Entre Family Travels

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

Smart Family Travel: How to Save Money on Trains in Europe (and a Guide to Eurail for Families)

When it comes to getting around Europe easily and affordably as a family, I’m in love with Eurail passes.

Though they do look pricey at first glance (and they are – let’s not kid ourselves that European travel is especially cheap, though there are certainly ways to save), they can be well-purchased and well-used.

It’s important to mention that we don’t feel that train is always the right way to travel.

In certain places, or depending on the length of time that we have, renting a car or even taking a short flight with a budget airline can work out better. In fact, we’re particularly fond of renting cars when we want to stay in smaller towns and villages (with less rail connections), get out into the countryside (zero rail connections), or settle in one location for 2-4 weeks. Driving offers unparalleled freedom and flexibility and when vehicles are rented at weekly or monthly rates, they can work out quite affordably as well.

But most of the time, we find rail to be both an efficient and cost-effective way to get around tightly-packed Europe. You can get across most countries in a day or less, sometimes even passing through multiple countries in a day. All big cities and most smaller towns are connected.

Trains are comfortable and almost always clean (in Western and Northern Europe, trains are even luxurious sometimes), offer beautiful scenery, don’t require getting to the station extra-early (like for flying), usually offer many different times and options throughout the day, and are even nice for kids because they can typically have a bit more space to spread out and move around within the cars.

Although point-to-point tickets can sometimes work out cheaper (and it’s always worth it to compare prices), we have found that overall, a carefully planned out Eurail pass saves both money and hassle.

Smart family travel: How to save money on trains in Europe (and a guide to Eurail for families)

Here are our money-saving tips for using Eurail with a family

Did you know that kids aged 4 and under travel free on trains?

Unlike the 2-year limit on airplanes, you can have up to a 4 year old traveling on an adult’s lap. When we had Eurail passes on our Big Trip, we only had to buy four passes for our family of six, since the youngest two were 1 and 4 at the time.

Occasionally we actually had to have them sit on our lap, when the trains were full on popular routes. But more often than not? They had their own seats and we could all stretch our leisurely. It was awesome.

Keep an eye out for special deals.

For example, there are currently two fantastic deals going on (and I don’t earn a penny for promoting these – I just want to give you examples of the types of deals that you should be on the lookout for):

1) Get extra travel days if you buy your pass this spring (before high season). Get up to 5 free extra travel days on a Global Pass, or 1 extra day on a Regional or Country Pass. Depending how carefully you use your days, this could be valuable! (Valid until March 31 or possibly April 30th for some passes, 2015)

2) We have never seen this before, but at the moment, not only are children 4 and under free on a parent’s lap, but all children aged 4-11 actually get a FREE child’s pass when traveling with a paying adult, AND up to 2 children can travel with each adult!!! This is amazing. We are so excited to be able to take advantage of this deal when we head up to Scandinavia next month, because it means that our entire family of 6 can travel for the price of 2 adult passes. Wow. (It looks like there could be a date cut-off on this deal for Global passes, I can’t quite tell. But for Select and One Country passes, I don’t see a deadline.)

Of course, these change from time to time and there are usually more deals in low and shoulder season than in high season (generally May-Sept), but nonetheless, always look for the special offers available!


Get family passes.

If you’re willing to commit to always using your passes together (and for traveling families, this is realistically what you’ll be doing anyways), then you can purchase a Family pass where you get an automatic 15% discount on each pass. Unless you’re planning to split up and have both adults traveling somewhere different at the same time, this works perfectly for families.

Travel 2nd class whenever possible.

Now, if you’re traveling on a Family Global Pass (a pass that lets you travel in any Eurail country), your only option is 1st class. But for Select, Regional and single country passes, you can opt for 2nd class and there’s no reason not to.

In most of Europe, 2nd class is perfectly acceptable, if not actually nice. This is less true the further East and South you go, but honestly, we hardly ever found the trains to be bad enough that they actually bothered us.

