Why Spend Big Money on Travel with Kids?

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Traveling with kids is not cheap, but it’s got loads of benefits that far outweigh the cost. Consider these reasons to spend big money on travel.

Why Spend Big Money on Travel with Kids? Tips from Life as Mom

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I met my husband shortly before I moved to France for a year. Much of our early relationship was developed long-distance through letters and very expensive phone calls — no email or text back in those days. Our love story was rooted in an international context. My letters, when not gushing sweet nothings, were peppered with my cross-cultural discoveries. He experienced the culture along with me, albeit second-hand.

That changed when Bryan came to visit me at Christmas; we explored the South of France together for six weeks. Less than a year after my return to the US, we were honeymooning in that same southern French province. We loved France and were sure we would return regularly.

We were in love — with each other and with foreign travel.

A couple years later we traveled to Honduras on a volunteer trip. While not all fun and games, our time in Honduras changed us in many great ways. We were richer for the experience.

We expected to trot the globe every few years, but that didn’t happen. Babies, debt, miscarriage… life happened instead. But, fifteen years later we dared to Dream a Big Dream.

Why Spend Big Money on Travel with Kids? Tips from Life as Mom

To mark our 20th wedding anniversary, we took our six children to France, retracing the steps we’d taken so many years ago.

Why We Spend Big Money on Travel Kids

Travel is not cheap. Oh sure, there are ways to game the system with credit cards and rewards. I have my own opinions about that. Regardless, money is necessary if you want to travel. And sometimes, it feels like BIG MONEY.

Many people told me we were crazy when we took our trip to France in 2014. One friend scolded me, “That money should go into your retirement fund.” Another suggested that the 30K we budgeted would be better spent replacing our early 21st century cars. Both good and rational and “normal” ideas, but we don’t always do “normal”… six kids, homeschool, debt-free, ahem.

You be you. We’ll be us. Part of being us means we take a risk getting out of our comfort zones and learning about other cultures and places. We know from experience that our kids are growing faster than we would like! Money for retirement is great, but we’d rather have a treasure trove of memories with our kids instead. The two (retirement funding and family travel memories) aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but when you lack unlimited funds, you have to choose or prioritize. We choose travel with kids.

(That said, we do put aside money for retirement, perhaps not as much as we could, because we divert that “extra” to our travel fund.)

The FishKids are currently 20, 16, 15, 13, 10, and 8. Chances are good that our Great Britain adventure was the last big trip we’ll take ALL together. Those two decades went by fast, my friends.

And that’s why I say that travel WITH your kids should be a priority. Carpe diem. As much as the budget allows.

Why Spend Big Money on Travel with Kids? Tips from Life as Mom

Why Spend Big Money on Travel with Kids

That’s the gist of our story, but let’s break it down into nitty-gritty details.

1. It’s not really big money.

When people hear that we spent $20K to take our family to Great Britain, their sticker shock is more than evident. Despite the fact that we were $10,000 under budget.

Often these are the same people who don’t blink an eye at spending $20,000 to $35,000 on a new vehicle. I’ll keep driving my 2002 Ford and see the world, thanks!

Honestly, when you do the math, our trip cost $2500 PER PERSON FOR A MONTH, including airfare, accommodations, food, and transportation in country. You’d pay the same for a one-week tour with the Rick Steves company.  Plus, some of our normal living expenses (the money that we normally spend on groceries, utilities, and gas) go toward offsetting our overall spending.

There are ways to spend less, but when you pencil it out per person, it’s really not crazy big money.

Note: if you are in debt or have not put your financial house in order, this will feel like impossibly big money. If you had told me ten years ago that we’d do this kind of trip — and do it twice — I would have said you were nuts. Once you pay off your debts and get right-side up, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how far your dollar will go. It can do great things when it’s not going toward a credit card bill.

Why Spend Big Money on Travel with Kids? Tips from Life as Mom

2. What else can you buy that makes you richer?

The very experience of foreign travel makes you richer. You are a different person as a result of leaving your country, even for a time. Travel isn’t just entertainment. You gain wisdom, knowledge, street smarts, and a greater appreciation for the larger world.

Traveling as a family gives you these benefits individually, but also builds your collective experiences and memories. Better spend the money seeing the world with our kids when it can shape us all in positive ways than spending it 30 years from now on the golf course where it doesn’t have quite the impact.

3. It is educational.

Travel is educational for everyone, not just my homeschool kids. Last year’s study of the Middles Ages became more real as we walked the walls of York or visited the ruins of Kenilworth Castle. Prior to our trip to France, we studied World War 2. Our visits to Omaha Beach and the Airborne Museum enriched that book knowledge in amazing ways. Spending the day with Monsieur Renaud was an education that couldn’t never have been packaged in a book!

Families spend “big money” on school and sports activities every year. Travel is an equally legitimate educational expense. You not only solidify book learning with tactile experiences, but you capture knowledge that books just can’t do justice to.

