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How To Afford Full-Time Travel As a Family

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You may have encountered certain buzzwords around family travel such as nomad travel, full-time travel, and travel forever. 

It sounds like a fantasy, right?  Nope!  Our family set out to travel the world over two years ago and we haven’t been back since!

Often the first question we are asked is, “How can you afford to do this with five kids?!”

I’ll give you the elevator pitch and the nitty-gritty answer of how we afford our full-time travel life. I’ll also encourage you and give you tools to estimate how you can afford this life too!

Leslie jumps from the Sky tower in New Zealand during their months there
Sky Tower in Auckland

We’ve Been Doing It Over Two Years

We travel the world together as a family of seven.  None of us embarked on a world adventure thinking, “I just want to travel the world.”  We left searching for a new kind of life.  Do we plan to travel forever? Well… maybe!  

I’ll let you in on a little secret: traveling full-time is highly addictive.  Not because it is always easy!  Travel life demands a lot of you and will drain you down.  However, it enables freedoms that you probably only daydream about.

The boys at the aquarium in a glass tunnel
Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium New Zealand

How We Afford to Non-Stop Travel

 Every full-time traveler figures out their own way to make this lifestyle work financially.  Most have not won the lottery, do not live off trust funds, are not living off the sale of a business nor have loads and loads of money.

Our family home in Utah before we sold it and left for full time travel
Our old Utah home we sold before we left to travel full time.

We Are Business Owners  

For us, the answer is pretty simple.  We own our own consulting business.  Chris, my husband, has been consulting in online advertising for over 10 years.  I do the accounting and other management work in this business, as well as other businesses we own. We are blessed to have remote staff around the USA, many of which love to travel as well!

Having worked remotely for many years, the part of affording full-time travel was already solved for us.  Sure, taking a business through many time zones and countries does come with its own challenges, but we generally work US hours wherever we are in the world and have made it work.

Our staff on vacation with us, we go on a company trip once a year since we work remotely
Stroudinc Staff Paris November 2019

Running Our Business Internationally

Our work schedule can vary from very early in the morning (like in New Zealand) to through the night (like in Tokyo when Chris would watch the sun come up before he went to bed).

Chris and I preparing to hike Mt. Fuji
We hiked Mt. Fuji!

We were not sure if our business would continue to successfully run when we left.  We told ourselves, worst-case scenario, we come back home broke, with our tails between our legs, and enjoy the memories we’ve made!

Thankfully, our business not only has survived, it has grown larger than even we could have predicted.  We attribute these blessings to a loving Heavenly Father, lots of prayers and making our decisions based on faith.

How Much Does It Cost Our Big Family To Long-Term Travel?

When we set out to travel the world, we did not already know how to travel cheaply.  In fact, we still don’t really know how to travel cheaply!  We love luxury family travel, which differs from many full-time travel families.

Before I answer how much it costs us, it’s important to take into consideration that travel style makes a HUGE difference in cost.

While we travel in more of a luxury travel way, many full-time travel families don’t. In fact, I’d argue MOST don’t. I don’t want to scare you off that you need loads and loads of money to answer the questions of “how to afford to travel”.

Chris and I in front of a hot air balloon that we rode in

What Style of Traveller Are You?

We know several families that do their family travels on a tight budget and make it work.  Click here to learn more about one of our favorite travel families, The Wallace Reboot, that has traveled for years around $1200 per month.

In fact, visits our Modern Nomad Section to learn about over a dozen travel families and how they afford to travel.

How you like to travel OBVIOUSLY affects how much you spend!  This makes it nearly impossible to estimate a broad number that can apply to everyone for how much money you need.

Do you like to sleep in hostels, 4-star hotels, or something in between?

In your Airbnb, do you want it close to public transportation?  How many bedrooms do you need?  Do you care if it has laundry and Wifi?

You Can Make It Work

It is a testament to the lifestyle to find out that most travel families (and singles and couples) learn tricks, travel on a budget, and work hard to make it work for them.  Learning how to travel all the time takes work.

