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How Our Good Traveler Budget Works

When we went to Japan earlier this year, Bart suggested that we offer our kids a “Good Traveler Budget.”

It was very popular on our Japan trip and we did it again on our Paris trip.

The Good Traveler Budget basically acts as little bit of an incentive to hold it together when traveling gets tiring and days are long and also a way for them to have money for souvenirs or extra treats instead of asking us to buy them things.

Each day, they can earn $5 (or a general equivalent in whatever the local money is – so in Paris, they each got 5 euros) from the previous day’s good behavior and then that money is for them to buy any extra treats or souvenirs they want over the course of the trip.

Here were some of the most common questions about the Good Traveler Budget:

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What constitutes a good traveler?
A good traveler, for me, is someone who is a good sport, is polite and respectful to local people and places, tries to help everyone in the group have a good experience, handles the ups and downs of traveling with grace, and is enthusiastic about the experiences we’re having together.

What constitutes BAD behavior and how is that decided?
We always have a little family meeting about expectations for a trip before we go so everyone is on the same page. The things that we’re really looking to avoid are excessive whining, bad attitudes about activities and sites we’re visiting, and unkind behavior toward siblings.

Do you really follow through and NOT give them the money if their behavior wasn’t good enough?
100%. If you aren’t going to follow through, I wouldn’t even bother with this. As soon as they know there’s no connection between their behavior and their earnings, it becomes meaningless. And it’s not a surprise “oh you didn’t earn it today.” If things start to drift toward the behavior we’ve talked about before the trip, we’ll give them a warning and they know that if things don’t turn around, they’ll lose their budget for the day.

Do you keep it a group system? Or single out one or more girls who maybe didn’t earn the money?
It’s individual – one child can lose it without it affecting what the other children earn.

Since kids can’t be good 100% of the time, how do you determine whether or not they are good enough?
We’re looking to give them their budget every day – we’re not looking for any excuse to take it away. We absolutely understand that traveling is often exhausting and challenging and we’re just looking for them to mainly hold themselves together and be good sports about the fun AND tough things about travel.

How do you determine good behavior vs. just tired? 
The good news is that, as parents, we spend a LOT of time with our kids and its pretty obvious when a child is just tired and worn down from a long day versus deliberately provoking their siblings or being a bad sport about visiting something that’s not necessarily top of their list. Again, we’re not looking for this to be punitive – I know as well as anyone how it feels to be just flat out exhausted and not on my A game.

We don’t use “good”. But use “safe” and “helpful”.
Great! You’re welcome to call it whatever works for you. “Good traveler” is a phrase that works for us.

Is it $5 or 0? Is there a way for them to earn $3 or another amount?
We do all or nothing. It’s too complicated for us to keep track of otherwise, but you’re welcome to do a sliding scale if you’re so inclined.

How to not feel like you’re constantly threatening to take away money?
You’ll know your child best and if this is a system that will be helpful for your family or just more hassle than it’s worth. We basically are willing to give two reminders in a day. If it comes up more than that, then you’ve lost your money. The idea of constantly threatening my child with the loss of their budget sounds like it would make my trip way LESS fun and I’d just scrap it entirely. Clear expectations and boundaries make it work pretty smoothly for our family at this moment in time. If you want to try it but think you might spend it all threatening to take it away, set a clear expectation with your child of how many reminders you’ll offer and then follow through.

Is $5 really enough to buy things in places like Paris? Or do they have to save up?
Oh, there are PLENTY of things to buy for $5 – I wouldn’t worry about this at all. And they often save up too.

Can they roll it over/ save for a bigger thing at the end?
Yes! The only catch is that one of the purposes of the Good Traveler Budget is for them to learn to SPEND money (not just hoard it as they might be tempted to do because they are my children and miserly with money is in our genes), so they need to spend it by the end of the trip or they lose it.

What kind of things do the girls end up getting? Do they have a collection?
The three younger girls each bought a little music box (they were everywhere in Paris!). Tally bought a little compact mirror at Giverny and a small notebook. Star and Ella bought berets. Star bought a wallet. Ella bought some Eiffel Tower earrings and macarons. Ani bought a fan to add to her fan she bought in Japan and paid for her own sailboat at jardin du luxembourg (we’d paid for one for the family, but she wanted to do her own).

What if you’re in a place that you won’t be returning to, but they haven’t saved enough yet?
Then they either can’t buy it or they can use their own money from their personal accounts to buy it. I’m not excited about teaching my kids to spend money they haven’t earned yet on things that are total wants, so we’re not going to loan them future day’s money to pay for something now.

What age did you start this?
We just did it for the first time in May when our youngest was 6 years old.

Do you adjust based on the age?
No, it’s the same for all our girls.

Would you still do $5 for teenagers?
Ella is a teenager so. . . yes. And as they get older, they have more of their own money to spend, so I feel fine keeping it at $5 even as they’re older.

Do you give literal cash or keep the record on your phone?
Bart kept track of it when we were in Japan and afterward he said he wasn’t going to do that again. In Paris, we had literal cash which was much better.

Do they carry the money or do you?
Either – we let them decide. Tally was insistent that she carry her money on the second day and lost it within about five minutes (we did not replace it for her and she was a very good sport about it). The rest of the trip, she chose outfits with better pockets where her money would be safe and she was very careful with it from there on out.

Does the amount change with a longer or shorter trip?
Yes, because it’s $5 per day, so less days means less money.

Do they get a separate souvenir budget too?
Nope – this IS the souvenir budget.

How do you know how much money to convert to the destinations currency?
Just google 5 dollars to euros or whatever currency you’re looking at and make a decision about what’s the right amount for your budget. For instance, right now, $5 equals 749.28 yen in Japan which is an inconvenient number – 700 or 800 yen a day is way easier.

We usually buy 1 souvenir each trip  – do you do that as well or have them buy their own?
If you know me, you know that I am not a souvenir buyer so we’ve almost never bought souvenirs on our trips (this is one reason Bart implemented the Good Traveler Budget!). In Japan, we didn’t buy them any souvenirs, but in Paris Bart wanted to get them each something special (have you noticed who the fun parent is??), so we bought each of them a small Paris snow globe as our gift to them.

Any other questions about the Good Traveler Budget? Happy to answer!


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  1. I love this! My parents often give our son $10-15 when we go away on a trip that he can use for a souvenir but I do really like the idea of the good traveler budget as extra money, especially for sweet treats and such at the places we go.
    We also don’t personally buy souvenirs except we try to pick up a Christmas ornament from the new places we have been.

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