Long Term Family Travel FAQs

There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of families out there around the world who are doing, or have done, long term travel – some for over a decade, others for a few months or a year before returning to “real” life.

And they come in all shapes and sizes. This family are doing it with five (5!) kids, one of them in a wheelchair; the Vogel family cycled from Alaska to Argentina with twin boys (you can read their book about all four years of it here); and there are many, many more.

I hugely scientifically asked folk on Facebook what they’d really like to know about doing long term family travel – which I’ll define, for the sake of argument, as anything longer than the school summer holidays – and this is what they asked.

How do you get started?

That very much depends on the family and the circumstances. Broadly, long term family travellers fall into two classes, the “screw this, there must be something better, let’s go!” (characterised by a 1-6 month leadtime and occasional catastrophic failures), and the organised “let’s have our perfect year as a family” group (characterised by years and years of planning, which sometimes continues for so long that by the time the planning’s done the kids have already left home).

Which is to say there’s no right time to get started. Both sides will agree that you need to set a start date and stick to it, and have a reasonable idea of how you’ll survive once you’re doing the journey and once you get back – if you intend to head home.

The key thing is to book the flights (or alternative mode of transportation), work out what you’re doing with your house if you own one – options run from cashing it in and spending the money to cashing it in but saving enough to move somewhere much cheaper in your original home country, to letting it and living off the difference between the rental value and the mortgage with many points in between.

The nature of the global property market is such that for those in rich countries who’ve paid off their mortgage, or come close to that, it can be possible to travel for a year living off the rental income on a flat.

If you don’t have a property? Well, that’s easier in some ways, less easy in others, unless you have some cash savings.

If you’re freelance and can work remotely, one sensible way to do things might be to move somewhere cheaper overseas and freelance from that base, saving the difference between accommodation costs so that you can then start to travel.

What do you do with all your stuff, particularly photos and keepsakes?

Although we pared down extensively, we left an absolute mountain of stuff at my parents’ house. Now what’s left are the photos, the paintings, the art, a few frocks and a few cuddly toys to which Zac maintains an attachment.

Without wishing to proselytise like some crazy hippie, most of us have tonnes of stuff we don’t want, let alone need: wardrobes full of clothes we won’t wear again, shelves of books we’ll never read again.

First of all, we went through Zac’s room, eliminating: random plastic crap that only exists to hurt the parents’ feet, gifts bought for birthday parties but barely even opened, and obviously outgrown toys. Then I sifted through clothes and books for stuff with salable value.

After an initial elimination on Zac’s stuff and eBaying anything that had value, we divided them up into “bin”, “charity shop”, “give to friends or family who might like them” and “store with family” (some people have garage sales). I’d recommend chucking, selling or giving away everything you feel you can chuck, sell or give away, then storing the remainder.

Photos, paintings and heirlooms are the kind of thing one hangs onto, in my experience: they’ll normally fit into the kind of box that most of us can find houseroom for somewhere without paying rent. The rest is replaceable. Yes, even books (and, boy, was that one hard for me to get to).

And if you’re doing a year? Still chuck out what you can, but store the rest. You can read my first ever post, on the chucking out process here.

How do you plan?

That depends very much on the type of travel you’re doing, and your personal style. The most important thing is not to overplan: you wouldn’t schedule 365 days of your life down to the minute at any other time, so that’s certainly not going to work overseas. Particularly when you don’t know what you’ll like till you’re there. (Here’s a few tips on what not to do.)

As someone observed on Twitter, “95% of travel questions on the internet could be answered by the phrase: Buy A Fucking Guidebook” and I thoroughly recommend this basic, old school tool. (I’m not a fan of TripAdvisor.)

I’ve found, broadly, Lonely Planet is best for budget and adventure travel, Rough Guides for mid-range and cultural, Time Out are good for city guides, Blue Guides are, of course, the market leader in historic and archaeological, and I enjoyed Bradt for Lebanon and would probably try them for other countries too.

I tend to ballpark it, not least because I find it extremely hard to work out what really appeals until I’m actually in the country. Which is to say: “In X country, I know I’d like to see A, B and C, and I know there’s other stuff I’m going to want to do when I’m there, so I’ll allow X weeks for that country.”

