Couchsurfing is not for everyone. But it should be. If you are travelling the world and want to experience some local culture, then there is no better way to do it than to couchsurf. But is it safe and can you go Couchsurfing with kids? Or are you all going to end up in some weirdos basement, chained to the walls with only a doll in a clown suit for company?
Ok. I’m teasing.
So far, we have been Couchsurfing as a family in America and in Sri Lanka. As we travel the world in the next twelve months, we plan to couch surf you in every country that we visit.
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What is Couchsurfing? A Short Review.
Couchsurfing is an organisation in which you can choose to be a ‘host’ a ‘surfer’ or both. I don’t know why it’s called surfing. Probably because surfers are cool. That’s why I’m doing it. I’m a cool mummy. With no money and no friends.
The hosts are usually people who have travelled themselves extensively and after having surfed with other people are now in a position to repay the favour and host other travellers with a free bed in their home – or maybe a couch.
The surfers (like us) are travellers who are looking to meet locals, get an inside look at what its like to live in the chosen place. And to not have to pay for expensive hotels.
You don’t pay to couch surf. It is free. That being said, a small gift is etiquette and is always appreciated. A bottle of wine or, if the host doesn’t drink (is there such a person??) a jar of coffee and some washing powder. Perhaps even a takeaway meal. If you surf at my house I’ll take a bottle of Merlot, please.
Couchsurfers have a profile (usually pretty extensive hopefully) in which they describe themselves, their interests, where they have travelled and what sort of person they are willing to host. (Families, couples only, solo female travellers etc.). Don’t bother applying to a family if it states on a hosts profile that they are looking for single twenty-somethings to have a party with.
Couchsurfing hosts often put images of their homes onto their profile – this takes the shock out of what you are turning up to. Not always though. Our Sri Lanka couchsurfing host didn’t post any images. I’m glad they didn’t otherwise I wouldn’t have gone and would have missed out on a memorable experience.
Where we Have Been Couchsurfing With Our Kids:
Charleston in America was our first couchsurf. It was very relaxed; we had our own room and (almost) an ensuite bathroom. It was weird in the sense that the owner was never there. She left the key in a safe box outside, and we simply let ourselves in. How trustworthy is that? The lady was a devout Christian who gave me the chance to talk to the kids about religion. Back in New Zealand, we homeschool, so that was the religious education lesson ticked.
We have also been Couchsurfing with the kids in Washington Dc. The lady was a government lobbyist. The night we arrived, she was having a party with some friends in celebration of her latest victory over a bill she had put into government. She invited us all to eat with her and her friends which were lovely. The conversation at the dinner table was fascinating, to say the least, and needless to say, the homeschooling lesson in world politics was most definitely ticked that night.
We had our own room, but the kids were in the basement. I hadn’t told them my fear of the doll in a clown suit, so they trailed on down there, innocent and unknowingly.
It was a warm, carpeted basement but all the same, it was a basement with only one single bed, the washing machine and the smelly cat litter tray.
One of them had to go on the floor in the sleeping bag. My son did the honours, but he wasn’t happy and complained about a stiff neck and back for the next week. I told him that the money we had saved on accommodation in pricey Washington Dc would pay for him and his sister to go and eat burgers and fries for lunch. This softened the blow somewhat. I advise you to bribe your kids when Couchsurfing. It works a treat.
Being in the suburbs of Washington DC meant that we had to catch public transport. Something that we might otherwise had not done were we in a hotel in the middle of the city. Our host walked us to the train station and even gave us three unused metro tickets. As I said, this is the beauty of Couchsurfing. You get to live like a local.
We have also experienced Couchsurfing in Matara, Sri Lanka with the kids. Not a very comfortable stay but one that none of us will ever forget.
More on that later in the post. You may also want to read about things I didn’t expect in Sri Lanka in this post.
A Quick Review of Breakfast, Dinner and Wifi When You CouchSurf.
When you couchsurf do not expect people to arrange breakfast for you. It is not a hotel.
Where we can, we always take our own cereals and tea bags with us. We used the kitchens in all but one of our Couchsurfing places. Of course, with the permission of the hosts first. Remember to pull your weight when you couchsurf. We always wash not just our own dishes but the hosts’ as well.This is a job that the kids are always given. It makes them feel part of the whole Couchsurfing experience. Honest.
Unless the host asks you to stay for dinner, take it that you will be making your own plans.You will probably be invited to use the kitchen to cook for yourselves. We were, but with a family of four I felt this was just too intrusive, so we ate out. But we did offer to prepare a meal for our host in Washington on one of the nights. This is always appreciated and an excellent way of saying thank you.
We were given the wifi code in just one of the properties we stayed at. We didn’t ask for it; I felt that would have been rude, our host offered it to us. She probably didn’t realise that I was travelling with two wifi junkies. I dread to think what her bill would have been for December.
So. Just to be clear.
A RUNDOWN OF WHAT COUCHSURFING WITH KIDS IS:
Exciting. Perhaps my kids wouldn’t agree with me on this. They prefer hotels in all honesty, but I like the feeling of apprehension you get just before you get to the couchsurfers house. I would call it exciting, my kids would call it terror.
But yes, sometimes scarey. I won’t lie. When the tuk-tuk driver pulled up to our Couchsurfing house in Sri Lanka, I thought I was going to enter into that building never to return. It was only because a) I didn’t want to make myself look like a baby in front of the kids – they already think I’m a scaredy cat. b) I’m too mean to book a hotel when we had planned on a cheap night c) I had Brian, my husband with me and d) I knew we had travel insurance! If anything was to happen to us at least I could say we had excellent cover. (We always use World Nomads. They make me feel pretty safe when I travel with my kids). I don’t mind skimping on hotel rooms but I will only ever get the best insurance.
Couchsurfing is a way to meet local people. In the case of Sri Lanka, their families, the Aunty, the old man next door and the tuk-tuk driver who – as far as I could make out – slept in the carpark.
And to gain inside information on the place that you are visiting and to be given valuable tips that you would not otherwise read in a guidebook.
It is a way to step into some else’s life for a couple of nights. In some cases a life totally opposite to that of your own, but a wonderful opportunity to see a different perspective on life.
