April 2012


There are lots of article around the web that describe the exact moment that a particular individual or family decided to change their lives by travelling. This post isn’t one of those articles. The purpose of this post is to help those who aren’t currently travelling and feel trapped by their job, their business or their family. Most articles describe the catalyst but gloss over the description of their life prior to travel. The purpose of this article is to show people that at some point most of us were or are in the same position as you.

It’s a Monday morning and as I am dragging myself out of bed I hear that Noah is already awake. He’s currently out in the lounge room playing with one of his thousands of toys making a pretty loud ruckus. He is an extremely early riser, in summer it’s sometimes as early as 4:45 when the sun first starts to peek out over the horizon. Most days though, it is around 5:00-5:15 that he wakes up. Noah is a terrible sleeper and most nights for the first 11 months of his life he only ever slept for about 2 hour stretch. Tracy would be up with him most of the times throughout the night, but I would also usually be up once or twice to help Tracy out. So when 5am rolls around it is entirely too early for either of us to be awake.

So in my caring way I decide to try to help by getting Noah (& Hayley when she arrived) out of the house so Tracy could get another hour or two sleep before she had to face the day with the kids. Tracy is generally susceptible to severe headaches. They can be triggered by lack of sleep, drinking alcohol, eating too much chocolate, tension or generally breathing the wrong way so this was my way of trying to ensure that she didn’t wake up with a headache.

Because 5am is early in anyone’s language there isn’t many places to take the children at this time other than the local McDonald’s. McDonald’s in Australia have large covered playgrounds in most places so this is where I would head with the kids at 5am. My current terrible eating habits can probably be traced back to this period in my life. Moving on.

We’d head to McDonald’s I would read the newspaper and have a drink while the kids played in the playground. Was it relaxing, no! Was it the best thing I could have done with my time, no. Was it the only thing I could think to do, yes. At this point in my life I was running my own web design business. My life was work and Tracy & the kids. Occasionally I would play some sport, I loved cricket and hockey, but both took a lot of time and I continually felt guilty if I tried to take this time for myself. With the hours that I worked it really didn’t leave me much time for anything else. And the worst part of this whole equation is that we weren’t even getting ahead in any way. If anything we were slowly going backwards.

The business I ran was a small, essentially one person business. I had started the business when I was 23 years old, with no real skill set (I was still learning to be a web developer) and definitely no money behind us. I was bootstrapping it all the way! Like so many others I had a good idea, but the ability to implement the idea was impeded by the requirement to make enough money to feed the family. I sit back now and understand exactly what I should have done with the business to get myself out of that situation, but knowledge only generally comes with a lesson and this period of time was definitely my lesson.

After dropping Noah & Hayley back home around 7am I would head to work to start my day. I’d be there until a least 6pm (an early knock-off) but more likely 7pm and sometime 11 or 12pm depending on what client was putting pressure on me to finish their work. I was working for a range of companies. Small businesses that just needed an web presence to larger business that wanted complex web applications. I did internet merchant accounts and merchant processing for hotels. My skill set allowed for me to work with lots of different clients, but my main clients we low-cost brochureware website. I thought I could do low-cost, high volume. How wrong I was.

We didn’t have much of a social life for a couple of reasons. Tracy and I married about 5 years earlier than any of our other friends and also had babies earlier so this meant that we had changed our lives but our friends stayed the same or didn’t change in the same direction as us. We all just grew apart. As often happens when you have a baby or two your life seems to turn inwards and you focus on them to the detriment of other relationships. In August 2008, I came to terms with another web development company in Brisbane to take over my business and to give me a good job working on the software that I had built. My job was to develop the software into a marketable product for them. For me, this was a perfect out. My clients would be looked after, I had the security of a regular pay check that relied on me turning up rather than making sales. This was an absolute god send for me. I was completely burned out from working entirely too many hours for not a lot of money. The future I could see for my little web design business in 2003 had completely vanished and turned into a chain that weighed around my neck on an hourly basis. It was sometime during this year that I read the Four Hour Work Week and the idea of earning Australian dollars while leveraging the currency by living in cheap locations struck a cord. I worked for this company in Brisbane for just over 12 months before I decided that enough was enough. The software product (the one I had built and brought to the company) was not performing and no-one was buying. The company was loosing money from this venture and well quite frankly I had lost confidence in my ability to sell the product. I decided that it was time to return to freelance life. The day after I resigned I had $25,000 worth of contracts. Working for Brightlabs was a great time. I enjoyed working with others and the employees and the owners were a great group of people. One of the lessons I learned during that 12 month period is that to be profitable you need to charge a decent amount of money. Charging $2000 for a website, even if it is a just a 10 page brochureware website is not enough to sustain your business let alone give you a profit to help you grow. Profit is not a dirty word, profit is good, profit is necessary. Excess profit however is still just greed! I resolved to value myself and my time much higher than I previously had and to have much much fewer clients and provide them great service. I strongly believe that this simple single change in my mindset allowed us to make all the other changes that

