How To Budget For Family Holidays Overseas

February 24, 2015

We love taking family holidays overseas. Three years ago, my family and I went on our very first overseas family trip together. My husband, 14 year old step-son, 22 month old daughter, and I all boarded a plane to embark on a three week tour of Southeast Asia. During that trip, we visited Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Japan.

It was a whirlwind three weeks. We all had a blast spending time with each other while we explored the different countries. But I would be lying if I said that it was a breeze planning such a trip.

This post was updated on March 23, 2020.

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My stepson and daughter in Indonesia (July 2012)

Budgeting for family holidays overseas

For many families, one of the biggest obstacles of family holidays overseas is the expense. Travel with kids is not cheap. This is especially true when you take into consideration the extra tickets, food, and activities.

In my years of travel, I have found that traveling with your kids requires a change in mindset. This is particularly true in terms of travel style and how you spend your money.  You can't travel the same way with kids as you would with adults. Here are some of things I've found to be helpful in budgeting for family holidays overseas.

Tegalalang Rice Terraces in Bali, Indonesia, a popular spot for family holidays overseas
Beautiful rice terraces in Bali, Indonesia (October 2019)

Airfare for your family

More than likely, airfare will end up being the biggest expense of your trip, especially for family holidays overseas.  With kids, there's no way of getting around paying for the extra ticket. If your child is over two years old, you're paying for their ticket.  However, shopping around can help you find more affordable options for flights, rather than just going with your usual airline. 

Being flexible with your dates, as well as flight destinations can also help save you some money. Personally, I have used websites such as Kayak, Vayama, and Hipmunk to search for flights.  

When planning for a trip, it's generally cheaper to fly into a hub city, rather than flying into a less frequented one.  During our Southeast Asia trip, even though our main destinations were Jakarta and Manila, we ended up saving money by flying into Bangkok instead. Bangkok was cheaper because it is a more common destination for travelers to that region.  

Even when we took into account the cost of buying additional regional flights, the total airfare cost was cheaper than flying into either Jakarta or Manila.  The one thing I like about Kayak is that it will search for the major airlines and also the lesser known airlines. So you end up being able to see a variety of flight options on one site.

Airplane wing, one of the modes of transportation used for family holidays overseas
Airplane flying over Washington, DC (April 2014)

Lodging during your family holidays overseas

Finding adequate accommodation for family holidays overseas can be difficult.  Most hotel rooms only offer double occupancy. In most parts of the world, this equates to two Twin beds, or one Queen sized bed.  

When looking for lodging, try and find hotels that offer family rooms or triple rooms.  Sometimes hostels can be an option if they have private rooms that can accommodate small groups of 4 people or more.

Budgeting for lodging can be somewhat flexible, depending on whether you want simple or luxury accommodation.  For developing countries, I tend to budget under $100 a night for lodging.  For more developed countries, I'll aim for $150-$175.

A view of the Italian countryside from a farm house during family holidays overseas
The view from our farm house in Italy (June 2019)

Options for lodging

Recently, I have been using to look for rooms. I prefer their user experience compared to other booking sites.  However, I'll also use Trip Advisor to research hotels. Trip Advisor allows me to see reviews from other travelers, which is really helpful when trying to decide on a hotel room.

Another option for family holidays overseas is to look for vacation home rentals.  My family and I have been using Airbnb since 2009, and for the most part have been satisfied with the experience.  We have used Airbnb in the United States, Canada, and the Philippines, and have stayed at some pretty gorgeous homes.  

In most cases, Airbnb was the more affordable option for us, since we are usually traveling as a family of four of five. Other families in the United States have used VRBO to book home rentals as well. But I tend to default to Airbnb when looking for lodging.

Couch surfing is another option for families, but it can sometimes be hard to find a couch that can accommodate a family of four or five, and you have to be open and up front about what your needs are, especially if you're traveling with young children. Alternatively, you can also try house-sitting as a family.

A guest house in Indonesia for family holidays overseas
Our locally owned guest house in Sumatra (September 2015)

Food costs for your family

This is the area in the budget where you can have the most flexibility.  If you're willing to be pretty strict about spending, or if you're traveling in a cheap country, you can probably get by with having a food budget of $100 a day for a family of four.  That takes into consideration $5 for breakfast, $7 for lunch, $11 for dinner, and $2 for snacks per person.  

For most of my family trips, I'll usually budget about $140 a day for food. That breaks down to $7 for breakfast, $10 for lunch, $15 for dinner, and $3 for snacks. Some days we'll go over this amount. And some days we'll go under. In either case, it's helpful to have a budget to make sure we're not always eating out at fancy restaurants during our trip.

The famous hawker centres in Singapore (January 2020)

Ways to save money on food

Some creative ways to save money on food is by visiting a grocery store or market and making your own meals. Bring along some foldable reusable grocery totes that can fit easily into your bags.

Other ways we've saved money on family holidays overseas is by having street food lunches.  One thing to keep in mind, especially when traveling in developing countries, is to make sure the food you get from street vendors are properly cooked. That way, neither you nor your kids get sick.  

I don't agree with folks who avoid street food at all costs. But as a parent, I do think it is important to be cautious about what foods you give your kids.  The general rule is to make sure the food is fully cooked and hot. You also want to avoid eating raw food that has been washed in the local water.

A father and son taking family holidays overseas
Walking through a market in Guanajuato, Mexico (December 2018)

Local transportation

Unless you're planning on renting a car or using taxis during your stay, a great way to save money on family holidays overseas is to utilize public transportation.  Most major cities around the world have reliable public transportation systems. I always find this is a great way to get a feel of what it's like to live like a local.  

