Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Family trips on budget

There are so many places in this world that my husband and I want to visit and experience. But like other people, we have our limitations. Mostly, financially. Sure there are stories of travelers who work and earn on the road, living for and from traveling; but we never actually plan to live that way. We have steady jobs and don't plan to leave.

Traveling is not cheap, but let's be honest, it's never been more affordable. Plane tickets prices have never been lower, the number of low-cost carriers have never been higher. Countries get more and more "border-less". More agreements and treaties allow citizens to cross borders without visas, or, even more, without passports. Community-sharing options have never been easiest to find like today. We now share our living space with travelers (options like Airbnb and Couchsurfing), and we share our vehicle with travelers (options like Uber and Blablacar). These are our tips on cutting expenses while traveling with your family:

Sign up to newsletters 

Many air companies and travel agents allow you to subscribe to their newsletter so you can be the first to find out their deals and offers. Two months ago I was at work when I received a message through Viber from my husband: "did you get the e-mail from Qatar? They're on big sale!". He didn't have to say it further, but I knew he meant I should check the prices for Indonesia, because we normally go home once a year. During that sale period which lasted for two weeks, Qatar offered return ticket from Zagreb to Jakarta for surprisingly low €390, 40% lower than its usual price of around €600 per person. We made a reservation for another Indonesia trip in March 2017, and turned out that the newsletter in the end saved us several hundreds euros.

Don't be afraid to fly low-cost carrier

Sometimes it's like I'm raising two spoiled brats. One bigger and older than me (read: my husband), the other is two and I gave birth to her. My husband often flies with luxurious airlines (occasionally on business class) for business, so he kept making fun on the service of Ryan air when we were flying for a city break in Paris. He did it jokingly though, he's a very fun person. He grinned while we're entering the plane and whispered "no one asks me if I'd like to read newspapers?" And because you get nothing for free on Ryan air flights, he kept buying sandwiches and chocolates and coffee during the flight. My babygirl, not too much different, asked me during take-off "where's the candy?" knowing that in most long-haul flights the flight attendants offer you candies before take-off to help you balance the air pressure in your head. For the entire flight she was waiting, and by the end of the flight she asked her dad "where's the toy?" expecting the attendant to hand her a toy. She got plenty of different toys from Turkish airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Lufthansa from previous flights. In the end it was a great holiday anyway. I mean, for a €19 flight from Venice to Paris, what else could you expect except a flying bus?

Use community-sharing based accommodation

Since we started to travel with a baby, we basically stopped couchsurfing. We used to couchsurf and to host surfers, but with a baby it's rather inconvenient to share a space with unknown person. That's when we switched to airbnb. Basically we rent a whole apartment for ourselves,  get to choose the place that is most suitable for us, at a convenient location of our choice,  at a much lower price than most commercial listings. For example last week in Paris we paid €40 a night for a one bedroom apartment with fully equipped kitchen and bath, located close from Arc d'Triomphe owned by a very kind girl we were glad to meet. If you prefer hotels to apartments, try to collect and pay hotels with miles. My post on miles collection can be read here.

If you're comfortable, share your car

I know some family who share their car using blablacar when traveling. They also have a child and share the other two empty seats in their car with travelers heading to the same direction. Thus, sharing the cost. I personally don't feel comfortable with that. The main reason is because our car is super small. Besides that, car-moments are rare intimate moments for our family, and we need to be enjoying 'em alone. Babygirl likes to listen to her songs and we would sing along loudly. We also like to make a lot of stops to let her rest and run a bit. So driving with strangers wouldn't be the best solution for us. But if you think car-sharing will work for your family, why not try it?

a postcard my husband sent to me and delivered to my office address

Plan ahead and book everything online

In most cases, entrance tickets to most attraction are cheaper bought online. Whether it's a museum, amusement park, zoo or opera, check for the prices online and reserve your ticket that way. When we visited Paris back in 2010, we booked our ticket to Louvre online. Not only  it was a couple of euros cheaper, we also avoided a massive waiting line for the ticket box. When you have your tickets printed at home, you can avoid the line and go directly to the main entrance of the attraction. Now with babygirl, it's much more convenient to avoid all kind of waiting lines for an obvious reason.

Well, cook your own meal

It's much more convenient to eat out in restaurants while being on holiday. Especially because one of the reasons we travel is to try the local specialties. However, it could be extremely expensive. What we usually do is we'd prepare meals for breakfasts and lunches by ourselves, and leave dinners for experiencing local and authentic restaurants. If we have a fully equipped apartment, cooking is not an issue. We don't just cook whatever though. My husband like to elevate the experience by only cooking the locally famous foods of the place we're currently at. When we're in Paris last week, he cooked soupe l'oignon (French onion soup) for late lunch, which we continued with dinner outside. Back when we were in Greece, we'd buy the best black olives, feta cheese and vegetables from the local market and make our own Greek salads for lunches. The experience of picking local foods in the markets and creating the meal together while telling stories about the meal is also a plus for babygirl, rather than being sat down in a restaurant three times a day.

If it works for your family, make a special saving account

Open a special saving account just for traveling, if it suits your family life style. Several years ago without my husband's knowledge I opened a saving account which is separated from our regular bank accounts and from our main saving account, which directly takes a small amount of money (in foreign currency) from my main account (where I get my salary) on a monthly basis. I withdraw the fund every two years, get some little interest rate, and get to surprise my family with unexpected trips. If this doesn't work for you though, I hope at least our tips above could be used to cut some expenses for your future trip!

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