I’ll factor in journey time around the country (Mongolia, for example, takes ages to get around, as does much of Indonesia), cost out visas and any big transport/specific adventure costs, and then work out a number for daily subsistence, which we will invariably overspend because neither of us are really capable of passing up a blue steak/caramel Frapuccino/Negroni/chocolate shop/gelato store unless I’m absolutely skint.

There are, needless to say, more organised ways of doing this. Wandermom did a classic one-year RTW, and if that’s what you want to do, I’d take a look at her planning stuff, which is great.

If you find yourself moving locations every two nights, by the way, you’ve got it wrong (and you’ll struggle with laundry, too). My spawn is fairly hardy, and he’d be whimpering after six weeks with only two nights in one place. Even if you’re only planning a few months, allow several stints with space for spending a week in one place, whether that’s your fantasy tropical island or an apartment in Rome.

How do you finance long term travel?

I wrote a post addressing some of the ways people fund world travel, which I recommend you read. If you’ve won the house price lottery (let’s say you can rent your house out for $1500 more than your mortgage cost) you can live off that. If you’re in the digital economy (yeah, read that post – more jobs can go digital than you think), you can live off that.

Other ways to cut your costs? Housesitting (these guys do this a lot), couchsurfing (always a two way street), WWOOFing (that’s working on organic farms) and slow travel, AKA taking longterm rentals.

Few families will honestly deliver real value volunteering and in most voluntourism scenarios the money would be better spent training and employing local workers who’ll contribute to the economy.

One suggestion I’ve seen for saving that applies to two-parent families planning long term travel is: “live on one person’s income and save the other”. Other options include downsizing where you’re currently living, if a spare room’s available somewhere, and small incremental savings: cutting out a daily latte on the way to work, replacing lunch with a cheapie homemade sandwich and opting for the bus instead of the tube could save around £2400 over the course of a year.

How easy is it to let go of “home”?

After over three years of travel, we have several places in the world now where we feel at home, but we still go back to our old home: Zac’s been back to the UK twice in the last 3.5 years, I’ve been back once, and we’re going back again this summer.

Home is a state of mind. I’m always going to be a Londoner, and I suspect Zac is too. He sometimes misses London. He sometimes misses Dahab, Ubud and Harbin. Which doesn’t stop him being happy.

We stay in touch with friends and family over Skype, most typically. There’s a lot of talk about becoming global citizens, which we are, on some levels, but on others we’re firmly English.

How do you find accommodation, especially when you don’t speak the language?

Well, at the most basic level, there are guidebooks, which have both lists of pre-checked accommodation and basic phrasebooks at the back, not to mention hotel booking sites like agoda.com, which has great coverage, the raft of short-term apartment rental sites, touts at train stations and bus stations, and, if you have your own wheels, simply driving around town.

For longer term accommodation, there will be tricks for each town and city. In tourist towns you can do well by pounding the streets, checking noticeboards, tapping into Facebook groups and online messageboards, and checking the local papers. The bigger the place, the more nuanced your search is going to need to be. (Check this post on China, and this post on Dahab.) Asking people is always a great solution, and looking on letting sites that target locals rather than global sites targeting affulent travellers is wise.

As regards language? Phrasebooks and iPhone translators are great. And I’ve typically found that where you want to communicate, you can, although, with a longterm rental involving contracts you might want a translator: if you speak English, people in most places will be able to dredge up someone who also speaks English to some degree.

You’d also be amazed what can be communicated with mime.

How do you manage friendships, old and new? And family connections?

The key thing is to make an effort to see people when you’re in the right place. Skype is a godsend for staying in touch with family and friends, as is online gaming from Zac’s point of view.

We’ve had visits while travelling from friends and family, and met up with friends and family in countries around the world: Zac had Christmas in Australia with his best friend from London, and we’ve met up with friends from Singapore in Turkey and Beijing.

How hard is it to build fulfilling relationships with other kids when you’re in a new place with unfamiliar languages and customs?

Hmmm… You can see this post for the challenges of China. Here’s one on a short-term but fulfilling friendship in Indonesia when Zac was younger. Zac made good and meaningful friendships in both Dahab and Ubud, as well as with children from other travelling families, and he’s spent most of today playing ball, chess and computer games with a kid where we are now.

