Are you planning – or dreaming of – a family gap year?
Are you wondering what long term travel with kids will involve and what your family round the world trip will include?
We recently collated some statistics from our family gap year with our three children including the transport and accommodation we used.
We were surprised by the results!
Planning a family gap year – our transport stats!
This is what our transport statistics look like from our year long round the world trip.
Type of transport used Number of journeys taken
Train trips 33
Taxi/shuttle bus/transfer 28
Flights (long and short) 21
Ferry or boat 16
Cars hired 13
Coach journeys 9
Cable car 8
Uber trips 5
Relocation vehicles 4
Motor home 3
Camper van 1
Train travel with kids
We love travelling by train so it came as no surprise that we had taken so many train trips! We would choose train travel over any other form of transport.
Travelling by train is not merely a way of getting from A to B; train travel enhances our whole trip and travel experience.
A train journey gives you a chance to slow down and take a break from busy sightseeing days. Our longest train journey on our round the world trip was an epic five days and four nights on the Trans Siberian Railway. It was so relaxing it felt like a mini holiday!
Train travel allows you to see the country you are travelling in rather than flying over it – why fly over the Swiss Alps when you can take a scenic train through them?
The views from a train window provide a glimpse into people’s lives – their homes, gardens, farms and backstreets. We witnessed a different side to China by travelling through it by train.
Trains also offer a great opportunity to meet locals as well as other travellers. Overnight trains save on accommodation costs.
Plus, they are an environmentally friendly form of travel.
To secure the best prices, try to avoid travelling at peak times and if there is a choice, choose a slower train rather than a fast train.
Check to see if the country you are travelling through has a rail pass for families or tourists – you could save a lot of money!
Taxis and transfers with kids
I was surprised by this high number as the costs of using taxis and transfers quickly add up for a family of five.
Sometimes we had to take two taxis to fit our family and most transfers require you to pay per seat, not according to the age of the passenger.
However, when you are travelling with children, using a taxi or transfer service is a safe and easy option especially when arriving into an unfamiliar destination after a long journey.
There were many journeys where we arrived exhausted, sometimes late at night, and were relieved that we were not heading off on foot, searching out public transport options or hiring a car and having to navigate our way through a new location. Plus, as we prefer to walk or use public transport when sightseeing, the cost of using a transfer or taxi is often balanced out by not hiring a car.
There were times however, when we regretted getting a taxi! On one particularly white knuckle taxi ride from Newark Airport to our hotel, I was on the verge of screaming at the death wish taxi driver to pull over when we thankfully pulled up at our hotel. On another occasion in China, I saw the transfer driver on the verge of falling asleep at the wheel so feigned sickness for him to quickly pull over (and take a break)!
Wherever possible, it is always safest to use a car seat when travelling with children. Try to book a taxi or transfer that will provide the age appropriate car seat for your child. If you are bringing your own car seat from home, check it meets the safety standards in that country.
We bought a brilliant Bubble Bum inflatable booster seat for our family gap year for our six year old son. It proved invaluable. The Bubble Bum booster seat was tough, durable and packed up small into our carry on luggage.
I wish we had taken less flights…
Some journeys can only be easily completed by airplane. Hawaii to Samoa and Sydney to Hong Kong are virtually impossible without flying!
But there were other times when we took short flights for convenience or for price.
Annoyingly, flying is often cheaper than catching a train, particularly in the United States. (We took an overnight train from Brisbane to Cairns that was twice as expensive as flying). I regret these short, unnecessary flights as they added to our already huge family gap year carbon footprint.
Half way through our trip, we held a family meeting to discus how the trip was unfolding. We all agreed that we disliked airports and flying. This family discussion led to the idea of travelling overland from Hong Kong to the UK by train.
If you have to fly, I recommend Skyscanner for sourcing good deals. Try to fly at unsociable times of the day, travel mid week and depart from or arrive into regional airports. These tricks helps to reduce ticket prices. Join partner programs such as One World and Star Alliance to rack up air miles.
Ferries and boats
None of us like ferries and yet surprisingly, we took lot of them?!
Ferries can be used to avoid flying and overnight ferries save on accommodation costs.
We took several boat trips that showed is incredible scenery such as the Inter Island ferry in New Zealand and from Guilin to Yangshou on the Li River in China.
The eclectic mix of people on ferries can lead to memorable experiences. I will never forget karaoke on our overnight ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm. The upbeat steward running the karaoke tried to encourage ABBA renditions but the Finnish lorry drivers just wanted to sing sad, Finnish ballads.
Shop around for best ferry deals and check prices on comparison websites as well as buying directly from the ferry companies.
You can grab some great travel bargains when travelling as a foot passenger; we travelled from Helsinki, Finland to Tallin, Estonia for just 6 Euro each.
On overnight ferries, we saved money by purchasing a cabin for four people and buying a cheaper ‘seat’ ticket for our fifth person. We then just squeezed the fifth person into our cabin. This worked out much cheaper than buying two cabins for our family of five.
We would love to have tried a re-positioning cruise but never got our timings right. Perhaps a future trip…?
