Pulling up your family’s suburban roots and heading off for some developing country for a year is foolish. There are lots of reasons not to do it. For example: How Can You Afford It?
The bottom line is that it’s less than you might think, but let’s be clear on one thing: If your family needs to fly first class, stay in 5-star hotels and mom and dad frequently enjoy caviar and expensive champagne, you might need to have a bank account the size of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet to be able to keep up that pace for an extended period. By traveling on the local economy – taking public transportation and paying the local price for pensions and meals whenever possible – not only do you stretch your shillings and liras, you experience more of the culture. By paying the local price – the price that any self-respecting local would pay for something like a ferry boat ride or a plate of falafel – you are forced to interact with the locals while saving money.
Not to make virtue out of financial necessity, but paying for western-style comforts in developing countries can often serve to insulate you from the culture, as well. Stay in an expensive hotel with English-speaking staff and you’ll not learn any of the local language. Take the air-conditioned tour bus and you’ll never really appreciate the local weather or the distances that you’re covering. Order a hamburger in the expensive hotel’s restaurant and you’ll miss out on that region’s cuisine.
Sometimes paying the local price can be a lot of work. While it is easier to have a tour guide and huge air-conditioned bus take you on a full day tour, you will pay five to 10 times the cost of doing it on your own. Doing it on your own can at times be frustrating as figuring out the local bus schedule or blindly negotiating the local price of a taxi isn’t always easy. Obviously if you can speak some of the local language this is easier. We had an easier time of it in South America because we all spoke Spanish. Without any of the local language, you may find yourself pantomiming a chicken laying an egg as you try to explain that you’d like eggs for breakfast.
A family of four can probably travel through most developing countries for a minimum of $100 dollars per day, excluding airfare and larger excursions like safaris, Galapagos cruises or a multi-day treks that are guided and catered. For developed countries, you’ll probably have to double that amount. Accommodation, which usually comprises 40-50% of your daily budget, is where you can save the most. You won’t be staying at a Comfort Inn or a Hilton but for $10 per person or less you can have some fairly authentic experiences: i.e., sleeping in a cave hotel in Central Turkey, staying in salt-block pension on the Bolivian altiplano or spending the night with a Nubian family on the Nile in Egypt.
The notion that tourists have “more money than time” and travelers have “more time than money” is a cliché but it helps explain the financial/temporal dichotomy of travel. With only a week in a country, you don’t have time to figure out the local shared taxi system or learn what the locals pay for a pension and meals. If you have a month to cover the same ground, there is plenty of time to do (and pay) as the locals do.