And of course, Couchsurfing is an economical way to visit somewhere you’ve always wanted to see.
AND WHAT COUCH SURFING WITH KIDS ISN’T:
Easy. You have to make an effort. After a long day on the road when you are feeling pretty knackered, and all you want to do is crash on the bed and watch some youtube junk, you cant. You have to go and socialise. For adults this might not be too bad, at least there may be some alcohol involved, but for teenagers, it can be tough. My kids can manage about forty minutes, but then I can see them fading.
They also haven’t quite learned the art of speaking in whispers. I have had to mouth “SHUT UP” many times when I have caught them telling each other how the blankets smell funny – all the time with the host standing just behind the door.
A free hotel. You will be expected to (and I hope would want to) pull your weight. The host has been gracious enough to put you up, at least wash the dishes and wipe around the bathroom. If you can’t see yourself doing this perhaps think about booking a cheap hotel instead. If you happen to be in Sri Lanka then I can recommend a few that were not only cheap but were approved of by my teenagers so they must be good. We stayed at The Little Mount Guest HOuse after we had been couch surfing and it felt like the Hilton. Check it out here.
If YOU CHOOSE TO GO COUCHSURFING WITH KIDS BE PREPARED FOR THE FOLLOWING:
That you may have to sleep on the floor. It’s free. Just get on with it. (says she who made her Son kip on the floor while she slept on the air sprung mattress).
The sheets may be a bit iffy. We always travel with our silk sleeping bag liners for this very reason. We used them in two of the places that we stayed in. They are brilliant and have been a Godsend when not just Couchsurfing but in a couple of dodgy hotels too.
Same goes for the pillow. We have our own travel pillows. They are soft and fleecy and pack down pretty small. There is something not very nice about sleeping on someone else’s pillow unless you know its clean. The travel pillow is the closest thing we have to our luxurious memory foam pillow at home.
Socialising. Not always, as I said, one of our hosts was never there for the whole of the three-day couchsurf, but the others were all keen and ready to chat. Hosts are Couchsurfing because they want to meet travellers and their kids and find out about them.
You’ll be given lots of useful information. Tips on cheap restaurants, the best time to visit the Whitehouse and how to get a cheap whale watching cruise were just some of the many invaluable pointers that we received.
And Now For A Slightly Different Couch Surfing Review. CouchSurfing With Kids in Sri Lanka…
Had I known what we were going to I would probably have backed out. I’m glad we didn’t though. The host was a really nice guy. Although, the whole experience was slightly unnerving.
Firstly, we were asked to pay a “donation’ for our stay. In return, we were told that the hosts’ wife would be cooking us three meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whether we wanted it or not. Like I said though, we were keen to meet a local who would give us inside information on the place. This isn’t usual Couchsurfing practice but I was happy to go along with it. He was only charging us $10 per person which still works out pretty cheap for a nights accommodation and all meals.
Secondly, it appeared that we were to have the only bedroom in the house and the family were to sleep on the floor in a room next door. As you can imagine, I wasn’t at all comfortable with this arrangement. Partly because the sheets were still warm from where all five of them had just climbed out of bed, and partly because I couldn’t stand the fact that I was making a family sleep on a concrete floor.
But the host was adamant. He seemed momentary insulted when I tried to insist that he, his wife and his children should not give up their room for us, so I smiled uncomfortably and told the kids through gritted teeth to bring the backpacks inside.This was going to be a story for the future Grandchildren I assured them.
It was awful.
There was just one large room with a single bare lightbulb, a TV in the corner (playing those annoying, screeching pop idol programmes that I talked about in my last Sri Lanka diary post) and a plastic table with some outside chairs.
The kitchen was, well, I didn’t go deep into the kitchen – I couldn’t – and wouldn’t. Not if we were to have three meals prepared for us out of it. Some things are best left unseen.
And the bathroom. The bathroom was a toilet, a bucket and a hose. A modern three piece bathroom set. All encased in three tumbling concrete walls. One side open to the jungle and everything missing a roof.
It wasn’t the Couchsurfing experience my kids had quite envisaged. Or that they had become accustomed to. This made the floor in the basement look like The Ritz. But, hats off to them, after I nearly stapled their lips together so that the host couldn’t hear them crying: “There are lizards under the bed” they floated through it and got stuck in.
And the saving grace was that the host was lovely. As is the case of most Couchsurfing hosts. He was a Buddhist and spent the entire evening educating us all on his religion. That experience in itself was worth the pain of almost giving myself cystitis, caused by the sheer determination of not wanting to use the bucket.
His children were delightful and were intrigued by us. Touching our clothes and laughing when we sang nursery rhymes to them. Sonny did card tricks for them all. That was a real hit. Children are a universal icebreaker. I’m so glad they were there. If you plan on Couchsurfing with kids, try to find hosts who also have a family. It makes it all the easier, especially where language barriers are a problem. When the conversation dries up, you can always ask how far their kids can count up to in English. That’s sure to be a winner.
Couchsurfing with kids is not just fun but extremely rewarding. Try to find a host that also has a family as we did in Sri Lanka.
We had dinner, we slept (all in the same bed. Don’t ask), and we awoke. All unscathed by the smell of cat pee burning our nostrils and the walls that were alive with lizards and ants.
As I told the kids, “This is the real Sri Lanka. This is why we couch surf”
And as they said to me…
I won’t tell you what they said to me. Message me and I’ll tell you privately.
Let’s just say it was an experience. For all of us. And it will be for you too should you decide to try Couchsurfing with your kids.
Leave me a comment below and tell me if you have tried Couchsurfing or are thinking of it. I’d be interested to hear your experiences!
OUR TRAVEL MUST HAVES!
I‘m finding it difficult two write a big grown-up Sri Lanka travel blog. I’m struggling with remaining positive and upbeat every day while travelling the world with my family. So, instead, today you are going to get my Bog Travel Diary. Part 2. You can read #1 here. I warn you though if you’re looking for a useful travel blog you may be disappointed. The Bog Diary is a look into what bad days look like as well as good ones. We are currently in Sri Lanka. If you want to read my positive post on Sri Lanka you can find it here. Otherwise, read on and take a look into the life of a woman who convinced her family to leave beautiful New Zealand and to go around the world for a year.
