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Are hostels good for families? Not really, in our opinion. Here are some pros, cons, positive experiences, and the reasons we don't use them very often.

Family World Travel: Are hostels good for families? Pros, cons & why we rarely use them

It might seem odd that in a discussion on affordable travel accomodations for families, I would talk about hostels last.

So, are hostels good for families? Well, I won’t say that they aren’t worth looking into at all. There are times and situations that call for short term solutions, and in those instances, we’re happy to use both hostels, as well as the occasional hotel.

But on the whole, we found that neither hostels nor hotels were a feasible solution for our family. Why? Well, there are a slew of reasons, but these are the primary ones:

  1. Despite their reputation as a cheap place to stay, hostels rarely work out cheaper for families (more on this below).
  2. As a married couple with, err, needs, we can’t stay in one-room dwellings with our crew indefinitely.
  3. Hostels in particular can be noisy late into the night, since they cater to the young, single, and often bar-hopping crowd. This doesn’t fare well for babies or young children who go to bed as early as 7 or 8pm, or a mom who sleeps lightly and ends up grumpy and groggy the next day.
  4. Hostels didn’t always feel like a safe option for a family with young children.
  5. Hotels were usually far too expensive to stay in for more than a night or two.
  6. We’d rather not split up our family into two hostel or hotel rooms, but the larger our family gets, the trickier it is to find rooms, beds and policies that will allow us to cram into just one.
  7. Our kids go buggy in hotels after not too long, and some hostels, too (although hostels are preferable because some have excellent public spaces which goes a long way towards helping manage kid energy levels).
  8. Hostel beds are very thin and uncomfortable for the most part, and we’ve frequently been expected to make our own beds as well. This isn’t the end of the world, but when you’re travel-weary and arriving with a handful of really tired kids, having to still get all the sheets and blankets and pillow cases set up is just another hassle.

Are hostels good for families? Not really, in our opinion. Here are some pros, cons, positive experiences, and the reasons we don't use them very often.

*Making the best of a very crowded 6-bunk room in England. Ryan’s expression is for purely for the camera and kids, but a room like this for too many nights is enough to cause this reaction for real.*

Our thoughts on hostels for families

I had initially anticipated we would make frequent use of hostels on our year-long trip. But we didn’t (and still don’t), and one of the main reasons was the challenge of finding private family rooms.

It’s thankfully a growing trend for hostels to offer more private rooms or smaller dorm-style rooms. This means you can sometimes get rooms with 4, 6 or 8 beds, or even family-style rooms that include one larger bed and several small beds, and book the rooms so you have them all to yourself.

Why do we need a private room instead of using the dorms? To be frank, we have zero comfort in going to sleep with all of our young children in a room with strangers. The scary scenarios that could take place in that situation just make it an absolute no-go for us.

One tip in this regard: If you’re booking a hostel accomodation online, you can rarely specify that you want all 6 beds (or however many you need) in ONE room, all for yourself. If you want to have a private space and the entire family together, you usually need to call or email the hostel and specifically request they adapt your reservation to reflect this. Otherwise you may arrive to find out that you indeed have 6 beds… in different rooms, that do not belong to only your family.

The times when staying in a hostel worked out for us:

In England, Ireland and Switzerland, we found hostels where we were able to rent entire 6-bed “dorm” rooms and have them to ourselves. While this isn’t exactly ideal (because it means each parent has to sleep on their own twin bunk bed) it works well enough for a night or two.

In Norway, we used a hostel in downtown Oslo and were able to get two rooms – one with a double bed and one with two sets of bunk beds – right beside each other, and they gave us extra keys so both parents and kids could easily get in and out of each other’s rooms, and this was a satisfactory short-term solution as well.

Are hostels good for families? Not really, in our opinion. Here are some pros, cons, positive experiences, and the reasons we don't use them very often.

*Enjoying the peaceful Li River in Yangshuo, China* 

In China, we also found a couple hostels in Xian and Yangshuo that catered more to families and offered larger rooms with double or queen size beds, more like a hotel room, but often a little cheaper. These were positive experiences, although neither of those hostels included a self-catering kitchen but only a restaurant, so at that point a lot of the savings go out the window since you can’t easily prepare your own meals.

