5 Tips for Budget Travel with Kids

It’s no secret that the ThreeYear family loves to travel. But we have two kids who almost always travel with us, and four travelers are a lot more expensive than two! So over the years, we’ve learned how to keep our travel expenses down.

5 Tips Budget Travel with KidsSightsee for less eat for less www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Here are 5 ways that we budget travel with our kids.

We stay with friends or family.

One major way we travel is to plan where we go around where our friends and family live. We have friends all over the world who have invited us to stay with them. This is a great way to save on the cost of hotels. Our friends generously invite us into their homes, and share their food, lodging, and most importantly, expertise with us.

Budget travel with kids stay friends beer relax travel--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Mr. ThreeYear relaxes in our friends’ apartment in Singapore, where we stayed for three days.

We make sure to buy groceries, buy them a nice meal, and/or pick up a nice gift to thank them for their generosity.

On the flip side, we open our home to any and all family and friends who want to come visit. We love to host because it’s so much fun to share our region with our friends. If friends come in the winter, we take them to our local slopes and help them get the best package deals possible for skiing. We show them our favorite places to eat and update them on the history and significant sites.

When we travel to our friends’ or families’ homes, they do the same for us. We have built-in travel guides who tell us what attractions to skip and what are must-sees.

One thing we’ve learned over the years is that when we’re visiting, it’s important to take a day or two to explore on our own, to give our hosts a break. We also offer to make dinners or take them out, to give them a break from hosting. The cost of a meal is a fraction of what we’d pay in hotel or AirBnB costs. And the experience of staying with friends, often in the heart of a cool city or country, is priceless.

Budget travel with kids Singapore stay free pool
Not only did we stay for free with my friend, we got to enjoy her apartment’s amazing pool and play with her precious daughter!

We know how much we love to host others, so we take people up on their offers when we can. It truly improves our travel experience at least 100% to stay with people we know and love.

You may be thinking, “but I don’t know anyone who lives somewhere exotic!” Do you know someone who lives somewhere you’ve never been? Even if it’s one state over, staying with a friend or family member can give your family a novel travel experience, and your hosts can show you the coolest parts of their city or town.

We visit local supermarkets and cook for ourselves.

One of the most expensive parts of a vacation can be eating out, unless you’re somewhere like Southeast Asia. There, meals can be had for about $1 a person, but in the rest of the world, eating all of your meals at restaurants can add up fast.

Bangkok breakfast $2.50---www.thethreeyearexperiment.com budget travel with kids
Another delicious Bangkok breakfast for about $2.50

Our family chooses to shop at supermarkets and buy ingredients to cook many of our meals at home. When we visited Chile this December, we visited the feria, or farmer’s market, and stocked up on fresh fruits and vegetables. It was summer while we were there, and it was a treat to be able to eat ripe fruits and vegetables that weren’t available back home, where it was winter.

We ate our breakfasts at home, and often made simple dinners or at leftovers at home as well. Since lunches are generally the best eat-out deal in Chile, we’d pick up take-out and eat fried fish, potatoes, rice, and salad for lunch and dinner.

Fish lunch---www.thethreeyearexperiment.com budget travel with kids
A cook at our favorite take-out lunch joint in Santiago makes short work of a pile of reineta, or pippin, fish.

One of the best parts of shopping at local supermarkets is eating like locals eat. When Mr. ThreeYear and I were in Bangkok, we shopped at the 7-Eleven across the street from our AirBnB and found strange but delicious local foods, like Ramen with super-spicy flavoring, instant coffees, and toast-able sandwiches that we ate for breakfast. You can also pick up beer and wine this way at much cheaper prices than at restaurants.

www.thethreeyearexperiment.com weird food budget travel with kids eat for less
Say what? Well, if it’s delicious AND fun…

We pepper these eat-at-home experiences with well-chosen eating out experiences. That way, our dining out experiences feel more special and we don’t suffer from dining-out fatigue (have you ever been there? When all you want is a nice fresh salad that you make yourself after eating big, heavy, expensive meals for days on end?).

