My son turns 3 this year. By that time he will have spent over half of his life outside his country of citizenship. In 2012 when he was four months old we headed off to Ireland, Mexico and the USA. We then spent a year in New Zealand – alternating our work arrangements around him so one of us was always a stay at home parent. In 2014 we took off again, this time to the USA, Mexico and Europe. He rode pillion as we cycled the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, discovered fish tacos in Puerto Vallarta, spent a sweltering July day at Disney World in Orlando, visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris, cruised on the Mediterranean, ate delicious crepes at the Christmas Markets in Germany and spent Christmas with family in Ireland.
This year he started preschool in Spain where we are based until the end of the school year in June.
Last week I posted about how we saved $35,000 during pregnancy. There are a number of other ways we fund our travels but having a solid amount in savings was the most important foundation.
Today I’m going to list the other sources of income we use to fund travel with our child. If you have any questions about travelling with a little one please let me know in the comments.
How We Afford to Travel With Our Child
As I wasn’t employed by my company for 12 months before giving birth I wasn’t entitled to 12 months maternity leave. I signed up for the government scheme in Australia which entitled us to a ‘Baby Bonus’ of around $5000 split up into fortnightly payments. As we were used to living on one income we weren’t affected by the reduction in income. We used the baby bonus to open a savings account for our son and saved the rest.
Do you have parental leave provisions in your role?
Often employers with paid parental leave policies allow new parents to choose between taking their full entitlement as quickly as possible or spreading their payment out over a longer period. If I am ever so lucky to have those kinds of benefits, I will most definitely stretch my entitlement over as long a period as possible, taking advantage of a lower tax rate and complementing my lower cost of living with savings.
The months before we departed were months of extreme frugality. We scrimped and saved on everything we could in order to grow our travel fund.
Hand Me Downs Rule
We were so grateful to receive bags of used clothes from family members and friends whose kids had grown out of them. I’m sure that we have spent less than $100 on Dylan’s wardrobe since he was born – solely due to the kindness and generosity of others. Once we’re done having kids I will be passing these clothes on to friends with babies.
I breastfeed. It’s healthy and it’s free. I understand some people cannot physically breastfeed so this is not a judgement. However, after learning in our prenatal classes that the cost of formula and bottles was around $1800 per year I figured I’d give it a go. The first few days were horrific, nothing like that beautiful bonding experience I’d heard about. It took months before I was completely comfortable with it but I’m glad I persevered because I don’t think we would have travelled for as long as we have if I was bottle feeding. The ordeal of finding sterilised water and getting bottles cleaned and heated would have eventually pissed me off to the point of just wanting life to be simpler and giving up travel.
Maximise Air Travel Before 2
Most airlines allow infants and babies up to the age of two to fly for free in your lap, you just have to pay the air taxes. We purposely scheduled a lot of air travel before our son turned two, we even took a transatlantic flight from Orlando to Dublin the day before his second birthday. Having him sit on our lap for 9+ hours wasn’t comfortable but the saving of $500USD compared to paying for a seat certainly sweetened the deal.
Travel By Train
This is a huge money saver if you are travelling with a child over 2. Why? Airlines in Europe (particularly the low-cost carriers) charge a full fare for a child once they turn two. But trains allow children under 4 (up to 6 in some countries – check here for a full list) to travel for free (on the parents lap). Plus you usually arrive in the city centre meaning no hefty taxi fare from the station to your accommodation, the check in times are very generous and the scenery is enchanting.
Travel Slow (and in Low Season)
This is where having time on your side can save you money. Check any of the big vacation rental websites and you will see that rents by the month are often less than double the cost of two weeks. Stay for multiple months and your savings increase. An example is our apartment here in Spain – we are paying 592 euros per month for a two bedroom apartment 100 metres from the beach. The weekly rate in Summer is 400 euros.
As a landlord I know vacancy is a disaster. Vacation apartments are no different. Often they sit vacant throughout the low season. Negotiate – as with everything else in life, create a win-win situation for you and the owner and you will save big.
Travel slow and you’ll be able to integrate into local life, study the language and relax. I now dread the thought of a 3-5 day trip, with all the effort and cost involved to arrive at the destination, getting used to sleeping in a new bed and hastily visiting all the sights you can before boarding your flight home utterly exhausted. No thanks.
Medical Care and Vaccinations
We vaccinate. It’s important to me to keep up my son’s vaccination schedule so we planned to be in English-speaking countries when his shots were due. Other than the extra cost, we have had no issue with vaccination stickers from New Zealand, Australia and Ireland dotting his record book.
We’ve had to avail of medical care in Samoa, Mexico, Ireland, Spain and on a cruise ship on the Mediterranean and every single time we have been impressed by the quality of care involved. For a generally healthy family, medical care should not be a barrier to travel. We always take out travel insurance with World Nomads, it’s cost effective, covers the whole family and we can extend the policy online if we decide to travel for a bit longer.
Play to Your Exchange Rate Strength
This is where flexibility can save you big money. When we travelled to the US and Mexico in early 2012 the Australian dollar was above parity buying around $1.04 US Dollars. Now it’s hovering around $0.77. Doing the math on our $35,000 travel fund meant that travelling to that region then gave us around $36,400 USD compared to $26,950 now. That’s a huge chunk of travelling change. Now we are in Europe and a part of the reason is the strength of the New Zealand dollar against the Euro. Our money goes a lot further here than it did before the global financial crisis. The New Zealand dollar is buying around .67 euro cents, it was around .40 cents when I backpacked around Europe in 2006.
How We Pay For Travel
Combine Travel and Work
I do a little freelance work which helps fund travel. It means I have to sit down at my computer in the evenings and work, but I’m travelling with a child. I don’t go out at night anyway, so the trade-off is worth it.
We own some property. For many years we barely broke even however now interest rates are historically low, whilst rents are sky-high. This means there is a surplus each month which helps to fund our travel. It’s about enough to pay our rent. It means we only spend earned income and savings on essentials and travel.
Many people who want to travel think they have to sell everything – including their house. I think that is short-sighted. If there is demand for housing in your area you may be able to rent your house out and help fund your travel. Plus you will always have a place to return when you get back.
We have completed two tax returns whilst overseas. That means we have received nearly $10,000 in tax refunds since we departed.
Why so much?
We tend to work partial financial years, and although it’s a smart strategy we have happened upon this purely by fluke due to the times we return from travel. This means our PAYG/PAYE tax is calculated on a full year of income however our actual tax owing is often around half of the amount deducted. This is an excellent strategy for people who can work well-paid short-term contracts.
We also have tax losses from our early years as property owners to offset against earned income, further reducing the balance we owe the tax man.
So there it is – a combination of savings, work and rental income sustain our travels. We keep costs low by following exchange rate movements, travelling slow and avoiding flights where possible.