Audrey standing at the beach on tippy toes waving

8 Steps to Cheap and Fun Midlife Travel

Tips for family and midlife travelers in their forties to sixties to fulfill their travel dreams, cheaply and lightly.

Audrey standing at the beach on tippy toes waving

Cheap Midlife Travel is Possible!

Let’s face it, when you’re in your forties and middle age years, setting aside money to travel can be challenging. Don’t worry, though. You don’t have to resign yourself to experiencing adventures only through your favorite novels. I’ve put together 8 steps to cheap midlife travel to get you started on making your own adventure dreams a reality. I am here to tell you something:  It isn’t luck! It takes planning and openness to try an outside-the-norm type of travel. Maybe you’ve got a mortgage and kids. Maybe you are paying off your own mid-life-career-change student loans and facing a future of helping your progeny with theirs.  Perhaps you have aging parents that need your financial assistance. Do not despair!  As a single mom of three, friends often ask me how I am so lucky to be able to go on exotic adventures.  Here’s how I do it.

1.  Pick your destination last

Airfare is often the single biggest expense, and thus, travel deterrent, to adventurers on a budget. In fact, one of the main reasons I’ve ended up in some unusual (but fantastic) places is simply because the flights were lower to there than anywhere else.  A fellow traveler introduced me to and it’s become one of the first places I look when planning a cheap midlife travel adventure. Skyscanner lets you enter your departure airport and then choose “Everywhere” as your destination!


Skyscanner searches all the flights purchased over the past 15 days from your departure city to “everywhere”  for the dates you selected and shows the lowest prices by country. All you need to do is pick the dates you can travel and then let Skyscanner guide you!

Punta Cana - Gary's Good Times

For example, my kiddos go with their dad every other Thanksgiving. Last year I was bugging to get out of the cold and had a few vacation days in the bank.  Skyscanner helped me settle on taking a five day getaway to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for a mere $193 round trip from Philadelphia – over Thanksgiving break! I stayed in an Airbnb, not a resort. I ate and drank like (and with) the locals  and enjoyed a five-day island getaway for a little over $300.

This year I am setting off to Curaçao for a mid-January family adventure.  I had never even heard of Curaçao, one of the ABC islands north of Venezuela, before Skyscanner! I snagged round-trip tickets for around $300 each and then booked an inexpensive Airbnb in a beach side resort condo!  Seven sunny days await!

2. Be Flexible with Plans

Once you figured out your destination, no doubt you spent the next month planning every detail of your cheap midlife travel adventure. The big day comes and you land at your destination. Ahhh, day one of your itinerary has you relaxing on the beach, toes in the sand, umbrella drink and the latest bestseller in hand.  Sounds great! The only problem? It’s pouring down raining. Or, even worse, you haven’t even arrived. Maybe your first flight was delayed and you are stranded at a bland airport hotel in Toronto, miles from any action. (Yeah, that happened). Ughhhh.

No problem! Send out a message to your social networks (including couchsurfing) asking for ideas on how to spend the day! I connected with a local Couchurfing host and ended up the guest of a stranger-turned-friend who was willing to escort me and a fellow stranded passenger around Toronto.

Just one of the many reasons I love the Couchsurfing connections!

It wasn’t Ireland as planned, but thanks to my Couchsurfing connections, we toured Toronto with a local and ate at an inexpensive little hole-in-the-wall that had the best dim sum I ever tasted. Instead of sitting alone in a beige hotel room, we engaged in a robust conversation with a new friend discussing how life in Canada compares to life in the U.S. Willingness to be flexible and not angry about the flight delay turned what could have been a miserable for day of vacation into a memorable midlife travel adventure with new friends.

3.  Talk to the Locals

parade of kids - lake atitlan
Parade of Mayan school children celebrating their culture

When I was heading off to Central America for a two month backpacking adventure, a large majority of my friends and family cautioned me about how unsafe it was to travel there.  (Funny, I read the same thing about my hometown….) Anyway, I reminded my well-wishing naysayers that I was no more likely to go wandering down strange alleys at night in Honduras than I was in Harrisburg – and just as likely to come to harm in either place if I did! The point is, I know where not to go in my hometown – where it isn’t safe or has higher odds of delivering an unpleasant experience. When you are traveling it makes sense to tap into that type of local knowledge. But…it requires talking to strangers!  And, not just about where not to go, but also about where to go.  I believe people genuinely love to expose travelers to the best thing their town or country has to offer.  When looking for places to visit, I often stop random strangers on the street or turn to a nearby table and ask – Where should I go? What should I see here?  On a recent Mother-daughter trip to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, we saw school children dressed in traditional Mayan clothing parading through town and then back into the school building.  When we asked the vendor selling  licuados what the parade was for, he encouraged us to knock on the school house door and go see. We hesitated because such a thing is unheard of here in the United States. But, the vendor assured us it would be quite okay. A few knocks on the door and we found ourselves invited in to watch the festivities. The school master asked a few kids to pull chairs up for us and we had front row seats to a traditional Mayan heritage festival dance performance right there in the school yard.  You won’t find that kind of experience in a travel guide!

4.  Hostels are not just for the young

Hostel with pool in Colombia
The Dreamer Hostel in Santa Marta, Colombia

When I first became acquainted with the word “hostel” I had an image in my mind that it was a lodging option geared toward the backpacking, party-minded, I-don’t-really-care-how-disgusting-the-bed-is-as-long-as-it’s-cheap, twenty-something traveler. How wrong I was! Many hostels these days target families and midlife travelers and offer amenities that compete with a much more costly hotel.

