A guide to budgeting travel with kids

When my wife and I first met, our love of travel and how we got along on trips was a good indicator that we would be together for the long haul. Twelve years, five kids, and many miles later, I would like to share some of the weapons against whining and tantrums we’ve integrated into our parental arsenal while traveling.

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Budget!

Budgeting is the most crucial point I want to make (and the most boring), so I’ll get it out of the way first. If you have a family, gone are the days of spontaneity in travel. Before marriage, I would use every dollar on hand to book a plane ticket and worry about the rest later. I traveled from Canada to the UK for three weeks with zero dollars in my account, counting strictly on money I hoped to make busking in front of bars with my guitar. The trip was beyond incredible btw, but those days are over, and I’ve accepted a new definition for the word adventure. Having the money set aside for the trip’s expenses and a travel emergency fund is imperative. A great mistake we’ve made has been counting on expected income for when we got home from holiday. Never count your chickens before they’ve hatched. Ensuring you have enough savings for settling in at home once the vacation is over is equally important as the trip itself. You never know what can happen while you’re away.

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Accommodation:

1. Rent a large enough space to meet at your destination with friends.

This has changed our lives! Nowadays, whenever we book a holiday, we are sure to invite friends along. It has worked out to set the destination as a meeting place with old friends from afar as it has also worked to bring others along from our home town. It’s incredible on so many levels:

-The children get to meet with friends and have a great time camping out having pajama parties in the den.

-There are more adults around to spread out the childcare. If you’re meeting with another family, the couples can take turns and give one another breaks and time alone for dates. 

-Renting a vacation condo or home with a kitchen also provides the opportunity to save dining out for the special dates you go on, so you can make it count! Let’s face it, eating out with a family each day lands up usually costing over 2-3 times the hotel room’s accommodation. Plus, if you enjoy cooking and you’re somewhere new, even grocery shopping in a town you’ve never been in can end up being fun. (Remember, I’ve changed my definition of adventure.) 

2. Find a place with a pool and jacuzzi. 

This one isn’t just for the kids. The same idea goes as with the dates, take turns with your friends taking the kids out to the pool to allow yourselves to enjoy some quiet in the room. Read, write, relax, have a hot bath with no kids knocking on the bathroom door or interrupting. Get frisky with your spouse. It’s a vacation, you need to make time for yourselves to relax. Make and guard that time. So often, my wife and I come home from family holidays more exhausted than when we left. Little by little, we learn, and little by little, we are changing the outcomes.  

3. Find a place with a good mix of attractions. 

When booking a holiday, always ask your children beforehand what kinds of things they would like to do on vacation. 

As you are getting YOUR special dates, time alone, and activities in, make sure that they each have a highlight from the trip to look back on fondly as well. 

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Explore

No matter what kind of holiday you go on, make sure you leave yourself a day or two with NOTHING planned other than the budget for the day. This empty itinerary will give you the time and right headspace to simply go with the flow and truly enjoy your surroundings. Take in the cultural differences. Go on a mission to meet another local family and ask them what the best spots are. Eat some street food. Find somewhere to volunteer for a few hours. That last one might sound crazy. However, volunteer work is a fantastic way to connect with locals, meet new people, and quite honestly will likely land up being the most memorable part of the trip for both you and your children. Helping feels good and when you are away from home and the stresses of your job, giving back is more manageable than usual. 

Communicate clearly with your friends before the trip.

If you follow my advice and choose to invite another family or couple along for a holiday, having a good talk about expectations beforehand is always a good idea. Outlining your family’s routine and noting the things you know are unique about your parenting style, rules, etc., will give all parties the best chance of a good party.

We make sure to discuss specific topics: Bedtimes and wake-up times, the hot date/babysitting swap schedule, activities, meal plan, how much drinking is appropriate, and when to do it.

Lastly, I want to touch one last time on the concept of redefining ‘adventure’. 

Look, I know that grocery shopping, having an uninterrupted hot bath, and dining out alone with your date are things that sound pretty normal and unexciting to somebody without kids. I’ve been there. I also realize that to many parents, especially any with more than two kids, the thought of foreign travel is overwhelming. That is where the adventure comes in. By consulting your children and leaning into their travel wishes and choices, with the right mindset, you can truly experience a new world through a child’s eyes. And that… is pretty sweet.

Owen Dargatz is a Canadian father of five, husband of one, and writes about life as a family man. Having grown up with three sisters in Peru, he has a unique view and appreciation for Latin American culture, travel, and family values. To visit his project, please check out thegivingexperiment.com/blog