This post may contain affiliate links. they cost you nothing but we get a small commission.
The Bog Diary. Sri Lanka Travel Blog. Same same but different.
I’ve got to write this down or otherwise, I might explode or even worse go down into a pit of negativity and find myself unable to return. If I write it all down without stopping it’s my way of getting it off my chest. It does work.
They say that you have to have a bad day to appreciate the good days, don’t they? Every cloud and all that. Well, I’ll be waiting with open arms today ’cause yesterday left me feeling like shit. It was one of those days that come 9 pm I was struggling to keep from breaking down and blubbing in front of the kids.
We spent the whole day at the guest house because we were trying to plan for our upcoming trip to India. As I said before, you imagine that you will be able just to rock on up and pick a hotel/flight/train/bus. But in reality, when you get there, more often than not, all of the above are fully booked, or else you find yourself hanging on for dear life out of a bus doorway. Not good with two kids in tow. (actually, why the hell am I using them as an excuse?) But anyway, I am.
Booking an itinerary with hotels and trains with connecting buses is no mean feat. I do use all of the usual search engines which makes it easier but still it makes me want to smash the computer screen into pieces with a bottle of warm water.
A whole day sat at the guest house.
First, you have to picture the guest house.
I don’t want you thinking that this is a homely B&B on a Cliffside in Cornwall, England. With couches and telly and stuff. The guest house. I’m not going to say anything horrible about this place because the owners are beyond helpful. But. After yesterday I’ve had enough. Ten days in the same guest house and its time to say bye-byes.
The guest house.
You cant go into the room in the day because:
a) its like walking into a sauna.
b) It’s dark because there is a piece of material up at the window and its stapled on so there’s no way of taking it down, and
c) It’s like a sauna.
And anyway, the kids are usually always in there sprawled all over the bed ’cause they don’t need much light to play the one game they’ve got on the phone. The one that doesn’t require any internet. Did I mention that wifi doesn’t happen much in Sri Lanka either?
And, I’m glad about that because now at least the kids spend their days either talking, arguing, playing cards, winding me up or reading their kindle. Or arguing. But I’m not glad about that because I’m getting sick to death of having to go and buy mobile data so that I can check an email.
Because of the room situation, I have to sit and do my work on guest house patio. Yes. A square concrete table with four chairs. Thankfully it’s in the jungle, so its nice and cool but I swear, if that manky tom cat walks past me again and sprays up the steps, I will kick its flea-bitten backside from here to New Zealand. I know it hates me and is waiting for me to look away so it can squirt its stinky piss all over my only- thing-that’s-clean. My precious computer bag.
So, we spent the whole day at the table.
The kind guest house lady brought some juice out. Which was very, very kind. Be grateful Liz you moaning cow.
But I’m just saying because I can. The Juice.
Here it is. Tree Apple Juice. When I was a kid my Mum would tell me that if something looked horrible it was good for you. It’s true people.
Tree apple juice.
Why did I ever worry about being constipated in Sri Lanka? Tree apple juice. Its given to us every day. Every. Single. Day. Brought out on the tray while the owners stand over us nodding and smiling until it’s all gone. Every last drop.
It’s the best laxative on earth.
Which is a pain because yesterday the water stopped working.
“Finished! No water!”. Laugh, laugh. Smile, smile.
How bloody hilarious.
“You use our bathroom”. Oh great. Just what you want to do when you’ve recently had your daily dose of Wood Apple juice. Bearing in mind their bathroom is a concrete bunker with no roof and a hose over the toilet for the shower. And its attached to their kitchen.
“No water!” Smile even bigger.
Yes. I heard you the first time. Bloody hell. What is this? I half expected Jeremy Beedle to jump out and scream in my face ‘You’ve been framed!’
I sat at the concrete table becoming more and more frustrated with the fact that whenever I managed to find somewhere that resembled semi-decent to stay in India, by the time the super slow internet had loaded the page I am met with:
‘We do not have your dates! ‘
Don’t put a bloody exclamation mark after a sentence that is going to wind me up anyway. It’s kind of rubbing salt into the wounds.
‘Sorry, You just missed it. These dates are already booked!’
No water! Water gone! Smile smile.
Keep at it, Liz. You need to book your India trip.
I told myself that I would just keep plugging away at it until 2 pm and then we would head off down to the beach and get a green tea.
Here it is. The table. I spent 9 hours around this yesterday trying and failing to book anything descent in India
2 pm came and went.
Never mind I thought, at least I have tonights meal to look forward to. I started to plan that we would go to the over our budget Pizza place. Sod the expense I thought. You can get beer there, and the tomato and mozzarella salad is lovely. Keep going Liz; then you can get changed (not showered cause ‘no water’ Smile smile) and head into the town.
Out comes the man of the guest house. Did I mention to you that he is the local police sergeant? Well, he is. And he is a bit scary actually. It’s good in one way staying with a police officer, the tuk-tuk drivers never rip you off, and he did get us a bunch of cheap sarongs. But, he is a man of the law and what he says seems to be written in stone.
It was 5 pm. I was getting ready to make merry and skip into town.
Out he comes.
“You eat here tonight. My wife. She cooky for you.”
“No, No, honestly that’s a lovely offer, but really, we are fine!”
Silly girl Liz. You are 47, not 16. Just say no. Stop smiling Liz. He thinks you want to stay. Stop beaming and just say No.
“Well, ok. But only you’re sure”.
“Yes, yes. You eat here”. Gone.
Back through the curtain and into the abyss that houses the kitchen the bathroom and the lounge. I know it’s the lounge because when you come home from a night out and look through the window, you see sergeant sprawled out on his leather chair – in his orange sarong. Watching the pop idol game show that he and the rest of Sri Lanka seem to love so much. Laughing, laughing, laughing.
So then. Not only have I now spent the whole of this beautiful day sat around a concrete table, swatting flies, swearing at the stupid internet and growing to hate the thought of visiting the country that is India, but I am also now destined to spend the whole evening here too.
Out comes more Wood Apple Juice. Just to keep things flowing.
“Juice good” Smile, smile. Stands and watches like Annie Wilkes from Misery until its all gone.
