OPINIONBy Wendy Lee Walsh, Ph.D. Last week I wrote an article for TODAY Moms about a psychology study that shows that international travel increases creativity in kids. In the article I explained that my 12-year-old is about to travel with me to her 10th country -- and it shows in her creative writing. With so many families struggling in the recession, many readers lost sight of the point of the article and instead assumed I am a wealthy woman who can afford extravagant vacations. Their comments on my post suggested that I have lost touch with the realities of most Americans. In truth, tips on affordable travel for families would be an entirely different article. So, here it is! First of all, to make travel a priority, the travel budget begins with lifestyle choices at home. I am a single mother of two. Since the recession, we moved from a three bedroom apartment to a studio apartment. Just going from a Lincoln Navigator to driving a Toyota Prius put about $1,000 a month in my pocket. But this article isn't a blog about how to save money at home. It's about how expose your children to international experiences. Here are some of my tips:
1. Forego hotels and rent private homes and apartments
You'd be surprised how much cheaper an apartment in Paris is than a hotel. And it allows you to stay out of the expensive touristy areas and live in a neighborhood. The biggest website for private vacation homes is Vacation Rentals by Owner, but my new favorite boutique site is Travel e Home. 2. Share expenses with other families
We are leaving for Costa Rica this week and have split the cost of the home with two other families. Traveling with a large group can save lots of money. Kids can sleep on inflatable beds and sofas so you don't need a mansion. 3. Use public transportation
Taxis, car services and private shuttles don't let kids rub shoulders with the locals. But buses, trains and public ferries do! In Venice, Italy, we ignored the water taxis and bought a water three-day "bus" pass for about $12. 4. Cook!
There is no better way to expose your kids to local customs in foreign countries than to bring them to local markets and try local ingredients. 5. Try educational tours
There are often group discounts on educational tours of say, art and architecture. In Ireland, I went to cooking school on a 400 acre organic farm that offers residential discounts in their "dorms" (Read: Elegant stone structure that were probably converted stables.) That farm also offered free room and board for those who volunteered on the farm. 6. Fly on international carriers
Many international airlines offer discounts that Americans may not be aware of. Ryanair is an example of a budget airline in Europe. At the time of this writing, they have a flight from the U.K. to Spain for just 10 pounds each way! Ask the homeowners which airline they like to fly on. When I began to search for flights for our summer trip to Costa Rica, I was disappointed to see that most of the American carriers had really jacked up their prices this year. But the owner of the home we'll be renting suggested trying Taca Airlines, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this Costa Rican-based airline still offers 50 percent discounts to kids! 7. Be prepared to go at the last minute
One of my favorite websites, FareCompare.com, has Twitter lists you can follow that tweet breaking news of last-minute deals from your home airport. Mine is called @FlyFromLAX. Finally, I have one very creative way that I "earn" money for travel. I often rent out my own apartment to international travelers and use that money to get away. I've tackled this assignment with zest, putting chocolates on pillows, fresh flowers in the bathroom, and writing my own "guide to the neighborhood" book with restaurant and amusement recommendations. This alone has exposed my kids to plenty of international folks. We've hosted amazing guests, such as the Canadian TV host who left gifts on all of our beds. The English screenwriter who left behind scraps of paper scribbled with prose that might turn out to be valuable someday. And the family from the Netherlands whose little girls learned to boogie-board with my kids. If we are in town when we have "guests" we couch surf with friends until our place opens up again. I have one other travel trick. On gift-giving holidays like birthdays, graduations and religious holidays I ask friends and relatives to buy only gift cards like American Express or Visa, or give cash. I keep the gifts in an envelope for our next trip and it becomes my kids' personal souvenir money. Confidential to Aunty Maria: Thanks! My kids can't wait to buy a souvenir when we go ziplining in the rain forest. White faced monkeys and exotic birds, get ready, here come some adventurous American families. How do you save during a vacation? Post your best ideas below! Dr. Wendy Walsh looks at the hot news topics through a lens of relationship psychology. She blogs daily for MomLogic.com and her own blog, Dating. Mating. Relating, and is the relationship expert for Pregnancy Magazine. She also appears regularly as a psychological expert on CNN and has appeared on TODAY and “The CBS Early Show.” Dr. Walsh holds a B.A. in journalism, a master’s degree in psychology, and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She is the author of “The Boyfriend.” To learn more you can visit: MomLogic.com/WendyWalsh and DrWendyWalsh.com.