We’ve all been to a family vacation. It usually involves taking a week off and visiting a faraway place to indulge in the unknown. It’s fun, relaxing, and brings us closer to one another.
But the family vacation I’ll talk about in this post is a bit different.
Long-term budget family trip. Yes, there are some families who want to travel for months and explore different corners of our world. This type of traveling requires a ton of research and pints of coffee.
What’s more important in traveling than your itinerary? Accommodation, transport, and food. Three big necessities that eat away the budget at a rate inversely proportional to your self-control (and schedule).
We all lead a different lifestyle as a family, compared to our individual lives. This distinction plays a major role in planning a budget family trip that won’t force you to put those ‘oceanside afternoons sipping margaritas’ on hold.
In a budget family travel – everyone needs to find a common ground on many things.
That means your loved ones shouldn’t sleep on creaky bunk beds. Or have brunch outside just to make up for longer showers, late mornings, or infinite outfit changes.
Now my parents have earned their way to a comfortable, no-stress lifestyle. At their age, they shouldn’t have to compromise for basic necessities, even for a budget travel.
So I came up with a few steps to make sure our two-and-a-half-months long Europe adventure didn’t become the worst decision for my parents and their hard-earned money.
Plan, plan, and plan… some more
If you’re like me, you need a Schengen Visa to travel to Europe. The application process was pretty straightforward, but submitting a day-to-day itinerary for 50+ days was insane. Planning saved me.
Whether it’s finding cheaper routes/days to travel, rewarding city passes, or hole-in-the-walls serving amazing local food, starting early is essential to ensure your trip doesn’t become another family-sponsored drama.
Not only that, but you’ll get some crazy discounts, offers, or early prices on many bookings based on which season you plan to travel in. Europe travel has roughly three seasons:
- Peak season: Mid-June to August
- Shoulder season: April to mid-June
- Off-season: November to March
You can sit with your family, discuss, and set realistic budgets and try to find different ways you can save up.
My 3-month early start helped me discover the right mobile plan (highly recommend: Three UK’s Feel At Home), passport reissue procedure, common scams, domestic airline baggage rules, smart packing hacks, and so on.
We now had a roadmap and a timeline to get our priorities sorted out without leaving anything to our fate.
Break it down
As we were traveling for more than two months, I split the journey into three phases. I could now decide accommodation, transport, and itinerary in smaller batches.
Another shameless reason: Allocate phase-wise budgets. So I can easily know how to strip down our costs if we go crazy (which did happen because, Europe!).
It also helped me keep our itinerary flexible. The order of visiting European countries was somewhat fixed but not the cities. Even when we were traveling, I had my sanity, hair, and brains intact to figure out shorter travels that didn’t strain our mind or pockets.
Before leaving I made a tracker for our expenses, required documents, medicines, and embassies. This proved to be my comfort throughout.
ideal right transportation
RailEurope’s Eurail Pass is great to travel through Europe in short period of times but costs around $900 (per adult) for 10-days-in-2-months validity. *Jaw drop* (price checked in February 2017 based on our itinerary).
The beauty of traveling in Europe is going from one country to another at your own pace, without a set plan.
This pass does the exact opposite. It hardly pays itself for the worth it’s advertised at and restricts the mobility of budget travelers.
Neither my parents nor I could stomach spending so much on just a few days of travel. It’s convenient, but I’d rather have us experience a few cramped nights than feeling robbed.
So I mixed it up. We flew, rode, boarded, and sailed. I’ll suggest the same for you too. Don’t think passes like Eurail are your only options.
There are budget airlines, buses, even cruises that can take you to your destinations for a fraction of this pass. Rome2Rio, GoEuro, GetByBus, and Loco2 (railway only) are great search engines that give you just that.
You can even use BlaBlaCar and share a car ride for a shorter distance.
Tip: Best time to book a ticket is between 2-3 months before your intended travel date.
Create your own rules
My parents never traveled to a country (let alone so many) where they needed to know languages other than Hindi and English or live a lifestyle so different to ours.
Traveling is all about experiencing local cultures with respect and an open mind.
As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we’re tied to our habits, good and bad. So it makes a whole lot of difference when your family has a guideline to have fun through responsible travel.
The rules can be a mix of appropriate conduct, everyone’s responsibilities, etc.
With your own rules, you set a structure that offers quick steps your family can follow to have the best time of their lives. Just like we did!
I can proudly say that we never missed all the stops in our itinerary, fell to scams (we witnessed many), got separated from each other, had tear-jerking events, or felt intimidated by our surroundings.
The 10 rules I set gave us more than what we expected, a lifetime of memories (and thousands of photos).
Get a home
Airbnb was our go-to rental platform. Both my parents are peculiar about the kitchen, living spaces, facilities (like the elevator), public transit access, etc. But there was a much bigger reason for us to rely on Airbnb so much.
My dad snores. Like Dracula laughing on a speaker kind. He’d wake anyone up within a 50m surrounding area (happy to send you an audio copy). Hotel rooms, let alone hostels, were out of the question.
With Airbnb, I could easily place him in another bedroom while mom and I hogged the master one. We save money, cook healthy meals, meet locals, go avocado shopping (hell yeah!), and feel awesome.
In those 25 or so cities we stayed, I used a combination of (mostly) Airbnb and Booking.com to find a suitable rental. You can also use Agoda, VRBO, HomeAway, Hostel.com, and Hostelworld to find homes/stays that work for your family.
Tip: You can book cheap YMCA or university rooms in London if you plan ahead and book in advance.
The best thing in life are free
Who doesn’t like freebies? Europe is filled with a plethora of attractions, many of which are completely free (or free on certain days and times of a week), such as museums and cathedrals. Dig around online to find which ones offer free entry when you’re in the city.
Walking tours are the best way to know any city, especially in Europe where the cobbled streets fill your mind with bustling cafes, wafting trams, and fragrant architecture. They usually range from an hour to three hours.
Tip: Google Trips is a must-have app when you’re exploring European cities on foot and on your own.
When I travel solo, my exercise schedule goes obtuse. It’s a struggle to balance my itinerary with proper exercise and healthy diet.
But being with my ultra health-conscious parents who don’t start their day without yoga and meditation, I felt compelled to do it as well. Like I was doing something wrong if I didn’t join them.
The family pressure became a much-needed blessing in disguise.
We never felt unwell, even as we traveled through fluctuating temperatures, random eating habits, and continuous travel for close to three months.
Set up a simple routine your whole family would enjoy: Meditation, running, yoga, or stretching. It’ll only take 10-15mins out of your day but leave you with enough energy to overthrow fatigue and be yourself.
You’ll also save up on any outpatient expenses.
Tip: There are many apps, like Nike+ Training, that offer step-by-step exercise routines.
. . . .
Matching everyone’s ingrained habits to your travel schedule is a nothing short of a miracle. For me, it almost became a nightmare. But these steps gave me the confidence to plan and experience a journey that would forever stay close to our hearts.
By the end of our trip, we’d spent close to US$19,000 for a family of three (two adults and a youth) traveling 14 European countries. Which is pretty badass! *pats back*
How did your family survive a budget trip through Europe? Let me know in the comments below.