One of the biggest challenges on a family gap year is managing the budget to ensure you don’t run out of money half-way through!
The good news is that there are several countries around the world where you can live not only in a budget-friendly way – but also experience nice accommodation with a pool, eat incredibly delicious food and experience culture, history and scenery for free or very reasonable cost.
Check out our five favourite cheap countries here (for post-pandemic travel planning). The prices are for our family of four unless otherwise indicated and all in US dollars for ease of conversion.
Have you wondered how much a family gap year really costs? Download our FREE GUIDE here.
Vietnam is such a great choice for a family gap year destination, with a great mix of amazing food, beautiful scenery, incredible culture and lots of decent places to stay for not a lot of money.
We’ve travelled to a few destinations in the country, but one of our favourites for a great mix of everything was the pretty town of Hoi An.
Here’s a sample of our typical spending over a few days in Hoi An – arguably one of the most touristy and expensive part of Vietnam.
$70 per night for a lovely 2 bedroom apartment with air-conditioning, shared pool, cooking facilities and incredible breakfast included. However there are many cheaper, still nice homestay and budget accommodation options in the town.
Free! Included with our accommodation
Seafood lunch at a beachside hut
$22 for a big plate of prawn rolls, chips and drinks
Dinner in the tourist part of town
$15 for incredible delicious Vietnamese with a twist
Delicious lunch at Banh Mi Phuong
$3.50 for four Banh Mi sandwiches – declared the best in Vietnam by the late Anthony Bourdain!
Pedicure and manicure
$4.96 for two pedicures and one manicure
$6 for two haircuts
$4.25 for a 5km taxi ride
$25 per person for full day market tour, boat ride and cooking class at Redbridge cook school
Day trip to UNESCO World Heritage Site
$64 for a tour plus entrance fees to the My Son ancient world heritage site
Coffee and juice
$5 for an iced-coffee and juice at an uber-trendy cafe
$1.40 for a candle to light and send down the Thu Bon river at night (kids LOVE doing this!)
Street food dinner
$12.50 for a delicious street food dinner, drinks and four ice-creams
We’ve had a long-term love affair with Turkey, and our six weeks spent there in 2019 on our family gap year was our fourth visit – but first time taking the kids.
It’s super budget-friendly, has wonderful people, mind-blowing beaches and ocean and so much history and culture. There is lots for kids to do as well.
Safety can be a perceived issue for some people, however we felt incredibly safe visiting in 2019. We were a little cautious after the politics of recent years, but we can hand on heart say there wasn’t once that we felt unsafe. There is definitely more of a government presence than there was 20 years ago, and the country is definitely less secular than then, but it’s still a remarkable place and the Turks are incredibly hospitable and LOVE kids.
Here are some costs spent during our time in the town of Kas near the sea in South West Turkey. You would need to budget additionally for Istanbul as it is quite a lot more expensive.
$48 per night for a 2 bedroom apartment with an incredible sea view, within walking distance to the town and marina. Complete with air-conditioning, balcony, shared pool, and great cooking facilities.
Turkish bakeries are delightful, and you’ll pay a whopping 49 cents for a loaf of hot-out-of-the-oven bread
Fruit and vegetables from the market
Kas has an outstanding weekly market where local farmers from all around sell their produce. Here’s what we bought for $13.
Haircut and shave
$12 for two barber haircuts and a shave.
Dinner at a local street food restaurant
$13 for delicious stews, kebabs and dolmades plus softdrinks
Daytrip to a beach club
$21 for a return boat trip out to a beach club, including entrance and two sun loungers with a sun umbrella to use for the day.
Local bus trip
$6.96 for return bus tickets for a 60km round trip to the next town.
Dinner at a touristy restaurant
$17 for dinner plus drinks at a tourist restaurant at the marina.
Doner kebabs for lunch
$8 for four lamb and salad doner kebabs
Entrance to ancient amphitheater
FREE – This incredible excavated amphitheater on the outskirts of town is free to visit.
Thailand is a family gap year favourite, and with good reason.
We spent three weeks on the wonderful island of Koh Samui, which was a good mix of tourism with good infrastructure alongside many quiet corners of the island where it was possible to get away from it all.
The highlight was the lovely 3-bed villa we stayed in with a private pool, perfect for midnight swimming!
$70 USD per night (caveat: not including air-conditioning which is an added extra) for a three-bedroom villa, well-equipped kitchen, private pool, fast internet, cleaning and security guard within a gated compound.
FREE – visit to the incredible Laughing Buddha complex and temples
$27 for dinner and drinks at the tourist market at Bophut village
$191 for 3 for half-day entrance and lunch at the Koh Samui Elephant sanctuary. This was a bucket list item that we wanted to do somewhere in Asia during our travels, and did lots of careful research into the most ethical option.