The answer to this is, basically, going to vary according to the age of the child. It’s extremely easy for tinies to find other tinies that they can play with happily, and for tween boys to find other tween boys with an interest in computer games (for example). I suspect it’s more difficult for teens, in particular teen girls.

What do you do about food? In particular food allergies?

We’re both very Catholic eaters, which helps: we enjoy food and eat almost everything.

Even if your children are picky eaters there are relatively few places around the world where you can’t find chicken, tomato, cucumber, carrots, oranges, milk and plain rice or bread.

Vegetarianism is more difficult, particularly if you’re the kind of vegetarian that can’t cope with the notion that meat stock might have crept into a dish, because it’s not well understood in many countries. The Indian subcontinent is great for vegetarians; the Middle East and Europe are alright; Latin America can be monotonous; China is tough and Mongolia would be a real struggle (although there is at least one vegan restaurant in Ulaanbaatar).

Gluten intolerance is easy enough to combat in the rice belt. I don’t think nut allergies are a phenomenon that’s known outside the developed West and a severe nut allergy would be difficult to travel with, particularly in countries that use peanut oil and sesame oil and where little English is spoken.

I thoroughly recommend this excellent post by a doctor and family traveller on how to avoid getting sick from street food. I’d counsel against being too cautious around food hygiene: if you wash everything you eat in bottled water, for example, the first time you hit a wet lettuce leaf in a sandwich it’s likely to make you sick. (More on this sort of stuff here.)

Is there anything you’re afraid of?

Serious illness in a remote place is always a worry, but this would be more of an issue with very young children than a robust tween. We’ve also done enough medical stuff overseas for me not to panic overly much about medical issues, though it is easy to assume that every set of flu symptoms is some hideous and terrifying tropical disease.

What about running out of money?

That sucks. But, whether you’re travelling for a few months or a year on a fixed budget or longterm on freelance income, a few key tips:

Always carry convertible cash (that’s USD, typically, unfolded and pristine) and have it stashed in a range of places in case you get pickpocketed.
Always have a stash of local cash if you’re in one place for a long time.
If you feel like you’re running out of money, get the hell into a cheap longterm rental, which will slash your costs and buy you breathing space.
If you’re freelance, don’t assume that invoices are money in the bank.

As a friend who ran out of money in Malaysia (while in a longterm rental) remarked, it’s incredible how little you can live on if you have to.

Do you ever have any anxiety about the uncertainty of it all?

Not really, no. Visas give me huge angst, when I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to go to the next place or stay in the current place, but most of the time the sense of freedom triumphs over that. Freelance income IS uncertain, but that’s the same whether you’re looking at paying a mortgage in London, a rental in Bali or a hotel room in Beijing.

How much luggage do you travel with? Are you still just travelling with a backpack each and a ‘puter bag?

That’s climate dependent, and dependent on what we’re doing. You need a lot of clothes for Everest Base Camp in December, and for Harbin in winter, and even for Mongolia in summer, because you need layers, which take space, and laundry takes longer (much longer).

The most we’ve ever travelled with is a backpack each, a duffel and a tote, which was for winter in Harbin in the aftermath of Everest Base Camp, and included things like sleeping bags and water bottles that we knew we’d need for our next stage. We’re now back down to a backpack each, a ‘puter bag and a camera bag-cum-handbag.

It’s also dependent on your personal travel style and what clothes you like. I need a pair of heels and a nice frock: some people can travel for a year with just a pair of travel sandals. It also depends on how often you’re happy doing laundry.

People will often take more for a two-week holiday, when they’re not planning on doing laundry, than they would for a year’s travelling. Go figure.

What are good spots for economical, long-term travel that aren’t too difficult in visa terms?

In terms of a long term base, Malaysia – typically Penang – is popular, because most nationalities get 90-day entry automatically, there’s a tonne of English spoken, the entry level apartment size is three bedrooms, which is great for most families (typically priced around $500-$600 US per month), and you’ve got most of the facilities you’d expect in the West at a fraction of the price as well as lovely Indian restaurants, interesting local culture and reasonable beaches.