Be very choosy and strategic about which pass you buy.

Now, we went all out with the Global pass on our two-month Europe trip. This was because we were actively moving around the entire two months, but also because we intended to visit 8 countries and use the train several days per week. When I started tallying up the prices for point-to-point tickets for what we wanted to do, it was clear that the Global pass was the winner (and of course, we got the 15% off and only bought 4 tickets, so that helped immensely).

This also meant that we had free use of the rails anytime we wanted to take a day-trip jaunt somewhere outside of the city we were staying in and could even do things like visit Salzburg, Austria from Munich, Germany for the day without a second thought.

This winter, however, we are back in Europe and will not be using a Global pass. We are traveling around less (we’re just finishing up a month in the same town in France where we rented a car), and so we’ve chosen a select group of countries we’d like to visit.

I have carefully gone through all the possible variants on:

  • Select passes (where you put together up to 4 adjoining countries to create-your-own pass)
  • Regional passes (these cover 2-3 adjacent countries that people typically like to visit together)
  • And single country passes.

After much thought and number crunching, I’ve decided our best bet is a Select pass that covers France, Switzerland, Italy, and Croatia/Slovenia (this is sort of a bonus deal – 2 countries for the price of 1). I can’t tell you which pass will be best for you, only that you need to really look through the options and compare your cost breakdown.

And then, be conservative with how many days you need your pass to be. Look up the distances/times between the places you’ll be traveling to determine how many actual travel days you think you’ll need (see the DB website below).

It’s usually worth it to work in one extra day as a buffer (because things just happen when you travel and you never know why you might need that extra day), but try to be as precise as you can so that you can choose a lower priced pass.

train 3

Travel off-season if you can.

The last couple of winters I’ve seen Eurail passes go on 20% discount, and I think they commonly offer more discounts during off-season. We bought our current passes (good until March 31st) at 20% off.

This was perfect for us, since we were already planning an off-season trip (partly because the dates worked, partly to save money). As we head up to Norway in early April, we’ll be getting a Single Country pass, and again, because we’re traveling off-season, those awesome deals I mentioned to you above? We’re getting to take advantage of both our kids being free AND getting an extra travel day!

Keep in mind that high-speed and night trains will likely charge an extra fee.

This fee is usually a “compulsory reservation fee”, meaning you have to pay a set amount (we’ve paid as low as 2.50 Euros up to 15 Euros per ticket holder) to travel that particular route. Sometimes you just can’t avoid the high speed trains, especially when you’re traveling a major route (for example, Rome to Florence or Paris to Geneva), and this is where you typically get dinged with the reservation fees.

If you have more time than money, it’s always worth looking to see if non-high-speed trains are available for the same destination and use those instead. Note that the Deustche Bahn website will tell you whether any of the trains you need to take require a reservation.

eurail reservation image

You can see in the image above (a screenshot from the DB website of our route from Nice, France to Firenze, Italy) that our first train is a Regional Express and requires no fee, but our next two trains (an Intercity and EuroStar) are faster trains between more major cities and both require a fee.

As for night trains, in our experience, by the time you pay the extra fees (much heftier than a reservation fee – often more like 14-50 Euros per ticket, depending on the type of bed/room you’re paying for), they’re not usually worth it for families.

We didn’t feel comfortable sleeping with our kids in the open-style seating overnight. Once when traveling between Vienna and Venice, we opted for the 2nd class couchettes (small rooms with bunk beds). In the end, we paid at least what we would have for a hotel room, probably more (on top of using up a rail day). However, if the night trains help to save time by getting you where you need to go while you sleep, then they can be a worthwhile option, so that’s something to consider.

Not all countries are equal in cost.

Global passes are more expensive simply because they cover both the higher and lower priced countries (although honestly, they’re still a great deal in that sense because you’re getting the expensive cities at a discount).