Certainly, when you don’t have the money. You don’t have the money. I am a big believer in paying cash for whatever you buy. Meaning, unless you have the cash on hand, you go without it.

That said, I think travel should be a priority, at least as much as new clothes, new cars, and dinners out. It’s not the top level priority. That would be food, shelter, and a shirt on your back. Going beyond that, I am confident that travel is a worthy pursuit — and expense — for families.

How ’bout you?

Do YOU spend big money on travel with kids?

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  1. Travel is a priority with me. I did not grow up taking vacations. As an adult I started traveling and fell in love. I have passed that love on to my daughter. I was a single mom for many years and after getting debt free I made taking trips a priority and making sure they were paid with cash. There have been many “mini vacations” (weekend trips) to places within 3-4 hour drive of where we live, 2 Disney World trips, and a trip to London/Paris (this one with my husband too, i had the funds saved before we got married). Now I want to go to South Africa but it could be a while as I now have a newborn and my husband is not sold on it completely (we have friends there).

    I love reading about your travels. It is nice to see others that feel the same as I do about traveling. It really is enriching and as well as making memories it bonds you together with shared experiences, whether they are good or not so good.

    1. Yay for making travel a priority! Be open to new destinations, too. Your husband may have other places in mind. Or he will if he knows you’re flexible. Enjoy the new little one while you hunker down at home!

      1. Oh I am open to other places. I have a top 25 list of places I would like to travel to. Some of them are places he wants to go to as well. Some are pipe dreams that will probably not happen. 🙂 I have no doubt there will be places we go not on the list.

  2. Would love for you to share an itinerary to show how you managed a month in GB at only $2500 per person! This sounds wonderful! I too, love to travel with my kids…have only begun in the past few years (after divorce and deciding “why not!?”). It has mostly been on cruises (fairly cheap travel and seeing multiple destinations). But it is hard to beat the looks on their faces as we take a taxi ride through a new place and they see just how differently than us other people sometimes live. My son also spent a week in Abu Dhabi this summer, with a dear family friend, and came back with more knowledge and experience than I ever would have imagined!

  3. It is so wonderful that you and your husband actually PLAN how to spend your money and allocate resources in a way that aligns with your values. It makes my accountant heart all warm and fuzzy. 🙂 Do you realize how few people do this???

    Domestic and international travel is very important to me. It didn’t use to be until a few years ago. I used to think it was a waste of time and money and why bother when I enjoyed being home so much. Then life and my priorities changed. There are a few places I’ve seen and many more I plan to. It is so much fun to learn about each location, the people, their history, the food, cultures. Travel is such a gift of growth.

    1. Ahhh, thanks for your encouragement. We learned that lesson the hard way. Wish we had learned it sooner, but better late than never! Thank you.

  4. Yes!!!! We also homeschooled our three children and have taken them to southern France, Israel, and multiple times to Italy as well as taking each child to Honduras on a mission trip. It has broadened their horizons and their compassion for others. We did it by living below our means in a smallish house (by today’s standards) and driving cars until they collapse from old age and exhaustion. We find its worth the sacrifice! Thanks for sharing this great perspective!

      1. Most definitely! And I have found that the earlier you start the better! Little kids are so adaptable, and the sooner you train them the easier it is down the road. It becomes the “normal” for your family!

        1. Yep, my girls are the most travelled (for their age) and the ones who love travel the most. But, better late than never with the boys.

  5. So agree that the years go quickly and travel adds awesome family time and learning. I have seven children ages 33 to 11. Three of are children are adopted from China, and on each of our trips to China we have taken some of our biological children. Some even got to go more than once! It was a great cultural experience for all. We have also traveled throughout the US and some have also done mission trips. Just this month we rented a house by the ocean and all children,spouses and grandchildren were together. All traveled to the destination from there different locations (some live in other states now). The 16 of us and a service dog had a fantastic time. Memories were truly made and well worth the cost. Priceless!

  6. We would have loved to take our kids on foreign travel but never in the budget. We have however taken them tons of places domestically!!! I totally agree about traveling with children, much rather spend money on them that way than a ton of stuff!!!!!! Ours are 21, 19, & 16. We also drive “old” cars.

      1. We live on the east coast so…….. We absolutely love the Great Smokey Mountains, we go there every couple years & we also spend a week/weekend at Emerald Isle NC which is along the coast. We have been to other beaches but like that one the best. We do alot of camping in VA our home state. One of the best places you can take your children would be Washington DC & you can do it really cheap if you only see the momuments & the museums they are all free.

        1. I’ve been following Smoky Mountain National Park on instagram. Beautiful! Thanks for the recs. I hope we can see DC, Boston, and Philly at some point, the whole freedom trail, you know.

  7. I agree with you on family travel. We make it a priority every year to take at least one week long family vacation. Its a US based trip and it is important to bond as a family and make memories. The memories that are most relevant to me as an adult were the trips my family took when I was a child, I want my children to have these same memories. With that being said, I think retirement savings are equally important, we make sure we are fully contributing to our 401Ks and have adequate life insurance. Our goal is to retire in our 50’s with a completely paid off mortgage so we can fully enjoy our older years.