Bali and Thailand are fiddlier in visa terms but again there’s a lot of English and decent tourist infrastructure, and visa runs are cheap and easy. In LatAm, there’s Mexico – especially San Cristobal and the area around Tulum – Antigua, Guatemala, and, though more expensive, Costa Rica. Guatemala offers amazing diversity.

Within Europe, you can find surprisingly cheap longterm digs in Spain, while the former Eastern Europe, in particular Bulgaria and Croatia, offer great value. We like Dahab in Egypt, too.

In terms of travelling around, generally. Thailand is an excellent starting point, because there’s a lot of English spoken and a well-developed tourist infrastructure and plenty of stuff targeting budget travellers: it’s exotic without being difficult. Costa Rica is also popular, again, a lot of English, a lot of tourist infrastructure, and the combination of ease and Western comfort with a dose of the exotic. I love the diversity of Guatemala.

Eastern Europe can be really economical to travel. Egypt is cost-effective but can be really challenging.

How do you handle routine medical visits?

We’re British, so we don’t do much by way of routine medical: Zac’s up to date with all his routine jabs, and we update travel injections as and when. I ensure we have dental checkups roughly 6-monthly, which I’ll do in cities with good infrastructure – and I’ve had a couple of PAP smears at approximately the same time I would do in the UK.

What about medical emergencies?

We have travel insurance which covers us for emergency medical, including evac, and if you travel without that you’re mad. Most of the time, you won’t use it, but when you do need it, you really need it.

The costs of medical care in the aftermath of something like a bus smash can run to tens of thousands of dollars, evacuation to a country with better medical care than the place you’re in can run into the hundreds of thousands and – god forbid – in the event that someone dies, you will be billed for everything to do with the body and the previous medical care as well.

Always, always check the conditions of cover. You might well need special cover for trekking above a certain altitude (typically 4000m), driving a motorbike above a certain power (typically 125cc) as well as certain types of diving, mountaineering and, of course, winter sports. Driving without a locally valid license or without a helmet (if riding a motorbike) will typically invalidate your travel insurance, and loss adjusters will look to see whether that was or wasn’t the case and claim back any expenses they’ve covered if you were.

Typically you can buy extra cover through the same insurer (ring them up and add two weeks of winter sports for the duration that you’re going skiing) – in some instances, you may need to go specialist, whether through World Nomads or specific diving insurers.

That aside, if we’re going off the beaten track – more than 24 hours’ travel from medical care and out of phone signal – I carry a neurotically stacked medical kit, with tummy-specific antibiotics, stoppers, rehydration salts, broad spectrum general antibiotics, antipyretics such as paracetamol, bandages, iodine, scissors, plasters and anything that’s specific to what we’re doing (anti-altitude medicines for Everest Base Camp, anti-malarials and DEET in malarial jungle areas, yada yada) as well as things for any minor ailment we’ve ever had (eye drops, antihistamines, antifungals).

I’ll also get our teeth checked before we go, if we haven’t had them checked recently: the last thing you want in the middle of nowhere is three days of agony followed by an extraction without anaesthetic (it happens).

What would be a nomadic lifestyle-ending event in general?

When Zac doesn’t want to do it any more. And that day is going to come. My parents are in their mid-60s and pretty darn robust, but a death in the family would be time to reconsider.

If we all take is a backpack each and that’s all we take what should be in it?

That depends where you’re going, and when, and who you are. One point: you don’t need to take everything with you when you set off. You can buy stuff anywhere, though if you’re above a UK size 12 (US 8) as a woman or above a European size 43 feet as a guy you might have to go custom in parts of the world, and bras for larger women can be absolutely hell to find.

If you’re headed to a cold climate, warm socks and thermals will be easy to buy there, and it’s typically better to buy cold climate gear on an as-needed basis than lug it with you through hot climates.

You can also rent things like sleeping bags, tents, rain gear and down gear, which can make economic sense: if you’re only going to need a down jacket for a fortnight trekking, you’re better off hiring one, or buying one, in that location.

You don’t need dedicated hiking boots unless you’re going to be using crampons, though Zac loves his pair and you may need warm boots for certain types of trekking.