It’s hard not to love Barcelona. Cultural, beautiful, arty and fun. We spent two weeks in Barcelona years ago and in that time I had more ideas for art and writing projects than I’d had in the five years prior to that … or quite frankly in the ten years since then. It’s just that kind of city – you just can’t help but feel inspired, whatever your passion is. The whole Catalan region is stunning, with gorgeous coastlines, fascinating and beautiful architecture and amazing food. Don’t just limit your visit to the region to Barcelona – get out and explore further afield. A walking holiday is a great way to appreciate this naturally stunning area and work up a large enough appetite to truly appreciate all that amazing food. There are a number of companies like that run walking tours through the surrounding countryside.

Barcelona isn’t just for adults. Actually most of it’s most famous attractions are equally fun for the whole family.

Picnic at Parc Guell


Whether you think Gaudi was one of the most inspired artists ever or just a few sandwiches short of a picnic (like many great artists the truth is probably somewhere between the two), there’s no denying his contributions to the architecture and public spaces of Barcelona are part of what makes the city amazing. One of his most famous contributions, Parc Guell is one of the most unusual man-made landscapes on the planet, offering fun places to explore and amazing views of the city.

The bright mosaic gingerbread houses inspired by Hansel and Gretel, the tiled lizards adorning the stairs, the sinuous park benches with their city views and wide spaces to explore, the eclectic gardens, and the stone walkways that look like they’ve stepped off the set of a Flintstones movie .. a visit to Parc Guell with children is like spending a day at an art gallery, fairytale land and botanical gardens all in one. Not to mention the chance to learn about architecture, have a picnic and expend some energy walking around the kilometer upon kilometer of boardwalks. 

Parc Guell

Gaze at La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous church that has never been finished (and while they predict it will be finished by 2026 I personally hope they never really finish it as that’s half the attraction). You might want to skip the climb to the top of Sagrada Familia with young children but it’s still worth seeing it from the ground floor.


Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia follows the basic design of a traditional Gothic Church but it’s unlike any other building anywhere in the world. Every inch is covered in intricate designs and carvings, every shape is subtly changed. Gaudi has taken a classic design that has been done again and again all over the world, and then completely transformed it into something unique so it’s a good chance to inspire your children to think outside the square and break the mold for anything they want to do with their lives.

Relax in a Piazza

the piazza

Piazza’s are a fixture of Barcelona – wide paved spaces within city blocks filled with benches, coffee shops, funky hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants. If there’s one thing Barcelona does well it’s piazza’s.

What’s not to love about a wide open car-free space that children can run around in while parents relax in coffee shop with cool music playing. It’s a win-win.

Explore museums and fountains at Parc de la Ciutadella

Parc de la Ciutadella

Located near the heart of the city, Ciutadella Park is one of the best places to hang out with children, particularly on the weekends when young people and families flock there to relax and play. The 70 acre parkland includes amazing gardens, a zoo, museums, a large lake with paddle boats.

The Cascade, the parks huge monumental fountain is worth seeking out. It’s ornate, fanciful and beautiful.

The Museum of Zoology is fairly typical of most zoology museums – skeletons, dinosaurs, stuffed animals, evolutionary exhibits and earth history. What makes it worth visiting is the fact that it’s a very old museum so it has a wonderfully comprehensive collection of artifacts that they try to seek innovative ways of displaying. Currently the museum is showcasing the co-evolution of life and nature on earth. It also offers a wide range of exhibits designed for small children. It’s worth visiting the museum to see the main building – the beautiful Three Dragons Castle.

