We Paid Cash: A 5-Week Family Trip to Ecuador

We paid cash!

A testimony from Keren Threlfall

A few years ago, we were a signature away from serving as overseas missionaries, and I’d always assumed we would raise our children abroad. To make a long story short, that opportunity didn’t end up panning out.

Although our future plans aren’t totally clear, what has remained is our desire to learn from and live among other cultures. As a growing family of five, we realized that there would be no perfect time, unless we created the opportunity, saved our money, and boarded an airplane.

How We Did It

After paying off my college debt, we set up a specific travel fund and started saving. Earlier this year, we found tickets to Ecuador at an unbelievable price — $399 round-trip for adults and $299 for children! With enough in our travel fund for tickets, we decided to take our overseas trip now — one we had previously thought would take several more years of saving.

Living in Ecuador

The cost of living in Ecuador is low compared to the U.S. We first purchased groceries in local markets, and ate at home. Soon, we realized that for the same price and far more cultural enrichment, we could eat one meal at a restaurant every day.

One place offered an elegant, organic, 4-course meal for just $3 a person! To get there, we walked 1.2 miles into town (and sometimes paid the $1 taxi ride home).

To fund our living costs while there, I found an at-home job on Craigslist, and finished it in about three weeks. It was nice to have these expenses covered before leaving the country!

Sparing a few days off for travel, my husband also worked full-time (and overtime!) while in Ecuador, which kept our cash inflow the same. The most expensive parts of the trip were actually Stateside — the rental car and hotel stays on either end of the trip.

Reflecting

Traveling internationally is often considered a luxury — most people believe it is something that only the wealthy can do (unless you’re missionaries or military). And trying to do so with three young children probably means you’re crazy!

We’re extremely grateful for our income, but it’s not above average. In fact, at our income level, we technically still qualify for some of our state’s government assistance!

Like Laura Vanderkam emphasized in her book, All the Money in the World, people often spend excess money in socially acceptable areas without thinking twice. However, when we choose to put money toward something that is not mainstream, we either feel guilty about it or judge others’ choices.

We do a few things that save us money in more mainstream areas, but choose to spend it in less popular categories, like international travel! For example, we have no cable TV subscription, rarely eat out, use a cash envelope for groceries, and use only cloth diapers, to name a few. What would I rather do — spend $100 for my family to eat out a few times a month, or save $100 to pay for half of an international flight? :)

Regardless of the future, which we still hope includes living internationally, we now have a lifetime of memories from our Ecuador trip. And one of the best parts about memories? Making them!

Keren Threlfall is a mother of three and wife to Daniel. Although she holds a degree in Biology, Keren considers herself a lifelong renaissance soul. In her spare time, she enjoys exercising, reading, writing, and finding great deals.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

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Comments

  1. yasmin says

    Amazing! Thanks for the motivation. I’m saving for a mother-daughter trip to Paris as a gift to myself (and mom) when I graduate from college this Spring. I’m working two part-time jobs and do extra gigs on the side. Sometimes it’s hard to put off small luxuries but in the end, you’re right!, making memories are the best things in life.

    • says

      Really cool! And way to do this as a college student–very impressive! Hope you enjoy your trip (and take some time to rest before so you can enjoy it).

  2. Anonymous says

    Lots of people live and travel overseas who aren’t military, missionaries, or wealthy. It’s all about setting your priorities.

    Glad you had a great trip!

  3. kj says

    Please share how you found such great prices on your airfare! We fly to Ecuador one or two times a year as our daughter lives there and have never gotten tickets below $1000! Thanks for a great article.

    • says

      Kj,

      Obviously it will depend where you are flying from, but check out LAN Airlines–they actually have some round-trip tickets on sale for under $500 right now. You might also want to subscribe to something like TravelZoo–they often post great global airfare deals, and the one we used was listed there, as well.

      I had to cut out this info for word limit space, but we flew out of Miami, but are over 12 hours away from there. However, I was able to use Southwest’s Credit Card offer sign up to get points for our entire family to fly from our home city to Orlando, where we rented a vehicle and drove the rest of the way to Miami.

      Our of curiosity, where does your daughter live, though don’t feel like you need to answer on a public forum! :) Hope you can visit her soon!

  4. deseray says

    I’m happy to see how your family made your dream a reality. My teenage son and I recently went on a mission trip to Costa Rica. I LOVED the country, and mostly, the people. And you’re absolutely right about how we can do all sorts of things with our money.

