I’m a frugal home educator. I like hand-me-downs, books read by more than one child, made-from-scratch foods enjoyed for several meals, and supplies repurposed for other projects. I appreciate anything that does double duty. I’m also an enthusiastic believer in the value of educational travel. A journey doesn’t just teach—it inspires.

Examine your reaction to the idea of family travel and, chances are, you will fall into one of two groups. If you are in the first group you are already persuaded there are great merits to travel abroad and consider it one of the finest perks of being a home educator. If you are in the second group, you see travel abroad as an out-of-reach luxury, something one does when there’s a lot more time and money—a thing to do when all the kids are older, car paid off, weight lost, house cleaned, and laundry folded. I submit it is time to move a big family trip up the “to do” list and into your family’s near future.

Each May, my husband and I host a group of families who make that leap of faith and finances to travel with us to our favorite sites in Italy, Greece, or Turkey. I’ve noticed a pattern: For the first few days everyone sticks close. They are cautious observers tentatively trying a few foreign words, warily sampling new foods, and uneasily counting change at the snack kiosk. However, by the end of the trip, travelers self-assuredly head off through Rome, maps in hand. Having discovered a variety of new, delicious foods, they buy in bulk in Athens’ Plaka to share when they get back home. With a confidently spoken “Merhaba!” [English translation: Hello], they make promises to master a new language and visit Ephesus again soon. They devotedly collect maps, museum books, and ticket stubs from Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Oplontis. Having gazed at three thousand years of history firsthand, they’ve put a face on it and are eager to flesh out the rest with new knowledge. Bonds of family and friendship are fortified with marvelous new memories. They arrive home tired but aching to travel, taste, and try more.

These are tremendous benefits for well-spent educational bucks. In fact, these are the reasons many of us veered off the traditional educational road and followed a different path.

So let’s talk money, that great barrier to travel abroad. Big educational trips can easily cost $2,500 or more per person when you add international airfare, hotels, admission tickets, meals, snacks, land transportation, and a few souvenirs. Newbie travelers make things worse by trying to travel American-style, staying at big-name hotels and reserving a rental car. It can seem impossibly expensive.

There are ways to reduce costs and make travel easier. First, tally up your family entertainment and education costs, and then consider redirecting some of those funds, at least for a time, as you save for a big trip. I’ve spoken to many who claim they can’t afford a trip abroad, yet these same folks make annual pilgrimages to major amusement parks, resorts, time-shares, and beach houses. Consider which luxuries can be sacrificed for now, and then enlist the whole family to cut corners while you set aside savings for the big trip. Get everyone involved in fundraising. Have kids earn part of their way by babysitting, tutoring, and mowing yards. Contributing in this way can be a point of pride for your kids—especially when they get to buy their own gelato.    

Once you decide on a trip, adopt a local mindset. Cheap transportation is the key to making a trip affordable and less stressful. It costs more to stay and eat close to premier attractions, so find small hotels (or even campgrounds) farther out but along main transit lines. Forgo pricey car rentals in exchange for cheap bus or train tickets. Trust local drivers to face the perils of transportation in major cities abroad. Though I’ve visited Rome, Athens, and Istanbul many times, I would never drive in any of those cities.

Enjoy local fast foods prepared fresh, hot, and delicious for very little money. As a pitifully poor college student, I dined on souvlaki in Athens, bagels in Jerusalem, artisan cheese in Sweden, pizza outside the Vatican, panini in Rome, falafel in Amman, roasted pistachios in Istanbul, and baklava on Crete. Don’t forget about those little grocery stores and farm stands either. I once spent a precious $2 for a breakfast of yogurt, local fruit, and fresh crusty bread as I watched the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee. It was one of the finest meals I’ve ever eaten.

Finally, consider traveling with a large group. A good way to reduce travel costs is to share them. A crowd can travel with us affordably because everyone shares the price of a private bus and driver. Hotels often give discounts for larger groups, and set-menu meals can be arranged in advance. Even site guides can be hired more affordably. If the same trip were taken by a little group it might cost an additional $500–1,000 per person, and the group would require several more days of travel to see the same sites. Having a dedicated local bus driver means we lose very little transit time and we get dropped off at the front gate.

Trips abroad will make your family powerfully thirsty for knowledge, history, language, and adventure. Learners come home inspired to take on bigger challenges. You’ll return equally inspired and triply blessed as parent, fellow traveler, and educator. Warning: Travel is a thirst not easily quenched with just one trip!

Amy Barr is a homeschool mother of three and a full-time instructor of other home-educated students as co-founder of The Lukeion Project.  As an archaeologist, she spent more than a decade excavating sites throughout the Mediterranean and teaching Classics at the college level.  Now she and her husband, Regan Barr, offer their expertise through live online workshops and college preparatory high school courses about the Classical world, Latin, and Greek.  The two of them lead annual family tours to the Mediterranean.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: May 1, 2013