Entre Family Travels

54 weeks. 4 kids. 2 parents. 1 audacious dream.

On the Road Again…

It seems the Langford family can’t stay put for long.

Exactly one year after returning from our Big Trip (53 weeks around the globe), we’re preparing to leave for another 3 months.

The initial plan had been to return to South America, spend some more time back in Salta, Argentina, and visit other places we had wanted to go to, like Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. We hoped to hike to Machu Pichu, among other things. And then we found out that baby #5 was on the way. And there went visiting high altitudes (good-bye Andes Mountains), and a wife that was happy to take 26 hour, cross-country bus rides to save money.

Which got us thinking about other places we were longing to return to. And Europe came to mind pretty quickly, with its addictive artisan bread and fabulous markets and quaint villages and mind-boggling ruins and breathtaking countryside and charming villas and perfectly crumbling stone walls, and well, we just couldn’t resist.

After getting an amazing thumbs-up from the friends we had been planning to meet up with in South America (they had also begun to change their minds and wondered whether we shouldn’t meet up somewhere else – when we said Europe, I think they may have had happy tears in their eyes), we set our plans in motion.

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Ancient ruins in Ireland and England is something we’re all incredibly excited about.

Here’s the itinerary, so far:

January 29th- fly to London. Spend just about 2 weeks in England and Ireland, with a quick drive through Wales.

February 11th- fly into Nice, France. Settle into a rental home in a small town for a month, where we’ll catch up with the Oxenreiders, and do plenty of work and school, mixed in with local sightseeing.

Somewhere around March 11-12th – head out via Eurail passes to explore more of Italy. We’re leaning towards some agriturism (staying at farms) in the Tuscany/Umbria region, Venice, and one other location yet to be determined (got suggestions for North/Central Italy, that don’t include Florence or Rome?). Then on to Croatia, possibly passing through Slovenia, to spend some time on the Dalmatian coast.

March 31st (or somewhere around there)- say goodbye to our friends and fly from Croatia up to Denmark. We’re planning to surprise a certain little boy with Legoland in Billund, then a day or two in Copenhagen.

April 3th- fly to Bergen, Norway. We’ll spend a couple days there, then up to the fjords, then make our way over to Oslo for our April 8th flight to Iceland.

April 8th- April 15th- Rent a van and drive the ring road of Iceland, stopping in hostels and B&Bs along the way.

April 15th- fly back home to Canada, just as my international travel insurance ceases to cover my pregnancy.

It’s hard to believe that we’re already just 3 weeks out from our departure date. It’s flown by insanely fast.

The great thing about having done this before is that we have a lot of what we need for the trip, and a very good idea of the prep that needs to happen.

Here’s what we’ve been working on lately:

  • Booking as many of our England and Ireland accommodations, rental cars, etc. as possible and trying to find a rental house in France.
  • Buying a few more winter-warm pieces of clothing for us and the kids, like light-weight layers to wear under our pants on chilly days, a few more mix-and-match maternity items for me, warm socks, hats and gloves for everyone, etc. We’ve traveled in cold weather before, but we weren’t nearly as prepared for the cold (because it came on the tail end of 9-10 months spent in warmer climates), and traveling is seriously no fun without the right clothes to keep you warm.
  • Buying a bag for Ryan (and one for Kepler, who wasn’t old enough to carry a pack last time, but is going to take his own 12 litre backpack for this trip). We needed to get creative since, in addition to my own piece of luggage, I’ll be sporting an ever-growing baby belly. We’re also trying to pack lighter than last time since a) it’s just 3 months, not 12, b) we’re not going to developing countries so I don’t feel the need to pack as may just-in-case items, and c) we’re no longer carrying Kepler’s belongings. After an hour and a half of deliberation in the store (no, seriously, it took us that long), we settled on a new Osprey convertible 75 litre pack for Ryan. It has really rugged wheels for rolling, but can also be converted into a very sturdy backpack. He’ll use that one and I’ll carry my own 65 litre backpack (but packed a lot lighter than last time). When I’m feeling too tired or my back is bothering me, he can wear my lighter pack and roll his own, while I push the stroller. I think it’s a good compromise solution, as much as I still want to be independent with my own pack.
  • A few items to re-stock a (much) smaller version of the travel kit we brought with us last time.
  • Some more packing cubes and a mesh cube for each child’s laundry (thanks for the idea, Tsh!), because I want to keep things tidier this time and no more Mom or Dad lugging around the entire family’s laundry in their bag!
  • A few other odds and ends, like a case for our podcast microphone, no-roaming stickers for our cell pones, etc.
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We hope to find a house to rent in a small French town. If it felt like this, I wouldn’t complain.

