You Don’t Have to be Rich to Travel with Kids


Nikko found these cars in a random park in Japan

I am not some rich chick with 5K to drop for plane tickets whenever I get itchy feet. Never have been. Every single journey I have taken has been the result of saving, and sacrificing on my day to day luxuries to treat myself to life experiences. 

Sure one day my husband and I would like to own a house, or have two cars, or boast some designer furniture, or eat at French Laundry.  But, truth is, we cannot have more here and travel, especially now that we have two kids to buy airplane seats for.

Luckily, Eddie agrees. He has joined me in this quest to bring the world to our kids through experiences, through seeing the planet beyond our TVs and iPads. We want our kids to see that Japanese kids are kids who like ice cream as much as they do, and that they just happen to ride trains to school by themselves at 7.

Everyone says how expensive it is in Japan, and in many ways that’s true–the sticker shock of a JR Pass (though they lost money on us), the plane ticket, full service hotels, Michelin starred restaurants is jaw dropping.

But we are as savvy on the internet as you. Besides spending hours searching the internet finding the best flight deal (it was on Delta, FYI), we turned to hotel deals. Asia’s Agoda has always hooked us up by offering insanely affordable deals on nice hotels–I’m talking $200 rooms for less than $100.

Hotels are your biggest expense after the flight: And yes, Japan has it’s share of pricy inns, but they also rock some reasonably priced B&Bs, especially outside of Tokyo. Another option is to rent an apartment like we did in Kyoto through Windows To Japan. Or camp, which we did not do.


Tokyo Food Show

And then there’s food: Let me start by saying that my family likes good food; we live in San Francisco. Kai’s favorite dinner is sushi. But only once did we sit down to a “nice” restaurant in Japan. First off, we just couldn’t afford kaiseki dinners, or epic sushi spreads. Yes, we splurged on a farm dinner in Kyoto, and waited for an hour to try a sushi set menu at Daiwa at the Tsukiji Fish Market.

But other than that it was all noodle houses and department store food courts. Aside from the facts that not-yet-two-year old Nikko just wouldn’t sit in a restaurant for longer than 3.2 seconds (you can imagine how fun this was), and that on more than one occasion, Eddie and I did not eat together, the reason we did this was because the food was good and cheap!


Tsujiki Fish Market, Tokyo

Kyoto train station has a floor of ramen restaurants where you pick what you want from a vending machine and slurp your ramen, or udon in silence (and quickly–those Japanese are speedy with their noodles).

Tokyo’s Shinjuki station are has tons of department stores, including the out of control Tokyo Food Show for anything you can imagine to eat–French pastries, ahi sashimi, organic salads, tempura, bentos, smoothies–it’s heaven for food lovers looking for affordable eats.

I could go on and on.

And when it comes to activities, if you have kids, you know as well as I do that they don’t need much to be entertained. A park and a stick will suffice for some. And in Japan, my kids spent hours just watching bullet trains speed by, or playing catch in a park.

Truth is we are now more selective of destinations that will appeal to our kids, trying to meet them where they are, at the ages and developmental phases of this moment. And aside from the fact that little Nikko was too stimulated by the excitement of Tokyo, Japan fit that.


How to make it happen: I know as well as anyone that tug. You’re home, it’s late, your children were crazy and didn’t eat the dinner you made; you’re browsing your Pinterest, seeing that perfect pair of shoes, that amazing new couch, and the immediate gratification of something new makes your fingers lunge for your credit card and bam–a couple times of that and your big trip to Costa Rica turns into Mexico, then Key West, then the nearest beach to your community (which I am also a huge fan of, but that’s not what I am talking about here).

Traveling internationally for us mortals takes commitment and saving. You know as well as I do that kids learn by example. We can teach them that traveling is important and life changing by taking them on trips. The other day I overheard 6 year old Kai saying, “You know, it’s a good thing my mom is a travel writer, because when I learn about the world, I also get to see it too.”

Enough said.

For more on family travel, click here,


4 responses to “You Don’t Have to be Rich to Travel with Kids

  1. Thanks for the tips. I’m about to look into budget-friendly accommodation for Japan, so this gives me a couple of places to start. I recall last time we went that hostels were not bad (only slightly cheaper than London or New York hostel prices – but much cleaner) and many ryokans were a surprisingly good deal. The Tokyo metro was also a dream.

    But that was a while ago so I am starting nearly from scratch again.

  2. Pingback: When is the Best Time to Travel to Hawaii? | Planet Playground·

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