How to take your family overseas on a budget

In search of the cheapest international vacations for families.

Most parents long to spark and nurture their children’s curiosities about the world. You read them books about kids in far-off lands and feed them food that ignites their taste for foreign cuisine. But taking the whole family overseas can be intimidating—and expensive. Here are some tips for seeking out the cheapest international family vacations.

Off-peak, on budget

When looking for cheap international vacation ideas, we often start with spring break and summer vacation. And for good reason: school schedules don’t always allow families to travel in “low season.” But if you can find ways to travel during off-season, or even “shoulder season” (the months just outside of peak season), you can enjoy smaller crowds and put money into your savings account, padding your travel fun for future trips.

In Europe, peak season generally falls in late spring and summer.1 Depending on when your kids’ spring break falls, an April trip to Italy or France should bring cheaper airfare and hotel rooms, smaller crowds and cool weather, perfect for exploring cities or touring the countryside. If you don’t mind braving some rain, winter break might even be an option. These still won’t be the cheapest places to fly internationally, but it will be cheaper than summer.

The busiest—and most expensive—time to visit the Caribbean falls around Christmas. But if you have a late spring break, a trip to Puerto Rico or Jamaica might bring almost-peak weather with off-peak prices. For example, starting in mid-April, hotel prices in Jamaica fall are much lower—sometimes even up to 60% off.2

Think outside the eurozone

When American travelers think about going overseas, they usually default to neighboring countries like Mexico and Canada or Europe. But even in low season, those aren’t the cheapest international destinations. So be creative. Depending on the season, exchange rates and flight deals, you can find cheap international travel all around the globe.

Colombia offers endless natural beauty and culture for about a fraction of the average daily cost of Paris.3 (Pay close attention to travel advisories posted by the United States Department of State, which outlines which parts of which countries are safe to visit.) Southeast Asian destinations like Vietnam and African nations like Morocco offer similarly affordable cultural adventures. Flights can be expensive, but food, lodging and transportation prices are much cheaper than traversing major European cities.

And if you’re locked in on Europe, consider less popular cities like Prague, Czech Republic, or Lisbon, Portugal, which combine reliable European charm with more affordable prices.4

Live like a local

When traveling as a family, it usually makes more sense to rent a home or apartment. Experts agree it’s a better value,5 and a simple search backs that up. If you’re traveling with a family of 4, a 2-bedroom apartment is a much more comfortable option.

And it’s not just a better value. You’ll likely save money on food, too, since you can hit a local farmers market and stock up on snacks, drinks and other food you might overpay for in a hotel.6 You’ll spend more quality time together, cooking in the kitchen or recapping your day in the living room at night. Parents also get a place to hang after the kids go to bed. And since you’ll be staying in a residential neighborhood, you may also get a fuller sense of what it’s like to live in the city, especially if you ask your host or locals where they eat, drink and play in the ‘hood.

A few tips: Choose a neighborhood within walking distance of public transportation, so you’re not stuck renting a car or walking for miles with a kid on your shoulders. And consider whether the building you choose is kid-friendly, including whether it requires hiking lots of stairs. To save even more, try traveling with another family. Putting a few more people into a slightly larger rental home could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over a weeklong trip.

Take it slow

If you’re only overseas for a week or 2, it’s tempting to pack your schedule with every attraction you’ve ever wanted to see. Don’t. Instead, plan your days around a couple of things you’re especially excited about, and spend the rest of the days meandering, ducking into shops and peeking down streets you’d never see when hustling from sight to sight. You’ll avoid burnout, especially in the first few jet-lagged days as your kids adjust. And it will help nurture your kids’ love of international travel. You’ll eat more cheaply and more frequently by avoiding the tourist-trap restaurants that lurk near major sights. And you’ll save more by doing less—and that’s money you can put toward your next cheap family vacation out of the country.

Eat small, eat often

American culture is so locked into traditional meal times, it can be hard to break free while traveling abroad. But you can save money and experience more by snacking your way through a new country. As you plan your days, scour travel blogs and guidebooks for the best markets, groceries, bakeries and street-food vendors. Make sure to grab small bites between visiting museums and exploring ruins. You’ll save time and long waits by skipping sit-down meals, and you’ll reduce the risk of a child melting down as you wait for a table. You’ll save money by avoiding big bills at lunch and dinner, especially without paying for all those uneaten kids meals. You might eat just as much in the end, but you’ll burn off more calories by winding down alleys and through town squares in search of your next snack. And you can reinvest those calories burned off in an afternoon gelato.

Going abroad as a family can be intimidating, especially when you factor in costs. But with a little planning, a sound strategy and really comfortable walking shoes, your family can have a trip to remember.

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