But when you start choosing countries for Select, Regional or individual countries, the prices look very different. Scandinavia is particularly expensive, as are France, Germany, Austria and Spain. Larger countries cost more than smaller ones (this makes sense because you’re covering larger distances, right?), but the further East you go, prices drop a lot (check out Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, for example).

Always double check what other perks come with your rail pass.

For example, we got a 30% discount on our Italy-Greece overnight ferry because we held a pass that was valid in both countries. The same is true for ferries between Ireland and France or the UK, and ferries between Denmark and Norway are discounted 10-20%, depending on the route and whether you’re in low or high season.

Don’t use up a full travel day for just a short, inexpensive point-to-point trip.

If you’re trying to maximize your 8 days in 2 months (for example), and you want to take a short trip between two French villages, it may be better to pay for it out of pocket and save up your travel days for when you’ll be covering a lot of ground on more expensive routes.

A few excellent train travel resources:

  • Eurail website – This is the official website for buying Eurail passes. It also offers plenty of helpful information for figuring out how to use your passes, help you find discounts that go with your pass, look up rail maps, etc.
  • Rick Steves – My favorite brand of Europe guidebooks, his website is a fantastic resource. I especially love looking up questions I have in the travel Forum, but his rail section is also very thorough and helpful. He also sells Eurail passes directly through his site, for at least the same price as on the Eurail website (including whatever current deals are being offered) and with the exchange, it even ended up slightly better for us buying off of his site when our credit card gave us hassles on the official site this winter.
  • The Man in Seat 61 – This website offers very detailed instructions and helpful information about traveling by rail in any European country, shows how to interpret and understand rail schedules and rail tickets, gives really practical tips for travelers, and more.
  • Deutsche Bahn – This is the best site I know of for looking up rail schedules and figuring out how to make your journey work. It’s a German site, but I’ve linked to the English version. As you look up rail stations or particular cities/towns, try to find the correct spelling for that place in the local language. For example, we say Florence (Italy) but Italians actually called it Firenze. Same goes for Venice (Venezia), Rome (Roma), etc. Many place names, once translated into English, lack a standard spelling, so you’ll always want to try to find the true spelling. The DB site does take this into account for English speakers (in fact, the three Italian examples I gave all show up by their English spelling as well), but don’t take for granted that you’ll find the right place if your spelling is off.

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.

See all posts in the Smart Family Travel series.

Note: You MUST buy your Eurail pass before leaving your home country. You cannot get it once you have already arrived in Europe!

How to Travel More Affordably in the UK as a Family

We’ve gotten to be pretty good at frugal travel over the years, but I’ll confess, the United Kingdom is one place that (much as we wanted to go there), I was nervous to plan on a budget.

When I began the work of actually researching our options and making bookings for our family. I was determined to stick within our budget and do this portion of the trip as inexpensively as possible.

I’ll be the first to admit… the UK it is expensive. Probably one of the most expensive places we’ve even gone (and we’ve been to Australia, Dubai, Japan and Switzerland, to name a few).

(And I’ll note upfront that I’m referring to the UK in this post, but technically Ireland is not part of the UK. That said, we’ve also been to Scotland where the prices are similar, as they are in Wales and Northern Ireland, and so I simply chose to use UK in the title as a more familiar term of reference for the British Isles in general.)

It was definitely a challenge, but after much reading, researching, wringing of hands, and creative rearranging, here are some of the tricks and methods I came up with for keeping our time in the UK as cheap as possible:

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 12.26.26 PM

The one photo I have of us in a hostel dorm room, all three bunk beds crammed closely together (taken by my 10 year old – the shocked look on my husband’s face is all an act for her :)


On our year-long trip around the world, I aimed for us to spend no more than $70-$80 per night, on average, as this worked out to just a little more than our regular monthly housing costs back home (rent, utilities, insurance, etc.). Some countries were more expensive; many countries worked out much cheaper than that for us. It all balanced out.