Many of the best restaurant experiences, especially for families, can be inexpensive, but just as special as gourmet dining. And if you only eat out on occasion, you’ll appreciate wherever you go that much more.

We sign up for airline deal sites.

We are members of Scott’s Cheap Flights, and we get notifications with cheap airline deals every day. We keep our plans flexible, so that if we see a great deal, we can jump on it.

JetSmart discount airfare budget travel with kids plane Chile www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
We jump on good airline deals which we monitor frequently.

It’s also very helpful if you have flexible dates for travel. We are more flexible in the summertime when neither I nor the boys are working, but if you’re able to jump on flight deals during the school year, you can get some incredible flight deals. I recently saw flights to the Caribbean in the $200s (US) from Boston, which would have been a spectacular winter getaway.

Oftentimes, if you can find cheap flights to an incredible destination (especially Southeast Asia), the rest of the stay can be dirt cheap. We stayed at an AirBnB in Bangkok for just $27 per night while we were there, and meals cost around $1.75US per person! While flights to Asia are long (especially from the East Coast of the US), if your kids are slightly older, they can binge on movies for 15 hours. I’ve seen flights as low as $450 from Boston to Bangkok (with stopovers). While that would be $1800 in tickets for four people, your lodging and food expenses would be just a fraction of that cost.

We sightsee for less.

Many times, when we visit an iconic city, like Santiago, we feel compelled to visit all the famous, but pricey, tourist destinations. While it can be fun to visit the top of the tallest building in South America, it’s also very expensive–it was $81.25 for the four of us to visit the top of the Costanera Center when we were there in December.

 budget travel with kids sightsee Santiago Costanera tower--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Junior and Little ThreeYear check out the view of Santiago from the country’s tallest tower, the Torre Costanera.

However, it’s much cheaper (and often less crowded and more fun) to spend time exploring the free attractions in a city. When you’re in Paris, you can enjoy the beautiful park around the Eiffel Tower without buying the pricey tickets to head to the top.

In Santiago, there are so many cool neighborhoods that you can explore–Bellavista, Lastarria, and Parque Forrestal, to name a few. Kids love to be able to run around and play, so finding a shady park and throwing down a blanket is a way to almost guarantee they’ll have a great time (and if you throw in fountains, it’s definite!).

Scooter sidewalk Chile sightsee for less budget travel with kids www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Little ThreeYear, happily scootering down the block–finding sidewalk space to ride was all he needed!

You can also visit museums and other attractions on half-price days. While this takes a bit more planning, especially if you have a short trip, it’s a great way to keep costs down if you can make it work. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are days more likely to be half-price for museum entry. Just remember to pack a lunch or eat somewhere else if you can, because museum food tends to be overpriced and bad quality!

Budget travel with kids half price sightsee for less www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
We visited a kids’ museum in Santiago on a Wednesday, so tickets were half price. We paid about $10Us for our family of four.

One of the biggest shifts we had to make with sightseeing was mental. We had to tell ourselves, “We don’t have to see everything. If we ‘miss’ an iconic tourist destination, it doesn’t mean we haven’t had a successful trip.” The best trips involve connecting with a place, meeting local people, and enjoying it as they enjoy it, NOT standing in yet another line to experience some “must-see” overpriced tourist trap.

That leads to our number one piece of advice when you’re budget traveling with kids:

We enjoy the little things.

Travel is about seeing new places. As Vicki Robin, author of Your Money or Your Life, so perfectly describes it,

It’s novelty, stimulation, and getting out of daily and sometimes deadening routines. It’s needing some aimlessness and idleness in contrast to my norm of purposefulness. It’s learning new languages, cultures, facts. Meeting new people. A slower pace with less stress. Swimming in a different sea of assumptions, getting jolted out of narrow-mindedness. Tasting new food.

Travel is about seeing something new, experiencing new sights, sounds, flavors. But that doesn’t mean that every moment has to be filled with experiences that cost money.

