March 2012


It’s been a long time since I was last in Las Vegas and as a 21 year old my perspective on what was fun is completely different now that I have two young children. When I was there in 1998 the hotels and casinos were amazing places to visit and just enjoy the atmosphere.

By nature I am a pretty cautious guy. I don’t normally like to gamble away my hard earned cash but on this particular night my mate and I decided to lay a few dollars on the table. Being a relatively broke traveller I told myself I could spend $20 and play while that money lasts. After an hour I was up to $40 on blackjack. That’s when the free drinks started to kick in. A short or long while later (I really don’t remember so I am assuming a short while later) that $40 was all gone. Although one of the most lame stories you have every heard it is my one and only gambling story. But I am sure that if when I do eventually head back to Las Vegas I will certainly need to think up some things to do with the family.

Here are 5 things to do in Las Vegas with your family.

Soak up the Atmosphere of the Strip

I have to say there is nothing like the atmosphere of reckless abandonment or probably more appropriately termed drunken merriment. Just walking down the Strip in the early evening was awesome fun. Given you’ll probably have the kids in bed at a half decent hour you are unlikely to see anything too weird or scary that you don’t want your kids to see.


The 5.5 acre Adventuredome is America’s largest indoor theme park and features thrill rides, traditional carnival rides, laser tag, miniature golf, bumper cars, midway booths, an arcade, clown shows and so much more. You can ride all day for about $27.00 or even less if your under 48 inches tall.

The Aquarium at the Silverton

The free aquarium at Silverton Casino is said to be one of the best free attractions in Las Vegas. The 117,000 gallon aquarium is home to over 4000 species of tropical fish, sharks and stingrays.

CSI: The Experience

For the older kids or the adult wannabe crime investigator MGM Grand’s CSI: The Experience would be great fun. With 3 murders, 15 lab stations, 15 suspects, 3 killers you’ll be sure to have a great time solving the murder. Ticket prices $28 (exclusive of taxes/fees) & $21 children (4-11) – CSI: The Experience is recommended for ages 12+ though.

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and is over a mile deep in places. While the specific geologic processes and timing that formed the Grand Canyon are the subject of debate by geologists, recent evidence suggests the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago. Since that time, the Colorado River continued to erode and form the canyon to its present-day configuration. Visiting the Grand Canyon would be a must if I was to visit Las Vegas again.

Malaysia often gets overlooked or only gets a cursory glance as a stopping point between Singapore and Thailand. It isn’t really on the tourist radar to the same degree that Thailand, Bali and Vietnam are. Which we think is a real shame for a lot of reasons.

We came here on a short holiday in 2009 when our children were 1 and 3. We weren’t really sure what to expect but flights from Australia were cheap and the multiculturalism, level of development and diversity of Malaysia seemed to offer what we were looking for – developed enough to be easy with young kids but fascinating and diverse enough to satisfy our wanderlust.

We quickly fell in love with Malaysia on that trip and our experiences there, as well as a lot of conversations with other expat and travelling families around a pool in Sabah one afternoon were what inspired us onto grander travel plans. When we first embarked on our big trip two years ago and were looking for a place to stop for a month or two we chose Malaysia. A year later we ended up setting up a house here. And here’s why …

Kapitan Keiling Mosque


As a travelling family you probably already know that visa fees can really add up and they can be a pain to organise if you have to arrange it in advance outside your country of origin. Particularly if it means dragging kids into immigration offices and waiting around. Are we the only ones that get just a little excited when we find a country that not only provides a visas on arrival that’s free and is valid longer than 30 days?

Most nationalities can get a free 90 day visa for Malaysia upon arrival. When you compare that to Thailand where the free visa on arrival is only for 30 days visas, and that’s only if you come in by air otherwise you get 15 days, 90 days looks pretty attractive right? Then compare that to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia where visas cost over 25 USD per person for 30 days and add in the fact that Cambodia and Indonesia often charge departure fees of at least 10 USD … why wouldn’t you consider Malaysia?

Free 90 day visa on arrival … need I say anymore?

If you want to stay longer than 90 days it’s also usually quite easy to extend it by another 90 days by just leaving the country for a few days and then returning. At least a couple of times anyway, after that it can become more challenging.