    1. That’s great that you are able to do both. We fund our retirement accounts each year. My point was not to disregard it completely, but to be okay with spending money that others might say needed to be saved. Either way, having the money/memories over debt in either instance is a win for me.

  8. My husband & I definitely think this is a priority for us, but #4 is on the way and we’re not entirely sure that we want to spend big money until they’re all old enough to have positive memories. I have been hunting for a work trip to Paris to take #1 on (she’s 8). That being said, we do actually have to size up and buy a car – we were planning to run our 2009 into the ground, but life had other plans (see #4, on the way). We just don’t know that it’s worth it to do this kind of travel with a toddler/preschooler and an infant.

      1. Even upper middle class families don’t often make the choice to do so much travel with smaller children especially at the number of destinations described in the post. Is she a travel blogger going on comped trips? Cost benefit I would say if you’re going on someone else’s dime sure (which is why I say have conference will travel) but the whole thing with small kids adoesn’t strike me as realistic except for the extraordinarily wealthy.

        1. Are you referring to Amy’s trips? No, hers weren’t compensated. I think for her and her husband it was a priority. If I could go back in time, I would make sure we were debt-free from the beginning and make every effort to travel abroad with my kids when they were little. We could have done it if we’d made better choices.

        2. But cost-benefit is personal. We are my no means “extraordinarily wealthy” but we do prioritize travel, even with 3 3 young kids. Sure 18 hours on a plane to Hong Kong with a cranky baby stinks, but 18 hours anywhere with a cranky baby stinks and at least this way, when it’s over your in Hong Kong! I love traveling with littles (mine are 9,4,and 6 months) and even the baby will have multiple stamps on his passport before the year is up. They learn languages fast when they’re little, everything is magical, and I love that my kids are growing up feeling like the entire world is accessible to them. It’s also easy to travel with them when you start young. But we intentionally live in a very low cost of living area, and live on half our income to make it happen. Do I look forward to the days when I don’t have to drag strollers, car seats, and the kids can carry their own bags? Sure! And I hope we are still traveling as much then. But anything could happen between now and then and right now, we have the heath, means, and ability to see the world, so for is, the benefits of new adventures certainly outweigh the cost, even with 3 little ones.

  9. I desperately want to take an international trip with my family, but my husband doesn’t see the value of it that I do. We have 5 kids, so like you, it would be a big chunk of money. He refuses to prioritize travel like I want to…..major bummer. We have done some travel in the U.S., so at least there’s that. Looking forward to reading the rest of your series!

    1. International travel isn’t for everyone. There are places that we don’t agree on as destination locations. I would look for whatever common ground you have in terms of travel (domestic or otherwise) and make the most of it.

  10. Things you do are more memorable and meaningful than things you buy. Kids grow up so fast. I think it was wonderful you all went on vacation together! The kids will remember this all their lives.
    God bless, Kathy in Illinois

  11. I’m so glad you’re doing this series now. Hubby and I recently had a wonderful conversation with a much older couple we’re good friends with about international travel. They strongly encouraged us to start saving to be able to take an international trip while we’re still relatively young (we both have 35th birthdays this year). It’s something we’ve talked about before, but only in very abstract terms.

    Now we’ve decided to make it a reality. We’ve decided on a five year plan, to go by the time we’re 40. We’re child free (by choice, permanently), so our trip/budget will certainly look a little different than yours did. But we have decided on the UK as the place we most want to go. We’re both fascinated by various aspects of the history, it seems very safe, and honestly, not facing a language barrier on our very first international trip is very appealing.

    We both grew up in households where money was never managed. Debt, panic, and consequences of bad money management were a way of life. Major travel wasn’t even a dream for either one of us until fairly recently.

    Neither of us have done much traveling at all. We live in the south, and have never really traveled outside of the south. Hubby’s first commercial flight was last year when we flew to Florida when my grandfather died. We went to Atlanta five years ago, got horribly lost trying to use public transit, and ended up asking some very nice police officers for directions when it became obvious we weren’t in a great area. I’m fairly sure they both went home with “you won’t believe the redneck yokels I talked to today” stories.

    All of that being said, we realize we have a lot to learn about traveling, so I’m very excited about your series. I’m hoping you’ll share some of how you chose the best flight options. etc.

  12. I have two thoughts about this– both positive. If you can manage it, there is nothing like seeing for yourself how different people live and how different places and countries do things.( If you can’t afford Europe, car trips in or across the U.S. are also really enlightening. ) Second, I also believe in the benefit of family vacation, building memories. Your European trip was a twofer from that point of view.
    I guess I would ( and have) sacrificed new cars. As a retiree, I think it is important not to minimize the importance of retirement savings. On the other hand, when your kids are grown, your budgetary needs will be so much less, it will feel like a huge raise.

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words. And I agree. We do put money away for retirement. My comment was merely that question of what to do with “disposable” money. Some would (and do) say we are foolish not to just sock the money away.