‘Yes, you’re right! Juice is good.’ I want to say. ‘Especially if you have a nice shiny toilet and plenty of soft Andrex’.
India is apparently not the cheap bargain budget destination that I believed it to be.
“Why are we even going?” Wail the kids.
We are going so that mummy can pretend she is Gandhi’s daughter and wonder the streets in flowing sarongs and wooden bangles. All the while blessing the rain and the trees and the sunsets.
This is what I want to say, but instead, I just started to cry and mutter about the way nobody appreciates what I do for them. I go to the toilet to get some toilet tissue, but then I remember there is only a bum wash shower, so I cry some more instead and wipe my nose on my black dress. It’s dirty anyway.
Today, I don’t want to go to India. Tomorrow I’ll be fine – but today? I want to go back to my home country, New Zealand.
Did I tell you that I have lost my only tiny teeny weeny bit of perfume that I was carrying? It’s gone. Along with the floss and Brians toothbrush head. All three of which can not be replaced in Sri Lanka apparently. There’s a bit of useful information for the Sri Lanka travel blog. Buy plenty of bloody floss.
I swear I’ve grown fur on my teeth.
And I stink.
I’ve even given to letting Tessa share my clothes. The poor girl had a meltdown the other day sobbing that she was sick of wearing the same dirty shorts and teeshirt. The trouble is, while she looks gorgeous in my vests and shruggy cardigan, I resemble Vikki Pollard from Little Britain.
So now my wardrobe – of three teeshirts, two pairs of baggy pants, a sarong, and a shruggy cardigan, has been slashed in half.
I’ll just wear this filthy black dress again then shall I? The one covered in snot.
And because our guest house owner is a police sergeant and a Buddhist and a control freak, he vehemently disagrees with alcohol.
The invitation to stay for dinner sees my only chance of a cold Tiger beer go floating off down the paddy fields.
Dinner was served at 8 pm, and yes, it was delicious, as always. I’m sorry I’m moaning. I don’t want to sound like an ungrateful whinging Brit, but it was a shit day, so someones going to hear about it. What else is a travel blog for?
“Dinner good!” Smile smile, nod nod.
This, I feel, is a statement, not a question.
Yes. Dinner was good.
Now please. Let me out of this guest house to go and scavenge the town for a drop of alcohol. And some space. And look for fireflies. Oh, and can I leave these two kids here with you while I go and get pissed?
This is what I wanted to say, but instead, I just smiled and said:
“Delicious, thank you!”
I was becoming weaker. More and more fragile and wobbly. On the verge of hysterical crying. I think the Sri Lankan sun is playing havoc with my hormone tablets.
The bright single bare bulb that dangles over the concrete table was not being very kind to my tear filling eyes. Is there anything worse than when you want to start blubbing, and you sit, lip quivering, willing the tears back, only to hear both your kids turn round and say:
‘Whats wrong? Why are your eyes all red”?
Waaahhhhh!!! Sniff sniff, snot, snot spit, spit. No tissues. Wipe, wipe. Thank you dress.
My only sanctuary came when we went for that walk after dinner.
The kids came too. Of course, they did. Why would they want to stay at the guest house table only to wait for the curtain to fling open and out strides sergeant, ready to grill them about what sport they do back in New Zealand? ( I swear, it’s obviously a worldwide question targeted at homeschoolers)
“Karate? Black belt. Good!” Smile smile. Slap slap on Sonny’s sunburned shoulders.
The zipper broke on my silk sleeping bag liner last night. My one piece of nighttime luxury and its buggered. Great. Now I must lie there with my back and bum constantly open to my long-suffering Brian and the hungry mozzies. Either that or fork out on a new one. This is the one I want incase you want to buy it for me and ship it over. The Friendly Swede Travel and Camping Sheet Sleeping Bag Liner (Cobalt)
I don’t want to go to India. I tried to read some travel blogs on the place to inspire me, but I swear, every single one said about how hard and impoverished it is, and how difficult it is to travel with children.
Today is our last day at Mirrissa. Tomorrow we are taking the train to the tea plantations. I wish we were going to a vineyard. I need wine.
You have to have bad days to appreciate the good days, don’t you?
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Maybe today the plumber will come and fix the water.
Maybe that wood apple tree will burn down to the ground. Never to produce fruit again.
I’m joking. A bit.
See, I’ve made myself laugh. Clever girl.
I feel much better for writing this all down and sharing it with you. I’m sorry if its a load of nonsense. I’m trying to remain positive, I really am. But I find it challenging when days like yesterday happen.
And so, onwards and upwards with our trip. Only seven more days and we will be in a country where the men reportedly shit out of the open train doorways.
Maybe they’ve had too much Wood Apple Juice.
Stay with me people. Let me know you are out there.
Forever the moaning Brit,
Thank you for listening to my whining. Its got to be done. It’s the law. I’m from Britain.
NYC. The city that never sleeps. NYC. Manhatten, 5th Avenue, Wall Street, Broadway and restaurants with doormen in top hats. NYC. Glitzy. Expensive. Exciting. Luring. Sparkly words that describe a glittering city. NYC on the cheap. Not a term that crosses peoples lips that often is it?
You may be thinking that to visit this jaw-dropping city you are going to need stacks of cash, right? Wrong.
We had told the kids that we would take them to NYC, even though on a budget of 200 NZD a day which equates to approximately USD 130 a day it would send us over our travel allowance.
But, how could we travel the world with two theatre loving teenagers and not show them Broadway.
Two teenagers who, having been living in New Zealand on the West Coast of the North Island for the past eight years, regard the Len Lye wind wand sculpture in Taranaki as the tallest thing they had ever seen.
We had to show them real skyscrapers. Absolute, towering gigantic buildings that appear to be swaying as you crane your neck to peer to the tippy top.
How to stay in in NYC on the cheap
Lucky for you, we did the hard work so you don’t have to. We are kind like that. You’re welcome.
If you want to visit this wondrous city for a few days but are worried that you may have to remortgage your house, relax and read on.
You deserve this trip as much as we did. And because we don’t want a trivial thing like money to stand in your way we will give you the hotel, the restaurants and a list of exciting things to do that will make your trip unforgettable and affordable.