If you’re in cold climates, or moving between cold and hot climates, you need more stuff: sarongs will work wonderfully for towels in the tropics, but not in cold climates. Layering helps (leggings work as thermals in one climate and trousers in another), but you will still need more stuff. Not least because laundry will take longer.

It also depends on what your tastes are in clothes. I can’t live without a nice frock and heels. Zac is very attached to a lurid rain jacket.

Some people counsel against jeans because they’re heavy. I like them because you look normal everywhere, which is one of many reasons why I avoid travel specific clothing, which is, like a daypack, the equivalent of a large flashing sign reading “tourist”.

Here’s a stylish gay man’s packing list for hot and temperate climates: our gear is currently focused on an unusual combination of subzero and summer weather with trekking, so it’s likely to be less useful.

Does anyone travel this light? How long can a family travel this light?

You can travel really light in hot climates, where all you need is a light jacket or a cardigan and a few light summerweight outfits and perhaps a rain mac.

The classic macho traveller deal is one pair of shorts, one pair of trousers, two pairs of socks, one T-shirt and a shirt – this involves a lot of hand washing. Some brave women have lasted a year with only a pair of (eek) travel sandals.

You can’t travel light in very cold climates, where you need down gear and layers. Even if you’re wearing three pairs of leggings and a pair of tights layered on your bottom half, that’s still six pairs of leggings and two pairs of tights to allow for laundry, and that’s on the basis of doing laundry every 2-3 days and alternating outfits.

What we do is chuck stuff out as it gets tired and/or redundant, and replace it with items that are more relevant for where we are. For example, loose-fitting trousers will be more useful than leggings in the Middle East; sweater dresses with leggings work well in the Chinese winter and the Mongolian spring/summer (you can use them as cover while peeing on the steppes, chuck them over T-shirts etc).

You can travel light indefinitely, to be honest.

How do you budget? How much money in reserve is enough? For a month, a year??

That’s an issue of temperament and it’s also dependent on your job situation.

I budget by working out where we’re going next, what we want to do, and whether we can afford it or need to scale back (an example of what I mean by this: if we didn’t have the money to do Everest Base Camp in Nepal, we could have gone for a shorter, cheaper trek in Annapurna instead).

The ballpark figure that I hear bandied around is $5000 or £3000. But a good rule of thumb, IMO, which adds up to that figure, is that, as a freelancer, you need enough money in hand to keep your family comfortably for 3 months or basically for 5 months where you are or to get you all “home” in case of a family emergency, plus enough to replace any business-critical tech that breaks. Other more conservative estimates say you need a minimum of 6 months’ money.

In cheaper parts of the world that’s going to be around £3000 or $5000. I should add that we’ve got comprehensive travel insurance, so any critical medical is covered by that.

The basic reserve issue is temperament. Some people require a sinking fund as high as $20,000 US, no matter where they are in the world. One guy set off with his son with $900 in the bank, no assets and a bit of work lined up.

If you’re planning on going back home and reestablishing yourselves, and you’ve left a job rather than taking a sabbatical, you’ll need cover for longer.

What about retirement plans and university for your son?

Wah! I don’t want to answer this one.

Well, OK. Because I’m constitutionally feckless, Zac’s dad is saving up for Zac’s college education, and I’ve also been putting the odd bit aside for that into accounts for him. It’s not going to save him from student loans, but there will be something there.

Retirement plan? I’m British, so I can pay into the state pension plan as self-employed overseas, which I do – a state pension that’s close to starvation level if you’re based in the UK will go a long way in many other parts of the world.

I’ve also got a couple of infinitesimal pensions from when I thought I was solvent years ago and, while it’s not possible to work until you drop, I like writing and I’d anticipate continuing to do so in one form or another long beyond the age one might down tools as, for example, a builder.

There are better ways of doing this, of course. And, yes, I should be paying into a pension. I don’t know a single family travelling longterm that’s currently doing this, although there are plenty with bits set aside from previous stints in the “real world”.

What’s the ideal age for travelling with kids?

That depends on you and your kids: there’s no right time and no wrong time to travel. I’d say the age-range 6-14 is probably ideal on many levels, because they’ll register it and appreciate it and remember swathes of it, but won’t yet be in the stage where they really need to be building their own lives as individuals.