When I got to researching England and Ireland for this trip, however, my heart sank. Even the cheapest digs I initially found were going to run us no less than £80-90 British Pounds (that’s $123-138 USD). It would have honestly been very easy for us to spend $200-$400 USD per night, if I hadn’t worked hard to find cost-effective options.

Here’s what we found worked well for our family of 6 (and if you are a smaller family, you’re in luck – this will be even easier/cheaper for you!):


For anywhere we’ll  stay 3 nights or longer, I look for an apartment or house rental. Airbnb is our very favorite site because it’s easy to use, you never have to do things that feel financially risky (like wire money to someone you don’t know), and there are amazing rental options available all over the world. What’s best about it is that, unlike many other vacation rental sites, many of these are actual homes, so they have well-stocked kitchens and a unique, comfortable feel to them.

Not only do we usually pay less than we would in a hotel per night (and the longer you stay, the cheaper it gets, as weekly and monthly rates drop significantly), but we also end up with a kitchen so we can save by preparing our own meals and snacks. There’s often a washing machine as well, so we can keep our clothes clean without paying at a laundromat or hand washing.

Another perk as a family is that you tend to get much more living space than in any sort of hotel situation. In London, for the same or less per night than we would have spent at a nasty, cheap hotel, we got a 200-year-old row home in the suburbs (but easily accessible by Underground trains) with a small backyard, a living room, kitchen, bathroom and three bedrooms!


The main town square in Stow-on-the-Wold, England, where our hostel was located.


In several places, the best option I could find for us was a hostel, where we booked a “family” room or a six bunk dorm room (but got it all to ourselves). In both locations (Dublin, Ireland and Stow-on-the-Wold, England), the rooms were small, for sure, and in one we were sharing a public bathroom down the hall. But there was a kitchen for cooking, a large eating area, and a public area where we could hang out if we wanted to.

I will say that hostels, while fantastic for single people or friends traveling together, are not always the right option for families. By the time you add up the fee for each individual person (because that’s how they charge you, and they don’t usually give breaks for babies or young children), it can be cheaper to just stay at a hotel or B&B. Not always, of course, and so you need to do your research and compare what’s available in each place you plan to stay.

Also, with small children, we aren’t comfortable in any sort of dorm room situation where other people would be sleeping in the same room as us. Again, it’s fine for a single person, but we only feel safe with our children when we are in a private room with just our family. Many hostels can accommodate this, but some can’t, so be sure to look around and ask good questions. Even when I book us 6 beds in their 6 bunk dorm room option, I make sure to contact the hostel directly to let them know that we are a family and we all need to be together in one private room, and so long as they have the space available (it pays to book ahead), I’ve always found them to be accommodating for us.


When they don’t have toys, our kids improvise. We were met by a scary trio of “ghosts” while staying in this guest house in Galway, Ireland.

Budget hotels/guest houses

We also made use of several hotels and guest houses. They were more Plain Jane, perhaps, but perfectly adequate for our needs (and our budget).

One hotel chain that we found very affordable and convenient was Travelodge. We stayed at one in York, England and also for our last night in Ireland, near the Dublin airport. In low season, we could get two rooms for our family for as little as £70 or about €80-90 in total, which is very cheap in both places. You won’t get any character in a place like this. They’re just cheap, sanitized, big-chain hotels. But they’re clean and inexpensive and they worked for us.

Another option is to seek out smaller, simple budget hotels or guest houses. In Galway, Ireland, we found a recommendation through Rick Steves where we got a little family cottage with a self-catering kitchenette for €99 and it allowed us to easily make our own breakfast the next morning. In Dingle, Ireland, we stayed at the Dingle Harbor Hotel (another Rick Steves find) which was a just a little more per night, but was still very affordable when they gave us an off-season deal, threw in little perks like doing a load of laundry for us (just because) and served incredible breakfasts which totally filled us and our kiddies right up.

eating breakfast in dingle

The tail end of a delicious breakfast in Dingle, Ireland.