Once, we even lucked out in a Ceksy Krumlov, Czech Republic hostel, to be able to book an affordable apartment that was connected to a hostel, but included a private bathroom and small kitchenette. It was perfect.

The other primary reason we avoided hostels in favor of apartment or house rentals was because of the cost.

I know, that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true and here’s why: It was our experience that hostels wanted to charge us per person, not per family.

As a result, particularly since we’re a large family of seven (or six if they let us bring the baby for free), we could actually do better in one or two cheap hotel rooms or most certainly in a house rental.

All of that said, we’re not completely opposed to using hostels. We’ve had quite a few positive experiences and consider them a potential place to stay depending on the location, purpose of our visit, and length of our stay.

Are hostels good for families? Not really, in our opinion. Here are some pros, cons, positive experiences, and the reasons we don't use them very often.

*A tour at the Guiness factory while staying in a hostel in Dublin, Ireland*

Are hostels good for families? These are the reasons I think they can be:

  • Hands down, the best part of hostels is meeting other travelers. Meeting interesting people is one of our favorite parts of traveling in general, but hostels are special in that they bring together a unique group of indie, budget travelers. They’re our kind of people.
  • We’ve found that hostel staff and owners are (usually) particularly interested in helping travelers have an amazing time exploring the area. Whether it’s their home and they’re proud to share it, or they’re ex-pats who fell in love with a place and decided to stay and open up or work at a hostel, they usually have a passion for a place that’s hard to find elsewhere.
  • Much more so than in a hotel, many hostels have comfortable public living spaces. This can look like a large living room, games room, or dining room, or it can be a lovely garden or courtyard outside with tables and chairs, and sometimes even free bikes to borrow or toys for the kids.
  • Depending where you are, it could save you money. Compared to staying in European hotels, hostels are often a lot cheaper (you’ll notice most of the hostels we’ve stayed in are in expensive European countries). They’re certainly worth researching for this reason. (Whereas in China we opted for hostels because of our negative experiences in the budget hotels we tried – in comparison, hostels were so much more pleasant.)
  • They frequently come with a shared self-catering kitchen where you can go in and make your own meals, store food in the fridge, etc. Just note this isn’t a given, so definitely confirm whether each individual hostel does indeed have a kitchen you can use. They also sometimes have a laundry room where you can pay a small fee to do a load.

In the next post, I’ll dive more into hotels – the good, the bad and the ugly, and our best strategies for making them work for our family.

Have you stayed in hostels as a family? What was your experience like?

  Are hostels good for families? Not really, in our opinion. Here are some pros, cons, positive experiences, and the reasons we don't use them very often.

This post is part of a series on Family World Travel… for Less:

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Family World Travel: How to Find the Best Long-Term Accomodations. Let's go deeper into the specifics of how to find the best long-term accomodations. Take it from us - a few key tips make ALL the difference.

Family World Travel: How to Find the Best Long-Term Accomodations

In the last post, I shared some initial ideas for saving on accomodations for a family. Now let’s go a little deeper into the specifics of how to find the best long-term accomodations. 

Take it from us. These five tips can make all the difference when choosing long-term rentals.

1) You need a hub

Choose a location that serves as a great hub for sight seeing and activities you might like to do. Particularly for stays of two weeks or longer, we look for towns or cities that are well connected so that we have plenty of day trip options.

Family World Travel: How to Find the Best Long-Term Accomodations. Let's go deeper into the specifics of how to find the best long-term accomodations. Take it from us - a few key tips make ALL the difference.

This map shows examples of how we used hubs during our time in Europe. A few notable examples of using carefully-chosen hubs during our travels have been: 

  • In addition to being a fabulous city in its own right, Munich was a perfect hub for visiting Salzburg, Austria, to Dachau concentration camp, and Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen.
  • We used a small town called Sanlucar de Barrameda in southern Spain as a 5-week base for exploring the Andalusia region — Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz, swimming at the beach, Seville, small hill towns like Arcos and Zahara, Cordoba, Gibraltar and even taking a ferry to Morocco for a couple days.
  • Being a relatively small country, living in Nazareth, Israel for a month allowed us to day trip several times to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Old Jaffa, Haifa, Bethlehem, the Sea of Galilee region, and even take part in an archaeological dig at Beit Guvrin.

