One of the trickiest aspects of taking a family gap year is working out your budget. No-one wants to be stranded halfway around the world having run out of money, and it’s definitely an art rather than a science to figure out what your budget looks like.
In our experience after taking two family gap years and extensive travel with kids, it’s a good idea to include some separate line items in your budget up-front.
This is to cover some of the ‘gotchas’ that you may not have considered, or extras that will be above and over your daily spending allowance.
We travel on quite a tight budget, and every dollar makes a difference. In the list below as well as outlining the essentials you should include in your budget, we’ve outlined some hacks and tips that have literally saved hundreds of dollars during our travels.
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Here you’ll find 10 essential items that it’s a great idea to budget for as separate line items, to make sure they’re covered before you leave home.
You’ve probably bought all of your travel gear before you leave on your gap year, but chances are you may need to replace some of this along the way, particularly if you’re travelling with kids.
Public laundromats and laundry services can sometimes be pretty rough and tumble on clothes, and you’ll find you’re wearing items a lot more often than generally at home if you’re packing light, so it can take a toll.
We also found our kids grew substantially while we were travelling, so we had to buy replacement clothes and shoes as they outgrew them (and we donated their older ones to locals or put them in a charity bin).
We also lost hats, the odd sweatshirt and swimming rash shirts along the way which needed to be replaced.
Swimming costumes were another issue as we spent a LOT of time in pools and the chlorine made them deteriorate. They also became very sun-faded and brittle.
Another factor is if you’re travelling from sunny climates into winter – it can make more sense to buy the winter clothes that you need at your destination rather than lugging them around with you.
Rather than get a surprise when you need to call into a store and buy some new threads, it’s a great idea to add an estimate of what you think you may need to spend on clothing throughout the year into your budget.
Depending on where you’re staying, you won’t always have access to a washing machine and dryer, so will need to use laundry services or public laundromats to keep your clothes clean.
Don’t underestimate how quickly these costs can add up! We found as a family of 4 we could go up to a week before having to do a load.
The best value for money was in South East Asia, where we would drop our clothes off and have them beautifully laundered and returned the next day for around $10 USD (the price is calculated by weight). We found it was uncommon to have laundry facilities in our accommodation.
Occasionally we would use public laundromats in Europe or campsite facilities and depending on the size of the load we could spend around 10-15 euros on a load.
The worst place to do your laundry is via a hotel service or on a cruise ship. They charge per item and it’s eye-watering!
Of course if you are seriously counting the coins you can always take a do-it-yourself approach and launder your items in the shower or sink.
We love the Scrubba Portable Travel Washing Bag – it’s like having a washing machine with you the whole time – but it folds up into your luggage.
Cost of converting currency
A real ‘gotcha’ that can eat away at your family gap year budget is the cost of converting currency from your local bank account into foreign funds.
It pays to very carefully research the credit cards you are using as they’re not created equal. Many have pretty extortionate fees to withdraw cash and you get stung twice – once through a fee to withdraw the cash and then again through a lousy exchange rate that’s a lot worse than the market rate.
Another issue can be when you’re presented with the choice to pay in your home currency or the local currency in a credit card transaction. ALWAYS select the local currency, otherwise you’ll be given a rubbish conversion rate.
If you’re needing to pay a large sum of money for accommodation, never do it via bank transfer. Not only do they use an exchange rate that’s generally below the market rate, but they also charge expensive admin fees for the privilege.
We have found the best deal is through using a Wise card and account. We transfer money from our home bank account into our Wise multi-currency account for a small fee (much less than what banks would charge) – and can then use it for all our purchases and cash withdrawals in over 200 countries.
You can receive payments in nine different currencies, and convert to over 54 currencies for free, using real-time exchange rates.
We really rate using a Wise card and account (formerly Transferwise) – it’s literally saved us hundreds of dollars during our travels and we’ve found the transfers take place super quick compared to banks (a matter of hours rather than days).
Wise also publish all of their rates on their website, so you can take a look and estimate how much you are going to spend on currency conversion and include this as a line item on your budget.