There are SO many ways to save on food, if only you’re willing to forgo the expectation of eating in a restaurant for each meal, or ordering one entree per person. By making use of grocery stores, learning to eat wisely when you’re out, and taking advantage of DIY options, it’s far easier than you might think to feed a family cheaply, even in England or Ireland!

Here are the strategies we used:

:: Grocery stores. “Picnic” breakfasts and lunches are easy to buy and so much less expensive than eating out. In England, I could make a nice breakfast for us all for £10-15 or less (eggs, bacon and toast/English muffins with butter, or yogurt, granola and fresh fruit). In a restaurant or hotel, that would usually cost our family more like £20-25 (the equivalent of $40 USD- yikes!).

:: Stay in places that offer kitchens/kitchenettes whenever possible. Making your own (again, by shopping the grocery stores) is heaps cheaper.

:: Pick up extra when you go to the store and carry it around for snacks between meals. Choose fruit that travels well (like apples or oranges), individual yogurts, trail mix or granola bars, cheese or deli meats, veggies like snap peas or baby carrots, baked goods like muffins or scones, and keep it in your backpack or rental vehicle.

:: Always ask for tap water at restaurants. Nearly all of them are happy to oblige and will often bring out a glass bottle with chilled tap water for your table.

:: Never order one meal per child (unless they actually have an adult’s appetite, like a teenage boy). For that matter, it usually isn’t worth it to buy children’s meals, either (they tend to be a rip-off). Instead, our family could get away with 3-4 regular size meals, split between the six of us (just ask for a few extra plates to dish it all out). Or, we’d go for cheaper options like soup or stew with bread, and could usually share one bowl between two children (they’re adult portions, remember). For that matter, share things like pots of tea (my girls often wanted tea, so we’d order a pot to share between the three of us), or scones (four large scones with cream and jam were still a filling snack for us all – we didn’t all need our own).


A late afternoon snack of scones, cream and jam bought from a grocery store, along with hotel-room tea, helped to fill tummies up cheaply.

:: Get used to eating anywhere. If it’s not summertime (which, of course, is the best time of year for impromptu picnics outside), you can still find ways to eat your snacks or grocery store grub. We ate breakfast in our car one morning and we’ve done plenty of hotel-room meals and snacks (see the picture above).

:: Look for more inexpensive options in your guidebook, or ask for recommendations from hostel or hotel staff, apartment landlords, kind locals you meet while sight seeing, etc. I personally enjoy Rick Steves books while in Europe and found his Great Britain and Ireland books both helped me to quickly find a restaurant that was more family-friendly and in our price range.

:: Pubs are fine with kids if you go for an earlier dinner time (once it starts getting to 8 or 9pm, you begin to get more of a pub scene and some pubs will ask children to leave). Pub grub is often cheaper than other sit down restaurants, but still tasty and filling.

:: Carry your own coffee/tea and make yourself a cup in the morning (rather than paying £2-3 from a cafe). Most accommodations have kettles. I carry Starbucks VIA coffees in my backpack and will often buy a box of tea (recycle the box) and take the bags along with me. Also, carry reusable water bottles and refill them whenever possible.

In my next post, I’ll share tips for saving money on transportation and sight seeing in the UK!

What does your family do to save on accommodations and food while traveling in more expensive places?

Smart Family Travel: How to Save Money on Long-Haul Flights (Part 2)

In the first part of this post series on saving money on flights (which will ultimately be part of a larger series on Smart Family Travel), I started out by sharing some thoughts on how our family uses a combination of travel methods and in particular, how we tend to source out our long-haul flights.

But now I want to get into some specific tips for helping you to reduce the overall cost of your flights:

Add portions of overland travel to cut out extra flights.

If you’re happy to drive a long distance (and can get a good rate on a rental car, even with a different drop off location), or you have the time to take the train or even the bus, you can significantly cut down on your expenses.

Avoid holidays at all costs.