You cannot underestimate the beauty of being able to unpack and settle in to a location for weeks at a time, and the freedom of taking day trips without lugging around your packs or having to find new digs every few days. 

2) Figure out what your priorities are and search for those first.

For us, this means:

  • minimum 2 bedroom spaces (one for us, one for the kids, and both with closing doors if it’s longer than 2-3 nights)
  • a decent working kitchen 
  • a washing machine
  • some sort of deck or yard space or close proximity to a park
  • a table that fits our family for meals
  • WiFi – we actually read the reviews carefully for mentions of how reliable the WiFi is, since our work heavily depends upon in. 
  • and of course, relatively clean and in a safe-enough part of town are definite considerations.

Family World Travel: How to Find the Best Long-Term Accomodations. Let's go deeper into the specifics of how to find the best long-term accomodations. Take it from us - a few key tips make ALL the difference.

When you’re searching in Airbnb, after putting in your location, dates, whether you want the entire house, etc. you can then get more specific about what you’re looking for. Note that these are just minimums (bedrooms, bathroom, beds) so you’ll still see all the options that have more space than this.

3) Be a smart shopper

Always look at the weekly and monthly rates to see what might give you the best discount. It’s worth noting that not all rentals offer discounts, and discount can vary widely. 

Family World Travel: How to Find the Best Long-Term Accomodations. Let's go deeper into the specifics of how to find the best long-term accomodations. Take it from us - a few key tips make ALL the difference.

See these four screen shots? These are taking from the pricing sections of four different rentals on Airbnb (referral link). Weekly discounts range from zero to 23%. Monthly from 20-47%. Some ask for an extra cleaning fee. And I didn’t catch it in these examples, but some places also charge more for the  number of people above a certain occupancy, so take all of these things into account.

And don’t worry, no fancy math required. Their system calculates it all for you as you adjust number of people, number of nights, etc.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask questions

If you’ve read through the reviews and you’re just not quite sure about something, take the time to go back and forth with the owner to ask questions and make sure you’re satisfied it’s a good place for you.

Sometimes I’ve thought I found the perfect place only to dig in a little and realize something wouldn’t work for us. If there’s a question niggling in the back of your mind, it’s better to ask and take a day longer to make a decision than book something impulsively and regret it. 

5) Book long-term stays as early as possible

For rentals of longer than one or two weeks, try to book as far in advance as you’re able to. I totally understand the desire for flexibility and making last minute decisions. We’re pretty famous for booking hotels literally while we’re driving into town, or finding a place to stay the day before we board a plane.

But I can tell you from experience that if you need something for several weeks or a couple months, your options seriously dwindle if you wait too long.

At that point, any place with even one day booked out of the period you’re looking for becomes a non-option and you might end up choosing out of the leftover rental dregs. They’re not so pretty.

For anything longer than a couple weeks, I try to start looking a minimum of one month in advance, but more like 2-3 months (if I already know our dates, of course).

When you book that far ahead, you’ll often still have a window of time where you can cancel or you can at least shift your dates a little, so don’t let that stress you out. Just make sure you read the fine print in detail so you don’t commit to something you’re not 100% sure about. 

Curious what our one-year travel schedule looked like and how long we stayed in each location? You can see a detailed run-down of our year, including where we moved quickly and where we hunkered down longer. And if I could go back and change one big thing about that travel year? I would add more long-term stays to the last 4 months of our trip (look at the link above and you’ll see how we moved faster during that time). While we don’t regret anything, we learned a good lesson. Everyone needs to slow down sometimes… both kids and parents alike. 🙂 

  Family World Travel: How to Find the Best Long-Term Accomodations. Let's go deeper into the specifics of how to find the best long-term accomodations. Take it from us - a few key tips make ALL the difference.

This post is part of a series on Family World Travel… for Less:

Family World Travel: Finding affordable family accomodations does not mean nasty hotels or hostel bunkbeds. Long-term rentals can save money and create a true cultural experience

Family World Travel: Affordable Family Accomodations

Figuring out affordable family accomodations isn’t as hard as it seems. Nor do you have to succumb to nasty hotels or hostel bunkbeds in rooms next to partying 20-somethings. 

