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If you want to travel, but think you cant do it due to finances, this budget travel guide is for you!  Anyone who knows Dave and I, know that we are budget conscious, keeping track of every penny spent.  We love to travel cheaply so we can go on more trips!  Budget travel makes for incredible opportunities at affordable prices.  Anyone can take amazing trips with a little planning and budgeting.

I recently took my family of 5 to Hong Kong for 5 days.   We spent under $500.   Seems impossible! It’s not!  Its totally do-able and if more families could learn these tricks you could definitely go on more trips, right?

Family of 5 in front of Monastery near Big Buddha in Hong Kong, Lantau Island
Family of 5 spends 5 days in Hong Kong for under $500.

Air Travel   $200

We fly standby so our airfare is typically free.  When we travel internationally, we do have to pay the taxes on our flight which was $40/person.  I know most people don’t have this benefit, but you can use credit cards (as I will show below in lodging) to get miles for similar benefits (without the hassle of standby travel!)

Lodging  Free

Lodging is typically the highest cost in budget travel.  But this trip we stayed all 4 nights in Marriott for free with credit card points.

How to get Hotel and airfare credit card points

Our best trick for earning hotel points is for BOTH you and your spouse (and anyone else who can!) to open credit cards separately.  Having a big opening bonus is a must! We both got cards when Marriott had opening bonuses of 80,000 points.  They also offer one free night per year when you use this card.  After spending the initial amount required amount on items we were already buying, we earned 160,000 bonus points.  Plus, we also got points for the money we spent.

My husband always uses Marriott hotels on his Marriot credit card when he travels for work (and get reimbursed) so he accumulates points for our family.  I closed my account after a few months so that I can open a new card in 2 years to get the large bonus again.

Make sure to pay off your account balance monthly.  Don’t spend more than the money you have in the bank.  If you pay interest, you are not earning enough bonus points to justify the card. Be diligent in paying off every amount!

Even with our large amount of points, we didn’t opt to stay in the expensive hotels.  We picked one outside of Hong Kong that was only 15,000/night.  They had a shuttle that took us right to downtown and picked us up.  It was a great deal.  And we had a fantastic view to boot.

 Sunset from the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Sha Tim , Hong Kong
A gorgeous view from our Marriot Hotel room

We ‘splurged’ a bit more on our next 2 nights at 30,000 points/night. We were right on Hong Kong island and easy access to everything.

While my girls shared a bed and my husband and I shared a bed, we knew Hong Kong rooms would be small without a couch or extra sleeping space for our 3rd child, so we brought an air mattress for my son to sleep independently.

Transportation  $88

Double Decker city bus at Hong Kong Airport
The kids love the views from the front seats of the Double Decker city bus

We mostly traveled by subway, hotel shuttle, and city bus.  It was really cheap!  We went so many places and rode the subway many times.  Over the course of 5 days, we spent $88 total.

We bought an Octopus card, which gave a slight discount everytime we rode and when we turned it in at the end of our stay we received out entire remaining balance back.

Normally, we rent a car, so this is usually our highest expense (see driving in Italy for rental car info).  However, staying in one busy city with a great public transportation system, it made sense to use it for budget travel.  We did take a taxi a couple of times and it ended up being much cheaper than we expected.  For the 5 of us, it was comparable to a subway ride!

We also walked a lot.  We logged 25,000 steps every day.  City life is like that.  Our kids kept up and didn’t complain at all!  They rise to the occasion when they know where they are going and why.

Attractions $130

Most of our costs were here.  We didn’t want to miss some sightseeing opportunities and ended up getting stuck in tourist traps.  We could’ve done these much cheaper and I’m slightly disappointed we got suckered into spending so much! But budget travel doesn’t mean you pass up everything that costs money.

1. Tram to Victoria Peak: $45

Using the previously mentioned Octopus card, we could have gone up the tram and back for about half the cost!  But we bought the package that included a 360 view at the top of the Peak building with an audio tour (that we never used!).  It wasn’t worth it in my opinion, but we made the most of the benefits.

2. Cable Car to Big Buddha $91
Big Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Big Buddha and Monastery

Due to time constraints, we had to pay full price for this expensive adventure.  Taking the bus up would’ve saved us $30-60 depending if we took if both ways or just one way. However, the cable car it was beautiful and faster (as long as you get there early!)

Read more information on these attractions and how to do it cheaper here {coming soon}

Food $150

Our hotel offered breakfast and dinner for 2 because my husband has status due to traveling frequently.  Every morning and night, 2 of us would go to the lounge and eat big, while the other 3 would eat things we brought from home.

American Boy with Chopsticks in Hong Kong
Learning Chopsticks in China

Eating out a lot doesn’t align with budget travel goals so we always bring cheap snacks and food from home. The food we brought included oatmeal packets, nuts, beef jerky, granola bars, cereal, crackers, chips, fruit packets and dried fruit.

We make sure to always have a lot of water (camelback is the best!) with us so we keep hydrated which actually helps with hunger.  I also give my kids vitamins daily just in case they aren’t consuming enough of the right kinds of food.

We bought some fruit from a market. And had a mid-morning snack at a bakery.

Because we were traveling with kids, we mostly ate at American fast-food chains.  McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Pizza Hut were plentiful and the prices were right  for food we knew they would eat.  Sometimes, we got the kids McDonald’s and got a quick Chinese bite to eat for the adults.  Most of our authentic Chinese food came from the free hotel buffet.

I’m pretty sure $150 is less than we spend at home for food for 5 days!  Only buying one meal a day helps keep the cost down.

Souvenirs $40

Each of our kids received $10 for souvenirs.  We travel a lot so we don’t get many souvenirs from each place.  Our kids learn about budgeting and how far their money can go, so that makes them less likely to spend it right away.  We try to show them price differences from souvenir shops to cheaper markets along the way.  They each found a few items for under $10.