Science play at it’s best: CosmoCaixa

It’s hard to go wrong with a visit to a Science Museum when you have children. CosmoCaixa is huge – you could spend an entire day there. The Science centre has a great mix of old school science activities that children can see, touch, manipulate and experiment with, as well as a great range of modern technology displays. It’s popular and many of the exhibits are so busy they will be sold out so go during the week, preferably early in the morning.

Spend the day at the beach

Barcelona Beach

They’re developed and busy, even on a sunny winter’s day but you can never go wrong with a day at the beach when you have kids. Many of Barcelona’s beaches are just a short walk from the centre of town and are well connected to the metro, so they’re easy to visit.

Tour a Chocolate Museum

See, I had you at the word chocolate didn’t I?

The Museu de la Xocolata isn’t just your typical chocolate factory tour. Not that there’s anything wrong with a tour of a chocolate factory – yum! ‘No, this Chocolate Museum also features a wide range of art works, sculptures and scenes made entirely from chocolate. They also do a wonderful job of showcasing the history of chocolate, and the important role that chocolate played in Barcelona’s trading history.

A coach and horses


London, England, is a wonderful and historic fun vacation travel destination for the whole family. This great vibrant metropolis can be an expensive place to visit especially as a group but sticking to a budget does not mean you can’t have a great time. If you are spending time in the UK it’s likely you’ll be passing through London so you’ll want to come up with a plan to make the most of being there without emptying your wallet.

Have a look at some tips below to help keep a smile on the kids face and yours whilst exploring what London has to offer.


This is most likely to be the most expensive part of your vacation and although London has hotels in abundance it also has the prices to match. No need to fear however, there is no need for the bank account to bust as with just a little research you can find something clean and comfortable for your family. Check out youth hostels and cheap London hotels to get a great deal. Consider looking outside of central London. Provided you are well connected to public transport there’s no reason you can’t stay in one of the outer suburbs where you will get a much better deal on accommodation.

What to do in London

So where does one take the kids when in London? Not every attraction requires tickets and some of those that do may offer some concessions. Getting around shouldn’t be a problem so long as you use cheap taxi services or affordable coach companies like Coach Hire London for the bigger families. There are also many things that you and your children would find interesting and memorable that won’t cost you a penny!

The changing of the guards

The changing of the guards happens every other day outside Buckingham Palace and is both an educational and wonderfully visual experience. This military ceremony is watched by locals and tourists alike so there is always an excited buzz around this experience.

Photo by: edwin.11

London Bridges

Many children know the song “London bridge is falling down” and you can take them to see the real (non-falling down) modern day bridges and delight them with stories about London’s rich past.

Photo by: Our Travel Lifestyle


All of London’s main museums are completely free and can provide hours of fun entertainment for everyone from the British museum with Archaeological exhibits to the Science and Natural History museums. Both the Science and Natural History museums have great interactive activities & fun games that the children will love. If you look carefully in the Geological section of the History museum you will also find that Kryptonite Superman’s special rock actually exists!

Photo By: cgespino


Take the kids to see a show such as the Wizard of Oz or the Lion king, the bight songs and electric atmosphere will see smiley faces all round. You can purchase discounted tickets from “Tkts” a discounted theatre box office situated in Leicester Square and some theatres even do a lottery on the day for cheap front row seats. There are also many other types of shows like musical performances and the best comedy shows London has to offer.

Photo By: edans

Tower of London

If you are going to spend a little money on sightseeing in London then this is definitely the place to go. This old castle steeped in medieval history set against the back drop of modern London steels you away back into a past of Kings and Queens. Check out the crown Jewels, listen to ghost tales told by beef eater guards and learn the legend of the Black ravens.

Ensure your trip to London with the kids this year is incredible from your hotel accommodation to fun filled days out at any budget. A little careful planning can go a long way in making this an adventure of a life time for the whole family.

Accommodation is a huge part of any travelling families budget, especially if you are travelling in Europe, Australia, New Zealand or North America. You can’t really avoid it unless you are lucky enough to have relatives with spare apartments throughout the world that are happy for you stay in … but I’m guessing that won’t be the case for most of us.

So back to what I was saying … accommodation – you can’t avoid paying for it but you can reduce your costs.