    • says

      Thanks, deseray! What a special experience for you and your son, as well.

      Although I realize it’s not the same with every country, I felt the very same way about the people we met in Ecuador. I think that’s part of what made it so beautiful! :)

  5. Melinda says

    So inspiring! I have been overseas once, to the U.K., and vowed to go somewhere abroad every year – it just hasn’t happened. Some people have that travel bug and I am one of them. It’s awesome that you are exposing your kids to new foods and experiences this way. I’m traveling to Greece in a couple of months for a wedding- sadly it’s outside of my budget but I feel I have to – I’m the maid of honor! Your story is inspiring me to think of ways I could paid cash…and I definitely will the next time.

    • says

      Amazing and inspiring story! Goes to show that really nothing is impossible when you set your mind to it and lay out the plans, well, it does help if you aren’t keeping up with the Jones and why should you?
      I have been to South Africa once and honestly, if it means going without cable for some few more months, I’d gladly give it up for another such experience. Immersion in another totally different culture and way of life changes your perspective completely

  6. Guest says

    you are teaching your children great economic lessons like how to sacrifice and prioritize. Priceless!

  7. Bobbie says

    What I love most about your article is that you did it with three little ones! I am uber-impressed! (and TOTALLY inspired :) I pray God gives you the desires of your heart…the very ones He most likely placed there ;)

  8. Elizabeth Heffernan says

    Thanks for sharing, Karen! Kristen S. told me you all went to Equador and I was hoping I’d hear about it when you got back! The article was so inspiring and your kids are so cute! I’m sure you all had a good time and learned a lot from living in a different culture.
    Thanks again for taking the time to share about it!

  9. Diana says

    What amazes me the most about this is you did five weeks in Ecuador with those three young children!! You should write a post about managing that amazing feat! My parents live in Malawi, I think the thought of traveling with my three young ones intimidates me more than the challenge of saving up money for the visit!

    • says

      Thank you! Thankfully, we didn’t have a trans-Atlantic flight to figure out this time. :) And not as many time zones, either.

      My in-laws live in South Korea, and we hope to visit them there eventually, too!

  10. says

    Keren – would love to hear how you got tickets that inexpensive. The flights right now for December to Ecuador are over $1200 a piece and we are taking 4 of us on a missions trip. Definitely hard to raise that much plus expensives.
    I would appreciate any advice re booking travel. I have even looked at flying first to Miami or Atlanta, then a separate trip to Quito but still the same or more expensive.

    Thanks in advance!

    • says

      What an exciting trip, Rachel!

      You might want to check out LAN Airlines. They are actually having a special right now, and tickets from Miami to Ecuador are under $500. TravelZoo also posts a lot of good airline discounts.

      I didn’t have room to share in the article, but we also flew from our hometown to Orlando, and then rented a car and drove to Miami. I realize credit cards are not the best route for everyone (and to clarify, we have no credit card debt), but we signed up for a Southwest card and got the 50,000 mile bonus. That allowed our entire family to fly from our home to Orlando (round-trip) for free. (We did this using our points to buy tickets during a low-fare sale.) So, by flying from Miami and then getting our connector free, we saved a good bit.

      Hope you find something. Feel free to connect with me. I have a contact button on the bottom my blog. :)

  11. Sheri says

    Keren,

    Your story is truly inspiring. I also have three young children and thought that this was something that I was supposed to put off until they were older. In your article you stated that your husband worked full-time. Was he telecommuting for a job here in the U.S. or did he find work in Ecuador? Also, how did your children handle the long flight and the food in Ecuador.
    Thanks for this article!

    Sheri

    • says

      I too would like to know what your husband does that he was able to work in Ecuador!

      I am fluent in Spanish and did volunteer work in Bolivia and would LOVE to return someday even after we have kids!

      • says

        Good question, Denise and Sheri! In scaling the length of this article down, I realize I took out the sentence that explained my husband works from home in the States, too. He has worked remotely (for a variety of jobs–we look specifically for remote work) for four years now, and that is huge in allowing us to be able to schedule our travel.