My husband and I have traveled enough to know that we don’t need or want any souvenirs.  We buy a couple of magnets and postcards and call it good.

Incidentals $30

2 girls with sweaters from the womens Market in Hong Kong at Ocean Park
Cheap sweaters found at the women’s market

Looking at the weather forecast, I thought it would be hot and humid and only packed shorts and t-shirts.  It ended up being chilly and windy.  Instead of spending $50 PER JACKET at the gift shop where we were, my husband took a 30-minute subway ride to the cheap markets we had visited earlier.  He found everyone a sweater for $5-10.  I thought the kids might be embarrassed, but they LOVED their random shirt. Budget travel sometimes has unexpected costs so prepared a little more just in case.

Free attractions

Children play at Hong Kong Park Sancbox with a digger in a sandbox
Playground at Hong Kong Park

Free attractions are perfect for budget travel.  Hong Kong Park had a free 6 level playground, a walk-through aviary, a conservatory.  We went to 2 temples/ monasteries that are free to enter.  The nightly free light show and the cheap city water ferry  (for under 50 cents) is much better than an expensive harbor tour. Buses around the town for city prices rather than paying $50 per person for the hop on/hop off tour buses make it possible to travel cheaply.

Budget Travel Totals

  • Air    $200
  • Lodging $0
  • Transportation $88
  • Attractions $130
  • Food      $150
  • Souvenirs $40
  • Incidentals $30
  • Total = $638

Before we left, I opened a new credit card.  It offered an opening bonus of $150 of account credit after I spent $500.  I used the card for groceries and gas and the airfare taxes at home.  Also, I used it for some purchases on this trip and got a credit of $150. I will pay the total amount at the time it is due so I don’t incur any interest fees.

New total:  $638-$150 =$488

I know other people may travel differently, with eating more expensive foods, buying more souvenirs or doing costly attractions.  But for us, the less we spend, the more trips we can go on in the future.  If you plan it right, you can go internationally for under $1000.

Did the Kids like Hong Kong?

Lest you think our cheap travels made our trip to Hong Kong any less enjoyable for the kids, read this memoir of Hong Kong my son wrote for a school assignment. I think he had a great trip!

How I make money while we Travel

As amazing as it is to take my family to Hong Kong for 5 days for under $500, I also rented our home out on Airbnb for 5 nights while we were gone.  Our guests paid us $1450 to stay in our home.  So we actually came home with almost $1000 more in our bank account than we had before we left.  Pretty good reason to leave, right?

New Total: Spent $488, earned $1450= positive $1000 after 5 days in Hong Kong

We had an incredible trip and came home with more money so I call that a win-win-win!!

For more specific details read our ideal itinerary in Hong Kong.

Read more about becoming an Airbnb Host here.

If you’d like to make money while you travel as an Airbnb host, please click here.

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  1. Hong Kong sounds amazing! Now that I know I can do it for $500 I’ll definitely consider going sometime soon, maybe even more than once 🙂

  2. When I read your title I was in disbelief! But what an amazing budgeting feat! I love the idea of using your home as Airbnb as well!

  3. This is so impressive! Thanks for sharing all of your tips, and sharing your experience in Hong Kong. I was there for two weeks staying at the home of my college roommate many, many years ago (when it was still a British colony). I would love to go back with my family sometime (especially since, about 8 years later, she introduced me to my now husband 🙂 ).

  4. Wow! How you did this was amazing! My family travels standby also, I keep telling them I want to go to Hong Kong. This post might be my bargaining chip 😉. And what a great idea renting your house on air bnb while you’re gone!

  5. Wow what a great trip and for that much!!! Nice to be able to fly standby as that is the reason for expensive travel but you can save elsewhere like on lodging for free!! Great trips and tips!

  6. Wow! Very impressive you are a master at budgeting super mom! I’ve been to HK and would love to go back with my kids. Thank you for the tips

  7. Looks like a fun place to go to. That is great you got such a great deal! Thanks for the tips!

  8. Wow! This is pretty amazing, especially with children! I’m interested in how you fly for free using standby. I’ve never heard of it before.

    • My husband works for the airlines so we get to fly on any flight that still has left over seats (which is difficult and hard to plan for! but hey, its free!)

  9. I’m in awe! You have mad traveling skills 🙂 I think your standby option for airfare makes a lot possible but there is still a lot to learn for the rest of us.

    • Agreed! The reason we are able to travel so much and try out different places is due to the cheap airfare, but beyond that, there are still ways to make traveling more affordable!

    • Not anyone, my husband works for the airlines, so we have ‘benefits’. If you buy a buddy pass from someone who works for the airlines you can fly standby, but it is still $$ and you run the risk of not making it to your destination.

  10. Gail Valtier Reply

    I am excited to learn more tips so my hub and I can travel more! Using Air BnB is also a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Wow, you’ve got this travel thing nailed down for sure. I’m impressed. And it’s wonderful to travel together as a family and make memories. Those are priceless.

  12. Interesting to hear your experience with air b and b. I like using it but always hesitate to rent out my home.

  13. Maggie | TotallyTeenTravel.com Reply

    You’ve got the travel stars in perfect alignment!! Fun read!!

  14. Great tips. Some of these things I had never even thought of! I love your pictures too. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Wow, you are good at working those points. We are fortunate to have the points to use, as well. It really does make a difference when not having to lay out cash or run up credit cards. Did you say that you brought food from home?

    • Yes, we brought some food from home to get us through the downtime between meals or when our kids couldn’t find enough to eat.

  16. This is awesome! Thanks for the tips, and showing me that it’s doable to travel on a budget by laying it out to see exactly how! I will be using some of these tips hopefully soon.

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