What Do We Spend on Full-Time Travel?

I get asked often how much we actually spend on our travels, to which I usually answer that

1. This is a personal question.

2. This is completely variable depending on so many factors!  

We need to run our businesses online as we travel, we like our space and our amenities and we enjoy many activities!  All of these factors drive up our costs.  Add in five kids and our costs are likely much higher than yours would be with a smaller family.

Below is a table for how much we spend, on average, for different locations we’ve visited.  I did costs over a month since that is our style: a location per month.

Travel budget worksheet- how we afford full-time family travel
Note: We did not stay a full month in some of these locations, especially the more expensive ones, so I’ve projected out costs for that long.  Also, note that even these projects are highly variable depending on where you stay.  We stayed in Paris proper, for example, but staying just outside of Paris and catching the train in can greatly reduce costs. 

Factors That Determine What We Spend

A few things to keep in mind (and why your budget will likely be much less):

  • Bigger home. We want to stay in single-family homes, whenever possible, with at least 3 bedrooms.
  • Working remotely. We run our businesses while we travel, literally. Chris talks with CEOs around the world and manages millions of dollars in eCommerce advertising.  We often splurge to get him a room for an office (if that option exists in that location).  I also work three days a week.  I have fewer phone calls, so I can usually do much of my work around the kids while they do homeschool and slip into a bedroom for my sensitive phone calls.
  • Internet is key. We always splurge for the best WIFI possible.  Fiber is our favorite! We spend a lot more time at home than you might expect.  It’s not “just a place to sleep” for us.  It is a classroom, office, restaurant, and more!
  • Big cars. We need a very large vehicle (seats 7!) or two taxis at a time
  • Gluten-free groceries. We eat gluten-free as a family.  Gluten-free food is notoriously expensive worldwide.  We often splurge on imported GF bread if we can find it.  
  • No pantry. Groceries tend to be higher because, in every house, you are starting from scratch.  That means buying oil, seasoning, foil, sugar, etc. The kinds of things in your pantry at home.  This is another reason we like staying a bit longer to use these items longer. However, if you eat out every meal, you don’t have this problem.
  • Restaurants. Eating out as a large family means we often have a mandatory tip!  Thankfully, many countries don’t tip, but it’s just expensive for us to eat out.  For this reason, I didn’t estimate our eating-out costs but tried to give a rating for comparison.

Similar Costs for a Smaller Family

Honestly, unless you are also a big family who lives on a more luxurious level, you will not need to spend as much as us.  Costs get exponential as families get bigger.  For example, a standard rental car might be 15-20 a day, whereas a vehicle for us can be 40-60, just because of the number of people.

To help get your juices flowing, I’ve put together a similar table for a family of four in these locations.

Travel budget worksheet- how we afford full-time family travel

As you can see, variable travel costs can vary greatly.  These are just a sampling of the 30 or so countries we’ve been to and gives you an idea of how wide the ranges can be!

How Much Money Do You Need to Travel the World?

“This is great Leslie, but how much DO I NEED?”, you are saying.  I get it!

The answer to this depends on so much, but I want to do my best to empower you to figure this out.   You too can find affordable travel for your family!

First, let’s consider a few things….

Making an Income While Traveling

Will you be actively earning money while you travel?  Can you take your job (and income) remote?  Will you try to find new, remote work while traveling?

Pros

Earning while traveling full-time extends the time you can do this.  You don’t have as much of a deadline looming over you if you are still brining in money.  Hiccups and unexpected expenses won’t shake you as much.

Cons

You will be working around the world!  You’ll miss opportunities to sightsee on those days you work. 

Even with a month in each country, we still feel like there is so much more to see when we leave. Our choice of one place per month is largely based on the fact that we work as much as we do.  We need enough time to work and go sightseeing.

Traveling Without Working

Perhaps you’ve managed to save a chunk of money from selling a house, contributing to a fund for a few years, selling your car and other possessions.  Many families that travel full-time operate this way.  