We stayed in the Hotel de Point in Flushing, Queens. We booked it through Booking.com We find they always come up with the cheapest deals. I tend to double and then triple check all the hotel sites to see if I’m really getting the best deal and every time Booking.com comes up trumps. Even if it’s only a few dollars or a free breakfast thrown in, it all counts.
Brian and I stayed in a Manhatten hotel when we visited NYC before kids, and it wasn’t a patch on this experience.
Here’s why the Hotel De Point is the best choice for you if you’re hoping to visit NYC on the cheap – like us.
- Location: On a quiet side road just outside Flushing in Queens.
- Getting to Manhatten. The Q25 bus stops right outside the hotel. It takes about 10 minutes bus ride to get to the station in Flushing. (Get off the bus, and the subway is on the other side of the road, behind you on the left) Get the purple line 7 straight to Manhatten. You can’t get on the wrong train. Flushing is the end of the purple line. It will take you about 35 minutes. Take a book, or just people watch.
- Free breakfast. When I read the reviews on trip advisor about Hotel De Point lots of people were complaining about the quality of the breakfast. Granted, this is not the ritz, and yes, the cutlery and plates are plastic but come on. You’re on a budget. Order the waffles with maple syrup and bananas. My teenagers had three every morning, and it saw them through until lunchtime. There is toast and scrambled eggs. It’s excellent considering the price, and you are not going to be hungry. I’ve had worse breakfasts in nicer hotels.
- Free coffee and tea in the hotel lobby. My son thought hed died and gone to heaven. This freebie saves you $10 a time. Get hot drinks for the bus ride and feel like a real New Yorker.
- For a family of four. Two large beds in an airy room. $104 per night.
- Total cost for four nights: $416
I have no affiliation with this hotel (although I wouldn’t have said no to a freebie) All the information that I give you is my own opinion. There isn’t anything negative I can say about our stay. If you’d like to book the hotel we used Booking.com. Click here to find similar deals for your visit to NYC.
As I said, we visited New York City before the kids were on the scene. We had a café and had plenty of cash, so we didn’t really skimp. You can read about us and our story here. But then the kids came along. In a nutshell, we emigrated to New Zealand, homeschooled the children and then threw everything into the air and decided to travel the world for a year. Our trip to New York resembled nothing to our previous experience. But you know what? This time it was better. Doing New York on the cheap will give you and your family and more memorable experience, plus, you won’t be paying for it for the rest of the year.
How to Get Around NYC on The Cheap.
- If you plan on staying in one area for the entire duration of your stay in NYC, you could get taxis, and this would no doubt work out cheaper for you, especially if you are a family. But. Who wants to come to the most exciting city in the world and stay in one place for the whole time? Not you? Good. Glad to hear it. In that case then, other than walking, you are going to need to buy bus or metro tickets to get yourself from one place to the next.
- We got a seven-day unlimited pass, this was perfect for us as the card covers the whole of NYC, so it meant that it costs us nothing extra to get back to the hotel.
- The card is good for buses as well as trains. The tickets are easy to buy. Every Metro station has a bunch of machines that you can get them.
- Just a note, we tried to use our travel charge card to buy all four, but it would only let us buy two. Probably an error on our banks end but just be aware; you might have to pay by a different means.
- Total Cost: USD 128 (4 people).
How to Eat Good Food in NYC on The Cheap:
We were in NYC for three days. Here is how we ate on the cheap and loved it. I am a huge fan of Trip Advisor. I am a bit of an addict actually. I will only go to places with the top reviews and even then I have to check out the reviewers. You can normally tell by their previous reviews if they know what they’re talking about. Remember, the costs are for a family of 4.
- Leo’s Bagels in Wall Street. Amazing cream cheese (and loads more toppings) bagels and coffee. Busy place with locals.Fresh, big and cheap bagels. We shared two between us, and it was enough. (especially if you’ve filled up at breakfast as I told you to). Cost: $13 USD
- Afternoon Tea. Levain Bakery in Harlem. The walk to this bakery is an experience in this part of town, but this is why you are going to find not only the cheapest but also the BEST cookies you will ever taste. My daughter had chocolate brioche, and it was also delicious. Because of the price we pushed the boat out and didn’t share. Nice coffee and tea. Fresh, huge (this is important to us. We have a teenage boy who likes to eat and is always hungry) and delicious. Cost: $23 USD
- Dinner in Chinatown. We ate at Wo Hop. The reviews were excellent. But when we got down the little steps to a basement restaurant we found a restaurant that was indeed very busy but was full of tourists. There wasn’t one Chinese face which isn’t a good sign. However, we were late for the theatre so couldn’t be bothered to look elsewhere. I’m glad we didn’t. The food came quickly, and the portions were massive. It was the usual western Chinese food, lemon chicken, shrimp fried rice, ribs, beef in a black bean sauce with noodles etc. But. It was delicious. It comes with free tea; the dishes were fresh, huge and very, very cheap. At least the waiters were Chinese. Cost: $29 USD
- Sal’s Pizza from Queens. If you stay in the hotel that I mentioned there is an Italian restaurant downstairs. On our last night, we were pretty weary and decided to go back to the hotel to veg out in front of a movie. We ordered pizza, and they delivered it to our room. Perfect. There is also a liquor store two blocks from the hotel (next to BJs). We bought a bottle of red and drank it out of the paper cups that are in the hotel lobby next to the coffee machine. I sacrificed a lot of wine while trying to do NYC on the cheap. I love wine as you know, but even I know that $8 for a glass of wine is too much when you are on a budget like ours. There was enough leftover pizza for us to eat on our road trip to Rochester the next day, so that justified the higher cost. Cost: $59
- Peking Duck on the side of the street in Chinatown. Eating in China town in $10. Go to a busy Chinese supermarket and order one of the boxes of Peking duck and sauce from the deli section. They are warm, and the nice lady will give you takeaway forks and napkins. Go outside and find somewhere to perch. We sat on some pallets. Get in quick before your teenage son eats it all. Cost: $11 USD
- Noodles on Broadway at Xian Noodles. As you can see, we love Chinese food. The best we ate while trying to do NYC on the cheap were from Xi’an Famous Foods. I had the cumin Lamb, and it was delicious. Again, the portions are plentiful. You can eat inside this tiny little place, but we couldn’t get a seat. Go over the road, and after about a two-minute walk you will come to an outdoor plaza. There are tables and chairs. Eat your meal here. Cost: $46 USD
Yes, we are sitting in the street but you know what? That duck tasted amazing and fed all four of us. Not to mention the people watching!