        Sheri, thankfully, the flight was only just over 4 hours long. My youngest is still breastfeeding and taking daytime naps, and we tried to time it so he would sleep for most of the flight, and I nursed him when we were ascending/descending. My older two LOVE flying, and they thought it was especially cool that this flight had videos and we were served a meal. If it were a trans-Atlantic flight, it might have turned out differently. :) Our flight back was 12a.m. to 5a.m….the kids did great, but I missed out on a lot of sleep. We had an issue with our middle daughter getting handled roughly with TSA while going through customs on the way there, but that was the only “really bad” moment with flying. (Not that it was the most relaxing thing in the world! :))

        As for food, the kids liked most things, and the food was pretty amazing most places. They especially loved the fresh-made fruit juices. A few things they out-and-out didn’t like, of course.

        • says

          Very cool! Any tips on looking for jobs where you can work remotely from home? That seems like an excellent suggestion for some of us that dream of traveling more someday! Too bad my husband is a mechanic and that can’t be done remotely!

    • says

      Really neat, Lauren! Do you know where yet? I’d love to connect. (I have a contact button on the footer of my blog.)

  12. Meghan says

    We travel often (domestic and internationally), and we’ve been doing it with our children since they were both about 8 weeks old (they’re now 7 and 4). We also economize in certain areas and spend much more in travel, but I would MUCH rather take a trip somewhere (anywhere, really!) than buy a “thing”. The experiences you have and memories you make while traveling are unparalleled, and you learn so much not only about other countries and cultures, but about your own country and culture as well. Our children have been aware of cultural differences from very young ages, and they are so curious about other people and countries. It makes my heart happy. :)

    We intend to keep traveling with our kid, and we are saving up now for an “All Around the World”, year-long trip that we intend to start in about 3 years. We want our kids (and ourselves) to experience this amazing world well before everyone is grown (and old)!

    • says

      I loved reading this comment and agree with you about learning about other cultures and our own! It is also fascinating to see culture through the lens of parenting and being a mother.

      Our travel fund was actually started to fund a similar around-the-world trip. But we decided to slip this one in first, and are so glad we did! :)

  13. Stephanie says

    Wow, what a score on those plane tickets. I would love to take a trip like this someday with my family. Are you fluent in Spanish, did you have an interpreter, or is there a fair amount of English spoken to get around?

  14. Allie says

    We love traveling with our daughter and she loves to travel. She is 6 years old and has been to Ireland, England, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, and 7 US states so far. We are saving to pay cash for an 8 week trip to Germany next year. I wish there were such cheap flights to Europe!

  15. Sunny C says

    I Love to travel. It is my absolute favorite thing to do. I make strong efforts daily to save as much money as possible so that at the drop of a hat I can go on a trip wherever the mood strikes me!!!!!! (Cheap airfare is a Must!!!!)
    The last major trip that I went on, I went to Japan for several weeks. I had the time of my life, and then some. I want to return to Japan, but I have yet to find a good deal!!!!!
    You can save much money while you are say in Japan by using public transport, walking, and by also taking the Subway and Bullet Trains.
    I have been to Europe more than 10 times. I have rented a car and drove all over Germany and then some.
    I stay in Family owned B&B’s (in Europe) I eat and shop where the locals do, and I always have a Wonderful time!!!!!!!
    I can not wait to fly somewhere soon, and have another Grand time!!!!!

  16. says

    Wow!!!! Keren! That is amazing! I have family in Mexico and some things are cheap there too, but not that cheap, and even if it were, I still don’t think I’d have the guts to move! What an awesome experience for your family, and awesome memories! Way to make your dream happen. :)

  17. says

    Great post! I really enjoyed it! I totally agree about putting the small things they we want aside , so we can make memories that last forever! We are currently saving for a trip as a family as well, thank you for writing this to give us a little more motivation!

  18. says

    I am so impressed! Right now we are in a bad cycle, and even though we were able to pay for half of our trip to a family member’s wedding in cash, I feel like we spent too much and really don’t know when we will get out of debt, with school costs and no raise in sight. But I am heartened by the fact others are doing it!

  19. Marie says

    Keren,
    I love that you traveled with your children. Since my twins were born we’ve done all kinds of trips with them. They have seen so much. Right before they were 3 we took a 5 week trip to the Czech Republic. But to save on cost we flew to Germany and then drove to Belgium, somewhere around 12 hours in the car. We picked up our Romanian friend in Belgium and drove to the Czech Republic.
    During that trip we spent a day in Paris, which my kids still talk about seeing the Ifle Tower.
    My husband and I both have mission backgrounds and that’s our desire to live overseas with our kids.
    I pray your dream will be realized soon, in God’s perfect timing.

    • rebecca says

      What types of jobs can be done remotely and where can I look? We are both teachers and are working on our masters in counseling.