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Frugal Adventures Around the World

A few months ago, I had the hair-brained idea to take our whole family, including my two and a half-year-old and four-year-old boys, to India.  

Well, to be fair, it was my Grandpa’s idea- he turned 100 years old and the whole family arranged a big reunion to celebrate!   

Being frugal is prioritizing what spending is important.  Being there with my family for this reunion was very important to me.  I am so glad we went!

The crazy, beautiful Sethi Family, all here thanks to Sadanand Sethi there in the center.

Unfortunately, the party was scheduled over Christmas vacation, during peak flight pricing.  I hunted and hunted for frugal tickets for several months and finally when prices hit a nadir, I got some tickets for a great price.

In fact, we decided to add a stop in the country of Malta in the Mediterranean for a little exploring before going home.

I love traveling but I have to admit I was afraid of traveling with two toddler boys.  If you are a boy parent, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, having two boys is like having two energizer bunnies on steroids running circles around your house ALL DAY.  Then there are tantrums, nap times, potty training, and so much more fun to deal with. I had no idea how we would keep the boys entertained and happy on multiple long haul flights.  

We just got back from our adventure to India and Malta.  I’m happy to report, the boys did great and we all had a great time!  We went from JFK to New Delhi via Paris, then to Indore, then Chandighar, then to Malta via Delhi and Rome, and back to New York. Here were some of our greatest wins and fails.

Enjoying some much needed sunshine on Gozo

Wins

We Got Very Frugal Tickets

I wrote before on how I got some great tickets for this trip through a combination of price trackers and credit card points.  I used chase points to book the trip through the Chase travel reservation center.  Chase points are usually most effective if transferred to a travel partner, but since I was booking a multi-stop trip on multiple airlines, the Chase reservation center worked better.

We Utilized Credit Card Benefits

Plaza Premium Lounge in Rome, Italy

I have three major travel cards- the Chase Sapphire (Reserve and Preferred) and American Express Platinum.  Both Chase and Amex were invaluable for this trip.

The biggest perk was airport lounge access. With the two boys, it was very important for us to have food and space for the kids to play safely during layovers. 

Chase and Amex both provide Priority Pass memberships. Priority Pass let us get into great lounges at JFK, New Delhi, and Rome where we could get free hot food and cold beverages.  Airports food pricing can really eat away at your budget, so having these lounges available was a total frugal win. 

Also, Amex has their own Centurion lounges that are a step above with made to order gourmet food for free. Amex had a lounge in Delhi which was small but had great food.

To better utilize all these lounges, my husband made an excel sheet of all the lounges available to us at the airports we were flying through.  That really helped.

I used the Chase card to book a rental car in Malta because it had pretty good rental car insurance benefits. 

Also, Chase protected against baggage losses.

JFK Lounge

Mommy and Daddy Approved

We also used Chase to get TSA PreCheck reimbursement. This is great for skipping the lines at security while in country.  I would have gotten Global Entry, too, but I ran out of time. Next time, we are definitely doing this because the immigration and customs lines to get into the US are terrible. 

I actually signed up for the Amex after booking this trip, so I could use the spending to meet their minimum spend for the sign on bonus points. So now, we have another 60,000 points to use for another trip!

As a final credit card win, Amex provided us with a status upgrade at Marriott Bonvoy to Gold Elite, which gave us VIP concierge and 3pm late checkout.  I used it to book a very nice hotel in Chandigarh for my extended family.

The Chandigarh Marriott- Kids loved that bath.

A note on fees: Chase recently upped the yearly membership fee for their Reserve card to $550 from $450, to keep pace with Amex.  For that, they are adding Lyft and Doordash benefits.  I analyzed whether I should keep the card or not here.

Also, a note on credit cards:  Credit cards are great for benefits, but you have to pay them off every month!  No lounge is worth 14-17% interest on a balance.  I 

We bought Bed Boxes for the Kids

At $150 each, these boxes were not cheap.  But, man did they make our lives a lot easier.  Bed Boxes are ride on suitcases that include a way to make the box into an extendable platform and bedding that can turn an economy seat into a lay flat bed for the kids. 

Kids loved riding on them for transport in the airport and playing with them during down time. On flights where we could use them, the boys did significantly better and slept A LOT, which was GREAT.

The only limitation is that some airlines, like Air France, won’t allow them. We flew Air France on the way to India and not being able to use the Bedbox for sleeping sure did make entertaining toddlers on a plane a lot harder.  So, I have resolved to only travel on airlines that allow Bedboxes from now on- yay Delta!

Another perk of the Bedboxes was that by en large, the staff loved them and the kids got a lot of attention because of them. More often than not, they would get us moved up to the front of any line we encountered.

Ready for an Adventure

Winning at Napping at Amex Lounge in Delhi

I Took My Stethescope

I don’t know why, but there seems to be a medical emergency on the plane every time I travel on long haul flights.  Call me Dr. Black Cloud.  There was one on the way to India and also one on the way back from Malta.

I helped out, the patient did well, and I was given a voucher for the airline as thanks.  Frugal win!

Also, PSA- please hydrate when you’re traveling!  Most of these emergencies have been related to dehydration.

We travelled to where the dollar was strong.