I've taken my kids on public transportation in cities like New York, Bangkok, Singapore. We've also used public transportation in Paraguay.  The kids always enjoy people watching. And for our family, it's almost like a mini adventure, trying to navigate our way around the city.  

Before you go on your trip, research what the public transportation options are in the place where you'll be. That way, it will be less of a shock when you get there.  I usually budget around $20-30 a day for local transportation, just in case there are days when hiring a taxi is a necessity.

My daughter riding public transport in Bangkok, Thailand (July 2012)

Activities during your family holidays overseas

This is the part of the overseas family trip budget that can sometimes be overlooked.  If you're not careful, it's easy to go over-budget on activities during your family holidays overseas.  There's always something interesting to do. And more than likely, those things aren't cheap.  

One thing that's helped me in the past is to only choose one or two things to do per day.  I also try and alternate the days with free activities.  Beaches are usually free. Parks are also free, as are monuments or walking tours of neighborhoods.  

My kids enjoy museums for the most part. But they also enjoy just hanging out at a playground.  It's okay if you don't see every site listed in your guidebook. The most important thing is that you're spending time with your family getting to know a new city and traveling like a local.

Visiting the Louvre in Paris, France (July 2019)

Souvenirs for your family

More and more, I have tried to avoid buying souvenirs on family holidays overseas. Mostly, it's because my house is beginning to get cluttered with the random knick knacks we've acquired throughout our travels. Photos have become my souvenir of choice. And aside from the cost of printing photobooks, they're virtually free!  

But if you must buy souvenirs on your overseas family trip, try to set a cost limit for each of your family members. For my family, it's usually $20-50 a person, depending on how long of a vacation we go on and how many countries we visit. 

During our family holidays overseas, we usually spend our souvenir money on things like snacks that are specific to that country. We also like buying postcards or wearable local crafts. And we also enjoy making our souvenirs, like when we made batik art in Indonesia.

Making a batik painting in Indonesia (August 2019)

Visas for countries

Do some research ahead of your family holidays overseas to see what visas will be needed for the country that you're visiting. You also want to research the best way to obtain that visa.  

Some countries will offer visa processing by mail through their embassies. Other countries offer visas on arrival.  In European countries that fall within the Schengen area, members of countries in that area can move freely from country to country. And in other countries, like Vietnam, you need to apply for a visa ahead of time in order to enter the country.

Either way, it's good to be prepared. We once spent over an hour at the airport in Asuncion, Paraguay waiting to get our visa-on-arrival processed.

Passport, sunglasses, and journal for travel (May 2018)

Travel insurance for your family holidays overseas

Another travel cost to consider is travel insurance.  When I was a solo traveler, I never bought travel insurance.  But now that I'm a mom, I'm a lot more careful about how I travel. These days, I always buy travel insurance for my family and me.  

When we went to Southeast Asia, my husband came down with a pretty bad case of amoebas. Having the travel insurance on hand really helped save us some money on the doctor visit.  Insure My Trip is a good site to shop for travel insurance.

Ziplining in Costa Rica (March 2019)

Airport tax and airport transport

Other costs that may arise include airport tax and airport transport.  Some countries like to charge an airport tax or a departure tax.  Make sure you research this ahead of time, so that you're not caught off guard at the end of your trip, and you've spent all your local currency. Also, be sure to budget transportation to and from the airport.  

I'm a major proponent of public transportation. But when it comes to getting to and from the airport, I usually err on the side of convenience. Hiring a shuttle or a taxi is usually much easier than trying to lug multiple bags and kids between trains and buses.  

The only exception would be in Tokyo, where a taxi from Narita airport into the city can cost over $200!  In that case, I'll gladly use the public transportation system.

Transiting through an airport (May 2019)

Baggage storage during your family holidays overseas

Baggage storage is a cost that you may want to include in your budget. Sometimes there are things you'll need to bring on the flight that you won't need for the rest of the trip.  

In our case, it's usually the car seat, which I like to bring on the plane for my kids.  Other times we've used baggage storage is when we've had long layovers in a particular city and we want to do some sight-seeing in between flights.  

On my way to India last year, I had a layover in Amsterdam and used the baggage storage at the airport to store my carry-on while I went and explored the city.

One maroon and one teal Deuter kids backpack used for family holidays overseas
Kids bags for travel (May 2018)

Miscellaneous costs

The last thing I always budget for when planning family holidays overseas is miscellaneous costs.  No one can predict what will happen on a trip. Since I'm usually traveling with my kids these days, I like to be somewhat prepared for the unexpected.  

I usually budget around 1-5% of my travel costs for miscellaneous costs. This gives me a small cushion of funds, in case I go over-budget on the other expenses.

Taking the shuttle bus to the airport (July 2014)

Making a plan for your family holidays overseas

I have always been a planner, and to me, part of the fun of family holidays overseas is in the planning.  There's something exciting in the anticipation and uncertainty of preparing for a trip.  

I'm also a big advocate for family travel.  To me, nothing is more educational and enriching for your kids than exposing them to a new culture or place.  I hope these tips on budgeting for family holidays overseas are helpful in getting you and your family started on an adventure of your own.  Bon voyage!

Do you like going on family holidays overseas? What are your favorite budgeting tips for overseas travel with your family?

How to Budget For Family Holidays Overseas | The Wandering Daughter

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