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How to Make Travel with a Family on a Low Budget Possible

Ok, I’ll admit, when I left the USA with my five month old baby and my adventurous traveler husband I didn’t know if it was possible to do what we were setting out to do: continuously travel the world on a tight budget, $25 to $30 a day for the both of us AND a [...]

Ok, I’ll admit, when I left the USA with my five month old baby and my adventurous traveler husband I didn’t know if it was possible to do what we were setting out to do: continuously travel the world on a tight budget, $25 to $30 a day for the both of us AND a baby. When I said goodby to my mom I told her, “We’ll do this as long as we all are happy, maybe this will be our life, maybe we’ll be back in a month.” This was what I kept reminding myself as I boarded the plane. “We’ll come back whenever we want to.”

Before we left, when I wondered how we would be able to get by traveling with a baby I did a blog search for other families who were doing similar things. Since Wade is a full time blogger, and friends with some good bloggers out there I figured it would be a good place to get some inspiration, support, and feel like this was actually possible.

Until I found that there really weren’t any.

There are some families traveling out there. But on a budget as small as ours and with a baby as little as ours? None. We were out to break some new ground.

Wade and I were used to traveling cheap. Real cheap. Even if it meant sleeping in love motels or outside on the sly and eating rice and beans everyday. While I found many good websites about which resorts around the world were most kid friendly, this was simply not the kind of travel we were in for. We are far closer to backpacker travelers than tourists staying in resorts, and my motherly instincts told me we might have to grow up a little to live with a baby.

Shepard family

Here are some of the ways we have made it work:

We travel slow

This is the most important change we have made. Instead of staying in the cheapest hotels on a nightly rate, we decided to rent rooms by the month or stay in apartments. In El Salvador we paid a whopping $80 a month for rent. Even if you have to buy some things to make your room comfortable (pots and pans, cleaning supplies, a fan) it still usually ends up being far cheaper to rent by the month then by the day.

Traveling slow also means you are not paying for long bus trips or airplane rides that often. It gives you time to learn a city, learn where the cheap restaurants, cafes and entertainment is. Most importantly, however, it means you have a some time to settle in and make little homes for yourself. This has been crucial for mine and Petra’s sanity.

Transitions can be hard on a little one, and stressful for a parent, and I found that if you give yourself a little time in between changing locations, it goes smoother. Being in one place for a little while allows you and your baby time to make friends. I quickly found that I needed to be around other mothers. Having someone to talk to about child development, someone to play with the baby, someone who would even look at a dirty diaper and tell me if she thought the baby was sick was essential for my piece of mind as a parent. Luckily, making friends with other mothers hasn’t been difficult when traveling with a baby as cute as Petra 🙂

Typically, we would aim to stay in each location for one to three months. My husband has this strange rule that says if you stay in any one place for over three months you are no longer traveling, you are living there.

Babies change everything. Whether you are at home or traveling a baby changes your life. You are not in control anymore, they are. That long bus ride you were dreading sitting through when you were just a young woman becomes that long bus ride you are praying your baby isn’t going to cry through when you’re a mother. The only advice I can give is to remember to relax when you can, and even if it is an awful ride, it will become a good travel story on your blog later on.

We don’t live like we’re on vacation

We’re not on vacation, this is our life. Accordingly, we don’t go out to eat for every meal, we don’t go out for drinks every night, we don’t visit every tourist attraction. We pick and choose what we want to do, keeping in mind our long term goal is to continue traveling — and we can’t do that if we drop all our cash on gourmet meals, tours, and beach resorts. We try to live like the locals wherever we go as much as possible, and this means cooking our own meals, eating at working class restaurants, renting apartments or hotel rooms by the month, buying fruits and vegetables from farmer markets, walking instead of taking taxis everywhere, and finding forms of cheap or free entertainment rather than paying to go on tours.

We use hand me down clothing

My baby wears a lot of hand-me-downs, and not just from my family, either. She has been given hand-me-down clothes from a clerk at a grocery store in Mexico, from other mothers that we meet when traveling, and from friends on the road. Usually, kids outgrow their clothes before they wear them out, and people almost everywhere seem to love passing them between other mothers. I let them do this, and then when the time comes I pass these clothes on to other mothers in another part of the world.