Using local buses with kids
We did not take many local buses during our family’s round the world trip.
As a tourist, it can be challenging to gather the information that you need in order to take a local bus – the exact route, timetable, where the stops are etc. We discovered that taking a local bus often relies on the kindness of strangers; don’t be afraid to ask for help especially on the bus.
Then there is the problem of the fare. Exact money or no cash accepted at all? Half fare for children and what is considered a child?
If you are planning on taking local buses investigate whether there is a local app you can use. For example, when we were in Reykjavik, the city buses required your fare in exact money. The drivers did not give change. On our first bus ride we paid more than we needed to (in an already expensive location)! Then we discovered an app where we could pay our fares via our phones. Doh…..
Check whether you can purchase a day pass for multiple trips or whether there is a card you can buy – such as the Oyster Card in London, UK – which will give you discounted fares. Alternatively, some cities run special ‘free’ buses that circle the city centre in an attempt to reduce city centre traffic. Manchester, U.K has two such routes which, with planning, can be used effectively by visitors for free local transport.
Furthermore, if you are considering using local buses as a way of sightseeing, do not discount the hop on/hop off bus tours found in numerous cities around the world. We took a few of these buses to navigate major cities centres such as Washington, DC and Buenos Aires, Argentina. We used cashback websites to buy tickets or picked up locally distributed coupons. Sometimes we negotiated a discount for one or more of our children.
If you factor in the cost of separate, multiple, one trip local bus tickets plus the stress and time saved, these hop on/hop off buses can be good value for money especially if you are short on time or can get a discount.
We never hired cars for town or city sightseeing. We only hired cars when we wanted to visit rural areas independently (such as the Valdez Peninsula in Argentina) or to avoid the need for an expensive tour (such as when we visited the Golden Circle in Iceland).
Always shop around for a good deal as prices vary hugely. Compare the prices of picking up a hire car at your arrival point (a dock or airport) or the centre of the town or city you are staying in. We find it is cheaper NOT to hire from your arrival point.
Plus, don’t be afraid to hire a car from a local company once you have at your destination. Local companies are often cheaper than international firms and you are helping to spread the tourist dollar.
Coach travel with kids
Coach travel is our least favourite form of travel, especially for my 6 ft 5 husband!
We find coaches noisy, boring and uncomfortable. They stick to major routes and rarely offer a scenic trip. We had one awful overnight journey in the United States when the people behind us partied all night!
The exception to this are the fantastic long distance coach journeys in Argentina. The coaches are clean, efficiently run and offer great value for money. Though I was still pleased to get off the bus after 27 hours, the coach had comfortable reclining seats. You even get your meals (which are edible!) delivered to you on a tray. If we had upgraded to first class we could have had a bed with enclosed curtain. My top tip is to pack eye shades and ear plugs; some of the movies played on the overnight bus were not suitable for children!!!!
Motor homes and camper vans
We lived in 4 different camper vans and motor homes for 3 1/2 months whilst touring New Zealand and Australia.
A road trip is the best way to explore Australia and New Zealand – countries where the outdoors is the biggest attraction. Travelling in a camper van or motor home offers ease and freedom when travelling with kids. We stopped for meals when we wanted, changed our clothes, had a nap and so on.
Three of our vans were relocation vehicles which saved us a fortune. The vans were free or $5 for an initial period with the option to buy extra days at $75 per day. We saved hundreds of dollars a week.
The downside is that whilst you can choose a van to suit your needs, you do not know its specifics until you pick it up. The vans varied from a cramped run down campervan to a brand new spacious six berth motor home.
Another thing to consider when using relocation vehicles is that you have to travel within a time frame.
However, we found that being able to purchase extra days meant our trips never felt rushed. For example, we drove from Cairns to Brisbane over two weeks using a relocation vehicle, explored Brisbane for a few days and then picked up another van which gave us one week to drive to Sydney. We used Relocationcar.com or Imoova to find our deals. Plus, we contacted companies directly and got a brand new six berth motor home from Britz.
In addition, being self contained (having a toilet in the motor home) enabled us to take advantage of the fantastic freedom camping initiative throughout New Zealand and Australia. We only stayed in three campsites the entire trip!
I would highly recommend looking into relocation vehicles for your family gap year – or any trip!
Remember your travel insurance!
Whatever transport options you choose, make sure you are fully covered under your travel insurance policy. We were very fortunate never to be involved in an accident or a disaster.
The majority of travel policies will not cover you to drive a vehicle for which you do not have a license in your home country. For this reason, we did not hire motorbikes or mopeds; it wasn’t worth the risk!
Furthermore, use any restraints or safety items provided. If you have an accident and it can be proved that you did not wear a helmet that was available or were not using available seat belts, your insurance cover may be void.
We also rode cable cars to get around car free villages in Switzerland, hired bikes, rode in a rickshaw in China, a ski lift and tiny speedboat in Russia and rode in the back of several jeeps and pick up trucks in Costa Rica.
It was a busy family gap year!
Which type of transport have you used on your family’s travels? What is your favourite?
Don’t forget to check out our accommodation stats from our family gap year here.