Minimal language barrier

We love the challenge and reward of travelling in countries where you need to learn at least some of the local language to get by. Give me a new script or alphabet to get my head around and I’m in heaven. Part of our reason for travelling with our children is to expose them to different cultures and languages.

But when we’re looking for a spot to stop for a month or more and need to set up things like Internet, cell phone accounts, rent an apartment, find out about dentists or doctors and maybe even organise a playgroup or tuition lessons for the kids, choosing a location where there’s minimal language barrier certainly makes life easier.

Malaysia is really not the place to come if you want a full language immersion experience because almost everyone speaks fluent English. You can enrol in language classes, even send your children to local schools or tuition centres to pick up Mandarin or Bahasa Melayu but outside of the classroom even three year old local children generally speak enough English to facilitate play. I’m sitting in a local McDonald’s at this very moment writing this article as three separate Malaysian families sit next to me all speaking in English to their children. So you can see, it’s a bit hard to come to Malaysia for a full language immersion experience. But as a place to easily set up a house or apartment for a month or more, while still experiencing a new culture and country it’s perfect.

Bahasa Melayu utilises the roman alphabet so it really doesn’t take long to be able to read the basic words for foods, directions, street signs etc. It makes navigating your way around a strange city or trying decipher a local menu a lot easier if it only takes you a day or two to be able to read the basic words!

Petaling St Markets in Chinatown, KL (9)


Malaysia is fantastic if you have fussy eaters. Thanks to the diverse cultures who call Malaysia home, it’s not like Thailand where anything other than Thai food can be a bit tricky to find outside of tourist strips. If your children don’t like Malay food, there’s always Indian or Chinese. If none of that is to their liking it’s never hard to find plain fried chicken and rice, Indian breads like rotis or naans, or even toast with jam or a fried egg.

And of course if you are in a mid-sized town KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s is never far away.


Cheap but developed

Malaysia is cheap. Not quite Thailand or Cambodia cheap, but not far off it. Take a look at our cost of living in Penang and cost of living in Phuket articles – you can see that Phuket is slightly cheaper than Penang for most items but the cost difference isn’t that great. We generally find daily expenses like food, Internet, sightseeing and transport cost 1/3 of what they would cost back home.

So why would you choose Malaysia over Thailand or another location in South East Asia then if you are looking for a cheap place to stop for a few months?

Well Malaysia is more developed than most countries in this region. Internet is usually fast and reliable, roads are good, shopping malls are easy to find, as are supermarkets stocked with familiar brands from home. Quality health-care is easy to find, whether it’s a doctor, pharmacist, hospital, chiropractor or dentist. Most practitioners speak impeccable English and almost everyone we’ve ever been to see gained their qualifications overseas in the UK, USA or Australia. Bookstores are filled with English language books, inexpensive cinemas play most films in English.

We could live a slightly cheaper life than we do here by basing ourselves in Thailand BUT when you look at the cost difference VS level of development, we’re happy to pay a little extra to live in Malaysia. Add in the free 90 day visa and what you pay more for in expenses you save on in not having to leave the country every few weeks or pay for longer visas.

Choose the experience that suits you

Malaysia sits halfway between Singapore and the rest of South East Asia in terms of development, but of course there’s a wide range within Malaysia from region to region in terms of development, lifestyle and culture.

A nice apartment in an expat area with a swimming pool just a few minutes walk to either a local markets and food stalls or a shopping centre filled with Starbucks and familiar name-brands … that’s easy. Base yourself in Kuala Lumpur or Penang and you can have that. Want to live like a local in a smaller apartment or house but still have access to malls and the other trappings of modern life if you want to see it out – that’s even easier. Fancy a more local experience in a smaller rural town but still like access to a reasonable amount of infrastructure and be less than an hours drive to a city with all those western luxuries from home you might miss … no problems. I could name over 40 towns and cities that offer this. Or if a tiny village filled with local families and goats wandering along the sides of the road, or even a town where they use boats not cars is more your thing than that’s easy too.


With such a diverse population of Chinese Malaysians, Indian Malaysians, Malay Malaysians and expats from all around the world, Malaysia is one of the most multicultural nations on earth. Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism all coexist peacefully with the major celebrations from each religion being celebrated nationally.