Traveling during holiday season is costly. Particularly if you’re looking to go somewhere warm in, say, December, while the Northern Hemisphere is shivering its way through winter. You’re going to pay a pretty penny if you’re dead set on flying to a warm location during the winter holidays (most of December and early January).

Also pay attention to things like Easter (particularly in predominantly-Catholic countries), or in parts of Asia, watch out for special vacation weeks. For example, in Japan, they celebrate “Golden Week” in the Spring, as well as “Obon” vacation week during summer. Prices skyrocket during these times when practically the entire country is on vacation. Same goes for China during their New Year’s festivals.

Always research what’s going on in your destination of choice (and where you’re departing from) at the time you want to fly.

Of course, the flip side of this is that flying at low times can be extremely affordable, when kids are all in school, in mid-winter (late January to March) when most people don’t take vacation (this especially goes for colder locales like Europe), or in October as the fall shoulder season dies down.

Go in one city and out another.

There’s no reason you have to go in and out of the same city. Often, it’s just as cost effective to use different cities for arriving and departing (referred to as flying open-jaw), and if you were already planning to travel around locally and visit both places, it only makes sense to cut down on your domestic travel within that country.

This was a mistake I made in both China and Australia that cost us a lot of money. Because we were running out of time to get our flights booked before we lost out on that 3-6 month advance window when flights are cheapest, I went ahead and booked flights in and out of Beijing and Melbourne, respectively. I simply hadn’t had time to really plan out an itinerary for us in either country and so I just went with the city that was a) cheapest and b) somewhere we knew we wanted to go.

In retrospect, what I should have done was book us to fly into Beijing, but then out of Kunming or Nanning in the south, since that’s where we ultimately went (instead of having to buy us one-way flights back to Beijing to catch our flight to Japan). Same with Australia. Had I known that we would decide to go way up north to Queensland, I would have booked us in to Melbourne and out of Cairns, or vice versa.


Be really careful with round-the-world tickets

We looked very extensively into round-the-world tickets before deciding to go with one-way fares from different airlines. Though they seem like a good deal at first, really do your homework on the limitations, both in terms of mileage limits, cities that they will and will not fly out of, flight direction (you can only go either east-to-west or west-to-east without any zig zagging in between), and even how many flights you can take within certain zones.

Unless you’re planning to fly through very major hubs (ie. Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney, Mumbai, London, Paris, New York, Capetown, Buenos Aires, etc.), you may find that they simply don’t give you the flexibility you want and ultimately aren’t worth the price.

Plus, they don’t allow you to take advantage of last minute deals, seat sales, off-season prices, etc. I’m sure they do work for some people but they weren’t right for us.

Travel lightly to save on luggage.

It’s worth mentioning that we chose to backpack (each kid carries their own bag, even the toddler – more on this in a post to come), and this saved us a lot in baggage fees.

It’s incredible how few airlines will allow you to check in baggage for free these days. Thankfully most major long-haul flights still allow at least one bag, but even that is not always a given, and many low-cost international airlines are now charging for luggage (examples include AirAsia, or even our upcoming flight from England to southern France on British Airways, and always inter-European budget flights on airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir).

Expedia has a great page with links to every airline, directly to their baggage policies page.

On our Big Trip, the only times we paid for our luggage was when we flew with two low-cost, no frills airlines near the end of our trip, after we had picked up a couple extra bags to bring home some souvenirs. The rest of the year, we were light enough to carry almost all of our gear as carry-ons or to easily stay within a one-bag-per-person limitation.

Don’t get picky about your flight times

Yes, I know that nobody wants to take a red-eye with toddlers, and that getting all of your kids up at 2:30am so that you can get out of the hotel, across the city, and through security in time for a 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?

Or 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.

I know that sometimes you just need to fly on a certain way to make things work. 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.

I’ll share still more flight tips later on, for making short-haul or domestic flights, but for now I’d love to hear from you!

Do you fly as a family? What are your best tips for saving on flights?

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.

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.


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.

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!

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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.


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.


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.

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