FREE – Beautiful Silver Beach where we spent many hours in the warm water, snorkelling and making sandcastles
$41 beachside dinner at the restaurant at Silver Beach
$3.19 delicious Pad Thai and larb and rice lunch from a streetfood stall
$18 Fancy sunset cocktails and mocktails for the kids at Coco Tams beachfront bar
FREE– Joining in the giant national waterfight as part of the Songkran festival – so much fun!
FREE – Exploring the inner parts of the island with its lush rainforest and coconut palm plantations
Bulgaria has a reputation for being one of the most affordable European countries, and it’s absolutely true.
We spent a few days in Plovdiv, surprisingly known as the oldest city in Europe and ate delicious food, stayed in a wonderful modern apartment on the main pedestrian street, drank craft beer and top-notch coffee in the hipster area of town known as Kapana, and marvelled at the beautiful old buildings in the Old Town. The icing on the cake was it was one of the European cities of culture while we were there, so there were lots of free events as part of it.
Although it’s not immediately top of mind when it comes to family gap year destinations, Plovdiv should definitely be on your list.
$29.55 per night for a lovely two-bed apartment overlooking the main pedestrian street of town. Complete with great Wi-Fi, washing machine facilities, a super well-equipped kitchen, and newly renovated and furnished.
FREE fabulous half-day tour of Plovdiv explaining the incredible history of the city through ancient times as well as the more recent Communist era. A must-do!
$9 for entrance to the stunning Ethnographic Museum and surrounding gardens
$8.60 for two delicious salads for lunch plus bread and soft drinks. Salad seems to be the national dish and you can find so many variations of fresh, healthy salads topped with delicious local goat cheese.
$24 for 2 to take part in a half-day craft, street art and coffee tour. It was a great way to experience the rejuvenated former market of Plovdiv that fell into dereliction during the Communist era.
$4.30 for entrance for 2 to the National Natural History Museum
FREE – entrance to the beautiful Garden of Tsar Simeon with its fantastic kids’ playground
FREE – entrance to the ancient Roman Stadium of Philippopolis that runs 240 metres underneath the length of Plovdiv’s pedestrian street. One end is partially excavated, and if you pop into H&M and go to the back of the store on the ground floor you can see some of the ruins through the glass screens! The stadium was discovered in the 1930’s when a new bus station was being constructed, and the ruins date back to the 2nd Century AD.
$3 for a craft beer in Kapana, the hipster district of town where craft beer is massive!
Malaysia is a brilliant choice for stopping off on a family sabbatical. It’s a great hub with budget-friendly airlines like Air Asia flying all over the region, and the unique mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures makes for a true melting pot. We spent six weeks in Penang, which was a fantastic place for the whole family.
$50.24 per night for a 2 bedroom apartment overlooking the rainforest, including air conditioning, washer and dryer, great internet, full cooking facilities, access to a gym, kids playground and a brilliant infinity pool overlooking Batu Ferringhi beach. Easy walking distance to the local hawker centre and many restaurants and cafes.
FREE – exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town in Georgetown. Packed full of beautiful heritage buildings of Chinese, Malay and Indian origins all within a few hundred metres of each other, amazing streetfood and a brilliant street art trail that will keep the family occupied for hours.
$5.25 for a streetfood goat curry in Little India, Georgetown (the kids really enjoyed it!)
$21 for a return trip on the fenuncular up to the top of Penang Hill. There are plenty of paid activities to do once up there or you can enjoy one of the scenic walks with stunning views out over Penang.
$53 entrance to The Habitat, an ancient rainforest on top of Penang Hill, complete with interesting nature trails, swing bridges and the Skywalk which takes you over the rainforest canopy.
$16 for a street food dinner and drinks for 4 at the fantastic Batu Ferringhi hawker centre. It was so good we ate here several nights a week!
FREE/Small donation – a visit to the Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque is a great place to visit to learn more about Islam and see the beautiful carpets and decorations inside the mosque. You will be warmly welcomed – leave your shoes at the door and ladies need to cover up and cover heads with provided robes and scarves.
$95 for entry to Escape Theme Park, for all-day fun. Half the park is a waterpark and the other has ziplining, rope courses and obstacle courses throughout the jungle. Our kids absolutely loved it and talk about it still, two years later!
$51 for entry to ENTOPIA, a beautiful butterfly and insect park, where kids can learn all about the lifecycles of butterflies, many insects and conservation. A great day out.
So there you have it! Our five most budget-friendly family gap year destinations that the whole family will love!