It’s of course not perfect. There are ingrained stereotypes that each race believes of the other and for the most part people marry within their own cultural group and religions. But in day to day interactions everyone are friends. They do business together, go to school together, eat out together and live side by side. When we walk down the street, sit in a restaurant or hop on a bus we see more positive signs of respect towards other culture, religions and nationalities, and an acknowledgement of the benefits of multiculturalism, here in Malaysia than we have seen anywhere else in the world.

I also love the fact that we can expose ourselves to so many cultures and religions in the once country. In the one day we can eat Chinese, Malay and Indian foods. On the one street in Georgetown, Penang, we can visit a Christian Church, two mosques, three Buddhist temples and a Hindu temple. Just a few streets away are British colonial forts and cemeteries, Thai and Burmese temples, Little India, Chinatown and local wet markets. In the past two years our children have celebrated Christmas and Easter, Deepavali, Ramadan and Chinese New Years, just to name a few. They’ve seen giant gleaming shopping malls, eaten at fancy restaurants and played at modern indoor playgrounds. But just a day later we can show them traditional fishing villages, eat in street stalls, shop at a locals market and give them the opportunity to kick a ball around in a local park with children from a huge range of backgrounds.

If you want your children to grow up believing that everyone is a person no matter their race, colour, background or religion, Malaysia is a pretty good place to start. Like I said, it’s not perfect by any means but Malaysians are doing a much better job of being tolerant and inclusive than most countries we’ve visited.

Dragon dancing in Jalan Alor

It’s safe, particularly for families

Malaysia is safe. Petty crimes like bag snatching do exist, mainly in tourist areas, and home break-ins where purses are targeted aren’t unheard of, but violent crimes towards foreigners are almost non-existent. As a family we receive nothing but positive attention. Like the rest of Asia, children are loved and we usually feel so safe here that we allow the children more freedom than we would back home. Walking down the street with my kids I’ve never once felt in danger nor experienced any time of crime.

In the past month my husband has left my laptop in a change room in a busy mall and his laptop behind in a restaurant (I just have to point this out because it’s usually me that leaves stuff behind but twice recently it wasn’t and both times were LAPTOPS!!!). On both occasions when we went back to get look for them the laptops were being looked after by the staff. Of course it’s not always the case – a friend recently lost her iPhone when she accidentally left it in a toilet at an airport in Kuala Lumpur and didn’t realise for 5 minutes. When she went back it was gone. But generally speaking, most Malaysians are honest to the point of insisting that you take that 5c of change they owe you.

Educational Opportunities

Like most of Asia, Malaysians place a strong emphasis on their children’s education. After school tuition centres are plentiful offering everything from sports to music to language and maths. If you have been travelling for a long time and feel like the kids could do with some catch up or even just have the chance to experience a classroom with other children to make friends and learn some language, Malaysia is certainly a place you might want to consider.

Classes are also very cheap. A 1hr Tae Kwon Do class costs less $3 per child. A music class or maths lesson less than $5. It’s very affordable and most places are happy for your children to attend for even just one month.

Finding Nemo and beach escapes

You may need to go a little further afield to find spectacular beaches to rival those you see in Thailand, but when you do find one it’s usually less developed, less touristy and better managed in terms of sustainability and preservation! Quiet islands with no roads, minimal development and quiet palm lined beaches with shallow waters.

Just a few kilometers off the eastern coastline of peninsular Malaysia are several islands with some of the best snorkeling in the world. The Perhentians, Redang and Tioman all offer great snorkeling in calm blue waters. Then there’s Sabah with all it’s many spectacular islands. Most of these locations offer beaches where the coral is 3-5m offshore.

At our favourite location in Asia, the Perhentian Islands, we regularly find clown fish at every snorkeling site we’ve been too. Whole families of clown fish usually in 2m of water just a few meters offshore. Does it get any better for young kids?

Tuna Bay Perhentians


Playgrounds galore for the littlies

Malaysia has some of the best playgrounds we’ve seen anywhere in the world. Outside you’ll find Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur with it’s giant fairytale playground and Penang’s enormous Youth Park. Let’s not forget the giant playground sprawling across the gardens at the base of the Petronas Towers. The largest playground we’ve ever seen to accompany one of the world’s tallest buildings!

Giant shopping malls can be found in most large cities, many with great indoor playgrounds. Mid Valley in Kuala Lumpur, 1Borneo in Kota Kinabalu and Queensbay in Penang are some of the best. Each have fantastic indoor playgrounds at reasonable prices where kids can happiily loose themselves for half a day in tunnels, slides and jumping castles.