In fact, we’re pretty fond of the types of places we stay in. Many of the homes and locations themselves are special memories for our family and became an important part of our cultural experience in that place. 

But I do know how daunting the costs can feel when you start looking at places to stay that suit a family. With a few tricks up your sleeve, you can absolutely find a comfortable place to sleep, cook, and even do your laundry for much less than you might think.

I’ll talk through our preferred type of longer accommodations in this first post, share more specific tips for scoring just the right place in the next one, and then lastly I’ll share tips for those times when you really do just need to stay in a hotel or something similar for a night or two. 

When traveling around the world, our main priorities for finding decent, affordable accommodations are: 

  • big enough (read: manageable for our family, even if not perfectly ideal)
  • reasonably clean
  • with WiFi (and a bonus is a quiet place for grown-ups to work)
  • in a safe-enough part of town (and preferably away from the tourist center)
  • walkable to shops or close to public transportation (if we aren’t planning to rent a vehicle) 
  • and a kitchen for cooking our own food (a washing machine is a big plus)

If those sound like pretty low standards, I suppose they are. That’s our bare minimum. Typically we find something far better than that, but we start simply and then see what’s available. 

Much of the time, we have the pleasant surprise of finding places with something truly special or unique about them, whether it’s a fun loft bedroom for the kids, or a really beautiful location, or a big backyard, or the perfect, well-stocked kitchen, or even being hundreds of years old and full of history and charm. 

Some people are lucky enough to have connections with family or friends in other places, to be able to stay in someone’s home or be a house sitter, which is amazing and so good for your budget.

We simply didn’t have those kind of connections at the time, although travel has helped us make new friends in so many places that we have more options now than we ever used to.

Family World Travel: Finding affordable family accomodations does not mean nasty hotels or hostel bunkbeds. Long-term rentals can save money and create a true cultural experience.

Two of our kids eat breakfast with a friend in a house we rented for a month in a small town in Provence, France

Instead, our modus operandi is to seek out vacation rental homes (apartments, townhomes or actual houses) that are cheaper when rented long-term, and that allow us to feel like we’ve got a home away from home. 

I don’t know about you, but hotels aren’t our favorite. Sure, they’re fun for a few nights. Who doesn’t like having a maid clean up their room? 

But when traveling with children, hotels rooms get old, and fast. There’s nowhere for active, energetic kids to go, the noise level becomes deafening, and cooking and laundry are much more difficult. 

With this in mind, we turned to house rentals right from the start of our Big Trip and have continued to do so ever since. 

How we find places 

We *heart* Airbnb (this is my referral link, because we love it that much) and have used it more than 25 times, for stays of anywhere from 2-3 days up to 2 months.  

We have also used VRBO and HomeAway a little bit, although I prefer Airbnb for ease of use. The rating system for both hosts and guests is so valuable, I find their search method user-friendly, and by far the most compelling reason for us to stick with Airbnb is ease of payment (more on this below). 

It also has an incredible range of properties available, literally all over the world. We’ve used it in Paris, Oslo, Nashville, Ljubljana, Venice, Kunming, and Buenos Aires, to name a few. There are some destinations that it doesn’t work for well, but not many. 

Family World Travel: Finding affordable family accomodations does not mean nasty hotels or hostel bunkbeds. Long-term rentals can save money and create a true cultural experience.

One of my fondest rental memories, the little orange house in Salta, Argentina

That said, we have still occasionally used VRBO or HomeAway, found guest houses though friends or church organizations, or used rental websites that are very location-specific (like a particular city in Argentina, for example). Sometimes it’s necessary to branch out and get creative when you’re looking for a rental that’s just right for your family. 

One important thing to mention is that with other rental companies or situations, you typically have to arrange payment directly with the home owner or management company in charge of that property. You wind up sending your credit card number to someone you don’t know, or worse yet a bank or money transfer to make a deposit or even pay in full before you arrive. Most of the time this is fine, but what if it’s not? That’s where we get uncomfortable. 

With Airbnb, on the other hand, it’s all done through their secure payment processing system. There’s a customer service team you can speak to if you need to. There’s recourse for when something goes wrong. It just feels a whole lot safer to us. 

How much these rentals typically cost

When staying somewhere for one to eight weeks (our longest stay), we search for a more spacious apartment or home that offers us a discount for a long term stay. It’s amazing how affordable this can become. 