You may be curious how we can afford pricey Europe for three entire months, including short stints in both the UK and Scandinavia (which are notoriously expensive).

The primary reason is that we work while we travel. This isn’t vacation for us. We’re simultaneously running all of our businesses as we go, and it’s the simple (hmm, sometimes not-so-simple) fact that we’re bringing in an income that allows us to do this more freely.

The secondary reason is that we’re going back to Europe in low-season (last time we were in shoulder and then high season). Low-season prices are so, so much lower than higher season. Places aren’t full, rates of soft, negotiations are possible, things like car rentals and sight seeing and restaurant prices aren’t jacked up. Is it as nice as visiting in the spring or summer? No, of course not. But it sure is more affordable!

Lastly, we’re keeping our time in these more expensive places much shorter (only 13 days in the UK, one week in Denmark/Norway), and then spending the other 8 weeks of our trip much further south where prices are much more reasonable (southern France, Italy, Croatia). Also, we’re renting a house for one full month, which makes it far cheaper per night than if we were moving around frequently. This also means that we can actually stock up the kitchen with groceries and cook for ourselves that whole month, for even greater savings.

Plus, we scored 20% off on our Eurail passes because of an off-season sale, not to mention that flights are cheaper right now and I am pretty good at researching our options to find the absolute, most rock-bottom price possible. When you’ve got 6 flights to pay for, this becomes essential.

And that’s where we’re at with our trip planning right now! We’re down to the 3-week wire and I’ll confess, I feel stressed and frantic, but that’s normal when you get close to departure date. It will all come together, I know, and soon enough we’ll be on our way!

Have you been to any of these places? Of course, we’ll never be able to see it all and we’ve already made a lot of plans, but we’d love to hear your family-friendly suggestions!

Image credits: 

Smart Family Travel: How to Save Money on Long-Haul Flights (Part 1)

If travel is expensive, then travel with four children must be out of this world, right?

Wrong. Travel can absolutely be made more affordable, even with lots of kids.

It all depends, really, on how you travel and what your expectations are.

A while back, I shared how it was possible for our family to save/earn/cut our expenses enough so that we could spend a year going around the globe with our family. This goes into the nitty-gritty of where we came up with the money and freedom to do the trip in the first place, and if you haven’t read it yet, it’s a great place to start.

Today, I want to start delving into both the major, one-time as well as the day-to-day travel expenses, and how to save on ALL of it. Even with a large family.

I’m going to write this as a series of posts on Smart Family Travel, each one focused on a different aspect of travel expenses. Based on our own experience, the primary costs during our trip were:

  • Long-haul flights
  • Accommodations
  • Food
  • Regional travel (short-haul flights, trains, buses, ferries, etc.)
  • Sight seeing
  • Local transportation

I’ll cover all of those topics, as well as look at where you go, since the cost of living in the places you choose contributes to your overall costs enormously.

Smart family travel... how to save money on independent family travel and make your dream a reality. We'll talk flights, trains, other forms of transportation, food, luggage and gear, accomodations and more. All by family of six that traveled around the world (literally) for a year.

Whether you’re looking ahead to summer vacation this year, or perhaps you’re have plans to one day do that Big Trip you’ve been dreaming of, I know that most families are curious to learn more about how it can be done more affordably.

In fact, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that traveling even as a family of 6 doesn’t have to be as mind-numbingly expensive as you imagine it to be.

So let’s jump in to the biggie… actually getting to where you’re going!

Getting there

For us, this is usually the single biggest expense when we travel.

In fact, even though we do our best to cut our expenses back home and work on the road (so that we can essentially live on what we’re making as we travel), it’s still a necessity for us to save up ahead of time for plane tickets before we can ever get really serious about going somewhere.

Of course, flying isn’t the only way to get where you want to go. There are countless families that make their way all around North America, and even as far as Central and South America, without ever setting foot in a plane. They pack up a vehicle and enjoy the ride, or some brave souls even bike their whole way.

I’ll admit… that’s not us. Not the driving part; we’re game for that. In fact, one of the next trips we want to drive is across our own beautiful Canada in an RV. But the biking, not so much. Kudos to those that do it!

In our travels, we’ve relied on:

  1. Long-haul flights to get to our major destinations (ie. across oceans or when hopping a very large distance, such as Spain to Turkey, or Jordan to Kenya).
  2. Either low-cost airline short-haul flights OR trains or buses to get us long distances within a single country or region (we relied on trains all across Europe, other than the Italy-Greece ferries, as well as relying on rail in Japan and parts of India, and we took buses in Argentina and Turkey. In China we used a mix of train and airplanes, depending on which was cheaper and how long the distance was. I’ll get to train travel in my next posts.)
  3. More locally, we rely on a mix of everything — commuter trains, rental cars, local buses or subway, rickshaws, taxis, and frequently, our own two feet.