Give yourself a break

Free time to yourself without watching a kid is essential for good parenting, whether you’re on the road or not. Make your needs for a break known to your husband or partner, and go out for a walk by yourself or a drink with a friend. It is harder to get “couple time” away from the kid while traveling, as you don’t often have family and trusted friends around, so take advantage of the kid’s naps and early bed times to spend time together. And if you do make a friend who you trust with your baby, go out on a date!

Giving yourself time to figure out what works for you and your family is essential when going out on the road for the first time — especially if your goal is to travel perpetually. Try a few things, note what works and what doesn’t, develop your own money saving and making tips, and walk your own path. Traveling perpetually with a family on a super low budget is possible if you stay aware of your family’s needs, don’t push it, sit back, relax, and always aim to develop new living strategies to match changing circumstances.

See you out there!

Here are some other good travel with a family resources:

World school adventures
1 Dad and 1 Kid
Travel Generation


Filed under: Caribbean, Central America, Money, Start Traveling, Travel With Family

About the Author:

After traveling on her own for three or four years, Chaya met up with Wade Shepard, the editor of VagabondJourney.com. They were married in 2009, and continue to travel the world together with their young daughter. From time to time Chaya blogs about family travel and life on the road. has written 102 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Chaya Shepard is currently in: Xiamen, China

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  • Amy October 10, 2011, 9:58 am

    Sounds like we are two peas in a pod! We want to travel for as long as possible and also plan to rent month by month and travel very slowly. My motivation is not to see every tourist attraction and collect stamps on a passport but to spend time with my family and help my children (and myself) learn about the world.
    Thanks so much for the mention!

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    • Chaya October 11, 2011, 1:32 pm

      Hi Amy,
      We definitely travel a lot happier when we travel slowly. Though it can be hard to stick to a strict budget when you’re around a bunch of people on vacation, saying “why didn’t you go to the islands or ruins or other tourist attraction? It was so cool”. Being a long term traveler puts you in a different class from a lot of the people around you. But it is so worth it. Our ability to be with each other and learn and grow together around the world, has been amazing so far, and I only look forward to it more as Petra grows.

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  • REina October 11, 2011, 3:29 am

    25-30$ daily for 3- including travel costs? Wow. That’s a more than tight budget…..

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    • Chaya October 11, 2011, 1:20 pm

      No kidding!

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  • William D. Hill January 18, 2012, 2:40 pm

    Interesting read. The same philosophy applies to “old” people.
    My wife and I travel and usually rent a spare room for 2 or 3 months.
    You get to know the community and as you say where are the cheep places to eat.
    Although I prefer the British expression “value for money” to cheep.
    The slower the better.
    Also I can relate to the 3 month rule. After 3 months we are ready to move on.

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    • Wade Shepard January 19, 2012, 3:30 pm

      Right on William,

      This strategy can be used by anyone looking to travel slowly and cheaply through the world. Yes, there is a change in mentality that happens when you stay in places long term. At around 3 months I find my senses of observation waning and myself becoming more internalized, and instead of interacting with the scene around me I simply become a part of that scene — normal, everyday. I like the stimulation of travel, of new places, of new people, so I try to live by the three month rule — although I don’t stick to it like a religions precept. Rather, I just move on when it feels right to move on. In a good place, this is usually around three months.

      Thanks for this comment.

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  • xmasy January 29, 2012, 3:00 am

    Awesome! Do you guys ever stay at friends? or people u know etc?

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    • Wade Shepard January 30, 2012, 10:38 am

      Sometimes. Usually we’re traveling where we don’t know anyone though.

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  • erika March 2, 2012, 7:18 am

    Hello Wade and Chaya.
    I really enjoy your site. It’s amazing the amount of work you’ve put into it.
    I thought maybe you’d be interested in taking a peak at my family’s website (www.economads.com) about our travels ten years ago with our breastfed, diaper-free, sling-sitting child. We also traveled as cheap as possible and traveling was our life back then…..

    cheers, erika

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    • Wade Shepard March 4, 2012, 9:38 am

      Thanks! Much appreciated. Checked out your site, a lot of good stuff there.

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