For example, when we stayed in southern Spain several summers ago (and summer is peak season in southern Europe), we rented a 3 bedroom home only 15 minutes drive to the beach, with a small backyard, for just 1500 Euros for 5 weeks. This actually worked out to basically what we had been paying for our rental house back in a suburb of Vancouver, Canada.

Family World Travel: Finding affordable family accomodations does not mean nasty hotels or hostel bunkbeds. Long-term rentals can save money and create a true cultural experience.

Backyard of our guest home in Nazareth

We paid a similar rate for a guest house on a lovely church property in Rwanda for three weeks, about $1200 for a small but sweet home in northern Argentina for 4 weeks (the orange house above), and a mere $500 to rent a large 2 BR apartment with a massive yard on a Child Evangelism Fellowship campus for one month in Nazareth, Israel.

More recently, we spent just $2000 CAD for a one-month rental of a two hundred year old stone house in a small French village in the Vaucluse region (Provence), and $145 CAD per night to stay in a suburb of Oslo, Norway in a cute apartment (much cheaper than a hotel – Norway is extremely expensive!).

In other words, our experience with long-term rentals has been fabulous, and in my next post, I’ll share some important things I’ve learned about finding just the right place for your family!

Do you have tips for finding affordable family accomodations? I’d love to know how you make it work!

Family World Travel: Finding affordable family accomodations does not mean nasty hotels or hostel bunkbeds. Long-term rentals can save money and create a true cultural experience.

This post is part of a series on Family World Travel… for Less:

Family World Travel for Less: To make family world travel feasible and affordable, you need to stay a little longer. Here are four reasons why long term travel is cheaper than you think.

Family World Travel: Stay a Little Longer (Why Long Term Travel is Cheaper)

Most vacations happen in one to two week chunks. They take place during Christmas, Spring Break or summer holidays. And this is perfectly fine.

But when it comes to making family world travel both feasible and affordable, it’s absolutely necessary to break out of this mold, and the biggest piece of that puzzle might be to stay a little longer.

I know. It sounds like an oxymoron at first. How can traveling longer actually save you money?

Well, here are four reasons long term travel is cheaper than you think (and how to take advantage of that fact):

You’ll save oodles on accommodations

As the second biggest line in your budget, finding ways to save on accommodations is both smart and totally worth your time.

It would be easy to just tell you how much you can save by staying in one place for longer…

But I think you’ll find it much more helpful (and convincing) if you can see the real numbers and how they play out. You like real numbers, right? Good.

These are all taken from Airbnb, our top pick for finding long term rentals. I chose Munich, Germany, a popular European city that could potentially be quite expensive for a family. It’s also a wonderful location that could be used an as excellent hub for taking day trips.

My calculations are based on a 6 person occupancy, to show you how affordable accommodations can become even for large families when you stay a little longer.

Also, I wasn’t trying to find the best deals. I just randomly picked three of the first places I saw that fit the criteria, so know that you can find a MUCH better deal than this if you look around. What I mostly wanted you to see was how the prices begin to change as the length of stay changes.

Prices based on a 3-night occupancy (so these are your basic daily rates): 

  • Location 1 : $205 x 3 nights + $124 fee + $91 fee = $277 NIGHTLY
  • Location 2: $157 x 3 nights + $78 fee +  $68 fee =$205 NIGHTLY
  • Location 3: $158 x 3 nights + $124 fee + $74 fee =$223 NIGHTLY

When you go to a weekly rental, these become:

  • Location 1: $205 x 7 nights – 5% discount + $124 fee + $159 fee =$235 NIGHTLY ($42 less per night)
  • Location 2: $157 x 7 nights – 15% discount + $78 fee + $ 118 fee =$168 NIGHTLY ($37 less per night)
  • Location 3: $158 x 7 nights – 5% discount + $124 fee + $142 fee =$187 NIGHTLY ($36 less per night)

And then when you look at monthly rentals you see: 

  • Location 1: $189 x 30 nights -10% discount + $124 fee + $330 fee = $185 NIGHTLY ($92 less per night than the daily rate)
  • Location 2: $157 x 30 nights – 54% discount (!!!) + $78 fee +$178 fee = Total = $81 NIGHTLY ($124 less per night!!!)
  • Location 3: $214 x 30 nights – 10% discount + $124 fee + $369 fee = $209 NIGHTLY ($14 less per night – this actually turned out worse than the weekly rate)

*Note: Most of these monthly prices were rounded nightly average based on the various prices they charge per night depending on high/low season, holidays, etc. 