Our favorite experience from Santiago this December? The feria. The feria is a farmer’s market where locals come to sell the freshest fruits, veggies, seafood, and toys. It’s a place to see and be seen. But it isn’t expensive. In fact, it’s the cheapest place to buy food that exists in the city. And it’s one of the most experience-rich walks you’ll ever undertake over three blocks.

Feria Chile budget travel with kids sightsee for less--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The feria is a bi-weekly market where Chileans buy their fruits and vegetables for bargain prices.
Feria Chile budget travel kids sightsee for less farmers market www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The feria takes up several street blocks and shoppers bring their carts to load up on food for the week.
Feria Chile seafood budget travel kids sightsee for less www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
You can buy seafood at the feria, too. Don’t worry if you can’t speak the language–there are so many new immigrants in Santiago these days, Chileans are used to body language. And prices are marked!

Spending the afternoon in a park, people watching, letting your kids try new flavors of popsicles or ice cream, enjoying each sip of a delicious cappuccino, smelling the aromas wafting around you–all of these inexpensive or free experiences make travel so wonderful.

There you have it–our top five budget travel tips for travel with kids.

What’s your favorite way to save while traveling?

How We Are Working Towards Location Freedom: Guest Post on Keep Thrifty

Today I’m excited to guest post on Keep Thrifty. Keep Thrifty is a personal finance and travel blog run by Chris and Jaime, who live in Madison, Wisconsin. They’re run some amazing lifestyle experiments in the last few years, including living in half their house, moving to an apartment, and taking a one-year mini-retirement. I love how brave and willing to think outside of the box they are for their family.

In the post, I share how I caught the travel bug, met and married Mr. ThreeYear, and then settled into… life as we know it! I share the reasons we’ve embarked on our three year experiment and what we hope to get out of it as we work towards location independence, or location freedom, as Keep Thrifty calls it! It sure is freedom!! Not being tied down to one job or one place is such a freeing thought. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it! Continue reading “How We Are Working Towards Location Freedom: Guest Post on Keep Thrifty”

Location Independence, International Jobs: Jim from Route to Retire

Hello! Welcome to “Location Independent, International Jobs,” the Wednesday series where I showcase stories from people who have become location independent, work internationally, and/or continuously travel. I’ve interviewed all kinds of people who all have slightly different takes on location independence or living internationally. Posts include Steve from Think, Save, Retire,  Pete of Do You Even Blog?, and Mrs. Adventure Rich

Guest posters will be sharing how they became (or will become!!) location independent or how they got jobs abroad, but most importantly, they’ll share how their lifestyle has positively or negatively affected their finances and how they got to the life they’re living now.  

The reason for this series is to showcase people who have already achieved what the ThreeYear family is working towards: location independence and/or securing international jobs

Today, I’m thrilled to introduce Jim from Route to Retire. I reached out to Jim when I heard him share his plans to retire to Panama. Jim discovered the idea of FIRE (financial independence/early retirement) a handful of years ago. On regular salaries, he and his wife (Mrs. R2R) worked hard to reach a $1 million net worth in 2017. They’re now slated to retire at the end of 2019 (Jim will be 44 years old). They plan to move to Panama (along with their daughter, of course) in 2020 as part of their retirement strategy. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where you’re from, how long married, degrees, kids, ages, etc.

I’m 42, my wife is 40, and we’re both from Ohio. I graduated with a degree in Computer Information Systems and my wife with a degree in Child and Family Development.

We met right after I graduated from college – at a bar of all places! It’s a little more innocent than it sounds, though. We were both there with mutual friends that introduced us. We hit it off and have been together ever since and we’ve been married now for over 11 years.

We have a seven-year-old daughter and she’s the most amazing kid in the world. She actually recently wrote part of the second most popular post on my blog’s site titled “Like Father, Like Daughter….” I love her more than anything and she’s really the catalyst for why I want to retire early. It sincerely crushed me that I had to go to work every day shortly after she was born instead of spending those first few years with her. Continue reading “Location Independence, International Jobs: Jim from Route to Retire”

To Sell or Not to Sell?

