This week I’m happy to bring you an interview with Shelley Seale and Keith Hajovsky, inveterate wanderers (they were in Thailand the last time I heard from them) and authors of the e-book How to Travel for Free. Although not intended specifically for traveling families, this book is chock full of information about saving money on flights and accommodations. I found lots of useful, new-to-me tips that I plan to implement the next time we take a trip.
Readers of my site may remember Shelley as the author also of The Weight of Silence. In which she details her experiences as a volunteer working with orphans in India. I admire Shelley for her caring and intrepid heart as well as her writing abilities. I asked Shelley and Keith some questions specific to traveling with children.
One way you recommend saving money traveling is by planning carefully. Do you have any easy money-saving tips for busy parents who may not be able to invest quite as much time on the planning end? That is to say, when time is a precious resource, what would be the top two or three ways you recommend trying to save money when planning a trip?
Keith: First of all, usually the most important thing to do in order to save money on planning a trip is to start as early as possible. Similarly, you should also start to make financial changes beforehand that can save you money in the long term. For instance, your home insurance doesn’t have to come at a high cost – there are ways to compare different providers like youi online in order to find a better deal. Saving a little money here and there in this way can soon add up and boost your holiday fund. It is also important to check your financial health, as this can help make the decision making process a lot easier when it comes to figuring out what you might need to cut back on in order to save for a holiday.
Although there are the occasional last-minute deals to be found, on average you will save more money with less effort by booking early. You can also sign up for the email subscriptions of whichever travel services (airlines, hotels, tour packages, etc.) you are interested in. That way you hear about the big sales as soon as they are announced, and you don’t have to spend your time constantly scouring the Internet to find them. One last thing you can do is use websites dedicated to family travel when doing your research. A few good ones are thefamilytravelfiles.com and familyvacationcritic.com. Note from Mara: And don’t forget about Best Family Travel Advice where you can ask family travel experts questions about any aspect of traveling with kids!
In your book you talk about “slow travel“as cheaper than shorter, faster trips and you point out that it may be easier to take time off from a job/profession than one might think. Do you have any suggestions about how to bring school-age children along on longer trips?
Shelley: The easiest first step is probably to work longer travel around school vacations. Most kids are out for over two months in the summer time – a perfect opportunity to take your first long-term journey as a family. I once took my daughter to India for almost three weeks in March; she was 15 and in high school, and I did it by combining her ten days of spring break with the following week’s “Project Week” that her school had, substituting a special project for regular classes. She did her project on her experiences in India, so it was both a great travel experience as well as learning experience for her. Kids are also usually out of school for 2 to 3 weeks at the winter break.
Once you’ve done something like this for a couple of weeks to a couple of months around school vacations, if you want to really do something long-term (like 3 to 12 months), you might start looking at the possibilities for taking school with you. This is really more doable than people think. I have heard of several families who homeschooled their children for a year while traveling the US or other countries. Another option, if you are planning to travel to one place for the entire time, is to enroll your children in school at your destination for a semester or a year. Many international schools for expats exist all over the world. In my opinion, I believe this would be an incredible, invaluable experience growing up for kids that would end up far outweighing the travel experience itself in the long run. I can hardly think of anything besides travel that is more educational, informative and life-changing.
Your suggestions for accommodations recommend home exchanges and vacation rental apartments as a way to save money, but many parents worry about staying in a home sight-unseen with their children. Any tips on how parents can reassure themselves that lodging other than an expensive hotel will be safe and comfortable?
Keith: When you are considering a home exchange or renting a vacation home keep in mind that often the owners of the property have children as well – you can ask them if they do and find out what provisions they’ve made for kids in the space where you’ll be staying. And you can also always ask the owner for lots of pictures and recommendations for nearby kid-friendly things to do. Finally, always ask for references from people who have stayed in their home with children in the past. If you’re interested in buying the holiday home rather than renting, you’ll also need to ask questions like this. For example, if you’ve found a property for sale in Spain, contact the owners and ask what’s in the area, etc.
A volunteering vacation can be a great way to save money and have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Do you have any tips for parents who want to take their children on a volunteering vacation? What ages are appropriate and what kinds of things can kids do?
Shelley: The trip to India that I took my daughter on was a volunteer vacation, to work in an orphanage I had been to the year before. It was incredible to share this experience with my daughter, and really life-changing for her. It opened up her eyes to the greater world in ways that nothing else could have done. I would highly recommend voluntourism for families, and you don’t have to go somewhere as far or exotic as India. Many volunteer opportunities exist closer to home, like Mexico, and plenty right here in our own country. At websites such as Global Volunteers, you can search through all sorts of opportunities from cleaning and building trails in national parks, to building schools or working with animal rescue groups. You can usually search by level of difficulty and how appropriate an opportunity is for different age groups.
I think there are volunteer trips out there that could be appropriate for just about any children from the age of 5 and up. My suggestion for doing this with young children ages 5 to 8 would be to stay closer to home, choose easy activities, and keep the trip short – I would recommend two to four days. For children ages 9 to 13 you can get a little more involved with the type of volunteer work, and plan a trip for perhaps four to six days. With teenagers, most of the time they will be able to participate in most volunteer activities that adults can do, and a week or so would be great. Volunteer work is also easy to combine with other sightseeing – volunteer for a few days or a week, then add on another few days or week to see other amazing things in the destination.
Interested in reading the entire book? You can purchase it here. Full disclosure: I’m an affiliate for Shelley and Keith, but I’d recommend it even if I weren’t. It’s truly worth the 15 bucks.