A few things to note about this:

  1. All the prices went down $36-$42 per night when I shifted from a 3 night rental (daily rates) to a 7 day rental (weekly rates).
  2. Location 2 got AMAZINGLY cheap when we broke it down to a monthly rental. At just $81 per night, that’s only $2430, and suddenly you’re putting a family of 6 in a major European city for a month at not too much more than many families pay for their total monthly housing costs (rent/mortgage, utilities and energy, insurance, etc.). This is an entire post (or series of posts) in and of itself, but essentially this is how we were able to travel for a year. Because we had moved out of our house and had no expenses back home, we aimed to average out around $75-$85 per night for our accommodations so that even while traveling, we weren’t spending much more per month than we would have been on housing back home. THIS is truly how long term travel becomes doable (well, that and bringing in an income while you travel).
  3. You can see that #1 and #2 got even cheaper as they become monthly rentals, but #3 got more expensive. This was based on the “average nightly rate”, so most likely this rental gets very pricey a few times per year, which jacks up the price overall. This isn’t very common, but it does happen, so it’s good to watch for!

 

Of course, not every place offers weekly or monthly discounts, but you’ll be amazed by how much of a difference it makes when you find places that do.

Suddenly, something like Airbnb becomes not just a bit cheaper than a hotel, but vastly cheaper.

Now you’ve been given permission to stay and linger and do regular life and get work and homeschool done and just breathe a little as you’re enjoying a new location.

And it’s worth saying… Germany isn’t known for being a budget location. Imagine if I had done this example using one of the cheaper countries to travel in? We could have easily found locations that worked out as cheap as $50 per night (or even less).

(Also? Once you start traveling like this, you’ll become positively addicted to it and never want to stop. Sorry about that. And you’re welcome. :))

Family World Travel for Less: To make family world travel feasible and affordable, you need to stay a little longer. Here are four reasons why long term travel is cheaper than you think.

Three more reasons why long term travel is cheaper when you stay a week or even a month (or longer) in one place:

You’ll save a ton of groceries

Once you can go to the grocery store and do a shop similar to what you’d do back home, your food costs are literally chopped in half.

Even better than buying specific ingredients for just a few meals, when you shop like you would back home and purchase food in larger amounts (because you’re staying long enough to actually eat it all), the amount of money it takes to feed a family goes way down.

You can stay in a regular neighborhood

If you’ll be there longer, there’s less need to be right smack dab in the middle of all the interesting sights and activities.

You’ll be able to do your exploring and sight seeing in a more leisurely manner, which means staying on the outskirts of town or in a commuter neighborhood isn’t an issue. The further you are from the center of town or the touristy locations, the cheaper your rental is likely to be.

Not only that, but you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more. We love temporarily living in average neighborhoods, getting to know what daily life is like for locals, shopping where they shop, walking where they walk, having our kids play where their kids play, joining them on local transportation, etc.

You can rent a vehicle for longer

Just like accommodation prices, vehicle rentals drop in price the longer you go, especially once you hit those weekly and then monthly milestones.

OR if you don’t plan to rent a vehicle, you’ll be able to purchase a more extensive pass (like a monthly pass or a cheaper punchcard) for whatever form of location transportation is common (train, subway, street cars, etc.), which usually gives you a discount as well.

Family World Travel for Less: To make family world travel feasible and affordable, you need to stay a little longer. Here are four reasons why long term travel is cheaper than you think.

31 Days of Family World Travel… for Less.

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Family World Travel for Less: Flights for Families, Part 2: Since buying flights for families can feel like the biggest barrier to travel, today I'll share five more ways that we make flying more affordable.

Family World Travel for Less: Flights for Families, Part 2

Since buying flights for families can feel like the biggest barrier to travel, I’ve been spending several days on it. You can read more about how we source long haul flights for our travel, and my first five tips for saving on flights.