Something for the teens

Malaysia is fantastic for kids of all ages. There are endless opportunities for adventure holidays for teenagers – jungle treking in Taman Negara or in search of the worlds largest flower, volunteering at the Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary, canopy walks and caves.

Learning to dive in Malaysia is relatively inexpensive and most schools run courses for children over 10 years of age, with some even offering a children’s discovery dive for any child over 8 years of age.

Or how about theme parks? Malaysia has some fantastic theme parks. From indoor theme parks like Cosmos World in Kuala Lumpur to theme park resort towns like Genting Highlands, the attractions are world class for a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere.

And then there are the malls. Malaysia has incredible malls. You’ll find familiar western fast food chains, giant bookstores like Popular and MPH that have the best range of young adult fiction I’ve come across anywhere in the world (all in English!), huge arcades and very inexpensive cinemas with movies in English.

Or how about a night time cruise through quiet rivers in search of fireflies. It might not compare to northern lights tours in search of the Aurora Borealis, but Malaysia has a number of spots where you can take boat cruises at night to see fireflies. Kuala Selangor, under 2 hours from Kuala Lumpur is one of the most popular but you’ll also find them just south of Penang at Nibong Tebal and in Sabah.





Traveling is a very rewarding, enlightening activity. Experiencing new cultures and places grants you a wealth of knowledge and stories, but can also be detrimental to the state of your wallet and check book should the proper preparation be ignored. For those who are on the hunt for passport stamps, new faces, and some self-discovery, and are hoping to live the troubadour lifestyle for extended periods, here are several ways to keep your overhead low while seeing the best that the world has to offer.

Book Your Lodgings Well In Advance

There is nothing more disheartening than struggling to find a place to stay once you reach your destination. Traveling on a budget means making preparations and being mindful of your limit. One common misconception is that this translates into having to sacrifice quality, which is certainly not the case. The world’s top destinations have luxurious lodgings available at affordable prices–all you have to do is a bit of research! Whether you’re traveling through Europe’s great cities and staying in small bed and breakfasts or hoping to experience the beaches flanking Honolulu hotels on Oahu, taking care of your temporary residence in advance will help put you at mental and financial ease!

Take Public Transport

Reading up a bit on the public transportation options available to you once you arrive is always a good idea. After a long day of walking around and seeing the sights, it’s nice to know that you can always grab a bus or a train to expedite your trip back. It’s also a great way to see a lot of a city for cheap. Scout out a route, grab a window seat, and have your camera ready!

Be Diligent In Your Food Search

If you’re in an area with a very unique cuisine, trying a bit of the famous dishes is a must for any traveler. However, restaurants try to capitalize on the fascination with local cuisines and charge tremendous amounts for items that you could get for much cheaper (and oftentimes of higher quality) elsewhere. It may be difficult to hold off, but for an adventurer hoping to go for the long run, don’t jump at the first selling fish and chips or currywurst at a premium. Take a quick stroll around the neighborhood, weigh your options, and most importantly, enjoy every minute once you dig in!

Keeping these simple things in mind will help you feel fulfilled and satisfied with your experience in each place you visit while also allowing your wallet to stay filled. The world is a terrific place, and you never know when you’ll be able to hit the road again once you’re through!

The weather is warming up and the time is right for a family vacation! We all know, when the travel bug bites, it bites hard! And if you’re like most people, you’ll be dressed and ready to go before you can even find the time to pack a bag. Fortunately, there’s good news for people who like to plan last minute vacations!

