Last spring, after saving for seven years, Chad and I took our children on the trip of a lifetime. We travelled to western Ireland for 16 days. Anyone who can set aside $25 per check and has the ability to stay on a budget can take this family journey. Here’s how we reached our goal:
Savings-First, we made sure we had an adequate emergency fund because without one, we would be forced to use the money earmarked for the trip on those “life moments” that interfere with a monthly budget. Then I set up an “Ireland Fund,” which pulled $25 per check. About two years before the trip, we increased the amount to $50 per check.
We also started a savings jar at home with EIRE painted on it. The whole family added their spare change. The kids were part of the process from the start and loved to add their pennies to the pot. When it was full, I made a deposit in the “Ireland Fund.” (On a side note: We had to protect the fund over the seven years, avoiding the temptation of spending the money on something else.)
In addition, we tried to pay for a few trip expenses out of our regular monthly budget. For example, the summer before, we paid for passports. We also paid household expenses like kenneling the dog and someone to keep an eye on the house.
One year before, we held a family meeting. The kids learned that we were paying for the trip, but any extras were their responsibility (souvenirs, their later love of MARS bars, fishing, horseback riding, etc). We told them how much certain activities would cost and explained the exchange rate and had our proud Mom and Dad moment that summer before when the kids went out and looked for side jobs and saved their money. Ireland was also our birthday and Christmas present for the year (Well, we did exchange a few small things). The money budgeted for gifts was added to the “Ireland Fund.”
The actual trip-We saved a lot of money by traveling in the off-season. Spring Break is a lovely time to visit Ireland. Yes, we had a few chilly days, but that’s what Irish sweaters are for. We also chose this time because the kids missed less school.
Airfare was the largest expense, 30-40% of our budget. We spent many months researching the best cities, days of the week, and time of day to travel. Traveling to Ireland over spring break did not have the same price increases as travel in the US.
For lodging we started in Bed and Breakfasts, but at 100 Euros per night for the five of us, it added up. We opted to rent a cottage. This saved us money and provided two important facilities: A full kitchen and laundry.
Meals were quite expensive in Ireland. We saved money by eating two of our meals per day at the cottage or opting for a picnic on the road. There was always a fabulous supply of cold smoked salmon, Irish cheese, and soda bread at the local market. We also saved money by stopping at the grocery stores in the larger cities. The food and supplies were significantly less compared to the smaller villages.
Entertainment-We were content exploring the beautiful countryside of western Ireland, so we didn’t have many entertainment expenses. While the men took a one day fishing charter in Cong, and the ladies went horseback riding in Cleegan, much of our time was spent exploring locations with reasonable entrance fees or no fees at all (places like the Dingle Penninsula, the Cliffs of Moher, St. Brigid’s Well, Kylemore Abbey, Bunratty Castle, Ballyconelly Beach, Croagh Patric, Cong Abbey, and Ross Errilly Friary).
A no spending day-Our last day at the cottage, we had a “no spending day.” We tried to eat all the food in the cupboards, wash all our clothes for the last leg of the trip, attempt some strategic packing of any purchases, and in addition to keeping us on budget, after all the running around, a day of relaxation was appreciated by the adults.
Added expenses-While no budget is perfect, we tried to anticipate every possible expense. About a year before, we researched the extra costs. (They add up… so this helped us reach a reasonable estimate.)
Kenneling the dog
Saving over a longer length of time didn’t affect our budget much until we increased the amount over the last two years. Travel to Ireland is truly possible for any family who makes the long term commitment to save. Our Irish adventure was worth it! Slainte!