International Traveling with 3 kids, 4 and Under: How We Made it Work

Last summer, my husband and I packed up most of our belongings into a storage unit, gathered our three kids who at the time were 4 years, 2.5 years, and 6 months old, a couple other family members and left for a three month trip to Europe.

A lot of people thought we were crazy.  Maybe we were.  But we did it, and we had a ton of fun!  Since then I’ve gotten a lot of questions on how we made it work.  To be clear, we’re not uber-rich, we’re a one-income family, we didn’t get any sponsorships or help.  We decided we wanted to travel, we structured our life so that we could and then we did it.  It was a few years in the planning and it involved some sacrifices but this is how we did it:

How We Did It:

  • Changed Our Mindset:

It seems like the expectation for most people is they’ll get married; eventually have their kids; settle down with a house and mortgage and stay put.  We wanted something slightly different.  My husband and I were the ripe old age of 20 years old when we got married (high school sweethearts).. and we had our first baby 13 months later.  Nine months after that we got pregnant with our second, and 18 months after that we got pregnant with our third.  It was a LOT of babies in a short amount of time.

When we got married traveling was a pipe dream for us but as we talked about it more and more, we realized it could become a reality.  We both are thrifty by nature and we soon realized that we didn’t have to do what everyone else did.  So we didn’t.  We lived way below our means, making it our goal to save as much of our income as we could. (We use YNAB which is the BEST budget tool known to man – more on that in this post).

  • Got a Flexible Job:

I’ll be the first to admit, that our circumstances were slightly unusual.  Currently, I don’t work regularly but instead am a stay-at-home mom to our three kids.  My husband works full-time as a web developer.  Over the years, his job has gone from 50% remote to 100% remote work.  This worked perfectly for our travel plans, we just organized his work schedule around our site-seeing. This was also a conscious decision: he’s had the opportunity to work in “the office” but we both knew that the rewards of remote work far outweighed the ‘benefits’ of going “into work”.

  • We Rented:

We’ve been married over six years and have yet to buy a house.  And although there are certain moments of regret that we didn’t buy when the market was lower (our particular housing market has sky-rocketed in the last four years), it did mean that we didn’t have to worry about mortgage payments etc. while we were gone.  We moved out of our rental right before we left for Europe and thus just had to pay storage container fees while we were gone.  This greatly reduced the costs of our travel as we weren’t paying double payments.

  • We used Airbnb  instead of Hotels:

With the advent of Airbnb, travel has become way more affordable.  The difference of money we saved between renting an Airbnb flat in central London and a hotel right across the street was to the tune of $15,000.  For two weeks.  (That includes all the extra food we would have spent on eating out etc..). That’s a huge price difference, and this was just one location out of about 12 we stayed in over three months.  If you’re still on the fence about Airbnb, we’ve stayed in about 20 and have yet to had a single problem in any of them. (Also, if you’re a new time user, you can get a $40 travel credit by using this link!)

  • Extra people can be a good thing:

We ended up inviting my sister, my husband’s sister and my brother along on our trip.  If you’re doing the math, that’s 8 people total, which felt just slightly crazy at times.  They paid for their own airfare and an additional sum to help cover the costs of having to rent larger places and a larger car.  In exchange for that and the occasional help with wrangling our kids, they got to travel for three months on a much, much lower amount than they could have done on their own.  It was a win-win-win for everyone.  We got help and company, and they got to travel!

  • Flexibility. Flexibility. Flexibility.
Even at 4 and 3, they had so much fun exploring!

If you have toddlers and want to travel, just be flexible.  They’re little people, have shorter attention spans, like to do different things, and probably aren’t up for that awesome-backpack-all-over-Europe idea you have. ;-). But that’s okay and it doesn’t mean you won’t see dozens and dozens of things and have tons of fun in the process.  We entered into this trip acknowledging to ourselves we’d have to move a little slower and just simply wouldn’t be able to see everything.

  • Divided responsibility

Our kids transitioned over the trip to where they could be out the entire day without melt-downs but in the beginning our max was three hours and they were over it.  So we quickly came up with a system.  We’d go out all together in the morning and the rest of the day we’d tag-team.  One of us would stay back with them, the other would go out and vice-versa.  It meant we didn’t see a lot of stuff together, but it also meant we both saw way more than we would have if we had tried to do everything together.

What We Learned and Would We Do anything Differently

We learned that we LOVED traveling. And also that’s it not nearly as hard as we thought it would be.  We’re both homebodies in a way, and although we spent a couple years planning this trip, we didn’t know if we would actually like traveling.  Turns out, it was the most amazing experience of both of our lives and we plan to continue living and structuring our life so that we can keep on doing it!

The main thing we would do differently would be TAKE LESS STUFF.  I thought we packed light.  Two weeks in, I realized that we could have easily taken 1/2 the amount of clothes we did and it would have been just fine.  Although it worked, it was kind of a pain dragging it all around with us, so next time I can guarantee, it’s going to be a WHOLE lot less clothes.

If you have any questions about traveling with children, feel free to ask in the comments below and I’d be happy to give you more tips!

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