Our family has been planning to become location independent and move for a while, now. Our dream is to double our net worth by the time I’m 40, and find jobs that will allow us to travel more, split our time between two continents, or live in a foreign country for a few years. Because… we only have one life, right? And the kids will be little for like ten more seconds and then they’ll be grown… but making the decision to sell our house? It’s not easy.

To Sell or Not to Sell?--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

One of the reasons we travel so much is to remind ourselves that there is another way to live than the way we currently do. We are a family of habit, and it’s easy to become so immersed in the routine of our daily lives that we never question our decisions or habits.

But one question that Mr. ThreeYear and I have had nagging at the back of our minds for a while now is… should we sell our house and find a smaller place to rent?As I wrote about in The Best Way to Avoid Lifestyle Creep, keeping your housing costs low is key to financial independence. And we’ve had the unsettling suspicion that our house is a little too big for us for awhile.

After we got back from Chile last week, that suspicion was confirmed. We spent most of our time in Santiago staying in a less-than-600-square-foot (52 sq. meter) apartment. It was small, and with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, was extremely space efficient. Yes, it was a little tight sometimes, and cooking was a bit difficult. But there were definite benefits, as well. One benefit was the shared space. We were able to go downstairs and use the common areas for the Junior ThreeYears to ride their scooter, or swim in the pool. There were tons of other kids playing, too, and while there wasn’t a lot of interaction, because of the language barrier, that would definitely change if the kids had spoken the same language.

Chilean apartment--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
We made living in a tiny space work for us while we were in Chile.

While we were in the apartment itself, we didn’t get in each other’s way, surprisingly. The boys each had their own bedrooms, and they’d take their few toys we had packed and go play or read in their rooms. We did homework each morning on the small round breakfast table, then would move the school books to another part of the apartment when it was time for lunch. I even lost Junior ThreeYear in that tiny space at one point! (He was on the balcony, reading, and I didn’t see him because of the curtains).

The thing that was so nice about the small space was that we were together, we were cozy, and we were able to enjoy each other’s presence. Our current house is so big that we can’t see or hear each other when we’re in our rooms, and it can feel lonely. Most of our time is spent in the common area, our dining and living rooms, which are basically one big space (and are larger than the entire apartment in Chile, by the way).

Little ThreeYear has grabbed my hand at several points since we’ve been back and asked me to come with him to some remote part of the house, “because I’m scared to go to the basement alone, Mama.” Our basement, by the way, is not a dark, bare-boned forgotten space in the bottom of the house. It is finished, carpeted, and filled with Little ThreeYear’s toys, as well as a comfy couch and chairs. But after all that togetherness in Chile, Little ThreeYear feels lonely in the vast swath of basement without another person.

Basement--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our basement at home is bigger than the entire apartment in Chile.

But does it make sense to sell our beautiful home, which we bought in a short sale at a very good price, with its spacious backyard, forest hiding-spots, and ample space for visitors, to move to a condo with no garage (a huge negative during New Hampshire winters), much less space, and community fees?  Continue reading “To Sell or Not to Sell?”

Notes from Chile: Lodging and Transportation

Our trip to Chile is coming to an end. We’ve been here almost three weeks and have enjoyed a trip to the most arid desert in the world, plus lots of sightseeing in Santiago, the country’s capital, where we’re staying.

Lodging--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Where are we staying, exactly? Santiago has tons of AirBnBs, hotels, and hostels. But we didn’t want to spend money on those options when Mr. ThreeYear’s whole family lives here. So we’re staying in… our apartment!

San Miguel

Thirteen years ago, Mr. ThreeYear and I bought an apartment for his mom to live in, right before we left Chile to live in the US. All of the details of our purchase and payments are detailed in this post.

The apartment is located in one of Santiago’s 37 comunas. We’ve argued about the best way to translate this word, but I think they’re best described as neighborhoods, although they are official units of governance within the city. Mr. ThreeYear says the correct translation is municipalities.

Comunas de Santiago--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Santiago is divided up into 37 “comunas,” or neighborhoods.

