Tips and tricks for traveling the world as a family of five on a budget

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Kids enjoying the beach time at the Mai Khao Beach in Phuket, Thailand 

Many people ask us how we are able to afford to travel as a family of five. The answer is simple – it usually requires a lot of planning and being flexible with our plans. Usually we start out planning a trip with a certain budget in mind and see how far we can go with that budget. Sometimes, we find special deals on sights like flyertalk, but usually the deals like that require lightning-fast decisions whether we want to snap those plane tickets up or not. Quite often, even if the destination wasn’t on our bucket list, we decide to go if the deal is good enough, because new places are always fun to explore. Sometimes, though, even when the plane ticket price seems relatively good, by the time you multiply it by 5 people, it becomes out of our reach.

Another way to save on the airline tickets for us is quite often choosing to fly low-cost carriers. We have done that in Europe, Asia, and in Canada, and even flew on Air Canada Rouge internationally from Vancouver to London during our most recent trip to Europe. I am planning to write up a separate review-comparison type post about the various low-cost carriers we have flown, so for now I’ll just say that our experiences have mostly been positive ones, as long as we were willing to put up with smaller seats that do not recline, no checked luggage requirement, tiny carry-ons, sometimes seats not all together, and snacks/water being sold to you on board; it was ok.

After we decide on a destination (or sometimes multiple ones), we check out a lot of guidebooks and general informational books about those countries from the library and do a lot of research online to decide what specifically we want to see at each place. Since we homeschool, very often a geography unit study happens organically in this manner, based on the destination we are researching. It allows the kids to get excited about the trip, to learn all about the country and the culture of where we’ll be going, and gives them highlights to look forward to.

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Visiting Singapore, Marina Bay Sands

Next step is figuring out where we will be staying, once we’ve decided on which countries and cities we’ll be visiting. Quite often our choices are limited by the hotels where we happen to have free nights or points accumulated (another separate post about that will be coming soon), but we are usually not picky, and are used to sleeping in small quarters while traveling. After all, we are there to enjoy the destination, and hotel room is mostly to just lay your head down at the end of the day. Sometimes, though, European and Asian hotel rooms are so small, there’s hardly even room on the floor enough to stretch out. 🙂 We try to, as much as possible, to either get a room with two beds or sometimes a bed and a fold-out couch for the kids. There were cases in the past, when the rooms were so tiny, we had to get two, but then we usually try to get connecting rooms to still be close to the kids.

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Fun day at the Taman Mini-Indonesia Indah in Jakarta, Indonesia

If we are staying at one of the chain hotels (like IHG or Marriott, where we have points and elite status from staying there often) we try to get the cheaper hotel within the chain, that has breakfast included as well, because then it takes care of one meal already each day 🙂 Sometimes with having elite status we do receive upgrades to larger rooms or sometimes club access (internationally, nicer hotels within the chain wouldn’t typically have breakfast included, but the club room usually has breakfast in the morning and sometime snacks during the day/evening).

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Exploring Tulum-by-the-Sea ruins in Tulum, Mexico

As for the other meals, we typically try to go out to eat for lunch, rather than dinner, since it’s cheaper usually, and quite often we share meals, too. Since, while traveling, we don’t usually want to take leftovers back with us to the hotel room, and restaurants provide giant portions these days, that usually works out pretty well. When we do go out to eat in the evening, it’s typically a smaller meal.

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Edward’s handstand by the Monas National Monument in Jakarta, Indonesia

As for the attractions at each destination, it is usually a mixed bag. Of course, there are some, that are iconic to each destination, and we try to visit those as much as possible, but sometimes high costs and long lines do not justify our time and cost, and we opt for some cheaper or even free options, like self-guided walking tours around the cities or visiting parks or cathedrals, that still have a lot of historical value, but are typically free/inexpensive. Kids love visiting various museums, especially science-related ones, so we try to do those as well, if a certain destination has a really high-rated one and we usually make a full day trip out of that.

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Enjoying a beautiful sunny day in Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

We know we are blessed with the kids who are excellent travelers, love to see new places and try new foods. Each of them has now been to 19 countries already (some of them more than once), and they loved every minute of it.