If you’re going to follow a formal homeschool curriculum then you can budget for that separately, but what if you’re planning to do it on the fly, worldschool or unschool?
Well, there’s still going to be a cost for the materials and activities you may need to supplement your kiddos schooling.
We found we were constantly refreshing our supplies of paper, sketch pads, pens, pencils, felt tips, craft materials, paints, colouring books and so on. There were also the costs associated with books (both online and physical paper books), along with the occasional great educational purchase from a museum or art gallery gift shop.
It’s worth putting aside a couple of hundred dollars as a line item in your budget just to cover off these expenses.
Big ticket items
While most of our days on our family gap year were served by our daily expenses budget, there were a few things that we’ve done that we knew about in advance and were non-negotiable definite items on our bucket list.
Some of these highlights included a safari in Sri Lanka, 3 nights on board a traditional ship in UNESCO heritage Halong Bay in Vietnam, a magical visit to Disneyland, and splurging on a four-star resort in Malaysia for special birthday celebrations.
It made sense to separate these big ticket items out into a separate line item on our budget, effectively putting the money aside before we started travelling, to ensure we wouldn’t accidentally spend it!
Another trick is to add in extra on top of your daily allowance, if it’s a luxury item. As an example the accommodation cost at a resort will be more than your usual budgeted accommodation, then it’s likely your spending will too! Food and drink will add up much more quickly so you might like to set aside some extra.
Don’t forget to include money for tips also if you’re on any kind of organised tour.
Medical kit allowance
You’re probably aware that you will need to invest in a medical kit before you leave home, but don’t forget to set aside some budget to keep it topped up and fully functioning over the year.
It’s amazing how many Band-Aids you will go through, and you’ll definitely need to replace everyday things such as paracetamol, mosquito repellant/bug spray, sunscreen – which can be super pricey and eat into a tight budget, imodium and rehydration sachets (although hopefully not too often for this one!).
Don’t forget to include budget for related items like deodorant, razors, sanitary products, contact lenses and solution, which will all add up over a year.
Toll road and fuel kitty
Whenever we have a roadtrip planned we always like to budget out our fuel and toll road costs as a separate budget line item.
This is particularly true when we are travelling in Europe, as the cost of tolls can run into several hundred euros if you’re going long distances! It’s also good to know roughly what fuel is going to cost us and have that money accounted for.
The Via Michelin website is fantastic for trip planning – it details various routes and gives you the cost to travel including road tolls and fuel depending on the size of your vehicle.
It may seem obvious, but you will probably take a lot of your online subscriptions with you, so be sure to include these in your budget (and don’t forget to cancel the ones you can’t use away from home!)
This includes things like Netflix/Amazon Prime/Disney + channels that you’ll take with you, Audible and podcast subscriptions, tech requirements like a VPN subscription, and any online software that you use – it all adds up over the months!
Another tip is not to forget the subscription cost for any mail forwarding services you may use while you’re away.
We love a good budget flight and you can often find us in normal times riding on the cheapest fare possible all over the globe! But one thing worth remembering is that the published price isn’t always what it seems…
Most of the budget airlines also come with hefty baggage fees that can sometimes be even more than the cost of the flight. So before you get too carried away with booking things up, remember to include budget for your baggage fees.
Many airlines also charge significantly more if you add bags on at a later date, with eye-watering prices if you do it once you’re at the airport. So it’s worth having a good think about what you’ll need to check-in upfront – less is definitely more in this case.
Inflation and contingency fund
Last but not least, inflation is definitely becoming a thing as world economies are recovering from the pandemic and global supply chain issues. With inflation rates tipped to reach 3-4% throughout the coming year, you’ll effectively be leaving home with your money worth less than it was at the start of your travels. So it’s definitely worth setting aside some extra money for this.
It’s also good practice to have a contingency fund set aside for those ‘just in case’ moments. This doesn’t always need to be cold hard cash on hand, but maybe a credit card with a balance that you can use for emergencies but don’t touch otherwise.
So there you have it! Hopefully you’ve found some of these ideas food for thought, and there are some useful budgeting tips that you can include in your own family gap year budget. Let us know if you can think of any more in the comments below!