The “best” comunas are in the Northeastern sector of the city–La Reina, Las Condes, Vitacura, Lo Barnachea, and La Dehesa, a community so exclusive it isn’t even on the map.

Our apartment is located in San Miguel, a comuna that’s right in the middle of the city (which I never realized!), just under the big red Santiago comuna. San Miguel is famous for, among other things, being home to Los Prisioneros, probably Chile’s most famous rock band from the ’80s. It’s where Mr. ThreeYear grew up, and where a lot of his family still lives (it seems like every other day we run into a distant cousin when we’re out walking). Continue reading “Notes from Chile: Lodging and Transportation”

Our Trip to the Desert: San Pedro de Atacama

Merry Christmas! The ThreeYears are currently in Chile. We just got back from a side trip we took to the San Pedro de Atacama desert, in the northeastern part of the country, close to the Bolivian border. San Pedro de Atacama is the driest desert in the world by amount of rainfall received, but it’s also nestled in the Altiplano of the Andes mountains, so there are mountain-fed rivers and streams and salt lagoons everywhere.

Our Trip to San Pedro de Atacama--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Mr. ThreeYear is from Chile, and his entire family lives here, so we visit as much as we can, usually for about three weeks. We plan a side visit to one or two spots we’ve never visited for each trip, so that we can see somewhere new in South America. This year, we picked the San Pedro de Atacama desert, because Junior ThreeYear wanted to visit a desert and see an observatory.

San Pedro de Atacama Desert is a tourist destination, so it’s quite pricey. Here’s what we did to plan a great trip without breaking the bank.

The Flight

Luckily, in the last few years, a number of discount airlines have sprung up in Chile. We eventually decided on JetSmart, an airline with several flights per day from Santiago to Calama, the airport nearest San Pedro. We did an online search from the US just a week before our trip, so we could have gotten better rates if we’d planned ahead more. We looked at JetSmart and Sky, another discount carrier in Chile, and eventually chose JetSmart for its prices and flight options.  JetSmart is definitely no frills, as we found out. The planes are new and clean, and you have ample space between seats, which was very nice. However, if you took anything bigger than a small carry-on (8 kilos or less), you’d be charged for it–about $16 online per bag, $21 at the ticket counter, or $37 at the gate (the prices increase as you get closer to the plane). Also, you have to print your own boarding passes or download them to your phone, or you’ll be charged $8 per boarding pass at the ticket window. Soft drinks, coffee, and a small selection of snacks and sandwiches are sold on board (a Coke or a small container of Pringles is $2.50).

JetSmart--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our plan with JetSmart, which we took to Calama.

The four of us carried two backpacks and two carry-ons, one of which was over the size limit, as we found out at the gate (the website where we booked the tickets was not clear about size limits of carry-ons). Luckily, the gate agent took pity on us, and said she wouldn’t charge us since it was close to the right size. We boarded the flight and flew two hours up to Calama, a small mining city in the middle of the desert.

We paid a total of $540.12 for four tickets from Santiago to Calama. We probably could have gotten a better deal if we’d booked earlier, but we thought $135 per person was reasonable.

The Rental Car

By far the best decision we made during our trip was renting a car. We booked the car online via Priceline, and paid $115.49 for four days and three nights. We rented through the local company Econorent and booked a four-door Nissan Sentra.

At the airport, we picked up the car, then drove to San Pedro de Atacama, after getting directions, because Mr. ThreeYear didn’t have cell service in the airport (he has an international plan through work). Driving through the desert was eerie, at first. Everything is so vast, dusty, and rocky. Continue reading “Our Trip to the Desert: San Pedro de Atacama”

How Much Should You Spend on Travel?

Do you love to travel as much as my family does? For some people, travel is icing on the cake. For others, like me, it gives me life blood and makes everything else I do worthwhile. Long week teaching? That’s okay; our trip in a few months will give me time to rest and see new sites. But how much should you spend on travel each year?

How Much Should You Spend on Travel? --www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

There are so many rules of thumb for other expenditures: 10% of your income on food, 20% on savings (ha! laughs the personal finance community–we know that number should really be 50-70%!), 10% to charity. But there are no good rules of thumb for travel budgets.

