How Families and Senior Travelers Can Use the Advice on this Website

By Nomadic Matt | Published November 11th, 2013

family travelI’m thirty-two, single, and mostly travel alone. These are things that probably won’t change anytime soon (though my mother keeps asking me when that second one will). As such, most of the travel tips on this website tend to be focused on what I, a single traveler, learn about traveling better, cheaper, and longer.

But that doesn’t mean my advice is only for solo travelers.

My belief is that budget travel tips are universal because when we all touch down in London town, we all deal with the same costs. We may end up staying in different places and eating in different restaurants, but the methods we use for saving money will generally be universal.

A common question I get asked is if my advice will work for families or older travelers. (It’s also brought up in my reader surveys: “Matt, I wish you would write more for those with families or older travelers.”)

There’s a common perception that family and senior travel is an inherently different form of travel that requires special considerations. I know not everyone thinks that way, but I often feel that the question “Can you write tips that apply to family/senior travel?” implies that distinction.

But I don’t think that is really the case.

Sure, when you’re traveling with a family, you want kid-friendly activities, hotels and restaurants, or maybe you just won’t stay in a hostel dorm, but is that really a whole new form of travel? I don’t believe so. You’re just looking for different things in the budget travel realm.

Not every tip applies to every traveler – we all have different desires and needs and, since the question above is a very valid one, I wanted to show how you can apply the advice of this solo traveling nomad to your family trip (or, if you’re older, highlight some different accommodation types and tour information).

(Disclaimer: I’m not creating a go-to resource on this subject or pretending to know about how best to travel with children or the needs of older travelers. I don’t. But since this is question that comes up a lot, I just want to collate the tips and articles on my website to create a resource page that I believe can help in your planning.)

Family Travelers

the wide wide world family
Flights
It’s one thing to buy a flight for one person; it’s another to buy flights for four or five people. That $700 flight suddenly becomes $3,500 and that’s just more money than most of us can or want to spend. Seeing that number just for the flights would keep me at home!! Here are tips to lower flight costs for your family:

  • Use travel credit cards to get pointsPlaying the travel hacking game is even more important when you have to buy multiple airline tickets. With very little work, you can accumulate hundreds of thousands of points – enough to get you and your family anywhere in the world you want. For example, the new British Airways Avios card offers 50,000 points on sign-up (up to 100,000 if you meet their spending requirements) and that’s enough to get you and your family anywhere in the continental United States.
  • Fly to less frequented destinations – Long-haul international flights are quite expensive, but flights to locations only a few hours from you won’t be. Fly to a less-visited destination closer to you and get cheaper flights. Here are some good flight deal websites: The Flight DealMomondoSkyscanner, AirfarewatchdogHoliday Pirates.
  • Visit a travel agent – Believe it or not, travel agents can still be good for bulk flight discounts, especially ethnic travel agents that specialize in flights to their specific country. (For example, buying flights to China in Chinatown.)

Beyond using points or finding some amazing deal, there’s not much you can do to lower the cost of flights (whether for a single traveler or a family). Airline ticket prices are going up and we’re all going to suffer. There are ways to avoid being the person who pays the most for their ticket but, without points, there’s no way to get free or very discounted flights.

Relevant blog posts:

Accommodation
Another big cost that doesn’t need to break your bank. The biggest way to win: skip the hotel. Hotels are the most expensive form of accommodation. Luckily, there are some great alternatives. Here’s how you can overcome (or cut) these costs:

  • Stay in a family-friendly hostel – Hostels are not just for young, single backpackers. There are many hostels out there that are great for families (and tour groups) that don’t have the party atmosphere normally associated with hostels. One of the best family-friendly hostels in the world is the chain Youth Hostel Association. They offer nice, quiet, clean rooms, and have hostels around the world.
  • Rent someone’s home or apartment – Vacation rental sites can get you all the comforts of home while on the road and work out cheaper per person than a hostel or hotel. In many instances, you can rent a whole apartment for prices similar to budget hotels. Good rental sites include: Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway, and Wimdu.
  • Use last-minute hotel discount sites –  Use websites like Hotwire and Priceline to find cheap, last-minute hotel rooms.
  • Use a hospitality network – Many of the hospitality networks like Couchsurfing, Hospitality Club, and Servas have numerous hosts who take families. There is often this perception these wesbites are for just young, solo travelers but many, many hosts take families (Hospitality Club and Servas more so than Couchsurfing). You get to know a local family with these websites and your kids will have other kids to play with, too! Win-win.

