Five Of The Cheapest Countries We’ve Visited On Our Family Gap Year Travels

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

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.

Beautiful Old Town 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.

Accommodation

The fantastic pool at our Hoi An apartment as viewed from our balcony

$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.

Bike hire

Riding out to An Bang beach on our bikes

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

Delicious Banh Mi for a bargain price!

$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

Barber haircut

$6 for two haircuts

Taxi ride

$4.25 for a 5km taxi ride

Cooking class

Visiting Hoi An market during our food tour

$25 per person for full day market tour, boat ride and cooking class at Redbridge cook school

Day trip to UNESCO World Heritage Site

Incredible My Son

$64 for a tour plus entrance fees to the My Son ancient world heritage site

Coffee and juice

Vietnamese coffee is life!

$5 for an iced-coffee and juice at an uber-trendy cafe

Souvenier candle

$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

Turkey

The beautiful town of Kas in South West Turkey

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.

Accommodation

Eating dinner on the balcony of our apartment overlooking the pool and town of Kas

$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.

Fresh bread

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

The incredible Kas amphitheater

FREE – This incredible excavated amphitheater on the outskirts of town is free to visit.

Thailand

Sunset from Coco Tams cocktail bar

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!

Accommodation

Our amazing villa pool which was perfect for the kids

 

The villa at night

$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.

The laughing buddha

A golden buddha at the complex

FREE – visit to the incredible Laughing Buddha complex and temples

Enjoying prawns on a stick at Bophut night market

$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

The uber cool Coco Tams rooftop terrace

$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

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.

Accommodation

The leafy outlook from our apartment over the main pedestrian street in Plovdiv

$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.

Learning about ‘Milyo the Crazy’ statue on our free Plovdiv tour. Whisper him your secret wish and it might come true!

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.

Making traditional Bulgarian crafts

 

Checking out the street art in Kapana

$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

The excavated portion of the Stadium of Philippopolis underneath Plovdiv’s main street.

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

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.

Our condo complex and pool in Penang

 

The well equipped kitchen in our apartment

$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.

Fun with street art in Georgetown

 

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.

Hindu Temple, Georgetown

 

Chinese temple

 

Kapitan Keeling mosque

Enjoying a goat curry in Georgetown

$5.25 for a streetfood goat curry in Little India, Georgetown (the kids really enjoyed it!)

The Penang fununcular

$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.

Checking out the rainforest birds at The Habitat

$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.

The awesome Batu Ferringhi hawker centre

 

Delicious freshly BBQ’d satay sticks

$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!

The Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque

 

 

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.

ESCAPE water park

 

Ziplining through the rainforest at ESCAPE in Penang

$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!

Have you wondered how much a family gap year really costs? Download our FREE GUIDE here.

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