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Watching the ships go through the Miraflores locks of the Panama canal

Although it may seem daunting and challenging to travel the world with the children and completely out of reach financially, I would encourage you to try. It allows the lessons they get from the pages of the books to come alive, they get to see the beautiful world around them and expand their horizons. And it’s not as scary as it might look at first! 🙂

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Posted in asia, Europe, frugal living, tips and tricks, travel, travel with kids | Leave a comment

Destination: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Afternoon Tea at the Abkhazi Garden.

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For some unbeknownst reason (but my heart loves it!) all 3 of my children LOVE tea parties! The boys get giddy about the fancy dainty food, and Margarita enjoys the whole experience. We love to share the loveliness of a quiet afternoon tea ceremony with our kids, and they have enjoyed formal tea ceremonies with us in several countries now.

One of the first things we did when visiting Victoria, BC this summer, was look up places for one of our favorite traditions. Abkhazi Gardens Tearoom beckoned us with quiet loveliness of a small place, beautiful setting, and a legacy of a real prince making that place his home once upon a time.

Lovely stroll through the gardens whet our appetites for the beautiful food awaiting us a little while later…

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When entering the gardens, we picked up a self-guided tour card, which told us all about the history of the gardens and the tea house, as well as described various plants in the gardens.

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The gardens aren’t that huge and a slow stroll through them while talking photos didn’t take us more than about an hour.G16_4541G16_4556G16_4539G16_4553G16_4548

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Although for our afternoon tea we opted to sit inside since it was a little chilly that afternoon, outdoor seating at the Abkhazi Garden tearoom is plentiful.

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Reservations for the tea house are strongly recommended, even though when we visited on a quiet summer Saturday afternoon, the tea house was far from full.

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Connor was excited that there was a tea cup there with a yellow flower (his favorite color is yellow!)G16_4573

Edward especially enjoyed all the food!G16_4575

And Margarita just loved being fancy! We got two full afternoon teas as well as two sets of “elevensies” for the 5 of us and it was plenty of food. Kids loved sampling all of the teas we got!

The menu for an afternoon tea included:

Finger sandwiches and savories (cucumber and watercress with cream cheese on rich, whole wheat bread, free-range organic egg salad on rich, whole wheat bread, smoked salmon profiterole with caramelized shallot cream and dill, savory mini quiche ham and cheddar, croissant)

Baked things and sweet little morsels (freshly baked currant scone with devonshire cream and delicious homemade preserves, freshly baked cheddar scone with crisp apple slice, and a delicious selection of freshly baked desserts)

Choice of Tea

The “elevensies” (which the waited recommended to us especially for children) included fewer choices and included just two tea sandwiches, a scone, and a couple of simpler desserts (think something like cookies).

To finish off the “experience” of our afternoon high tea, we enjoyed visiting their tea gift shop located right on the premises, where they sell all things lovely and tea-related. I would highly recommend visiting there, just plan in advance and in accordance with the weather so you can enjoy the gardens as well.

Posted in Canada, enjoying the lovely, tea party, teacups, travel, travel with kids | Leave a comment

Destination: Vancouver, Canada. Our lovely afternoon at the VanDusen Botanical Gardens

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After a pretty long drive from Seattle this summer we had a few hours left before our scheduled ferry over to Victoria, BC. By a popular vote we decided to visit VanDusen Botanical Gardens. It seemed like it would be a great place for the kids to run around and let off some pent-up energy from sitting in the car for two days. And boy, did the gardens not disappoint! If you are in the Vancouver area and have a few hours, I would highly recommend visiting there to enjoy the lovely beauty all around you, no matter the season of the year. We were there in June, so blooming flowers were plentiful, and it was a feast not only for our eyes and ears, (a lot of birds there singing!) but also the aroma of all the flowers was just delightful! I invite you to settle in and see some of the loveliness captured in pictures for yourself…

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Our first stop was the whimsical visitor center, where we stopped at the information desk to inquire about the tours of the gardens. They offer individual and group tours daily during the summer months, so you want to be sure to ask so you don’t miss one before you start exploring the vastness of 22 hectares of beautiful gardens.

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Right by the seed shop they have a few plants kids are encouraged to touch and smell.

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Lovely fountain in the center of the gardens provides soothing backdrop to the loveliness while you explore.

