How to afford round-the-world travel: Tips from nomadic families
Katie Jacobson-Lang and her family in Russia. (Courtesy Katie Jacobson-Lang)
The prospect of packing up the kids and going out to travel the world can seem impossibly out of reach. Who has that kind of money for the flights, the accommodations, the travel?
In fact, many families with all kinds of incomes do it. CTVNews.ca spoke to a few travelling families to ask how they made their dreams happen. The key, all of them say, is planning and disciplined spending. Some manage to save only a little and then travel on the cheap. Others put aside money for years and then hit all the sights. Still others choose to work as they go.
Here’s a look at what some nomadic families have done to afford their travel dreams:
Katie Jacobson-Lang, Ottawa, Ont.
We travelled the world for close to one year, from April 2014 to April 2015. We planned and saved for about four years and when we left, our two boys were 8 and 10.
We travelled across four continents and 18 countries. We visited seven countries in Europe, then Russia, took the Trans-Siberian railway to China, then through Southeast Asia, to South Africa and Namibia before flying to three more countries in South America.
I was able to take a sabbatical from my job by doing a “4 over 5”, where I got 80 per cent of my salary for four years, then 80 per cent while we travelled. My husband took a year’s leave of absence.
I believe we spent around $120,000. We saved every penny during our four years of saving, drove our cars into the ground, cut cable, no eating out… everything we could while saving. We also borrowed significantly from our RRSPs.
Rachael Millar, Australia, hometown withheld
Our two kids were four and seven years old when we did our nine-month trip last year. My husband is a teacher and I work part time in PR in environment and sustainability.
When I was 26 my mum died and I felt a grave injustice that she had worked hard her whole life only to die at the time when she was starting to plan retirement and travel. I decided then I didn't want to wait for retirement to travel and do fun things.
When my daughter was two, we rented a motorhome and went around Europe for three months. We had the best time and decided we had to do long trips more often. So we started saving.
As a teacher, my husband can do a “sabbatical” to reduce his pay to 80 per cent for four years then have the fifth year off (it's basically a compulsory saving scheme). We started that in 2010 and while it was a bit of an adjustment to live off a reduced income, we definitely managed. We also had another child and renovated our house between 2010 and 2014.
We are not high-income earners, but we don't spend money on “things” - clothes, expensive cars, going out and regularly eating out/take away. We treat these sorts of things as treats, not the norm. We could not travel if we bought these things all the time; we've made an active decision to spend our money differently.
The trip was so worth it. We travelled Asia for nine months and our budget lasted us well. At times, I was surprised how cheap living away could be. The most expensive things were often tours geared up for tourists (but you don't travel to not do cool things). We've been home now about nine months and my kids talk about travelling often.
Any sacrifice we made during that period was worth it and we are planning on doing it again. We're also considering doing a teacher exchange in a few years too.
Talon Windwalker, Washington, U.S.
I'm a single dad, and I've been travelling with my daughter for about five-and-a-half-years now. We've visited six continents and almost 40 countries, mostly doing budget to mid-range travel.
To keep costs down, we house-sit in some places, do longer stays in Airbnb (having a kitchen really reduces your costs big time in most places), and if we plan on staying longer, we get a short-term rental. Staying in a place for a few weeks to a few months versus 3-5 days helps you save money.
We tend to avoid tourist areas and tourist-directed restaurants. Sometimes walking as little as a few blocks away from a tourist area can mean significant savings on your meal. We also walk a lot and rely on public transportation.
I do a lot of digital nomad-type work as we travel: freelance writing and photography, blogging, medical transcription. When we lived in Honduras, I also taught scuba diving.
We were living in Colorado when we left and recently returned to my home state of Washington to have more of a base now that my child is a teen.
Peter and Petra, last name and hometown withheld
We are an Austrian-Dutch couple with a two-year-old and a five-year-old. We have been travelling for most of the past 12 years, always by bicycle. Currently, we live in Austria, but we will soon start our next multiple-year bike trip. We will start in Mexico and travel North and South America.
