. If you’re in a hotel, not only are you paying for the hotel, you are also going to be eating out, so doubling the expenses for the day. Air BnB often has facilities with kitchens, separate bedrooms and the cost is on par with most hotels. This allows you to eat healthier and cheaper at home. Of course that means going to the grocery store, cooking and cleaning the dishes. It also may mean missing the cultural experience of sampling the local foods, so you have to weigh that. If you travel by boat or RV, you have your own home kitchen traveling right along with you, so you can bring supplies and have fewer grocery runs. You can also put off doing the dishes for a day or so despite being on the go, which you can’t if you’re checking out of your accommodations every night. So food expense varies significantly with your situation and desires.
One other consideration along with food, often overlooked. Alcohol is a significant expense! Often a drink may be $5 and the meal $15. So you’re talking over 30% increase in cost. And that’s if you have only a single drink. A second drink puts you over 60% more than the food itself. And a third drink, you could have had an entire other meal. Not to mention, you can cook at home for that $5 and have a hearty meal! Having an alcoholic drink is not wrong, but just remember that and note that if you’re working on a budget. It’s a huge expense for little gained. Live purposefully and make educated decisions. If it’s a social outing and that’s an investment you want to make, go for it.
Next category is transportation. Incredibly varied!! There are so many options out there!!
- There are people out biking across the country. Guess what their cost of transportation is? $0.00. Then they utilize warmshowers.com and their accommodations are $0.00. But they need food for fuel, so that’s likely to be their major expense. And energy, they are applying LOTS of energy! But it’s a form of slow travel and they are out and experiencing.
- Airfare will be the most expensive form of transport. Some traveling families have a family member who’s a stewardess or pilot. Guess what their costs are. Others fly somewhere, then live for a year on the cheap. There are ways to find deals, but on average, it’ll be one of the most expensive ways to travel.
- RV is a nice way to cut down on the cost of accommodation, but you will be paying fuel and insurance. It also adds up if you’re staying in campgrounds and RV parks. Entry fees to national parks or other attractions are sometimes more for larger vehicles as well. But the trade off to be sleeping in your own bed, have a kitchen, and not paying for accommodations may be worth it. Consider also the investment to purchase the vehicle.
- Sailboat can be an inexpensive mode of travel as long as you either have wind, or are willing to wait for wind. Otherwise you’ll need fuel for the motor. It’s a slow way to travel, but then again, you can get to places no one else can. You have a kitchen and your own bed to sleep in. But you have to purchase the boat (not too much lending available to purchase boats), consider insurance, and perform continuous maintenance and upkeep on it.
- Local buses. This will be one of the cheapest ways to get around and although it’s typically slow, due to all the stops, it can be a very affordable sightseeing option. You can get farther, faster than you would by bike or foot. It’s often not super comfortable and not easy to travel with luggage or many groceries, but it’s a great way to see the local community in their element and the countryside since you’re not driving or worrying about the road.
- Rental cars can be a medium cost for travel. You can find some pretty good deals and often credit cards offer rental car insurance as part of their plan, so you don’t have to pay twice for it. You have to consider cost of fuel, daily rate, insurance and/or parking expenses. You can go where you want, when you want, so if your time in a place is limited, it may maximize your experience over the local bus, but you will be driving, thus keeping you from taking in all the sights and sounds.
- Lyft and Uber can be a great way to get around a new city. Cheaper than a traditional taxi. Nice for carrying groceries. And you can walk for as much as you can, then grab a ride home to drop off items. They are expanding into new territories all the time due to their popularity. If you’re going a long distance though, you’re better off to rent a car or take a bus.
- Trains are a nice way to go, take in the countryside, have a meal or even get a sleeper car and do an overnight (saving a night’s accommodations) and wake up fresh in a new location. They are moderately priced. Throughout Europe they have a nice Eurorail system and you can purchase bulk passes for a time frame or for a particular number of destinations. They are not inexpensive, but they are very convenient, cover most territories you would want to go to and connect with local buses. For only a couple of people, they may make economic sense. If you are traveling as a family of 4 or more, despite children’s discounts, you are likely to do better with a rental car and carpooling. As a note, the Swiss Pass is for the train just in Switzerland and it includes a Museum entry pass for many of the museums throughout the country, so consider this into the price vs the rental car. Do they throw in any other memberships or discounts?
If you’re unsure of your preferred mode of travel, check out the pros and cons of the different types of transportation.
And on that note, finally, the cost of entry to attractions. Families who travel to Florida often don’t feel the trip was complete without a trip to Disney World. That’s no cheap venture these days!! But depending what you’ve paid to get to Florida and the cost of staying in Florida, it may be a drop in the bucket for that ultimate memory! Maybe it’s swimming with dolphins that’s been a lifelong dream. Getting SCUBA certified. A National Parks Pass. Or backstage at Universal Studios. Whatever it is that drives you to places and takes your experience to that new, momentous level; it’s likely to cost money. There’s a balance you have to make in your own finances. Just how important is that event? If it costs $20 to go see the Grand Canyon up close and personal, it’s probably a pretty easy decision. But say it’s $2,000 to take the family rafting the Grand Canyon. Now you need to prioritize that over the fact that you can live an entire month on that money (accommodations, food, and transportation). Is it worth one months budget to have this experience? Only you can decide. And maybe it is. But make that decision consciously. Realizing you’ll have to pay for it with something else. Sell some items on craigslist. Not go out to eat. Live in a tent for a month. Or work some more. Every expense comes out of the budget from somewhere else.
Often you can find group discounts, like if you’re going to RV across America, you can buy a National Parks pass which lets you into ALL national parks across the country for a year for about $80, whereas entry to each park is $20. You will find that zoos and museums often offer annual memberships and have reciprocal agreements with other zoos or museums for either free or discounted entry. So not all attractions have to break the budget, but you have to plan ahead. If you pay at the gate, you’re likely to be paying the top dollar for the same experience.
“I’d love to do it, I just don’t have that kind of extra money.” If you pay for a house (rent or mortgage), utilities, house or rental insurance, car payment, car insurance, fuel, internet, cell phone, cable (Netflix), then you can afford to travel with your family. You will find that most people traveling are not maintaining a car. Often accommodations are set up as long term rentals (just like paying for a normal house/mortgage), house-sitting or they have an RV or a boat. If you travel to developing nations, you may not have the same quality of accommodations, but the price reflects that and the experience of local housing makes the journey that much richer! You won’t need all the plugged in devices (internet, cell phone, cable/Netflix) because you’ll be out doing things most of the time!! Unless your job is internet based, then you’ll need internet, but not likely cell service or entertainment networks. The cost to World School is no more than the cost to live where you are right now. As a matter of fact, the cost is often less as your needs and expectations change and your perspective of want vs need shifts through experience.