Pros

The good news is you can see so much more in a faster way.  You’ll be solely focused on your travels and can move at a faster pace.  More locations are possible in a shorter time.

Cons

You may have more flight costs as you travel more. Unexpected costs, such as a missed or cancelled flight, unexpected change to your itinerary, or a medical emergency can drain that budget quickly. Stress over the budget might send you home early.

Working and Living Off Savings

Perhaps the best scenario would be to do a bit of both.  Can you find remote work to supplement the savings you’ll be using?  You could teach English online, get remote contractor work through a site like Upwork, or become a virtual admin.  

This option extends your timeline while you figure out your style and desired way of life.

Work Save Travel Repeat

I’ve noticed many families start their travels and do their “gap year” only to find they don’t want to stop when that year or 18 months is over.  They scramble to figure out how to avoid going back “home” to an old life.

Anticipate these feelings even if you have a hard deadline of return.

Can I Make A Living Off My Travel Life?

Many a traveller or travel family has tried to build businesses out of their travel life.  

Some have been successful in this, but I would warn you away from this.  The space is ultra-competitive and there are a lot more families full-time traveling than you think!  I’d say there are over 100 that I have somehow connected to or seen on Instagram.

As unique as you feel your story is, it’s not the first!

Travel Blogging

How much do travel bloggers make? I’ve delved deep into this world as I build out my own travel blog. Let me first say it is a lot more work than you’d expect!

Most travel bloggers make money on advertisements. To get this to work, you need substantial traffic, SEO strategies and more. It’s a whole new business and one that is difficult to master.

After two years of this blog, I’ve made little to no money at all. I do it for the pleasure of it and hope that someday it might pay back the countless hours it takes me to write!

In the last few years, blogs have popped up all over the place. Digital real estate and marketing continues to become more difficult to break into.

Social Media Influencing

Can you make a living off your social media profiles? Perhaps. However, competition is fierce in this space as well.

We occasionally get free experiences for our family as we travel, which I love. I’ve had much less success with free hotel stays or discounts on “hard costs”.

You’d also be surprised at the work that goes into arranging collaborations, getting the photography, posting correctly, etc. Many families I know (myself included) can spend upwards of 3-4 hours per day to get that perfectly curated feed.

Definitely document your travels as you want. We do most of our documentation for our memories. However, I also really enjoy the space and the time commitment is OK with me. I can also lean on our business staff to help.

Sponsored Post Instagram

Planning How To Afford To Travel

Once you’ve decided how you’ll make money or what you’ll be doing to fund your travels, it’s time to budget!

You’ve seen our rough costs already. Hopefully it wasn’t too overwhelming!

The most important thing to remember in this budget is all the costs you will not have any longer when you start full-time travel. These can include:

  • Your mortgage (if you sell your house)
  • Utilities (these are included in your Airbnb or hotel)
  • Home and car insurance (we’ve haven’t had either of these for the last two years)
  • Sports and activities for your kids (put this towards family activities instead!)
  • Home and car repair costs
  • Commuting to work costs
  • Other travel costs (nix that annual vacation budget line!)

How Much Do You Need to Make To Travel The World

I was curious to see the average income for a middle-class family.  According to this site:

“The 2018 piece from Pew reported that, in 2016, the median income for the upper-income class was $187,872. While for the middle class, it was $78,442, and for the lower class, it was $25,624 (in 2016 dollars; figures reflect a three-person household)”

Regardless of where you fall in these categories, you can still travel the world. I’ve seen families travel on all of these kinds of budgets and they all can work.

Which Countries Are The Cheapest for Travel?

The first step in your budget is knowing where you want to go.

If I had to rank cheapest places to travel, I would rank them as follows:

  1. Southeast Asia. Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bali, etc.
  2. South and Central America.
  3. Eastern Europe. Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, etc.
Boat ride in Bangkok with our kids
Bangkok, Thailand

Map out costs based on the locations you want to visit.  There are many cheap places to travel.  South-East Asia can be incredibly affordable, even for a big family like ours!