Stay longer and ask for a discount

The longer you stay in one location the better the accommodation deal you can usually find. We’ve found that as soon as you are willing to stay longer than 4 nights, most hostels and guesthouses are willing to offer you a discount on accommodation. Sometimes it’s just a few dollars per day. Others won’t charge for additional mattresses for the kids for longer stays. 

Provided it’s not high season, we usually find that we can save $5-10 per night on accommodation if we are willing to stay for 4-6 nights in the one spot. $5 per day mightn’t seem like a lot but over the space a year it can really add up. If nothing else call it beer money.


Look for newly opened places

While we’re talking about asking for discounts for longer stays, often the places that are most willing to offer discounts are newly opened guest houses and hostels.

Guesthouses that have only just recently opened usually haven’t made it yet onto any of the hostel websites or into Lonely Planet. Therefore they are usually pretty quiet and willing to offer great discounts for stays longer than a few nights, particularly if you offer to give them a review on your blog or on TripAdvisor.

Finding newer guesthouses can be a bit tricky of course since they often aren’t listed anywhere. Instead of wandering the streets for hours dragging your kids and bags, try searching on TripAdvisor, and for places with only a few reviews or new additions.

But I’ve found that the best method is to search on Facebook or in Google – just enter in the location name with words like ‘hostel’ ‘B&B’ “Guesthouse’, ie: “Skopje Hostel”. These days many new establishments set up websites and Facebook pages as soon as they open so you’ll often find them this way long before they appear in the guidebooks. Facebook searches found us some great places to stay althoughout Europe. 


Bring beds for younger children when travelling in expensive areas

If you are planning on travelling through some expensive regions look into purchasing small travel beds for your younger children at least rather than having to pay extra for family rooms.

Even in expensive cities you can usually find reasonably priced double and triple rooms. It’s family rooms where you see the huge jump in price. I guess they see us all coming! You can save a huge amount on accommodation if you bring beds for the kids.

Of course the negative is you’ll probably end up taking up a third of a pack with the beds and any associated extras you might need like inflatable pillows and sheets. So it’s something you really need to weigh up. The value of bringing your own beds often depends on the areas you are travelling in. If it’s somewhere like Asia, the extra accommodation expenses might be minimal. And as I’ve mentioned, often if you are staying longer than 4 nights some places won’t charge you for beds for the kids. But if you are travelling through Europe carrying beds is probably worth the lost storage space. 

When the kids were younger we travelled with the larger size of the PeaPod Travel Beds. They were fabulous for keeping out mosquitoes but bulky and the kids never slept well in them. After a few months we left the tents behind and just brought the inflatable mattresses from the tents with us as they took up a lot less room.

On our recent trip to Europe we purchased two self-inflating camp beds through Decathalon, a budget sporting and lifestyle store. They’re similar to the ones in that link but not exactly the same. They have a self-inflating mat, sleeping back and inflatable pillow that all rolls up into a small sway. The two beds took up a third of a pack but we had packed really light because we knew we wanted to purchase them, so we still only had two large backs as well as our small daypacks. We could have saved some space and money by buying kids sized versions of them but this way an adult could sleep in one if there was ever a need. With the handles on the outside you could probably also tie mats like these onto the outside of your backpacks if you had to. 

The mats cost us 35 pounds each but we saved that money in under two weeks by paying less for accommodation. 


Stop longer and rent

Stopping somewhere for a month is the way to really save a lot of money. If you can rent an apartment locally (not through the Internet!) you can drastically reduce your accommodation costs. The longer you stay the better the deal you can usually negotiate. Staying in an apartment also gives you the option of self catering, making it an even cheaper option. 

Take Eastern Europe for an example. In most locations you’ll pay 25-50 euros per night for family accommodation, even staying in hostels or even in a private double room with your own beds for the kids. We averaged approximately 35 euros per night staying in private double rooms or four bunk dorms. In many locations in Eastern Europe you can rent a 2-3 bedroom apartment close to the city centre on a monthly lease for as little as 200-400 euros. Let assume you can only find something for 400 euros per month – that’s still less than 14 euros per night. Throw in a little extra for gas and electricity (which is very cheap) and your total bill will still be less than 20 euros per night. 


Look for privately owned holiday rentals

AirBN, Enrout and VBRO are fantastic websites. We’ve used AirBNB and Enrout a lot during our travels, often finding privately owned apartments for cheaper than we’d pay at a hostel.