Ok, so you’ve found somewhere to sleep, your belly is full of delicious food, and your wallet is still looking relatively healthy. But what about activities? Things to do? Is it possible to visit this city with a family, with teenagers, and still say you managed it on the cheap?
Yes, my friend. It is.
The main reason for us bringing Sony and Tess to New York was to show them Broadway. Sonny has got his heart set on being an actor and so what better place to visit than the worlds most famous theatre district.
We always knew that we would try to see a Broadway show. We weren’t too concerned with which one, as long as we could get discount tickets. The tickets were our chief extravagance when we were in NYC, but it was worth every penny. Ice skating was on Tessa’s wish list.
50% off the price of the original seat price to see Miss Saigon. That’s why we are smiling!
If you are visiting NYC with a family and you are trying to do everything on the cheap BUT you don’t want to sound like a misery by constantly saying “No” to everything they suggest, try these activities.
Activities to do in NYC on The Cheap
- We saw Miss Saigon. You can buy tickets on the day of the performance from any one of the three TKTS ticket booths. We chose the South Street Southport booth in Manhatten rather than the time’s square booth. I’m glad we did. There was no line, and we got four fabulous seats – seven rows from the stage, for 50% off the original price. Remember, this was an extravagance for us. When you think of how the cost of the tickets was nearly as much as the hotel for four nights, it’s not exactly cheap, but as I said, this was on the bucket list. Cost: $378.00 USD
- How many times do we see movies with a little girl skating around the empty Rockefeller skating rink? Round and round on the sparkling white ice, under the giant glittering Christmas tree. The reality? A tiny rink that is packed to the gunnels with people, each clambering to get an inch of space. And the parents. Looking grey with worry at the thought of how much the whole experience is costing them. If you have your own skates which if you’re travelling, I highly doubt, go to the Bryant Park Rink in Winter Village. It’s free! If you need to hire skates, then go to the top end of Central Park just south of Harlem Meer. Here you will find the Lasker Rink. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the more popular rinks, but the upside to this is there are no crowds, and it is cheap. Plus, from here you can walk a few blocks and visit the Levian Bakery that I told you about. Cost: $28 USD
If you have your own skates, then Winter Garden is free!
- We are theatre fanatics, and I wanted to take Sonny and Tess to see actors who had to work for their money – without the beautiful sets, costumes and lighting. If you become a member of the TDF (Theatre Development Fund) for just USD 29, you will be able to buy heavily discounted theatre tickets. We bought tickets for a bargain USD 9 each, to see the opening night of the Alfred Hitchcock Radio and it was superb. Not a tourist in sight. The audience were all locals, and what a colourful crowd they were. You will not regret going the extra mile to support the lesser known theatre companies. If we hadn’t had the kids with us, I would have liked to have gone on to a jazz club. But, that’s not what this trip is about! Cost: $36 USD
See the Statue of Liberty from the water
- By taking the free ferry over to Staten Island. When we were here sixteen years ago, we paid to go on the Statue of Liberty Cruise. I dread to think how much it cost us. I didn’t even know about this free ferry service. Go to the top deck (wrap up if you go in December as we did!) on the right-hand side, and you will get a fabulous view of the lady herself. You have to disembark at Staten island and get back on the next ferry back to Manhatten. The transfer is easy, just follow the crowds. Cost: Free.
- People watch and listen to the talented musicians. If you bought the unlimited metro card, you might as well use it. Sometimes we would just stay on the metro for a few stops just to listen to the goings on within the carriages. This in itself is entertainment, and the kids loved it!
- My teenagers couldn’t believe that the tuk-tuk style bikes that follow each other around the small designated perimeter of the park were charging $3 per minute to ride. The benefits of travelling on a budget as a family is that it highlights the things that people will waste their money on. I mean, really? By the time you get in, get yourself settled, told the kids to behave themselves and to get off their phones, that would be fifteen dollars down the drain. Anyway, this is not how we saw Central Park and not how I would recommend you see it. Cost: Free
- If you are looking to experience this lovely park, this haven of tranquillity amidst the blaring horns and the bustling crowds, then walk around Central Park on foot. Every corner that you turn will show you a different glimpse of the beautiful Manhatten skyline. Within the 843 acres of Central Park, there are musicians, dog walkers, wealthy New Yorkers taking their children to their private ice skating lesson. Just go there and walk. People watch. Relax and soak it all up. Cost: Free.
We visited NYC in December which was amazing as all of the holiday displays decorated the shop windows. Even though we had only just visited Charleston where the cobbled streets were lined with beautifully lit houses, it was still magical. This is yet another free activity you can do if you plan on visiting at this time of year. As you can see though, whatever time of year you visit New York City you need not spend a fortune.
With a little bit of planning a trip to NYC can be done for less than you think!
The Total Cost For a Family of Four to Visit NYC on The Cheap:
Contrary to popular belief, visiting NYC on the cheap is possible. We were there for four nights and three days and the total cost for the four of us (and remember, my kids are 16, and 13 so eat. A lot.) Drum roll, please…
Total Cost for four people including two shows: USD 1167
Have you been to NYC? How did you save money? What was your most extravagant splurge? Drop me a comment below and let me know how you managed to do NYC on the cheap. We are on our way upstate now, to Rochester. Our first cold Christmas in nine years! Thank you for reading and I’ll see you when you get back from NYC.
Why Not Just Book One of Fort Lauderdale Tours?
Anyone who reads this blog will know that we are currently on our world trip our first stop being Fort Lauderdale in Florida. And what better way to see Fort Lauderdale than by taking one of the many tours. Me, hair flying back in the wind, a glass of wine in hand, children laughing maniacally at the fact that there is no wifi. I could see it all.