We have become low-budget experts. We don't splurge on anything. After the initial flight to our chosen destinations, our way of living is almost free. We always wild camp or stay with people, we never use other modes of transport. We only drink water and eat very basic but healthy food.
Actually, our life is more expensive at home because we have to pay rent. But even then we have to work very little to pay the bills and save for the next trip.
Our luxury is time. We have time to see our children grow up. And we have time to see the world. So far, we have travelled in 60 countries on all continents except Antarctica.
Wendy Philleo, Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
My husband, 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son are currently on a one-year round-the-world trip.
We knew we wanted to take a year off when our kids were the right age to appreciate it and remember it so we picked 2016 as the year we would go.
After the kids were born, we started saving. Since we saved for over a decade, it wasn't a huge sacrifice. We had a big picture of a map and the kids have known about this year of travel since they were little. Our coin jar by the door had a map on it and every few months the kids would like wrapping coins to help save for the trip!
We've been saving so that we would be able to afford to both quit our jobs (I ran an environmental nonprofit and my husband worked for a bank) to take this year to travel, homeschool, volunteer and explore. We were able to save up $100K and use frequent flyer miles for the major airline tickets. We also rented out our house.
I read about some budget travellers and I marvel at their seriously limited budgets! Some spend 7 Euros a day on food for a family of four! That is not us. We do cook a lot of our meals in our rental apartments, but we wanted to be able to eat out and enjoy the local cuisine. I didn't want to have to worry about every penny and we really wanted to enjoy our time in each country.
We use Airbnb and other sites and I budget about $200 a day: $100 a night for lodging and $100 a day for food and experiences.
In Cambodia, we are volunteering and staying with a local family in a home stay so those costs will be lower and we are staying with friends in different places too. I have mapped out our budget for the year and estimated all the major expenses, (rental cars, internal travel, etc ). I track all our daily expenses to make sure we are on budget. We also knew we wanted to do one big-ticket item, so we chose a safari.
For other families, I would tell them they don't have to save up as much or as long as we did. There are many ways to travel. Southeast Asia is really inexpensive but also there are many affordable places in Europe like Portugal and southern Spain. There are also WWOOFing opportunities.
and workaway programs, etc. The one thing I would not skimp on is travel health insurance but that too is very affordable.
We always wanted to do this and we do appreciate every day that we are able to take this time as a family together seeing the world.
Suewan Kemp, Bristol, England
We are currently six months into our travels and my husband Dan is able to work while we travel. He still works full-time but may not work 9-5.
We came out with a very small amount of savings but have actually been able to build on that as we spend so much less travelling than we did at home. We now splurge in different ways now:
- We tend to eat out at weekends. We still seek out cheap local restaurants but it is a treat to not cook.
- We visit only places we are super keen to see. Here in Athens, we could spend lots of money visiting all sorts of places but have chosen only a few that we really want to see. We went to see the Acropolis and that was pretty expensive but totally worth it.
- We will buy better quality clothes/shoes because we have so few now that it seems to make sense to invest in better quality things that will last. Back home all our clothes came from charity/second hand shops.
- We have a budget for our daughter's world schooling activities. We decided that as she is an only child, it is worth investing in classes and opportunities for her to meet other children. So in Athens she does dance class, cooking class and Lego robotics. She has attended classes in every country we visit. We couldn't afford to send her to many of these back home.
To really see that world travel is affordable, work out how much you now spend on utilities, council (property) tax, petrol (gas), car maintenance, house maintenance, etc. Now compare that to renting an Airbnb where everything is included and where you don't have a car; it will likely be significantly less.
Before we made the jump we researched loads. I got in touch with so many travelling families and heard how they were making it work. It reassured me that it was possible and not completely mad.
We are planning to travel for as long as we all still enjoy it. At the moment that feels like forever!
Check back on CTVNews.ca, where I’ll be sharing my experiences regularly on Dream Big Wednesdays.