Today I’ll share five more ways that we make flying more affordable:

Don’t get picky about your flight times

Yes, I know nobody wants to take a red-eye with toddlers, and that getting all your kids up at 2:30 am so you can get out of the hotel, across the city, and through security in time for that 6:30am flight kinda sucks (no, it really does).

But the question is… would you rather pay hundreds of dollars extra for the convenience of a neat and tidy flight time? Because quite often, that’s the tradeoff.

Or is it worth it to have a tiring day or two and save a lot of cash by taking the flight no one else really wants? I know which one I’ll pick (yes, even as I grumble about it at o’dark thirty and nurse my coffee like it’s my lifeline).

If at all possible, be flexible with your dates.

Sometimes you just need to fly on a certain date. But if that’s not the case, always check the prices on 3-5 days before and after your desired flight date.

Some websites, like Kayak.com, make this particularly easy with fare calendars where you can see a grid showing the different prices depending on your departure and return dates.

For example:

  Screenshot 2014-12-20 20.54.08

This is a random example, between Bellingham, WA and Miami, FL, but notice how if you were to come home just a few days later in January, you can easily cut your costs almost in half!

And then, if you were just to push your trip even later, you can get it all the way down to $613 at the lowest (from $1935 at the highest end). It’s incredible what just a few days difference can make!

Screenshot 2014-12-20 20.59.04

Here’s another example, Vancouver to London. This is in low season, so most of the prices aren’t too dissimilar, but notice how they creep up on Tuesdays, Thursdays and the weekend, AND there are a couple of golden flights in there, as low as $766 and $627?

When you’re talking about flights for a family, that $200-$300 difference per person can easily be more than a $1000 savings, so being aware of these things can be huge when it comes to your budget.

Travel before they turn 2

The very cheapest way to fly, of course, is to fly free. Which all kids aged two and under can do as “lap babies”.

When we were planning our initial round-the-world trip, we actually planned our dates in line with our youngest child’s 2nd birthday. We left when he was 11 months old and returned just before his second birthday. Which means we paid for precisely zero flights for him all year.

Now he’s a big boy and soon even our youngest will be two, and then we’ll have no choice but to purchase flights for everyone. But if you’ve got a baby or toddler and you’re considering traveling in the near future, considering going before they turn two and saving yourself the cost of that extra ticket.

Maximize your time in a region

Once you’ve done that big long haul flight, your domestic or neighboring country flight options become MUCH cheaper. If you have the ability to stay longer, you can visit multiple places but without having to take that expensive cross-Atlantic (or Pacific) flight again.

This is why it makes more economic sense to travel for at least a month or even several months at a time, and why we were able to go so many places on our world trip.

Altogether, we only took five long haul flights during that year:

  • Seattle to Argentina
  • Argentina to France
  • India to China
  • Japan to Australia (stopover in Malaysia along way)
  • Australia to Canada

The rest of our flights were typically 1-5 hours in length and were relatively inexpensive (maybe $100-$400 per person) because we were traveling within the same general region.

For example, we went from Spain to Turkey, Turkey to Israel, Jordan to Kenya, Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda to Dubai, etc. and all very cheaply. Traveling continuously is what really allowed us to take advantage of this.

Choose budget airlines

Sure, you’ll have to pack your own snacks. You won’t get a free checked bag (though that’s rare these days anyways). Nobody’s going to give you a pillow and blanket.

But you can find amazing prices with some of these budget airlines, like RyanAir or JetBlue in Europe, or Asia Air X.

I frequently hear from people who are really choosy about which airlines they fly with. I definitely get it, because we’ve had both stellar experiences, and then we’ve had our fair share of those flights, the ones we’d prefer to forget about. It’s tempting to choose based on comfort rather than price.

Our ultimate conclusion, however, is that we’d rather be able to travel more frequently than to have a more comfortable experience. We can pack extra food or drinks, bring books or activities for the kids, pack everyone an extra layer of warm clothing or a sweatshirt to use as a pillow, etc. The temporary discomfort is worth it once we step off that plane and into our next adventure.

Family World Travel for Less: Flights for Families, Part 2: Since buying flights for families can feel like the biggest barrier to travel, today I'll share five more ways that we make flying more affordable.

This post is part of the series Family World Travel for Less:

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