  1. Last Minute Means Budget-Friendly- Unless you’re planning on catching a plane on the eve of a major holiday, last minute vacations tend to be more budget-friendly than those planned a month in advance. This is because airlines, cruise lines, and hotels are looking to meet their quota, and this means better deals for vacationers! So don’t fret; if you’re planning a last minute vacation, it’s likely that you’ll actually save quite a bit of money!
  2. Spontaneity Is Good For You- Being spontaneous means living in the moment, living in the present, and not dwelling on the past or the future. Sure, in most aspects of your life, spontaneity can be devastating. But there are times when it’s exactly what’s needed to bring the passion back into your life- or your relationship -and there’s no better way to seize the moment than by planning a last minute vacation! Carpe Diem!
  3. You May Find A Gem- Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get a vacation house rental at the absolute last minute. In fact, many homeowners are so desperate to make an extra buck that they lower the rental price significantly. Not only is the price lower, but last minute vacations have the advantage of giving vacationers many options. Stroll off the beaten path and seek out vacation homes or hotels that aren’t right on the beach. You may get lucky and find a real gem of a place where you and your family can settle down and make some new memories.
  4. Everything Is Available- If you’re looking for great family activities like horseback riding, guided tours, or any other variety of events, planning last minute may be the way to go! Especially if you’re travelling off-peak, meaning during the week rather than on a weekend, you won’t have to worry about these exciting activities being booked up and unavailable! Whatever you want to do, you’ll have a better chance of doing if you don’t take the time to sit and plan!

Sometimes you just need to get away from it all. You, like many others before you, will be happy to know that you can save money, rekindle the spontaneity in your family, and find amazing locations with a last minute vacation. There are many advantages to grabbing a bag and hitting the beach, and these are definitely not all of them! What are you waiting for? Get packing!

Tips for calculating a realistic travel budget

Be realistic to avoid under-budgeting

Staying in a rustic bungalow on the beach with only a fan for $10 a night or camping on the side of a road might sound appealing when you stuck in your house surrounded by your mountains of belongings paying off expensive bills. But you need to be honest with yourself – is this romantic notion how you are actually going to travel? And more importantly, travel long term?

If you are someone that struggles with camping at the best of times, maybe roughing it isn’t for you.

Picture yourself staying in a small single room or tent with no access to power or perhaps for only a few hours a day when the generator is running. You might not have phone reception or Internet, and you are a really long walk to the nearest store. Now picture this for days, weeks or months on end.

If that sounds like a dream come true then fantastic, start calculating away!

Koh Lanta

But if is sounds like something you could really only love doing for a few nights before returning to a few more comforts then don’t fool yourself and base your budget on $10 beach bungalows and free campsites for 12+ months. You will all end up miserable or going over budget and running out of money.

Until you get there doing it night after night it’s really hard to predict. It may turn out that living simply in a spartan bungalow or tent is the life you were all craving and you wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. It may be the best thing you’ve ever done as a family.

Or it may not. Or you might fall somewhere in between – happy to do it for 5 nights out of 7 so long as you can have an occasional night somewhere nicer.

If you are even a tiny bit unsure don’t calculate your budget based on the cheapest possible accommodation. Pick the next level up. If you do end up loving the rougher side of travel than fantastic, you have even more money than you thought you did.

The same goes for transport. Cheap long haul buses can certainly sound appealing when you look at the prices but you may find when you have tired kids who need to pee every half hour it’s occasionally worth splurging on those faster, more comfortable buses.

You can travel and live cheaply with kids, staying in simple accommodation, taking local transport and eating locally … but maybe not as cheaply as you did pre-kids or for as long. Or maybe you can. I’m not saying you can’t. Plenty of long term travelling families do just this and love it. The point I’m trying to make is you just can’t know if it’s right for your family until you get on the road and experience it so it’s better to calculate your budget based on slightly higher accommodation costs and end up with a surplus than not having enough money.

Don’t forget the pre-trip costs

Jess from With Two Kids in Tow its Backpacking We Go recently wrote a fantastic breakdown of the cost of their 12 months on the road.

On average they spent just under $68 a day. But then Jess went on to demonstrate that when you include all their pre-trip expenses like vaccinations, travel insurance, storage insurance for their gear back home and flights their daily total was almost double this amount.

Flights are probably going to be the biggest part of your expenditure, even using budget airlines. But all of the other things like gear, travel insurance, storage, on-the-ground transport add up. Visas can be another big expense. For some countries, like the USA where many people are able to enter under the inexpensive ESTA program for up to 90 days, the visa costs are minimal. But many countries charge $20-35 per person. If youa re a large family these fees really add up.

Some costs you’ll pay for before you even leave but a lot of them like overnight sleeper trains and visas you need to budget for along the way. Try to factor in as many as you can.

Working on the road

If you need to work on the road, think about what you are going to need to actually work and how that will affect your budget.