Relevant blog posts:

Food
I imagine feeding a family is not very cheap (I know, I know – Captain Obvious over here, right?). When you’re traveling, being budget conscious becomes even more important as food costs can ruin your budget. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Cook – Obviously, cooking food will be cheaper than eating out. Visit local markets or grocery stores, get some food, and have a picnic or make sandwiches for later. When I don’t have access to a kitchen, I buy a lot of pre-made meals at supermarkets. They aren’t world-class meals but they do the trick.
  • Get lunch specials – The best time to eat out at restaurants is during lunch when places offer lunch specials and set menus that are cheaper than dinner time menus. This is especially true around Europe and in Singapore.
  • Food trucks/Street food - If you’re in a place with food trucks or street food, eat there. Not only will these meals be cheaper, they will probably be very tasty too. Food trucks and street stalls are my favorite places to eat.
  • Don’t eat near tourist attractions – This is an important rule of mine. If you eat near a major site, food will be three times as expensive and probably three times worse. Walk at least four blocks away before you pick a restaurant. You’ll get cheaper, more authentic local food this way.

Relevant blog posts:

Attractions – Use city tourism cards to get discounts and free entrance into local museums and attractions. Tourism offices (think London Tourism, Paris Tourism, New York Tourism, etc.) offer these cards that give you free entry and substantial discounts to participating attractions and tours in a city, free local public transportation (a huge plus), and discounts at a few restaurants and shopping malls. They last for a varying number of days and are one of the best ways to see many attractions on the cheap. (Remember, kids below 12 get into most museums for free.)

Moreover, student and youth discount cards are available for people over 13. These cards will give free or discounted access to museums and attractions around the world. You can get these cards at STA travel.

Senior Travelers

don and alison, a happy senior couple traveling the world
For older travelers who are looking to travel the world in a bit more comfort but not looking to spend a lot of money, many of the above tips will work too. But the most common concern I hear is that I write too much about hostels and most older travelers want an alternative. Some of a my favorite non-hostel options include:

  • Airbnb rentals
  • B&Bs
  • YHA hostels
  • Budget hotels
  • Homestays
  • Farm stays

Relevant blog posts:

Another question that gets posed a lot is how to avoid those expensive single supplements tour groups charge for individual travelers. To avoid those fees, use small group tour operators. It’s really only the large bus companies that still have that fee anyway (think Globus or Trafalgar tours). Most small operators have discontinued the practice of single supplements. Generally, anyone who runs groups smaller than 15 travelers or offers a hop-on/hop-off style service won’t require a single supplement.

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Nothing is ever universal, but tips for solo travelers, couples, families, or older travelers are not mutually exclusive. They can be borrowed from each other and used as you see fit. I write as a solo traveler who likes to save money, and while not all my tips are applicable to every type of traveler, most can be. So I hope this post addressed some of the questions you had about what tips on this site are relevant to family and senior travel.

P.S. – Are you in NYC? Great! I’m hosting a meet-up Thursday! Come say hello! Here is the RSVP information.

comments 26 Comments

Recently purchased a cheap flight using the principles mentioned.

Another tip I’d add is to not get discouraged when searching for a flight… using skyscanner.com you can search for the best time to fly all year, search for all airports in the country you’re looking to travel to, and even search for the best tickets to anywhere in the world from your current location.

Find what you want and search it every day for the next two weeks—you’ll find killer deals pop up out of nowhere a lot of times.

Beto

A timely post Matt. In my experience I don’t see planning for a family/senior trip to be much different from planning a trip for yourself – only that ok, wild and crazy hostels where the party never ends are out of the question (I can’t stay in one of those for long either) and every other costs go in duplicate, triplicate or worse – specially airfare. Best you can do is find a fare well in advance that you’re willing to pay and that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. I know because I’m arranging for my family to meet me in Rio next month and return to our country 2 weeks later and, were it not for our savings and zero debt, we simply couldn’t afford to do it. Airfare prices are crazy.