Ocean views in Bali with our kids
Bali, Indonesia

In general, Europe costs more if you are visiting the big, touristy cities and trying to stay downtown.  However, outside of these cities, life is quite affordable.  If you have a rental car and don’t mind exploring a bit you can save a lot by staying farther away.

Chateau de Poigny. Chateau Paris Versailles.

Note: You may wonder how to afford rental cars.  If you are in Asia, you won’t need them.  We didn’t have a rental car in any of our Asia travels.  In Europe, we did a long-term lease with Renault.  I will detail this in a separate post.

Our rental car in Europe

Eastern Europe provides more opportunities for budget travel.  This area tends to be underexplored but has amazing things to see.  We loved our time in Croatia and consider it some of the most beautiful land in all the world.

Take some time to create your “dream list”.  Chances are each member of your family has their “must-have” cities or countries.  For us, these included Japan, Bali, Paris, and Thailand.

Set a Budget

Before we left, we sat down and mapped out our first six months along with the proposed budget we would stick to.  

We did this exact exercise before we left for the first six months of our travels.  While we were not spot-on in our projections, we came in surprisingly close!

I’ve created a simple worksheet to get you started with your planning!  Download and start filling it in.  I’ve filled in an example of what I would consider average costs. 

Whether you want cheap travel or dream travel or something in-between, you can get a great idea of your monthly costs with this.

Travel Budget Estimator

Download your travel budget worksheet here.

Description of Budget Categories

Fixed Costs

Thes are your costs that will not change.  If you are renting out your home, these include your mortgage and taxes.  If you have a storage unit, as we did, include these here.  We contribute tithing each month, so this is a fixed cost for us.

Variable Costs

  • Accommodation:  Where will you stay?  Airbnbs are our top choice when we travel.  We’ve been in Airbnbs in Aisa, Europe, and New Zealand.   Start browsing the size of Airbnb you want in the area you are going for.  If you are a hotel family, start researching average hotel costs in the category you want (I recommend Booking.com!).
  • Transportation:  Will you have a car?  If at all possible, avoid it unless your goal is to road trip.  We’ve enjoyed having a car and not having one in various locations.  We didn’t have one at all in Asia and I am so glad!  Taxis, private vans, etc. are plentiful in Asia in all cities.  Public transportation is wonderful in Asia as well.  Training around Europe can be easy and affordable.  Brainstorm how you’ll get around in each location and research average costs.
  • Groceries:  Eating in usually beats eating out price-wise, but not always.  In SE Asia it can be cheaper to eat out.  How much will you want to eat in?  You’ll need to start from zero food supplies in each location, so keep that in mind.  You’ll be buying oil, seasonings, condiments, etc. and have no pantry or deep freeze to pull from.
  • Eating Out:  Many families never cook in their full-time travels.  They might have a box of cereal and milk or PB&Js, but eat out for nearly every meal.  This can be done affordably.  Check out Trip Advisor for restaurants in areas and how much they cost.
  • Activities:  Perhaps the MOST variable item in your budget, activities can make or break your budget.  Do you want to skydive in New Zealand?  Heli-hike?  Go to the top of the Effiel Tower?  See the Colosseum?  These things add up fast for a family.  Best choice would be to set a budget for this category and stick to it.  For every paid activity, there is plenty to do for free.  Go to libraries, visit museums, go out in nature.
  • Future Travel Bookings: Unless you buy all your flights before you go, you do have to pay for travel while traveling!  Plan out when you’ll buy flights for the next place.  We tend to buy in “spurts”.  We will buy for the next 3-5 locations at a time.  This tends to be just because we are so busy.
  • BIT (Buy It There):  Sometimes NOT packing some items is the best idea.  Plan to buy it there!  Maybe pack 3-4 outfits each and then buy any additional clothes you need as you go.  We often bought toys due to the amount of time we spend at “home” in our Airbnb,  Rather than pack a snorkel mask around the world, just buy it there!  Plan to replace worn out clothing as you travel.
  • Phones:  Are you taking your current cell phone plan?  We did.  Budget some extra for international calling when you need it.  We rarely spent more than an extra $30-50 per month on international calling and our data is unlimited.
  • Personal Spending Money:  Will you or your kids get cash to spend themselves?  This can solve many tantrums in stores!
  • Babysitting: We love to date and don’t give that up when we travel!  We budgeting babysitting money in every location.  Want to know how we did it?  Read here!
  • Medical Expenses:  This is impossible to predict, but I like to set aside a little in the budget each money for it.  Who knows when you might need stitches or break an ankle.  It won’t be as expensive to treat as in the US, but it does cost money.
  • Media Purchasing: You life will be completely digital.  If you want books for you kids, you may be buying a lot more digital products.  We buy movies, books, and apps every month for our kids.
  • Charity/Service Projects:  You might want to hookup with local non-profits in the area or set aside some money to help someone in need.
  • Gym Costs:  Thankfully, people work out worldwide!  If you want to keep this in your life, include it as a budget item.  You may pay more as a drop-in, but your health is worth it.  You can also do online workout programs from anywhere!
  •  Beauty Maintenance:  Will you color and cut your hair?  Do your nails?  I’ve done these worldwide! While not required, if this is part of your lifestyle you wish to maintain (even just simple hair cuts), this is the spot!

