Are you avoiding taking a trip abroad with your kids because you think it will cost a fortune? It turns out it may be cheaper than you think.
Once kids get over age two and need their own seat, taking a trip abroad starts to look pricey. But international travel with children may be cheaper than you think. Consider that stateside vacations can be spendy, especially quintessential kid experiences like Disney extravaganzas (full disclosure: we had a blast at Disneyland). So why not a trip abroad?
According to a 2017 Money article, a low-end Disney World vacation could set you back $3,500, even without park hopper passes (which I think are the best way to do it right). Park hoppers for a family of four will ding you at least $1600, depending on days of the week and number of days. Flights can cost $350 or more per person and hotel is a minimum of $300 if staying miles away or $600+ at a “value” Disney property. Not even close to deluxe. And theme parks are overwhelming for little kids (we waited till ours were older).
On the other hand, flight aggregators like Kayak.com can turn up reasonable flights to Europe. Food abroad won’t cost more than a Disney vacation—I can assure you—and that chunk saved on park passes can go toward cross-cultural experiences. Yes, you’ll have accommodation costs, but choose wisely and you won’t break the bank.
With the right approach, going abroad offers kids new perspectives on the world and fun at the same time. When we visited Amsterdam and England, my kids were thrilled to encounter tiny Smart cars, wander a castle ruin in Sussex, and spoon up European yogurt.
Here are a few travel hacks for heading overseas with little ones.
Choose shoulder (or “off”) season. Traveling six to eight weeks off peak season saves a bundle, and flexible dates let you take advantage of flight deals. You’ll also skip the crowds and heat of summer. If your kids are young, taking them out of school won’t be a big deal (I’m a fan of the world as classroom), and if they’re not school age, it’s a no-brainer.
Go off-beat. Sure, the Tower of London might be on your bucket list, but kids will be happy, maybe happier, hitting a beach in Spain or Portugal. Other places your dollar goes farther include Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia. Or consider a rural holiday in Western Europe to beat the cost of big-city prices.
Shop flight deals. Use search engines (try Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kayak) and then check airlines directly for promotions and international discounts for kids under 12. The new-ish Kiwi.com lets you enter departure city and anytime date ranges to search multiple cities or countries simultaneously. It’s a great tool for ideas on less expensive trips. But factor in baggage costs, seats together, and the convenience of direct flights. I’m a fan of paying a bit more with kids for less hassle factor.
Skip the hotel. For munchkins, an apartment or house is best and can cost less for a week. European hotel rooms are typically smaller than American counterparts, and a family may require two. We loved our Dutch canal-view apartment with two bedrooms, living room, laundry facilities, and well-equipped kitchen that saved a ton on meals. Try Airbnb and VRBO. Family-friendly hostels are great for shorter stays. For tight budgets, consider a home exchange with another family. The only cost to you is membership fee.
Hit the grocery store. To me, there’s nothing worse than a melting kid and a stiff restaurant bill. Plus foreign groceries are fun. We fell in love with Dutch dairy products and discovered deli cases full of kid-friendly meals we couldn’t get at home—for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant. You might even spend less than in your own town. Pick up picnic food, too, because who doesn’t love picnics at a playground? We love foreign playgrounds. Save restaurants for special occasions when kids are rested.
Opt for public transport. For kids accustomed to cars, trams and subways represent adventure. But the biggest perk? You get to focus on the experience with your kid. In London, my 8-year-old learned to navigate the tube’s station changes and led the way to each platform. Be sure to scout family pass discounts. For bigger jaunts, Eurail lets kids 0-11 ride free! Also, check local no-frills airlines like easyJet or Ryanair.
Know when to rent. Of course, rural destinations may require a car. Before leaving home, find out what your insurance and credit cards cover abroad—and check if the country of interest accepts it. Be aware, stick-shifts are most common in Europe, and automatics usually cost more. But if touring in the UK, don’t underestimate the trickiness of left-hand driving. We’re seasoned manual drivers, and my husband found England’s narrow roads, speedy locals, and multi-lane roundabouts quite perilous. My passenger-side commentary didn’t help. If we went back, we’d spring for the automatic.
Slow down and simplify. Longer vacations become cost effective because you’ve already invested in the flight. Unpack your days and aim for a mix of paid activities and free things like parks or beaches. Kids delight in little things and being somewhere different is entertainment enough. Slow down and absorb. You also need to factor in illness. My son got the flu two days after we arrived in Amsterdam, and we had to flex.
Decide which sights your family can’t miss, and schedule them in the morning (preferably only one) when kids are freshest. Look for city attraction passes and calculate savings if visiting just a few—don’t be tempted to do them all. I also recommend keeping a day or two unplanned for unexpected discoveries. If your kids are very young, consider hitting museums on your own. Next day, it’s your spouse’s turn.
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