BUDGET TIPS FOR FAMILY TRAVEL
The Blonde Nomad shares her expert advice on how to stretch your family travel budget further
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLIE STEPHENSON
BUDGET PLANNING – BEFOREHAND AND ON THE ROAD
When travelling with children there are things to consider in addition to the normal budgeting requirements, and as each family will have a different budget there are no set guidelines. There is, however, one thing that will help your travelling experience be more positive, and that is appropriate planning. There are experienced travellers who have created spreadsheet templates for budgeting that can assist (www.travellingaustraliawithkids.com).
Your children’s health is the number one priority. Prior to departure I encourage all families to have a thorough health check: dentist, optometrist and a general health check. Explore your options if you wish to maintain private health cover and select what extras you need. Shop around to ensure you are getting the best deal and check to ensure you have appropriate ambulance cover (every state has different guidelines).
If your children are of school age, you need to consider schooling options and how these will be implemented. There are associated costs with home schooling and distance education. Do your research and then plan what is going to be best for your family. Internet coverage and costs need to be included in your budget, and your travelling plans may also need to be altered to ensure you have access to schools at certain times throughout the term.
Take into consideration that children have growth spurts, birthdays and Christmas. Not only do you need to ensure that you don’t weigh your caravan and tow vehicle down too much with goods, these occasions can become expensive. Keep in mind children don’t need ‘things’. One of the major things we have learnt after 12 months on the road is that toys become unnecessary when there are so many other things to keep them distracted. Don’t overpack or buy things you think you ‘might’ need. If you find yourself in a situation where you are constantly saying ‘we need that’ then purchase it, but you will find about 75% of the items you originally packed in your caravan you will never even touch. If family or friends want to send presents, encourage them to send vouchers for clothes or attractions. Our motto is to buy experiences, not just things.
Other than fuel, the most costly item would be accommodation. Look for a balance between caravan parks, national parks, showgrounds and free camps; you will need to include them all into your budget. Free camps might not have an overnight fee, but you will probably need gas and perhaps a generator for your style of living. Look into discount membership cards for caravan park chains – they can provide savings along the way, and make a great gift item for birthdays or Christmas.
CHEAP & EASY FAMILY MEALS
Being organised is the key to adhering to budgets, and as each family has different budget and catering requirements, take the time to sit down and plan meal costs on a weekly/fortnightly or monthly basis. Travelling and having the time to plan meals has allowed lots of variety in our meal planning. Having an oven included in the caravan has also given us the option to bake snacks, and since it runs on gas we can use the oven no matter where we are camped. Be smart about cooking. If you do a roast in the camp oven buy a larger piece of meat so you have cold meat for the next day, and cook double the meat for spaghetti Bolognese then have jaffles the next night. We have a vacuum seal which allows us to separate our meals into portions. If we buy meat in bulk we divide it all up so we can take out one lot at a time and know that it is enough for our family. If there are leftovers, you can also seal them up and freeze them for a later date.
SHISH KEBABS – EASY MEALS UNDER $20!
Getting the kids to help prepare meals is also a great way to encourage them to eat all of their dinner. Everyone can get involved in preparing their own shish kebabs and put on them the things they like: beef or chicken, pineapple, mushrooms… they can be as creative or plain as they desire. These can be pre-made in the morning if you have a busy day ahead so when you return to camp it’s a quick cook-up for dinner.
PACK A PICNIC – SIMPLE, FUN AND DELICIOUS
Whether it’s for a day trip, meals around the campsite or refreshments at a rest stop, always be prepared with snacks and lunches packed. Luckily for us we have a little person that eats pretty much anything. Sandwiches, fruit, lollies, muesli bars, muffins, tinned tuna, crackers, dried fruit, poppers, water bottles…. being prepared to meet your family’s appetite saves lots of money on the road. The car fridge is one of the best investments we made and we have always had one in our vehicle. When stopping to fuel up it can get very expensive to grab snacks on the go, so carry a bit of everything, even treats.
TREATS FOR KIDS UNDER $5 – FROG IN THE POND
This is a perfect treat for kids, especially if you have a few of them. When we are at caravan parks socialising with other families with kids, we find these treats great. We enjoy a Happy Hour with the adults while the kids socialise and have their own little happy hour. Jelly crystals are no more than $1 and will make about 10 cups; a bag of Freddo frogs (or similar) can be between $3 and $5.
Every family can live with or without certain luxuries. Our favourite items in the caravan are our 186litre 3 way fridge/freezer, large enough to store lots of food, and a gas heater. Even though the initial outlay might be high, we don’t need to carry extra winter bed linen. A car fridge is a must to ensure we have extra room for food and also to have snacks and cold drinks on the road. Originally, we had only a two berth caravan. We modified the van so we could have a bed in our café seating area. Originally we thought of purchasing a family van, but we weren’t sure if this lifestyle would truly be for us, so we made do with what we had. Now we are expecting baby number two, we will be purchasing a larger van and will have a lot more understanding of what we want or need.
“What is absolutely necessary?” This is the number one question amongst travellers. The trick here is to ensure that you have necessities only. Cater only for yourselves, with plates, cutlery and so on, and always be mindful of how much weight you are putting in your van.
When it comes to clothes for children I would suggest a raincoat and decent shoes. Other than that it’s all personal preference. Remember you can utilise Op shops along the way if you need a winter jacket for short term use; clothes in these shops are only a couple of dollars and you can donate it back once you have finished with the item.
First aid kits are a must. We include children’s Panadol and anti-histamine. It is imperative to be more prepared if travelling to remote destinations: you should discuss the option of a satellite phone and whether your budget allows for one.
SIMPLE PLAY AREAS
It is imperative to provide safe play areas for children. We had a side awning attached to our vehicle to ensure that no matter where we were we always had appropriate shade. Picnic rugs are another handy item to carry: they are lightweight, compact and can be laid out on any terrain under the awning of the vehicle or caravan. Always be prepared for bad weather as children can get very restless in the rain. Our craft box, including paints, pencils and crayons, comes in handy. If you’re staying long enough, check out the local library. This is a great place to take children for reading books and joining in activities that the library facilitates – and best of all it’s free.
FIVE LOW-COST ACTIVITIES
First stop at every location is the Visitor Information Centre. Pick up information on all the attractions, and then make plans according to your budget, together with any time constraints.
Water Parks and Playgrounds – FREE
A water park, skate park or playground is a great FREE activity for children. Water parks are popping up all over the place in the loveliest coastal regions. Even in some outback destinations Councils have provided a sanctuary for kids to run around, burn off some energy and keep cool!
Strawberry Fields – Low Cost Activity
Travelling with kids is all about education and experiences. Strawberry fields are a fun way for children to explore, providing not only a fun activity for the family but a healthy and tasty treat afterwards.
Animal Hospitals – Low Cost Activity
One fantastic place we came across was the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in NSW. For a guided tour it was a gold coin donation and we got to see first-hand koalas that needed some extra care as they had been hurt or injured. This hospital survives on volunteers and the work done is remarkable.
Caravan Parks – Accommodation and FREE (or minimal cost) Activities
Utilise caravan park activities when choosing to stay there: pools, slides, mini golf, giant chess sets, games rooms, outdoor movies. Not only are caravan parks great places for accommodation, there are lots of facilities for kids. We have found they are also a good way to meet other families and provide excellent socialisation experiences for little people.