Hostels generally charge a per person rate.  The Dreamer Hostel pictured here was $16/night per person. That’s right – sixteen dollars. Not all of them permit children, though, so do your homework. Read reviews from like-minded travelers on sites like or and look for “family friendly” or “children welcome” labeling. Those hostels are less likely to be party central. I spent several hours swinging in a hammock by the pool finishing up my latest novel.

I actually prefer staying in hostels because the guests tend to interact much more than they do at hotels and some of the best people to ask about where to go and what to see are the ones who have just explored the town that day! Another bonus is that most hostels have a kitchen facility that helps keep your meal budget under control. It is a great cultural experience for yourself and for children to visit a local market to pick up the ingredients for a packed lunch or an easy one-pot dinner.

5.  “Street Food” (probably) won’t kill you

Street food
Bonus: Street food vendors are super friendly, too!

Don’t feel like cooking? The sticker price for a sit-down dinner every day can put your budget into an economic shock. Street vendors are your answer, my friend. With the raging popularity of food trucks in the U.S., I would have thought more people would embrace buying food from similar type vendors abroad. But, for some reason, there is still a general hesitancy.  Granted, U.S. food trucks are held to food safety standards that may be different than applied to street food vendors abroad, but if you eat where the locals eat, you’re probably fine!

My only reservation about street food is purchasing fresh fruit and veggies or water based drinks.  If I have any concerns about the local water, I make sure to wash fruits and veggies myself with bottled water.

So, glance around, make a beeline for the vendor with the most patrons, and enjoy a delicious, traditional and inexpensive meal!

6. Leave your suitcase at home.

packed bag
Ready for a two week journey through Colombia!

Love a certain outfit? Great! You’ll be able to wear it twice (or three times) in one trip and no one will be the wiser.  At $35+ dollars per bag, the term “checked luggage” has no place in a traveler’s vocabulary.  The average midlife traveler is generally vacationing for no more than two weeks at a time.  Therefore, with proper planning, you can fit everything you need into a carry-on bag saving your muscles and your wallet.

Start with gathering everything you intend to take and then pare it down to the minimum. Pack only what you need to wear a new outfit everyday for five or six days. Put together outfits that can mix and match. Throw in a scarf or two. Pack pants that convert to capris or shorts. And, please do not take more than two pairs of shoes (one of which will be on your feet!). You will regret lugging around five pair of fancy pair of heels that you never wore.

When you run out of clean clothes, drop a bag of laundry at the nearest facility and on return from your adventure pick up your clean, folded and wonderfully aromatic bundle of next week’s outfits.Trust me, your social media following friends will be too enthralled with your sense of adventure to care (or notice) that you wore the same outfit to climb ancient ruins one day and again another day while feeding wild monkeys.

7. The world goes ’round in unusual ways

Tuk-tuk in Guatemala
Common method of local transportation in Guatemala – the tuk-tuk!

You can skip most of the costly packaged tours and control your own adventure! Want to visit the local nut farm where you heard the macadamia nut pancakes with fresh blueberry syrup are out of this world?  No problem! After a quick chat with some knowledgeable strangers and a few quetzales in hand, you’ll be climbing onto the chicken bus heading out of town. Heard the view from the top of the hill overlooking the city is amazing, but not in the mood to walk? That’s what a tuk-tuk is for!

Simply stated, the typical big bus tour is about the most boring way ever to see, well…to see nothing. That’s no way to have a cheap midlife travel adventure! On a recent Mommy-Daughter trip to Guatemala with a friend and our two daughters we made it our mission to ride as many different forms of transportation as possible.  In a week’s time we rode in four airplanes, a taxi, two shuttles, five chicken buses, three tuk-tuks, a horse, a speed boat, a public boat, and in the bed of a pick-up truck filled with locals. Que adventura!

8.  Pulling the kids out of school is not child abuse

Audrey and her smiling family
Healthy, happy and travel-educated kids!

I first began taking family adventures during the school year when my eldest was seven. For most parenting travelers, it makes sense financially because flights are often cheaper outside of school holidays. I was fortunate that my child’s school had an “educational travel” policy that permitted children to miss up to five (5) days of school for qualified travel. I was amazed by how many families did not take advantage of the policy and even questioned my judgment despite being enlightened about the policy.  “But, he’ll miss so much,” they said.  “Aren’t you worried she’ll fall behind?” “What about the perfect attendance award!?” “School is his job and it is irresponsible to let him skip.” Bah, I shrugged, to each his own and off we went.  It paid off.  When my kids studied U.S. Geography, they not only knew where a state was, they were able to describe the Great Plains from personal experience.  Missed the lesson on map reading? Worry not! The school skippers know how to get around without Google Maps. Missed a week of Spanish lessons?  Not actually!

In all fairness, it is much easier to take a week long educational field trip during the elementary school years when the lessons aren’t as intense and homework isn’t as burdensome.  However, you do not need to use all five (5) days at once. Spring break coming up?  Pull them out of school the Friday before or the Monday after and save a bundle on airfare. Your kids and your wallet will thank you.

That’s all it takes to get out there and explore the world!  What’s stopping you?  Grab the next book on your To-Be-Read list, check your calendar, and go!


3 responses to “8 Steps to Cheap and Fun Midlife Travel”

  1. Joe Avatar

    Well written. I guess I am more of a bundled traveller. For example, I can’t imagine picking my destination last. But it sounds fun, and I will definitely use some of those tips in the future. I stayed in hostels as a youth, but never thought much about it since.

  2. […] cemetery. It sits on top of a large hill overlooking the main part of town. Oscar flagged down a tuk-tuk to take us to the top and waited patiently while we made yet another offering. […]

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