One dollar is currently exchanging at 71 Indian rupees, so our traveling and spending in India was inherently frugal.  We indulged in room dining and spa services at nice hotels for a fraction of the price we would have paid in the states.  It was a nice way to be frugal and win with money at the same time. Malta uses Euros but the prices there were a lot more frugal than the rest of the EU.  

The Auto Rickshaw- A Very Frugal Ride

Google FI worked well for International Travel

Feeling disconnected from modern cellular technology can be the most disorienting part of travel.  I’m so glad Josh switched to Google FI last year.  Not only did we end up cutting our cell phone bill in half, we also got great international coverage.  WiFi costs were unchanged, texts were included, and cellular calls were only $0.20/minute.  We rarely needed to make cellular calls because we could often call over WiFi.  So, even with all that travel, Josh’s cell bill was only $43.99 this month.

We Bought Travel Insurance

For the first time ever, we bought travel insurance through Allianz Travel for our India trip.  I did this on the recommendation of BC Krygowski.  Thanks Brenda!  Though we didn’t need to utilize it, I’m glad we purchased it.  Chase and Amex provide good car insurance for rentals and lost baggage benefits, but coverage for medical emergencies is slim ($2,500 max reimbursement, and $75/day in hotel costs).   Regular health insurance generally does not cover emergencies in other countries (ours definitely doesn’t).  

So, having an extra $25,000 in emergency medical coverage, plus $500,000 for emergency medical transportation, gave me peace of mind.  Also, the policy covers for financial losses from missed connections and travel delays, which is cool.  We almost needed to utilize this after we missed our connection to Malta from Rome because our plane sat on the tarmac at New Delhi for 5 HOURS due to bad smog (let’s get it together, India, that’s ridiculous.)  But, thankfully, Air Italia was able to get us on another plane the same day and we didn’t lose any vacation time.  

Anyway, total cost= $158 for 4 people for 2 weeks.  Peace of mind= priceless.  

Pro tip: Buy the travel insurance within 14 days of making your first trip payment and pre-existing conditions will be covered.  Otherwise, they will not.  

Fails

International AirBnB is not always reliable

Initially, my family booked an AirBnB in Chandighar for my grandpa’s party.  They ended up cancelling on us much before the trip, so we ended up staying at hotels.  The hotels worked out great for us. We had other family who had a similar experience with AirBnB in India- they actually checked in but then moved to a hotel because of disappointing accommodations at the AirBnB.  Apparently, that is a usual story in North India. 

So, I would recommend hotels for any of you while travelling to North India. The prices are great compared to the states and you will get excellent service.

We utilized an Airbnb in Malta and it was a mixed experience.  The apartment was beautiful and right on the water, but check in instructions were not given and we ended up having to scramble at the airport, trying to figure out how we could get into the apartment.   Also, the water to the bathrooms was in and out. We would probably AirBnB in Malta again though, if we had to do it over. 

The view from our balcony in Sliema, Malta

We Did Not have Converters for Malta

I remembered to buy voltage converters for electronics for India but forgot about Malta.  That was huge problem on our first day when we got to Malta. All our electronics were dead and we had no way to call the AirBnB owners about the water not working.  Unfortunately, these converters are usually not available at most convenience stores in the country either because the locals don’t need them. So, my husband had to drive back to the airport to go grab a converter.  Dad for the win!  

Typhoid Shots are ridiculously overpriced

Travel vaccinations are, by en large, not covered by health insurance. Thankfully, most of them are not super pricey. Oral typhoid vaccinations are pretty reasonable, but it is a live vaccine and not approved for kids less than 6. Also, Josh is on immunosuppression for Crohn’s so he couldn’t get the live oral vaccine. So, we went to a travel clinic for intramuscular inactivated typhoid vaccinations, which cost a whopping $1,020. Ugh, I feel like that could have been done more frugally. Unfortunately, the clinic where we got these was the only one that stocked the IM vaccine in our area. We could have funded it through our Health Savings Account (HSA), but we decided to cash flow it since we use our HSA as a stealth IRA. Thankfully, these immunizations are good for two years, so they will cover us for another international trip.

The Grand Total

Total spend: 

Lodging and incidental spending during the trip: $1,662.88

Travel Insurance: $158.00

Flights for Four from New York-> Delhi (via Paris)->Malta (via Rome)–>New York: $4,249.34

In-India Flights for Four from Delhi->Indore->Chandigarh->Delhi: $1,247.00

Travel Vaccinations: 1,020.00

Total: $8,337.22

Not bad for an around-the-world trip for four during the peak travel times of Christmas and New Years.  Since we had already cash flowed buying the flights in previous months, we didn’t feel it this month.  The rest was funded by our dependent care FSA– pretax money we put away for daycare and had to withdraw at the end of the year.  So overall, I’d call it a budgeting win! 

My favorite part was having two weeks to give my kids and my family my undivided attention and getting to know who they are a little better.  That’s what I love about travel- not only do we discover the world, we also re-discover ourselves and those closest to us.  

Here is to your next adventure!

Stay frugal, ya’ll!

Disha 

Standard Disclaimer: Not meant as individualized financial or medical advice.  This post contains affiliate links.            

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