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How we prefer to source our long-haul flights

I’m a pretty avid researcher. In fact, I can nearly drive myself crazy researching to find the very best price. Knowing that flights are our biggest expense, it makes sense to really dig deep and find the right deals.

As we prepared for our round-the-world trip in 2013, I shocked myself by discovering that, as good as I was at sourcing out the cheapest flights, I couldn’t compete much with the prices we got through a company called AirTreks.

To give you an example, mid-way through our trip we were looking for tickets that would take us:

  • From Turkey to Israel
  • From Israel to Kenya
  • From Kenya to Rwanda
  • From Rwanda to Dubai
  • From Dubai to India (in one city, then out another)
  • From India to China
  • From China to Japan
  • From Japan to Australia
  • From Australia back home (to Vancouver, Canada)

That is a whole lot of flights. With a million different options.

I looked up different possibilities for days on end using search engines like Kayak and Sky Scanner (which are known for finding cheap flight options), trying to piece together all of the best one-way tickets I could find, using fairly flexible dates, different cities, and even variations on the order in which we went to these countries.

With all of that, I could only beat AirTreks price by $100 per person. And, I would still have to be the one to book each and every flight, for all 5 family members (the baby flew free), which is tedious and you run the risk of losing out on a great price if you can’t get it all booked fast enough, which could potentially have cost far more than that $100 each.

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On top of that, they provide basic travel insurance as part of the package. Plus, when something changes (like when we ended up with an unexpected 13 hour layover in Qatar), they handle it for you (and how grateful were we that they co-ordinated a free hotel room, meal vouchers and shuttle bus!).

Additionally, they made some great suggestions, like that we fly into Israel but travel overland to Jordan and fly out of Amman, because we’d get much more competitive rates to Africa (and this worked fine for us, since we had hoped to briefly visit Jordan anyways).

As you can probably tell, I highly recommend them (and I don’t get paid a cent for saying so, nor do we receive any sort of travel perks – we’re just honestly happy customers).

As we prepared for our upcoming Europe trip this winter and spring, I called them as soon as I had done some flight research again and knew what prices to compare their quote with. Yet again, they came in with a great quote, and when it came time to actually book it, the price had even decreased.

All that said, flights are still expensive. There’s no denying that. In the next post, I’ll continue on with seven specific tips to help you cut costs on flights as much as possible.

Which costs are you most worried about when it comes to planning your own Big Trip? I’d love to hear your plans and dreams in the comments, and especially your questions so that I can try to get more specific about answering them.

Adjusting to life on the road (a podcast with Tsh of The Art of Simple)

Pillows matter, man.

At least, that’s what Tsh and I wholeheartedly agreed about during this recent podcast as we chatted about adjusting to those early days and weeks on the road, living in small spaces with kids, the simple beauty of backpacking, working from anywhere, and all sorts of other good things.

It was wonderful to connect with Tsh as she interviewed me for her first on-the-road podcast since their family of 5 left on a very similar journey to the one that we took last year. They’re currently in their second month of a 9 or 10 month trip, hopefully setting down in every continent, while working and worldschooling as they go.

I’m excited for them. I’m re-living our trip through her updates. I’m delighted that another family is experiencing the joys of what we were privileged to do.

But I also know that it’s hard. Travel is always worthwhile but it’s not always easy, and she and I talk a lot about the challenges and how we learned to work through them and keep perspective.

So go ahead and listen in HERE.

(And if you want to hear more, go on and check out our previous podcast, where the tables were turned as she spoke with me while she was back home in Oregon and I was just finishing up our trip from Australia).

Where we’ve been, where we’re going, and the number of buses we may (or may not) have slept on

I know, it’s been a while. A long while.

Though I sincerely love writing about our journey on this blog, this past 6-8 weeks has been particularly exhausting in a lot of ways.

Some things had to go so that I could continue to focus on my family and on enjoying our trip in the midst of my other responsibilities, and sadly, blogging here was one of those things.

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Do hard things

I’m coming to see an equation that is proving true time and again:

The harder something is = the more worthwhile it is

The other day, I took the kids on a boat to take a navigation of the Beagle Channel, the body of water that divides Tierra del Fuego, Argentina from Isla Navarino, Chile. Within these deep blue waters are a host of small, rock islands, several of which are home to marine wildlife.

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