That said home/apartment rentals can do great for families or seniors and the per person cost can go down significantly especially when compared to a hotel room. Having a kitchen and nearby supermarkets helps cut on breakfast expenses, definitely (not to mention you can eat more healthy).

Good to hear single supplements are being phased out, especially when most hotel rooms are sold by the room, not per occupant (and have been done so for a number of years. I guess they want people to share based on 1. availability of rooms 2. potentially better discounts which are passed on in tour prices or 3. the cynic in me says the tour operator is making a swift profit on charging full room rate for each person but halving costs by having a share basis.

Alan

“Advise”?

NomadicMatt

This article was a proofread fail! I’m sorry! I fixed all the mistakes. Sorry about that! When my editor goes on vacation, all hell breaks loose! I get overzealous in hitting the “post” button!

Great post Matt. My family and I (2 adults, 10 YO and 13YO) are traveling for a year and we’ve been using your tips religiously. They are definitely appropriate for planning for a family trip.
We’re in Thailand now and have been eating off food carts and staying in apartments and have had a ball. We had dinner at a real restaurant yesterday and spent $40. We ate quite well and were all craving American steaks, but after a month of thai deliciousness it was a shock to our wallet! LOL

I had not thought to try the hostel route, but may do so when we hit China, S Korea and Indonesia. We’ve been using AirBnB and Wimdu a lot. Thanks for the tips.

Starr Smith

Matt, I have been reading your blog for a couple years now and appreciate your recommendations and tips. I followed your advice on travel hacking and built up enough miles for a RTW in business class. I leave next month on a 8 month trip. I am 57 and a solo female traveler. I stay in hostels in expensive areas and indulge in cheaper countries. Your travels inspire me and help me plan my own trips. Keep up the great work.

Dennis

What countries are you going to visit? I will be in Bangkok in Feb

Hi Matt. Thx for mentioning families – you would be surprised at how difficult it is to travel with a party of 5. In Canada, US and Europe and probably elsewhere, it’s all about 2 people or a family of 4. We definitely need 2 double beds and a pull out couch or something like that as the roll away cot is really meant for small children. Even a traditional all inclusive vacation can’t be done without getting 2 rooms and $$$. I would definitely agree with getting an apartment or a hotel with a kitchen and travel hacking as the least expensive way to travel with a family. I looked at hostels and not sure about the environment and because you have to pay by the person in many cases, it often works out to be more expensive than a hotel. Also, as you mentioned in many places if you’re willing to have an early dinner, there are often specials (usually between 4 and 6 or 6:30).

Excellent post, Matt. A lot of budget travel, whether you’re a backpacker or family traveler, comes from having the right mindset and the willingness to be flexible. Deals can be found at most any level, you just have to look for them.

There is a really great Facebook group for people traveling for extended periods with kids. It’s called Families on the Move. It’s not just bloggers and I think blogging talk is even banned in the group. These types of resources are out there for family travelers.

Hey Nomadic,
Excellent post. Thanks a lot for sharing. Your advice will make my forthcoming tours more enjoyable :)

For bigger families, or anyone really, I always recommend doing a home exchange! I participate in one every other summer or so when I travel to Denmark with family and I wrote about it a couple months back on my blog. It’s always such a great experience and allows us to stay in a destination for longer since we’re not paying for a hotel. We even swap cars! Great post, Matt. Thanks for sharing!

Happy travels :)

I think most travel advice is universal: travelling as a family isn’t inherently different, it’s just going to be more expensive whichever way you crack it. Finding Airbnb apartments that suit a family (and where you can cook) rather than cramming into a hotel room is probably the single biggest tip.