Will you have to budget in buying a sim card in each location for your phone or USB modem? Do you need additional travel insurance to make sure your IT equipment is covered? Do cients back home need to be able to get in contact you on a phone? Maybe you need to look into paying for a Skype number that allows clients to contact you wherever you are in the world at the cost of only a local call to them. How are you going to back up your data?

You might also find that you need to pay a little more for accommodation to have a place that has reliable WIFI and AC. It can be hard to work during the day when it’s 36 degrees  Celsius outside and there’s no AC. You may end up costing yourself more in lost productivity than you saved on accommodation.

If you are all staying in the one room then are you going to be able to work with everyone around? Or do you need to allow extra money to cover the cost of working in a cafe a few days a week (or daily) so you can get a few hours of un-interrupted work done?

Working on the road

One thing we’ve also found a challenge is some of the remote destinations we’ve always dreamed to go to just haven’t been a possibility because of electricity and Internet access. Or we’ve spent less time there than we would have liked as we’ve needed to get back online. Which is a shame because not only are they beautiful and relatively unspoilt, they’re also usually the places that are really cheap!

As a consequence of working on the road we spend more time in expensive locations than we originally anticipated because the internet is usually better. And we spend more on accommodation than we’d originally budgeted for because of the need for AC, WIFI or both.

Location, location, location

$50 a day for a family in Paris or London isn’t realistic on a travel budget. Living there that might be more than enough but if you are just passing through for a few days or weeks renting short term, eating out for at least a couple of meals a week, paying for transport and visiting attractions you are going to go through at least twice that, if not three time that.

Expensive lunch

$50 a day in Laos or Thailand though is totally doable. You might even end up with some change in Laos.

Look at the countries you plan to travel too and how quickly you want to travel. For each of the countries that you plan to travel work out the cost of transport, sightseeing, food and accommodation. Take a look at AirBNB and Hostel Bookers. Even if you don’t plan to stay in a hostel the prices on hostel sites are regularly updated and can give you a good idea of what to expect.

It’s a good idea to look at two locations in each country (assuming you are going to more than one place in that country) – a capital city and a regional area. The prices can be very different.

Don’t forget bank fees on overseas withdrawals

There is almost always a cost to accessing your money overseas. When you are travelling long term, the fees that come with accessing your money are a cost of your travel, just like bus tickets and travel insurance. It’s not like a holiday where you can probably bring all the cash with you from home before you leave. Unless you want to travel with your own Swiss bank accountant carrying large locked brief cases of your money, you are going to have to use ATMs to get your money out overseas on a regular basis.

If you are lucky your bank won’t charge fees on international withdrawals. If you don’t have a bank card that allows this look into it!

But even if you do have a card that doesn’t attract fees on international withdrawals, remember that local ATMs might charge you a fee. The fees are usually small but not always. In Cambodia it cost us $4 per ATM withdrawal. Even though we were withdrawing from the same bank that we use back home!

Thankfully in most countries it’s usually less than a dollar per withdrawal but if you are withdrawing money a few times a week even a few cents per withdrawal can add up over time. 

A lot of countries with weaker currencies also only allow you to take a small amount out at a time for an ATM withdrawal. We’ve been in places were the limit was $50 per transaction. You could end up at the ATM a lot more often than you’d think.

And there’s also conversion fees that come with changing currencies. It’s not just the currency exchange offices that charge these. Banks charge them too when you withdraw your money from your bank account back home. Paypal also has some hefty fees for transfers to bank accounts if your income comes in via that method.

On average we get charged $30 a month in bank fees. But at times it has been up to $70 a month.

If you are planning on stopping in one location for several months it’s well worth investigating international banks like HSBC that have branches throughout the world. HSBC allows you to set up a bank account back home and another bank account in the country you are stopped in (assuming HSBC has branches in that country!) and transfer money between the two accounts without incurring fees. Of course it costs a little to set up these accounts in the first place so you need to weigh up those costs.

Travel days are usually more expensive

The days where you actually move from Point A to Point B are usually more expensive. I’m not just talking about the cost of transport. Obviously this incurs an additional expense. I’m talking about all those little extras that seem to creep in on a travel day when you usually end up pressed for time.

You wake up late and suddenly realise you need to take a taxi to the airport not a local bus. Or you arrive late into a new location all tired and don’t feel like spending an hour walking around in search of the cheapest place to eat so you end up spending more on dinner than you usually would.