Lots of people do travel with very young children, including to off-the-path destinations, and some have successfully travelled with older teens. I’d be cautious about some destinations with very young children, because when they get sick their health can deteriorate extremely rapidly – I wouldn’t want to be more than 24 hours’ travel from reasonable medical care with an under-3, but plenty of people do travel in, for example, sub-Saharan Africa with littlies and have a great time.

How do you budget while on the road?

I’m not a good person to ask about this, because I’m rubbish at it. Typically, I’ll get a ballpark figure for what we’re doing next and do it if we have the money to cover it.

Every budget should include visas, transportation and accommodation, and any big trip expenses, and then a ballpark daily sum, because you can usually adjust the rest to suit your budget.

If you’re not tied into a lot of flights, there are a range of ways to tweak these costs if you’ve overspent – rental apartments, (eek!) dorm rooms rather than private rooms, trading down to a place with no A/C, or from 4* to 2*, going for accommodation with a kitchen and home-cooking, moving from upscale restaurants to tourist restaurants, or tourist restaurants to local eateries, or local eateries to street food, trading down from liveaboard diving to shore diving or no diving, entirely dropping an expensive destination or staying longer in a cheaper one, ditching laundry for hand-washing, downgrading from plane to train to slow train to bus, etcetera etcetera.

Some people find it really helpful to keep a diary of every single thing they spend and when they spend it.

How do you deal with any issues being a single mum regarding custody and officials, meaning what documents do you travel with, or have you had to deal with an issues with officials regarding permission to enter/exit the country with your son?

I have a permission letter from Zac’s father, which has been asked for precisely once (for a long Indonesia visa requested in Australia): a Hong Kong visa agency required a birth certificate for visa reasons too. I’ve never had an issue at any border: Zac and I share a surname and look alike, which probably helps.

I’d recommend that any single parents carry print and digital copies (backed up online) of the birth certificate and either a permission letter from the father or a court statement confirming they have sole responsibility, on the just in case basis. I suspect paperwork is particularly important for adoptive single parents – adoption documentation may well come in very handy if the children are of an ethnicity that suggests they’re not biologically yours – or for single fathers.

What kind of plans would you recommend having as contingency plans for when something goes wrong?

That depends on the age of the child(ren) and your family circumstances. For a single-parent family, older children should know how to contact family or friends (Skype from your computer?), that the local consulate will look after them, who to ask for help in an emergency, the local emergency number (it’s always good to have a local mobile SIM card) and the name of your travel insurance provider.

Even the smallest children should know who to find to help them in the place where you are staying (if Mummy seems ill and you can’t wake her, go to the management and explain that there’s a problem), and for most children it’s a good idea to ensure they know the name of the place where they’re staying.

Other things you might want to consider? Strategies for when a child/children get lost (where do they go? How do they find you? Do they need their own mobile phone?): the rule we tend to use is ask someone in uniform or a mother with kids.

There’s a lot of good advice here. It’s also worth making sure that your kids know the symptoms of concussion before you get it.

How do I convince those worried about Bubby and me that this isn’t an insane idea?

Ooh lordie, I’d start with this. My own personal experience has been that people around the world are overwhelmingly helpful if you’re a single mother with a child.

The vast majority of people will go out of their way to help you, far more so than they would in my home, the UK, whether that’s carrying bags, escorting you through border posts or walking you to the place that you’re looking for.

I’d get a coherent safety plan in place – what to do if things go wrong – and find out specifically what people are worried about and address those concerns one by one.

If people are concerned about specific destinations, check the safety advice on the British government website, which will include figures for how many British nationals visited each year and how many needed help from their consulate. It’s a lot more nuanced and less hysterical than the US equivalent.

You could also try statistics, depending where you’re from. It’s always handy to compare gun murder rates in, say, Washington, with gun murder rates in other parts of the world. Sadly, it’s typically the case that in destinations frequented by Western paedophiles in search of sex tourism they would rather buy local children from desperate parents than bother yours.

If your plan for travel includes working while you travel, perhaps as a freelance online, it’s a good idea to have some experience and, ideally, regular clients in the bag rather than trying to set up absolutely cold.

How much do I need for a one-year trip?