We travel as a couple, which is probably the cheapest possible way (on a per person basis) to do it

I LOVE hearing more and more about senior travelers doing the backpacking thing when they’re in their 60s and 70s – how cool is that? I wish some hostels wouldn’t discriminate based on age. Personally I hope when I’m in my 60s I’ll still be traveling and living it up.

im 66 and stay in hostels all the time; usually being the oldest one there; i use ear plugs and eye cover; there is no age discrimination
there are alot of older travellers on the road; some choosing to be homeless and making the road their home; \
its all a matter of how we choose to live…the most important thing is to not loose sight of what you;re passionate about…

Great post, Matt! Thanks for all the tips, they will be very useful for next destinations! :D

Marilynn Smith

Just came back from 2 months in Europe. I am a 65 year old female who traveled solo. I started with a wheeled bag, that was too heavy for stairs in Europe and ended splitting the load between that and a back pack. A good alternative since at times being able to tie my back pack atop my wheelie was grand and i could do stairs with part of the load on my back. Yes i road trains, trams, subways and busses. I did stay in some hostels, for the seniors check out the ones with a room and bath. You did not mention one other common European accommodation. the pension. They are like a lower end hotel. The one I had in Prague had a huge private bath and the room itself was large, but no frills. I also loved B&B’s. I agree, street food is grand. I found every few days i would want one nice meal a day and if you are in a B&B you get breakfast with your room, yeah! Europe was grand, I think my next adventure will be the trans Siberia rail from China to Moscow and a revisit to Saint Petersburg. I learned I can go budget as a single senior and do it well. But do sit at that sidewalk cafe with the red checked table clothes in Florence and eat spaghetti, yum.

David

Travelling to vietnam laos and cambodia for four weeks in march. I’m 80 and have difficulty walking, need to find a person to push a wheelchair for me, have not had any success finding someone, any ideas? Still have all my marbles, just have problems taking more than a few steps.

desra

Hey Matt, good posting..that’s what i really need. more info traveling with family of four.thank you.

Hi Matt. My husband and I fall into the older traveler’s category (I’m 56 and he’s 63) and we’ve been on the road for 14 months now. We’re homeless by choice and prefer slow travel combining all the accommodations that you discussed including short-term apartment rentals. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is house and pet sitting which we’ve really enjoyed. We’ve had 2 housesits now – one for 3 months in Antigua, Guatemala and the 2nd in Atenas, Costa Rica for 3 weeks. Obviously, these help save money but they also allow us to recharge our batteries and treat ourselves to some extra amenities that we don’t even know we’re missing (extra pillows, fully equipped kitchens, etc.). Since our plans are fairly flexible all we need is to find a place in the direction we’re going within our loose time frame. Most of the online housesitting sites have a small, annual membership cost but the money saved in the long run makes this a great option!

I noticed you mentioned a house setting website with an annual membership! Can you give me the website. Thank you so much.

Matt, are you listening in on our conversations? Haha! We fall into that “other” category of travelers, as we are 46 (Mike) and 36 (me, Tara) and recently retired early from executive jobs, donated everything we owned and hit the road to slow travel and enjoy the deliberate, minimalist marriage that we created for ourselves. Of course, it goes against everyone’s rules, but that’s commentary for another time! Just last week we were in Sweden and stayed at a boutique hostel, our first, and it blew us away. Hesitant at first because we don’t fit the backpacker profile, we were pleasantly surprised to fit right in, make some great acquaintances, and even prepare all of our meals in the common kitchen, which saved us a bundle and allowed us to travel on to Rome via Ryanair. The morale of the story: there may be rules of the road, but hey, rules are made to be broken! So glad we checked in to the hostel and made a wonderful memory.

Great tips! Few tips I can share are:

1. Do not be overly ambitious with the itineraries with family travel. Main objective is to keep everybody and not overwhelmed by the planned items.
2, There are often discounted price for children and senior for transports and attractions. Make sure you watch out for them.
3. Get a local guide with transportation for traveling around. A lot of time, it proves to be more economical.

We took a 2-1/2 month long trip this summer and used Airbnb 5 different times in Italy, France and England. We had great experiences from a 2-bedroom condo in Rome to a room in an Italian apartment to an “oast” in Surrey, England. We highly recommend this for saving money and gaining unique experiences. By the way, we fit the “senior” category.

For those travelling to Kenya, homestay accommodation available in Nakuru, Kenya. Very friendly, helpful and of course budget friendly.

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