And lets not forget snacks for the trip. If your kids are anything like ours they will eat like sparrows all week until the moment they are trapped in a confined space like a bus or plane where you find that suddenly you need to purchase a months worth of food to keep them occupied for the trip. And of course unless you plan for that beforehand you’ll end up buying all those snacks at a bus stop convenience store with higher prices or ordering from the in-flight menu.

The cheezel monster!!!

Budgeting while on the road

Track your expenses

When you track all your expenses you usually spend less. It’s that simple.

Travelling around cheap countries it can be all to easy to fall into the trap of spending extra money on incidentals without thinking about the costs. A $5 bike rental, $2 to go to a temple, ice creams for the kids, a visit to an indoor playground, an extra beer with dinner … they can all quickly add up without you even realising it.

Particularly when you start out and your are still thinking in terms of money back home. $6 for a cocktail or a new shirt might be a bargain compared to prices you pay back home but it’s probably not something you budgeted for and over the space of a week a few extra discretionary spending incidents like this can add up.

You don’t need to do religiously track your spending all the time if it’s something you hate doing (or like us get busy and forget for a few weeks). But it’s a great idea to start out tracking your spending until you figure out where and how your money is getting spent. And then do it again from time to time if you feel like your spending habits are creeping out of control.

Every time we go to a new country we usually try to track our spending for a few weeks until we get a good idea of what our major expenses are in that country and where our money is going. It also helps us work out if a country was more expensive or cheaper than we thought so we can decide where to go next. If our current location is really expensive then we’ll probably head somewhere cheaper afterwards. Or visa versa.

There are a lot of ways you can track your budget. Spreadsheets on your laptop or pen and paper diaries. We recommend an iPhone app to make tracking your spending easy and fast, particularly if you usually have an iPhone/iPod with you anyway. The easier and faster it is to do the more likely you are to keep track of your spending long term. It might take you a while to find the one you like as most aren’t built for travel budgeting, but most have LITE versions for free that you can try.

We use iXpensIT. It’s not quite perfect but it has a lot of features we really like, like customisable labels, the ability to set up different travel budgets (that way we could allow for a travel day and a regular day), the ability to have daily budgets and carry over any surplus or deficit over a period of time. Which is fantastic if you are trying to save up for a big expense like flights. Or when the inevitable happens – every-one’s shoes and clothes all die in the one week and you are suddenly faced with a hugely expensive week. And that usually happens when you are in London not Hanoi! If you’ve been using an app to track how much money you’ve saved over the past week or month by going under your daily budget it makes it really easy to work out how much money you can spend on replacing shoes and clothes.

iXpensIT also has lots of pretty graphs. Who doesn’t like a pretty graph!

Jess from With Two Kids in Tow It’s Backing We Go used Expenditure to track their expenses on their iPod while they travelled and highly recommend it. The features look pretty similar and if their awesome budget tracking skills are anything to go by it obviously does the job well!

When money is tight …

Sooner or later you are going to hit a period in your travels where money is tight.

Perhaps you are waiting for a payment to come through. Or if you’ve rented out your house back home and suddenly your tenants leave you find yourself suddenly having to cover the rent. If you are earning an income on the road you might find that you have a quiet period where no money is coming in. Your wallet is stolen or your cards don’t work in that country. Perhaps you’ve arrived in a country that you had budgeted as being a cheap destination to find that your research was wrong.

It could be one of a thousand reasons. The point is suddenly you find you have to watch your money even more than usual. When this happens you need to pay even more attention to your daily budget.

This is what we do:

  • Find somewhere cheap to stop. The slower you travel the cheaper it is, even if it’s just stopping for a week. Changing locations costs money. We try to find somewhere cheap that has plenty of inexpensive or free things for us to do and stop for a week or a month or longer. How ever long you need to sort out your money issues. If you can stop somewhere that either includes meals in the cost of your room or has cooking facilities even better. You can save a lot of money by not eating out.
  • Come up with a new emergency budget. If money is really tight your usual daily budget might need revising. Work out what you can cut back on and come up with a new daily budget until your finances sort themselves out.
  • Work out any ongoing expenses. At one point we were paying rent back in Australia on a storage unit for our belongings. No matter what money we had coming in, the rent had to be paid. If you stopped somewhere renting an apartment for a month than there’s always monthly expenses like rent and electricity. Maybe we have rented cars or bikes and need to cover the cost of the rental and petrol. We calculate these expenses and put that money aside. Or if money is really tight we calculate how much money we need to put aside weekly or daily to cover these.
  • Try to go under budget every day. Even if it’s only by a few dollars, it’s a good idea to go under budget. Because unexpected expenses have a way of sneaking up on you. Shoes break, someone gets sick, a camera gets dropped. Each day we try to go under budget and put that money aside.