Oh god. How long is a piece of string? Are you cruising the Galapagos and Antarctica, or overlanding to India? Are you travelling on bikes, towing food and camping gear, or staying in luxury hotels and tented safari camps? How many flights will you be taking? Where will you be taking them? When will you be taking them? Are you gunning for the peak season in popular destinations or shoulder seasons, when prices tend to be lower?

How fast are you travelling? Are you planning on spending months in one spot in a cheap rental, or will you be in a new spot every week and flying between those spots? Do you already own a camper van in which you can do your roadtrip, or are you planning on buying one? Are you the size and type of family that can happily sleep in one room, with multiple beds, or are you going to need to buy 2-3 rooms or apartments? Could you do housesitting or home exchanges? Are you part of the couchsurfing community? I

Reasonable, documented RTW budgets are a rare thing to come by: ignore anything that bandies around figures such as X amount per person per day.

This is a good account of overlanding to India on a relative shoestring, which includes the cost of the camper in which the family travels – ignore any budget based on camper-vanning that doesn’t include the cost of the camper, because they’re typically leaving tens of thousands of dollars out and presumably other stuff too.

At the other end of the spectrum, this guy is convinced that you can’t do a RTW for less than $30,000 per head, which isn’t true: but he lays all the maths out so that you can read it. More examples here, though none of them are family-specific.

A good idea would be to look at which destinations you want to visit and then look at the daily budget figures on LonelyPlanet.com for those destinations.

Most Brits are obsessed with visiting Australia as part of a RTW. This is currently insanely expensive if you’re not earning Aussie dollars, and will put a major hole in the budget. Ditto most North Americans are fixated on visiting Paris, which is again typically expensive for them, although not as bad as Australia for Brits.

People quite happily slow travel in Asia and Latin America for as little as $1000 per month for a family of two, and one family of four has done North America, Asia and Europe on $1300 per month – but again at a slower pace of travel than most would consider for a classic one-year trip.

Slower travel slashes accommodation costs and flight costs, as does sticking to one continent or region within which you can travel largely overland or on low-cost airlines.

You might want to consider making your extended Xmas holiday in Australia (Brits) or your fortnight in Paris (Americans) a separate trip to be done at a higher budget at a different time in your lives rather than as part of a one-year trip.

Back to the question. How much does a one-year trip cost? The figure I’ve heard most often for a classic but relatively budget holiday-of-a-lifetime RTW for a family of four, with a reasonable number of stops in different destinations and big event activities, but staying in guesthouses/hostels rather than hotels, is £3000 or $5000 per month.

For slower, budget travel within one affordable region with the only long-haul flights being out and back, $1000-$2000 per month, depending on family size and travel style, should allow you to see a lot of stuff and have a reasonable amount of fun.

But, honestly, the sky’s the limit in both directions: you can scale down to a $3 a night beach hut and a diet of plain boiled rice and cucumber, or scale up to ultra-luxury hotels, helicopter tours, custom safaris and private tutors.

What about personal space? Does Zac want his own room?

That’s one of the great things about staying in apartments from time to time – you do get more personal space, and Zac gets his own room. Family rooms at hotels are also great, but we don’t mind being in the same room for a chunk of the time.

And plenty of large families manage to live in campervans – some even with teens — without stabbing each other, so go figure.

How do you deal with schooling?

I’ve written quite a bit about this (here’s the section on my site with school posts). Put simply, we use a combination of unschooling/world schooling and local schools.

Legally, Zac’s within the UK homeschool system. I keep an eye on where he needs to be by using resources like BBC Bytesize to see if there are any gaps, but we don’t follow a curriculum.

Currently, after Chinese school, he’s continuing maths from his Chinese workbook. Someone is very kindly sending us a Singapore maths textbook that we can use, as he wants to do Asian-style maths, because it’s better than the UK, but would rather do it in English.

He’s just written a review of Cloud Atlas, the book and the film, wrote an essay on Pu Yi in Chinese after we visited Pu Yi’s palace, is working on some coding projects and has been reading Coleridge. And, god, I just reread that and it makes me want to punch myself in the head (sorry).

We’re about to go off on a long horseback trip by the end of which I’d expect him to be a competent rider and given we’re in Mongolia I’d anticipate him writing something about Chinggis Khan.

