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Affording Airfare Is What Makes Family Travel Difficult

We can travel the world perpetually, but can’t afford to visit home.

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I entered into a new travel strategy this past year. My family moves to where my wife finds work, the kid goes to school to learn language, culture, and for making friends, and I travel around on the hunt for material to write about. In theory, this strategy works well. The wrench in the plan is that we still can’t make enough money to visit our families each year if we are based outside of North America. So we work, scrimp, and save all year to afford a vacation to the USA.

I like to visit my family every year to year and a half. Ideally, I will do so when switching hemispheres. If I am in Asia and want to go to Central America, I will stop into Rochester, NY and see my family en route; if I am in South America and want to go to the Middle East, I will likewise run through NY. For a decade this plan worked out just fine. A year to 18 months in any continent on end is about all that I am willing to take before the urge for a big move hits.

But when this traveling operation became a “we” instead of a “me,” things got complicated. Now, this isn’t a simple run to Rochester, it’s a dirge through Maine, where my wife is from, and Rochester. With my wife and kid, this additional detour is six more plane tickets. That’s a kicker.

The weight just came down on me today when I passed my debit card over to my wife and she bought plane tickets for herself and the kid. 2,000 dollars. One way. She will stop in to see her brother in Seattle then go to her family’s home in Maine.

Early summer is probably the most expensive time to fly, and there just wasn’t enough money in the pot for me to join them while it is still up in the air as to where we will set up our next base of operations. We cannot afford to go to the USA just to turn around and come back to Asia a couple of months later. To do so, and visit both families, would cost nearly $6,000 in flights alone.

That’s a good chunk of what I make in an entire year.

In point, whatever my wife and I were able to save by both working this year is being taken out by the visit home. Which begs me to ask: If you can’t afford to visit your family are you really living well?

But then I have to follow this question up with: Who do I know who could afford paying $6,000 per year in airfare?


My brother in law makes $70,000 per year, but there is no way that he could drop six grand yearly on flights.

Our predicament is financially preposterous.

The kid is making good headway on learning to speak Chinese now, so leaving Asia for the more flight friendly climes of Latin America right now is not an option — as far as I’m concerned.

Flights. That’s the biggest challenge to family travel. Everything else is manageable. Apartments are cheap and food sells for the price of dirt everywhere. Ground transport is often affordable. If it isn’t, then I just ride my bike. But it is the cost to fly home from Asia and see our families which makes family travel expensive. It may not sound like much to have to buy one additional plane ticket, but it adds up in a huge way.

A huge way = $2000.

This obstacle means that I need other ways to make bigger money here in China. Financial pressure forces creativity everywhere in the world, just look at all the things people sell in the streets, regardless of culture. I’ve been happily able to subvert this pressure for too long. Now it’s time to make things a little more interesting.



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Filed under: Air Travel, Travel Economics, Travel With Family

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3719 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

6 comments… add one

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  • rich June 18, 2013, 11:23 am

    I can relate to this article as I live in Chile with my partner and the cost of returning to Australia to visit family is prohibitive. The cost of living in Chile is relatively low but saving $4,000 for airfares is difficult on a combined income of $15,000 or so a year.

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  • Wade | VagabondJourney.com June 18, 2013, 8:09 pm

    For sure. We can budget for one long distance air jaunt per year but not two. I generally try to visit home when switching between eastern and western hemispheres. Doing this means that NY and Maine are pretty much on the path. Or we’ve been based in Latin America where the cost of flying to the US and back can often be acceptable. But going to the US and then returning to China would completely massacre our funds – as it probably would for just about anyone. Another thing is that flight costs seem to have rose drastically this summer. It was really incredible looking over the costs of those flights. It’s like I’m getting to know how it feels to be from Australia in terms of flying 🙂

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  • Nora June 23, 2013, 6:35 pm

    Wade is it possible for them to periodically visit you in the country that you are living in? If you are in a country that family members have expressed an interest in visiting they will already have an experienced and knowledgeable tour guide and a place to stay. Just a thought.

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    • VagabondJourney June 23, 2013, 8:21 pm

      My wife’s family will visit once a year. Mine doesn’t have the money. They don’t really like traveling too much either.

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  • Russ June 27, 2013, 8:22 pm

    Even domestic travel here in the US is a lot more than it used to be. I live in CA and my family lives in New England, for the past 10 years I never paid more than $300 to fly back and forth, I’d occasionally find fares for around $200. Maybe if I didn’t book holiday travel in time it would jump to $500 or 600, but seems the past couple years there is a big jump in pricing. I’m shopping fares to head back east for a wedding in August and I’m finding 500 and 600 as the lowest! I know it’s seasonal, but that’s a lot for a weekend trip, considering prices were holding steady for about 10 years, now they’re catching up I guess. Could be all the domestic airline consolidation too.

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    • VagabondJourney June 27, 2013, 8:50 pm

      Now that I’ve really been looking at flight prices this summer, $1,000 each for them to go to Seattle then Maine really doesn’t seem to bad. Yes, there is something funny going on with the airlines, and I think you’ve nailed it: many are consolidating together and the competition is decreasing. I the early days of the internet consumers had a huge advantage because we could easily find the cheapest flights, and we sent the airlines on a race to the bottom. Now the airlines seem to be taking revenge, and are joining together with mergers and alliances. It seems as if we’re entering a different age of air travel.

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