We had a flat in Paris (read flat as: so tiny you can’t swing a cat, but it’s Paris so that’s normal!) with AC and a kitchen for $60 per night right in the centre of Montmartre. Much cheaper than any other alternatives I could see in the area.

Even expensive locations like capital cities and visiting a ski resort will be cheaper if you rent for a month. The monthly cost of a France ski chalet certainly isn’t cheap but you’ll probably find it’s not much more than just staying for a week. 


Travel in low season … when it makes sense

Low season is less expensive. Longer term apartment rentals in summer holiday resort towns are often at least half the price, if not a quarter of the price in low season. Nightly accommodation can be up to 50% off.

Which can be a trap in itself. “Oh wow this place is lovely and look in high season it’s usually $250 per night and they’re only asking $90 including breakfast. That’s a bargain” … completely ignoring the fact that $90 is probably 2-3 times what you’d normally spend. Although we like to justify it sometimes … and sometimes it’s totally worth it! (see exhibit A below!)

Phra Nang Lanta

But don’t do what we do! Stick to the bargains.

Of course it doesn’t always make sense to travel in low season. Sometimes it’s low season for a very good reason. Siberia in winter … you may want to avoid that. Vietnam in high summer is like living in a sauna.

But there are a lot of places all over the world that are just as nice in low season. And you’ll usually find that at the start and end of low season before the rains start or the snow melts the weather isn’t that much different from high season. A few degrees a day or an afternoon storm every day in exchange for some major savings is something I’m willing to put up with. 


Compromise on location, at least occasionally

The closer you are to the beach or city centre or main attraction, the more you’ll pay. Sometimes it makes sense to be this close. And everyone should spend at least a few nights in a cabin right on the beach or in the treetops at least during their travels.

New Cocohut

But often it makes more sense to stay a little bit further back. Not only will accommodation usually be cheaper, staying further away from the main touristy spots will usually give you the chance to experience local life.  

In Sanur, Bali we could have paid over $100 per night to be right on the beach. Instead we chose to be one street back down a side lane a 5 minute walk to the beach and instead paid $20 a night for a small guesthouse with a pool. Being off the beach we were also a lot closer to cheaper restaurants and transport.

Cities like London and Paris have fantastic public transport networks. In Paris we never seemed to be more than two blocks from a subway station so staying out of town really didn’t make much of a difference. In London we stayed on the outskirts in Croydon, paying a lot less on accommodation than we would have in central London. And since most of the trains ran express into the city we were only two stops from downtown London. 


Look for cheaper alternatives

Italy isn’t the only country you’ll find Roman ruins. Bulgaria and Turkey have them too. Greece isn’t the only country in the Aegean with gorgeous islands. Turkey and Croatia have cheaper alternatives, plus there are a lot of gorgeous coastal towns that you can enjoy without having to pay for the expense of ferries and exclusive islands. Or go in low season if you don’t mind missing out on swimming.

Canada, the USA, France and Austria aren’t the only places with great ski resorts. Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, China, Japan have them too … just to name a few … at a fraction of the cost. Why pay the additional cost of a ski chalet in France when you could stay in Bansko in Bulgaria for 1/10 of the price for almost the same facilities.

If you’ve dreamed about driving an RV around the USA, Australia or New Zealand but the cost of renting one is enough to make you break out in hives, check out RV relocations. Often people rent a motorhome one way and the company needs to get it back to homebase (or to another location) so many companies offer relocation deals. Usually you have a specified time to get the van back so you will probably be 400km per day but they’ll only charge you $5-20 per day and provide you with a petrol allowance. Sometimes you can pay just a little extra to buy an extra day or two. It’s a great way to get from A-B, see some of the country and live your RV dream with most of your costs covered.

We did this in Australia through Standbyrelocs to get from Sydney to Adelaide, Adelaide to Melbourne and Melourne back to Sydney. We paid $5 per day for a van like you see below with 50% of our petrol costs covered. 

The simple fact is there’s usually always an alternative that’s cheaper if you look for it. 

Colin and the RV


House swap

If you do want to spend time in locations like New York or Paris, a house swap might be the answer to your accommodation woes.