And finally…. What more do you want to know?

This is an absolutely epic post at the moment, and I’m sure there’s a lot more to add. If you have more queries, or comments, please add them in the comments, and then I’ll update this post with some more answers to keep it current.

We’re off on a long horseback trip (I’m behind on my life) so it may take me a while to approve comments. I’ve got a post set up to robopost, at least I hope I have, but if that doesn’t work it may be a couple of weeks before you hear from us.

Image: Joe Flintham.

14 Responses

  1. Janelle says:

    In your travels have you ever met a single mom who was also an English teacher? I used to teach overseas before I had my son. Now I teach international students in the States and have a nine-year-old. I read your blog and dream…but it feels like teaching, single mom and travel is a bit too much to combine.

  2. Talon says:

    GREAT post! And thanks for including my other site in your wonderful roundup.

    Look forward to hearing about your adventures in Mongolia!

  3. Clayton says:

    That is a very complete and very good post. I hope people actually read the entire thing. I’ve gotten asked so many little questions that have no answer. Instead of answering I tell them “if there is a will there’s a way.” and they don’t seem to get it.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I’ll be forwarding this post to anyone I know who’s asking about family travel. Fantastic links and advice.

  5. Jill says:

    Hi Theodora, just saw this. Thanks for mentioning us! Traveling with five little ones is certainly hard work. But , as I always say, staying at home with five is hard work AND boring as well…. I know which I prefer.
    This is a great no-nonsense post by the way. Im sure it will be very useful to lots of folks.

  6. jalakeli says:

    I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before (forgive me if I have) but happycow.net is AMAZING for finding vegetarian/vegan friendly options all over the world. It’s served me well in places that people swore I’d be miserable in as a vegetarian, notably Buenos Aires, Madrid & Beijing.
    Though I’m not sure how well I’ll do with it should I ever make it to Mongolia…

    • Theodora says:

      They do have a vegan restaurant in Ulaanbaatar. In rural areas, they don’t really understand the concept of vegetarianism, let alone veganism, and I think you’d spend a lot of time eating plain boiled pasta.

      • jalakeli says:

        If plain pasta is the worst of it I think I could manage. Pre Zac’s accident your adventures there looked like great fun.

        • Theodora says:

          They were! It’s still one of my favourite places I’ve been to, not just for the crazy but for the sense of almost infinite space.

  7. Karen says:

    Hi, this is such an inspirational site thank you for taking the time to write it! We’re a young family with a 3 year old and are looking to travel mar/Apr/May next year, can you recommend where to tour at that time of year? Thank you

  8. Bea says:

    Hi Theodora, what a great site this is. Thank you for all this info…

    We plan to head to South America next year, or possibly Mexico. We’re in the mood for an adventure, and we want to work on our Spanish. We are seasoned travelers, but never for this long with the kids. Did you find that language acquisition was more successful when your son was enrolled in a school? Our planning would be much easier if I could homeschool, but I feel I should get the kids into total immersion, so that they really learn. So my search for a good school (I don’t mean posh, just a small, decent school) is dominating my efforts. It’s hard.

    Any advice for me on that? Also, we are considering Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico. I searched on your site for Mexico, as I’d read on LP that you had a good experience there, but didn’t find anything. Would you recommend Mexico for a year with two kids, studying Spanish? We are very nature-loving, and especially love being on the coast. But we also appreciate cultural life… as much local colour as possible, really…

    Thanks again for all the info and the inspiration : )

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Bea,

      We did have a lovely time in Mexico, but that was before we started long-term travel: I’m not terribly good on LatAm in general (have only been to Mexico and Guatemala – bad me!) so I’m probably not the right person to ask about countries there.

      Language acquisition does work much better if you put your child into school, particularly a local school where there’s little English spoken, and particularly if there’s a community with few expats and little English spoken, so you all need to immerse. You’ll see benefits after three months and after six months they should be solid – so you could, for example, base somewhere for three months and school there, then travel for nine months, or do six months school followed by six months travel, covering multiple countries.

      Out of the countries you mention, I’d probably consider Peru most interesting, for the sheer geographical diversity you have there. But, as I say, I’m not an expert!