Booking Travel in Advance

Now that you’ve got an idea on your costs, how far in advance should you book your travel?

We’ve lived by many standards over the last two years. We’ve booked out over a year before we set off. We’ve also booked just a week or two in advance and the same day.

Let’s discuss pros and cons to both!

Booking Far In Advance

Pros

Sometimes you can snag a great price! We wanted to go to Hawaii for two months and landed some good deals by booking over a year in advance. You also can make payments in advance and ease up the budget later.

Cons

Honestly, by the time we actually visited Hawaii and other locations, we’d forgotten what the place looked like. In the time between we booked and arrived at our Oahu house, the owner actually died!

The son took over our booking, but the house was very run down and dirty. It was not great. We had to book another Airbnb just a couple of days after arriving when a major plumbing issue arose.

Life can happen in long gaps between booking and arrival for both you and your Aribnb host/hotel.

Booking Last Minute

Pros

Depending on the season and availability, last-minute bookings can be some amazing deals! We don’t usually find a huge discount on hotels last-minute, but Airbnbs can negotiate a bit with you. Just “message the host” and tell them your situation.

For more tips on Airbnbs versus Hotels, read my post here.

Booking last-minute also allows you to choose better what you like. You don’t really know your exact travel style until you get out and traveling! Priorities change as you adapt to your new lifestyle. You will know better after some experience what is a deal breaker and what is not.

Cons

You can run the risk of not finding somewhere to stay, but this is minimal. What is more likely is you won’t find the best fit for you.

Unless you are in the middle of nowhere, you can always find a hotel to stay in. However, when we had to switch last minute to a hotel in Lisbon after Chris booked a hostel for our family, we were in three rooms on two different floors! Not ideal with a bunch of small kids. Lucy (our 12-year-old) had to be in a room alone with Grace (our 3-year-old)!

Ready to Travel The World?

My hope is I’ve empowered you to feel like you TOO can travel the world full-time! Once you’ve solved the financial piece, you’ve solved the hardest part of the puzzle!

There are still many things to figure out. Take it one step at a time!

I’d suggest some of my other posts to help you figure out next steps!

Prepare to Travel the World: Part One

See Our Master Packing List

What’s In Our Medical Bag?

See How We Worldschool Around the World and Our More Recent Update

What I Hate About Full-Time Travel

Make the choice to find the life you really want. We are so glad we did all that ime ago!

Xoxo,

Leslie

One Comment

  1. Loved this post! So helpful and informative for people. I especially like the travel budgeting freebie you offered! Great job on this!

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