Budget tip: An envelope for every day of the week.

When I first met my husband he used to do this all the time. I made fun of him. A lot of fun of him. No seriously, I think there was laughing, pointing and mocking.  But when money gets tight I’ve come to realise that he was onto something. There I’ve said it – Colin you were right all along.

How it works:
Buy 8 envelopes. Seven envelopes for each day of the week and one envelope for our ongoing expenses. At the start of the week we draw out all  the money that we need for that week. We take out our fixed ongoing expenses and put that aside in one envelope. The remainder gets divided up equally between the other seven envelopes. If you are pedantic like Colin they’ll all be labelled explicitly and organsied! Each day we can only spend what’s in the envelope for that day. No borrowing from tomorrow’s envelope. No borrowing from previous days were you might of gone under budget. Unless it’s an emergency, and even then it would have to be something like a child needing stitches for a split head.

At the end of the day if there is any money left it goes back into the envelope. At the end of the week we collect any money we’ve saved by going under budget and put it towards whatever we need – next weeks expenses if things are really tight. Otherwise it’s to cover unexpected expenses, save up for a big upcoming expense like flights or to put towards some kind of reward for doing so well at budgetting.

Come up with alternatives for expensive destinations

So you’ve dreamed for years of spending a month in Paris or New York but your budget just doesn’t allow it. That’s OK just think of some alternatives.

If Paris is your dream, spend a few days in Paris taking in the sights and then head to somewhere in regional France where it’s much cheaper. Otherwise perhaps you can couchsurf or arrange a house swap.

The other alternative of course is to find other locations you’ve dreamed of going that are cheaper and spend more time there. Maybe you’ve also always dreamed of visiting in Prague or Belgrade. Could you be happy spending your month there instead and just visit Paris for a few days?

Honestly we loved Belgrade, even more than we enjoyed Paris. The old city was gorgeous and filled with just as vibrant an atmosphere as Paris was … at half the price. Yes it wasn’t Paris but personally I’d much rather spend 4 nights in my expensive dream city seeing the sights and then head to somewhere else that I can actually afford to enjoy my month in than spend a month in a city eating cheese toast and not able to do anything because we blew our entire budget on accommodation. Besides Belgrade has pretty great fondue. Who needs crossiants … well actually probably the best crossiants we ate during our entire Europe trip were in Belgrade.

fondue in Belgrade

Always have a small stash of US dollars or Euros hidden away somewhere

It always pays to have a small cache of a ‘universal’ currency with you. We’ve been caught out a number of times. Like the day in Laos when we realised we were completely out of cash and went to the ATM only to discover there was a blackout that was predicted to last for two days. Luckily we had $30USD hidden away in our packs that we could exchange and live off until the power came back on.

Or if you are chronically disorganised like us you’ll jump on an overnight train from Serbia to Bulgaria and realise halfway into the journey that A) you forgot to change your remaining Serbian dinar back to Euros and are now stuck with approximately 30 euros worth of dinar that you can’t exchange unless you end up back in Serbia one day (at least that’s what we were told!) and B) you don’t have any Bulgarian leva. Luckily we were organised enough to have euros with us that we could exchange once we got to Bulgaria!


Looking for inspiration

If you are still in the planning or saving stage, two other Vagabond Family members recently put together some great roundups of blog posts on saving and budgeting:

There are also some fabulous posts out there where travelling families have taken the time to share their budgets.

While this last post by Legal Nomads isn’t specific to family travellers it’s the most amazing list of resources and tips I’ve come across in a long while. Well worth the read.
Legal Nomads: Tips and Resources for Round the World Travel

If you are a long term travelling family and have written a post detailing what it costs you to travel or think you have a great article that will help inspire other families let us know. We’d love to add it to this list.