If you haven’t started your travels yet and are planning on selling your house before you go it may be worth looking into houseswaps first. There are some fantastic sites out there with huge networks of people from all over the world wanting to holiday through swapping houses. If you don’t need the money from your house sale to fund your travel dreams, why not hold off selling your house for a year or two and arrange some house swaps, then sell it down the track.

What if you’ve already sold your house and are on the road? Well house swaps are even still possible. Just sign up Grandma’s house and swap it without telling her.

Just kidding …

If you dreaming of travelling in Europe or Australia where the cost of accommodation is enough to make you cry, why not consider taking out a 6-12 month lease on a house or apartment in a cheaper country that is popular for tourist. Monthly rentals in Thailand and Costa Rica for instance are really inexpensive, even for furnished places. You could rent a house there and enjoy a few months in that location before swapping it for your dream house in a more expensive location.

This is one of our main reasons for setting up a house in Penang, Malaysia. We want to spend some time in some really expensive locations, like New York and London but we simply can’t afford the rent unless we can find a way to make a lot more money. But we can afford a house in Penang. So we’ve rented here. For this upcoming winter we’re trying to make our dream of having a full ski season come true. Maybe we’ll find a France ski chalet or a house near a ski field in the USA. We’re still working on it. 



Couchsurfing is a where people that have a spare room or bed or couch in their house offer it to other travellers for free, provided those travellers offer the same service when they aren’t on the road. 

You might think it’s just something for couples and singles, but there are actually thousands of families listed on Do a group search for ‘Family Welcome Group’ and you’ll be surprised at not only how large the group is but how welcoming and active it is. 

Couchsurfing might not be something you can see your family doing night after night for months on end, but why not look into it for just a few nights every few weeks. Not only will it save you the cost of a few nights accommodation but you’ll also get the chance to meet other families and experience family life in different countries around the world. 


Consider camping!

Some of the most expensive countries you’ll want to visit are also the countries that have the most amazing natural landscapes. When you picture Australia, NZ and the USA I’m betting at least 2/3 of the things you want to see are outdoors, if not more. Camping isn’t only cheaper, it lets you really experience and appreciate the natural beauty. 

Of course camping comes with the cost of purchasing tents etc. And you are probably going to need a way to transport all this gear. But if you do the maths you still might find it’s well worth the cost of buying a car or bikes that you can later sell. And you can always sell all your camping equipment at the end on Ebay or Craigslist and recover some of your set up costs. 


Big cities are usually more expensive for everything, including accommodation.

And lastly, big cities will chew through your budget. Transport and food costs are generally higher. And cities are probably where you are going to be spending time at paid attractions like museums, unlike when you are at the beach just relaxing on the sand. You’d think in a large city where there is plenty of accommodation cheap family rooms would be easy to find. It never seems to be the case, unless you equate cheap with dingy and rat-filled. 

Generally speaking your money will go further outside of cities. Accommodation is cheaper, as is almost everything else. Where possible spend less time in big cities than you do outside of them. 


Try not to spend more than 40% of your daily budget on accommodation

Unless your accommodation includes at least some meals and your in a location where most of the activities are free and walking distance, if you spend over 40% of your daily budget on accommodation you are going to find it very hard to not over spend.

You won’t always be able to manage this. Some locations are just expensive. But it’s a good general rule to follow. 


Try to think in terms of rental back home

What were you paying for rent  or mortgage repayments back home before you started travelling? Let’s assume it was somewhere between $200-400 per week. That’s between $28-57 per night.

Back in Australia we were paying $400 per week on rent, or $57 per night. Which was realistically over our budget but all we could find at the time in the area we wanted to live in. We would have been more comfortable paying $300 per week, or $42 per night (which honestly isn’t that crazy to be spending something like that on a 12month lease in an unfurnished small apartment???).

When we travel we try to spend less per night than we were spending on accommodation at home. Preferably we spend under our ideal monthly rent, with $57-60 per night as our preferred upper limit if we’re in a city like Paris or an isolated tropical island where $40 a night is just not doable.

If we were to suddenly start spending $70 per night on accommodation, well that doesn’t sound like much more but that’s the equivalent of our rent going up by almost $100 per week to almost $500 a week. I know for a fact that back home if our land lord had of put up our rent by nearly $100 a week when we were already paying more than we liked we would have moved out.