If you are a regular reader you will also know that we are on a super tight budget. If we wish to see the things we have set out to see then we have to stick to the rules. Like Glue. Harder when you are travelling with two teenagers than it was when it was just the two of us. But, just because you are watching the pennies, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the fun. Read about how we took a Fort Lauderdale water tour, ate lunch, hired bikes and drank wine – all for less than the cost of one ticket on one of the many super duper tours that are on offer within the city.
On budget? Tick. Beautiful day? Tick. Bit of homeschooling thrown in? Absolutely!
What is Fort Lauderdale, Florida Like?
Ft Lauderdale is hot and pretty big. The population is 179,000. Remember, I am a Taranaki girl where the population of New Plymouth is 76,000 and although we emigrated from Bath in the UK where the number of residents was 176,000 – that was a long time ago, so to me, Fort Lauderdale seems huge.
The buildings are towering and sleek, each nudging their way to the prime spot beside the pristine white sand beach. Kids ride around on bikes with no hands, no shirts and no helmets. There are swaying palm trees, parrots, geckos and white pavements. There are lots of muscle cars. And shops. Fort Lauderdale is surrounded by waterways. You can take a boat up the intercoastal from Fort Lauderdale all the way to New Jersey without having to go out into the ocean.
As you drive around you pass over numerous little bridges catching fleeting glimpses of the beautiful houses that line the exquisite waterways resembling Venice.
Apart From Fort Lauderdale Tours, What Else is There to do in Ft Lauderdale? Plenty.
We are very fortunate to have family living in Ft Lauderdale and so were spoilt with treats and wonderful days out that we otherwise couldn’t possibly have written into the budget. We have been taken to see alligators, geckos and have walked our legs off at Universal Studios in Orlando.
But on Saturday we found ourselves home alone in Ft Lauderdale to fend for ourselves. It was time to plan something for ourselves.
But What do you do in Fort Lauderdale on a Budget?
The kids very thoughtfully suggested we could just stay at home with the wifi all day but after I hinted that if this were the case they might want to do a homeschool project they flew to the door begging for mercy.
We have only been gone from New Zealand for two weeks. They are not ready to do schoolwork. Nor do I think they will ever be ready for it. I’ve told you before. I think I’m the only homeschooling mother in the world that has actually turned her children against learning. I hear all of these stories of how home educating children produces this wonderful hunger within them to learn. Wel,l I’m still sitting at the dinner table waiting for them to show up. I love homeschooling, I am a big fan, but you know what? Right now I’m schooled and teachered out. I’m having a break. But of course, I wouldn’t tell the kids that. If it means mentioning a project to get them out of the wifi sealed doorway, I’ll suggest it.
Remember, although December is Fort Lauderdale’s winter and everyone is always saying how the weather has cooled down, to us New Zealand softies it’s still bloody boiling.
The thought of trapesing around shopping malls with two sweaty teenagers and very little money is not my idea of fun and those waterways looked so inviting.
Why Not Take One of the Many Fort Lauderdale Tours?
There are expensive day cruises that you can take, but they are just that. Expensive. There are tons of malls and restaurants, but when you are on a world round trip you won’t be able to venture into those, no matter how many times the teenagers say please. Twenty dollars for a hoodie will give us three weeks bed and breakfast in India thank you very much.
And then we heard about the Water Taxi.
Enter the Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi.
Just what we were looking for.
A fleet of bright yellow water taxis open on the sides but covered on top to protect you from the sun or rain. These taxis are a genius and affordable way to see the city.
There are three scheduled routes that run the length of the city, each with their own designated stops. The Fort Lauderdale route, the Hollywood route and the new river route. The Fort Lauderdale route that we took has nine stops in total. You pay one fee and your pass is good for the whole day (and night). It starts running at 9.45 am and the last boat is 11 pm.
There are clearly marked stops at given stops. If you stayed on the boat and did the whole tour around the main Fort Lauderdale route without getting off, it would take you about three hours.
From the moment we stepped on to the boat I knew it was the right choice. It’s more like an exclusive tour boat than a taxi. Each boat has a guide that stands at the front of the boat giving a running commentary on everything as you go along. Yes! I was getting my home-schooling lesson without having to open my mouth.
What is there to see on the Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi?
You chug along at a gentle pace but not a boring one and watch all the super yachts gliding past you. Ladened with supermodels and their sugar daddies. The kid’s jaws were wide open – but not as much as mine. Then there are the houses. Worth billions of dollars, owned by movie stars and inventors of shampoo. The biggest cruise ship in the world was berthed. In the world. You can imagine how much that impressed the kids.
The size of the houses and yachts you will see on this Fort Lauderdale Tour will impress even the coolest of teenagers. (Let’s face it. They may be owned by a YouTube star…)
There are toilets and also a bar on board where you can buy alcoholic drinks, sodas, popcorn and crisps. All pretty reasonable too. $1 for a bottle of cold water and $5 for a glass of wine. I won’t lie. I was tempted. The thought of watching superyachts from the little yellow water cab with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in my hand seemed a very attractive option, you know how I love my wine, but I resisted. Yes, it put me in a bad mood for about five minutes, sitting at the back of the boat resembling a water hog – but no matter, I’m a big girl. I got over it in no time.
Where to Eat While Taking the Water Taxi in Ft Lauderdale. (On a budget)
Teenagers have a habit of getting hungry so we hopped off the boat at stop 6. This is also where you get the connecting boat down to the Hollywood Florida area. I had looked on Trip Advisor and found a very highly rated deli so we gave it a try.
Walking anywhere in Ft Lauderdale is a mission. It is hot. Sonny is still in his thick black socks and his long pants. I swear that boy should have been raised in an igloo. The café was about a 12-minute walk from the boat stop and Sonny started to complain that his shoes were melting to his feet.
The New York Marina Deli serves HUGE sandwiches. The guy that runs it is from New York and is super friendly. Their motto is to make yourself at home and when S and T found there was free wifi they did just that. I think they were referring to the open tea, coffee and soda bar at the end of the counter where you can literally act as though you are at home. Just keep going back for more. Its all very relaxed and superb value for money. A HUGE sandwich fed two of us – and you know how a 16-year-old can eat. I won’t lie. He did ask for more but I said no. Free wifi and an unlimited amount of coffee. We would have been there all day.