Like most expenditures, how much you should spend on travel is highly personal. If you’re still paying off debt, should you allow yourself to travel at all? How much debt do you have? Should you travel if you’re working towards early retirement? Let me just say, to get it out there, that I am assuming you’re able to pay for the vacation outright with cash. Putting a vacation on a credit card is probably about the worst idea ever (although Mr. ThreeYear and I did just that on our honeymoon to Greece. Yes we did. We were dumb).

Full disclosure: Mr. ThreeYear and I have always traveled, even when paying off our $38,000 of credit card and car debt. Continue reading “How Much Should You Spend on Travel?”

My Inspirations for Location Independence

Location independence, or being able to travel or live anywhere independent of a job, is something that has always appealed to me. Part of the reason is that Mr. ThreeYear’s family lives on one continent, and mine on another. So we always feel caught in-between. But even before I met Mr. ThreeYear, I dreamed about dividing my time between two places, or traveling the world.

My Inspirations for Location Inpdendence--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Along the way, I’ve been inspired by people who have lived a similar life.

The flight attendant from my TESOL program

In August of 2001, I traveled to Montreal to complete a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) training program before I moved to Chile. I met a Colombian flight attendant while I was there, and asked her where she lived. Her answer astounded me. “I divide my time between North and South America,” she told me. She lived in Montreal for the summer and fall and Colombia in the winter and spring. Her children were older, I remember, already in college, and she and her husband split their time between two places they loved. Continue reading “My Inspirations for Location Independence”

Interview with Mr. ThreeYear

Mr. ThreeYear, apart from increasing the height and attractiveness genes of my children (thanks, honey!), is one-half of the brains behind our location independence plan. He also has an incredible story of growing up in difficult circumstances and working very hard to make a better life for himself.

Interview with Mr. ThreeYear

Since normally, I write the blog and Mr. ThreeYear just reads it, I thought I’d turn the reins over to him and allow him to share his thoughts on location independence, overcoming obstacles, and reaching financial independence.

Can you tell everyone a little about your background?

I was born in Santiago, Chile, in the mid-seventies. I grew up under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Our family was not really political; however, it was clear to see that it was not a smart idea to publicly oppose the government because of the consequences it would bring to your family.

I was the youngest of four siblings. I have two much older sisters who married and left the house early. My brother was also older, by eleven years. We lived right next to my grandmother. The country was very economically depressed. It was hard to get jobs. Unfortunately, my dad was unemployed for a long time, which made my mom the main breadwinner, working three jobs at a time (she was a special education teacher). We never starved, but it was clear to me that we were at the lower end of the financial spectrum. Continue reading “Interview with Mr. ThreeYear”

What Money Can’t Buy

Last week, the boys and I returned back to New Hampshire from a month-long road trip in the Southeastern US. The Junior ThreeYears and I had taken our trusty Prius down to North and South Carolina to visit family, go to the beach, and soak up the sun and humidity. I find that when I get Southern heat and humidity a bit in the summer, winters in New England are easier to get through. To me, it never gets hot enough for long enough here. I need the “walk out into a sauna” experience to feel like I’ve truly had a summer.

What Money Can't Buy--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

We were on our way from the coast of South Carolina to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit my sister, on a busy stretch of interstate near Columbia, the state capital. It was around ten in the morning on a Monday, and traffic was heavy.

Up until then, we’d had almost two full summers of uneventful road travel. Everything had gone just swimmingly. But luck was against us that morning. I was in the left hand lane, and was completely surrounded by fast-moving eighteen-wheelers and cars. Suddenly, right in front of me, I saw a piece of tire that had come off of a semi–they’re called road gators in trucker parlance–and I realized there was nothing I could do to avoid it. I thought about veering left, but there was no shoulder on the road. I couldn’t get over to the right, because I was hemmed in. I slowed down as much as I could so that the huge truck beside me wouldn’t plow into me, and ran over the piece of tire. Continue reading “What Money Can’t Buy”