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Various flowers are luscious and bountiful to enjoy.

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Stopping to smell the roses is, of course, part of the experience, too!
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Lovely formally laid-out English garden with stone arches is super cute.

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My gymnast always prefers to pose upside-down 🙂

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Visiting Botanical Gardens provides the whole family bonding experience while exploring the beauty of God’s creation.

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Kids loved hiding behind these giant plant leaves. It reminded them of giant rhubarb leaves!

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One of our favorite places in the botanical gardens was this gorgeous rhododendron alley. Rhododendrons of all imaginable colors graced the sides of the alley, and children enjoyed running around from plant to plant to see which one had the lovelier scent.

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I would highly recommend visiting VanDusen Botanical Gardens if you are in the area for at least a few hours.

Posted in Canada, travel, travel with kids | 1 Comment

15 destinations in 8 countries in one month! Our whirlwind trip to Canada and Europe.

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Our family visiting Stonehenge, England

This summer we were privileged to take a month long trip of Europe and Canada. It was sort-of-last minute planning, but ended up creating amazing family memories along the way. I am planning to write a separate post about each of our destinations to highlight everything in more detail; this is just to provide an outline of our trip for a big picture. This trip was pretty intense, even for us, traveling with 3 kids. I have to make a disclaimer though, that our kids are really good travelers, and experienced ones, having visited 18-19 countries each already, but this kind of itinerary seemed pretty tight even to them at times 🙂 This trip, however, gave all of us a great taste for the places we might want to re-visit someday and spend more time in.

Our trip itinerary:

Day 1: left Montana and drove to Seattle

Day 2: appointment at the passport agency in Seattle (two of our kids’ passports were expiring, and even though we applied 9 weeks before this time, the passports were still not ready in time for our trip. We ended up needing to pay expedited fee and picking them up in person in at the passport agency in Seattle). Thankfully, the passports were ready for pick up right away and we ended up having most of the day free for other pursuits. We drove to Vancouver, Canada, where we spent our afternoon in a beautiful VanDusen Botanical Gardens, then took evening sunset ferry over to Victoria, BC.

Day 3-Day 7: time in Victoria, BC. We did quite a bit of sightseeing and enjoyed beautiful weather there, while Stan had a conference to attend and customer labs to visit.

Day 8: ferry back to Vancouver, from where we flew to London directly.

Day 9: arrived in London, rented a car, then drove for a few hours to a small medieval town of Salisbury, England, where we visited the famous Salisbury Cathedral and admired one of the 4 remaining originals of Magna Carta. After that we drove to Stonehenge and Woodhenge.

Day 10: Visited ancient town of St. Albans (north of London) with Roman ruins and beautiful cathedral, then caught a flight to Vilnius, Lithuania.

Day 11-16: time in Vilnius, Lithuania. We enjoyed sightseeing, while Stan was there for work.

Day 17: flight to Prague, Czech Republic. We had  a 5-hour long layover in Vienna, Austria, so we took advantage of that by taking a train into the city and quickly walking around some of the main sights.

Day 18-19: time exploring Prague, Czech Republic. Day 19 was actually Connor’s (my middle child’s) birthday, so he got to spend it in two different countries, as in the evening of that day we flew to Munich, Germany.

Day 20-21: Munich, Germany. Stan was there for a trade show, and we spent time exploring the old town and enormous  Deutsches Museum.

Day 22: rented a car, and drove on the German Autobahn to Cologne for close to 8 hours. It was a rainy, kind of miserable sort of day 🙂

Day 23: explored Cologne, the kids really loved visiting the gorgeous Cologne Cathedral. In the afternoon we drove to Dortmund to see my high school geography teacher who lives there now for a few hours.

Day 24: Dusseldorf, Germany. We actually (without knowing it in advance) ended up visiting there just as the Tour De France was starting, so the whole town was in a celebratory mood, despite the rain and somewhat gloomy weather that day. In the evening we flew to Dublin, Ireland.

Day 25-26 : exploring sights and sounds (and tastes, of course!) of Dublin.

Day 27: super-long, never-ending day of our flights back to North America from Dublin. We had a layover in Toronto, where we missed a connection due to our flight out of Dublin being severely delayed, but we got on one of the later flights and still made it back to Vancouver same day. After re-claiming our car from long-term parking, we drove to Seattle and were back on the US soil.