We had to catch the next water taxi so I used that as my excuse and we bid adios to the New York deli and its free wifi charms, took our melting shoes and headed back to the water taxi.
Where did the Water Taxi Take you in the Afternoon?
We carried on down the river, all the while being told about the billionaire’s houses that lined the waterways. Jane Fonda had a place there, Samuel L Jackson – I think it was him. It might have been Spock from Star Treck – whatever, the houses are amazing to see. All I could think of was imagine cleaning that monster.
Hollywood District. Famous for the Margaritaville Hotel That Jimmy Buffet Sang about.
After years of driving home from work listening to this song, Brian was desperate to see where he was singing about.
It was now the afternoon and Brian was keen to go and see the Jimmy Buffet hotel Margaritaville. It’s in a district called Hollywood and it is stop number 9. The whole area feels like a cross between California and Blackpool. Lots and lots of bars but rather than northerners wearing kiss me quick hats it is lined with beautifully tanned bodies in pink diamante thongs. All over fifty. It does wonders for your confidence.
The fantastic thing about this place is the 2.5-mile boardwalk that runs alongside the beach. Note, this is not a boardwalk. There are no boards. It is made of concrete and is called a broardwalk. It reminded me a little of the coastal walkway in Taranaki my hometown, that too has an amazing broadwalk, but whereas in Taranaki you have to watch out for crashing waves splashing you, here you have to look out for the 80-year-old guy on his rollerskates with a Chihuahua in his arms.
What is There to do in the Hollywood District with Teenagers? (On a budget)
The boardwalk is worth getting off the boat for. Its filled with free entertainment. I wish I lived in a country where you could wear your bikini and everyone didn’t flee in the opposite direction screaming for their lives. It would be so liberating.
Much to the kid’s delight, we all decided to hire some bikes to cruise the broardwalk. Its far too long to be able to walk the stretch and back again within an hour, which is when we were due to get back on to the boat to meet our relatives.
Hire Some Cruising Bikes and c-r-u-i-s-e.
Go to the bike rental shop at the entrance to the beach. The bikes are $12 for an hour or $7 for 30 minutes. A little tip for you. Go to the shop with your phone or camera and start doing a vlog (a video). We have a camera and microphone that Brian bought for our trip, with along with the travel drone. You can read about that here and watch one of our videos. We all love filming vlogs – I have only just started and to be honest can’t figure out how to edit them, but Sonny is a pro. So I bribe him nicely and he edits them for me. He’s a good boy that one. Even if he won’t stop eating and using all the wifi.
Go to the shop looking as though you are vlogging and the lovely lady might do for you what she did for me, let me have the bikes for an hour at the price of 30 mins! It was fabulous, they are the kind of bikes with the huge cow horn handlebars and a massive comfy seat. Perfect for my big squashy old bum. I’m sorry, you can keep your racer thin sleek looking bikes. Those seats give women like me cystitis. If there had been a spare chihuahua going, I would have put it in the basket on the front to make me feel all Hollywoody.
Cruise the Boardwalk like a Local for just $7.
We spent a bliss filled hour cruising up and down the boardwalk in the warm afternoon sunshine. The sea is a beautiful turquoise, the sand is white and the people? Well, just do it for the people. It’s worth every penny, and at $28 for the four of us, it was a bargain. The kids loved it. Each one of us must have had our own little fantasy going on. Tess was McKenzie Zeigler cruising to dance class, Sonny was Logan Paul on his way to gatecrash some crazy party, Brian was Jimmy Buffet -one hand on the handlebar, the other holding something tall and strong. And me? I was the wicked witch out of the Wizard of Oz peddling really fast with Toto in the basket. Trying to keep up with the kids. “I’ll get you, my pretties…I’ll get you and you WILL do that home-school project…”
Don’t Miss This Extra Treat on The Water Taxi.
The afternoon was fantastic and cheap. Perfect. We boarded the taxi just after 5 and were in for a further treat.
Between 5 pm and 7 pm, the wonderful Fort Lauderdale taxi offers a happy hour. And oh, how this made Mummy happy. Two glasses of wine, ( I was kind, I gave one to Brian) a coke, and an apple juice – $8. Plus, free popcorn. It was divine. The wine was cold, the sun was starting to set over Hollywood beach, the kids were tired from the bikes – still not too tired to scoff as much popcorn as they could manage, and all the while the friendly, funny staff on the boat giving us a light-hearted history lesson on Ft Lauderdale. I didn’t want the ride to stop. It was perfect.
Two glasses of wine for the price of one you say? THAT makes me happy…
If you are lucky enough to visit Ft Lauderdale in December you will catch the holiday lights. As I said, your ticket for the water taxi is good for the whole day and night, meaning that you can hop on at night and cruise up and down in the warm evening breeze feasting your eyes on the lavishly decorated houses and yachts. And they are impressive. I can’t think of any better way to see them than from the water.
Nobody decorates their houses like the Americans. See all the beautifully lit houses form the deck of the boat on your amazing Fort Lauderdale tour!
The Cost of Our Water Taxi?
And with tickets priced at $26 for adults and $12 for children aged 5 -11, it’s an affordable option for those on a budget. If you just fancy the happy hour and the Christmas lights tour, hop on after 5 pm and it will only cost you $16 to cruise all night.
The whole day, including water taxi, lunch, bike hire and happy hour boat drinks cost less than a single ticket on one of the flash tour boat cruises that are on offer in Fort Lauderdale.
I’m going to track down the guide that held my children’s interest with his historical stories for so long and I’m packing him in my suitcase. Out with the chihuahua and in with the water taxi guide.
Now. Where’s my pink diamante thong?…
A wonderful tour of Fort Lauderdale all within budget. Don’t miss happy hour on the boat when the sun goes down!
We were happy to have been guests of the Water taxi. Thank you for an amazing day.
Why we all need to practice self love exercises. It struck me when we were packing up to leave the house and travel the world for a year that not only did I feel physically exhausted, I also felt mentally drained beyond belief. It was as though there was a treadmill set to maximum speed in the front of my brain. (more…)