My friends always ask us how we manage travelling up to 20 countries as a family. That would cost a fortune. Let me tell you how we do it. We don’t splurge. We don’t buy unnecessary things. We hardly eat out (in some very expensive countries like Australia and Japan). We don’t buy souvenirs.
And we managed to do it with kids in tow. Do you know what, one of the main reasons why we travel with our babies is because we don’t have to pay their seats! So, do some family travelling while your kids are under 2 years old. That would save a lot of money.
The main thing to save money during your family trip is to choose the right destination. For us, and for millions other travellers, Southeast Asia has a lot to offer and can be done on the cheap. Like, very cheap for Western standard.
Today, I will give you some tricks on how to explore Malaysia on the cheap with your family. Wait, wait, why Malaysia?
First of all, the living cost in Malaysia is low, although the it varies depending on the cities you visited. for example, in Kuala Lumpur (KL) food is more expensive than in Penang, but it is definitely way cheaper than in Singapore.
Kuala Lumpur is also a hub for many intercontinental and regional flights. Travelling without too many transits will save you a lot of money and time. Some low cost carriers travel directly in and out KL, Penang, and even Kota Kinabalu, like Malaysia’s very own AirAsia, Malindo, as well as Jetstar, Tiger Airways and some LCCs from the neighbourhood countries. The thing with this LCCs is you have to book in an advance, even months before, to get a super deal. Apply membership with them, subscribe to their newsletters for promotion notice.
If you travel within Kuala Lumpur, you almost don’t have to use taxi. From the moment you get out from the airport you can use public bus to go to the city, from RM 11 one way. Avoid KLIA Ekspress/Transit with its staggering RM 55 one way. The public transport in KL is integrated between LRT (light rapid transit), monorail, and public bus (RapidKL). MRT (mass rapid transit) is still being developed to connect small towns surrounding KL. You can reach many locations on foot, such as from KLCC to Bukit Bintang, or from Central Market to Dataran Merdeka to Masjid Jamek. It will save you a lot of ringgits, just make sure you have a stroller for your little one.
By the way, Malaysia is quite child-friendly with all LRT stations are equipped with elevators and ramps.
If you insist to use taxis, maybe it is easier and cheaper to book Uber or Grab online. Taxis drivers in central KL don’t want to use meter, so we need to haggle. If they know that you are tourists (with kids), they will charge you very high. Also, avoid travelling late at night because there won’t be any public transport operating, so you will have to take taxis with surcharge.
If you travel to other parts of Malaysia, public transportation is not as well as in ibu negara. I love Penang, and I love how it’s RapidPenang buses can connect me from the airport to the old quarter — place where most hotels and attractions are. Kuantan on east side also has it’s RapidKuantan buses. For singles, it is maybe cheapest and more flexible to rent a scooter in smaller cities like Penang and Langkawi. For family, it is better to rent a car, especially if your kids are small because the heat in Malaysia can be pretty terrible.
You can travel between cities on plane, bus, or train (Malaysia has also sleeper coaches). Do check the all the alternatives. Often time, flight tickets are cheaper than bus and train, particularly during off season and weekdays.
Did I mention that food are cheap in Malaysia. Yes, food are cheap. It’s even cheaper you eat like locals. Go to small stalls to get nasi lemak, roti canai with curry, and also nasi ayam. It can be as cheap as RM 1.5 per portion. Crazy cheap, right? In the park sometimes there are drinking fountain available, always carry bottles with you — tap water in Malaysia is not drinkable.
What hotel to choose? I always prefer hotels close to public transportation. In KL my favorite spots would be around Pasar Seni, Masjid Jamek, KL Sentral and everybody’s favourite Bukit Bintang. Many tourist attractions are walking distance or a short train/bus ride.
Trick: try also GoKL buses which are free. They connect many interesting places in KL.
In cities like Penang, Melaka, Ipoh, I would choose hotels close to (may be inside or not) the old city, because it is where the attractions are.
If you travel with infant and toddler and you are one of those tiger moms who are strictly feed your kids homemade food, it is best to book an apartment. The plus side is that apartment can give your family a homey feeling, mostly it’s larger than a hotel room, and it has kitchen (and maybe a washing machine). The downside is the booking system a little bit complicated (even frustrating) although it’s not always the case. Also, mostly apartments are located a little further away than hotels.
Lastly, do pick attractions that don’t cost you too much while in Malaysia. Your son loves Lego and you visited Legoland (which is expensive for me), that’s okay. But you don’t have to come to every amusement parks in the country. You may want skip Hello Kitty Land, for example, and taking your kids to Desaru beach instead. You are willing to pay tickets to go up to the sky bridge of the Petronas Twin Towers, maybe you want to skip Menara KL. Choose Petrosains and leave Aquaria alone. Your choice!
There are plenty free interesting spots in Kuala Lumpur, for example Dataran Merdeka, KLCC Park, and the mosques and the temples (like Batu Caves).
Preparation is the key to a successful family kids. Do your research and do not make the itinerary to tight. Make sure your children enjoy the trip. Once they are bitten by travel bug, worry no more, you can travel anywhere in the world.