Day 28: our scheduled-way-in-advance appointment at the Russian embassy was on that day, so we got all of the passport issues settled then started back on our way to Montana.

Day 29: late at night (or rather very early in the morning of day 29) we finally got back home!

Which of these destinations would you be most interested hearing about first? Please leave your suggestions in the comments 🙂

Posted in Canada, Europe, travel, travel with kids, trip itineraries | 5 Comments

Reviving this blog…

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Our family in Prague (Czech Republic) this summer

I have decided to start working on reviving this little blog of mine. A lot has happened in the past 6 years since I last wrote here. We have moved 3 times, one of them being a cross-country move with 3 small children, we have traveled the world with children and without, and we have been homeschooling all these years as well.

I am planning to shift my primary focus to mostly travel-blogging, documenting our experiences, sharing the fun destinations we have been privileged to visit, and providing honest reviews of the places we’ve stayed at and sights we’ve seen. My hope is that the content will be helpful in, perhaps, encouraging another family with kids to travel the world (or even just domestically at first). It is not as scary as it sounds! And it certainly doesn’t have to be expensive – most of our family travel is usually done on a pretty strict budget.

Over the years, I have received many questions from friends and acquaintances about how we can afford to travel as a family of five (and soon to be 6!). On this blog I am hoping to share not only tips and tricks of travel with the children, but also what worked for us and what didn’t. So I invite you to settle in and browse for a while, then come back again for more updated content.

Posted in blogging, travel, travel with kids, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A few pictures from our Independence Day Celebration

We had a wonderful and sort-of-quiet 4th of July celebration this year. Stan’s cousin Leona and her husband Rob came over to hang out with us in the afternoon and evening, and kids just loved spending time with them! Edward started out with reciting some history facts that he remembered about the Revolutionary War, the first Independence Day, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and some other stuff, that we’ve covered in our theme unit just a week prior. After that a game of Sorry was played and then everyone moved outside for some fun in the sun and for grilling of the dinner.

Rob and Leona took turns throwing the ball to Edward in this makeshift baseball game. He was all too happy to count his Grand Slams and Home Runs 😉

We had a very yummy dinner to celebrate the Independence Day, even though you can’t see it in this picture.

Rob and Leona needed to head out before 8 pm, so we decided to do some sparklers and fireworks, even though it wasn’t dark yet.

Connor’s first sparkler (last year he was too little for those).

Dropping the flames 😉

Boys were mesmerized by this fountain firework Rob and Leona brought with them.

Stan and Connor

Festive mailbox

Some red daylilies have opened up adding to the festivities of the day

Blue hydrangeas

Edward posing by the hydrangeas

Connor petting our kitty-cat

Did you all have a fun-filled 4th of July?

Posted in children, life as it comes | Leave a comment

Summer Gardening Series: The First Harvest

We’ve been getting the herbs from our garden for a couple of weeks now (rosemary, basil, parsley, and mint (yum – fresh mint tea!)), but today we finally collected our first harvest which weighed in at just about 4 lbs! This picture is quite deceptive – it’s a big platter here, not a luncheon-size plate 🙂

The pickling cucumbers hardly made it to this picture – everyone wanted to eat them so fast! Needless to say, they never did make it to dinner time 🙂 Rather, they were consumed right away 🙂 Summer squash and zucchini smelled so fresh, I decided to make my yummy and summery pasta primavera. I usually stick in whatever summer veggies I have on hand there, plus vidalia onion, fresh garlic and basil (from the garden, of course!), and sometimes black olives. This time I also had a little grilled chicken leftover from the 4th, so in it went with the veggies. I also added some kale for extra greens.

I wish you could all smell it! As it was cooking it smelled delicious, and after I shut the veggies off and added fresh garlic and basil, it was heavenly 🙂 Boys just came running from the basement asking what smelled so nice 😉

Topped with fresh asiago cheese and fresh garden basil, this was a hit!

Our hydrangeas are in full bloom right now in the garden, so we’ve been enjoying freshly-cut blooms in the kitchen (this vase) and in the bedroom. They look and smell so nice, it just feels very summery!

Posted in frugal living, gardening | Leave a comment