Life is busy, especially when you have kids. Both my husband and I have full time jobs, plus we have a toddler and a dog so traveling is considerably more complicated than it used to be. For me, it’s very easy to talk about traveling and even to research potential destinations, but actually buy the tickets or reserving a hotel is another story. However, I’ve made it a priority to take the family on at least one trip every month with the family and I’ve found a few ways to speed up the planning process along the way.
Here are four things I do to keep things efficient and stress-free:
1. Plan things out in advance: I actually hate planning in advance, but it becomes crucial when kids are in the picture. A few years ago, my average time from planning a trip to departing for a trip was probably two to three days. I loved the spontaneity of it. Well, it turns out kids do not like spontaneity.
I currently have about 80% of my travel calendar figured out through December 2017. In fact, I even know which hotel we’re staying at in Hawaii this Christmas. And in August, we have all of our flights and hotels booked in Banff, Canada because August is their high travel season and hotels book up so quickly. Had I waited a few months, scheduling that trip would have been a nightmare and might not have even happened.
Planning in advance also helps me stay on budget over a period of time (a year, in my case). In January, my husband and I agree on a travel budget for the year and by planning everything out early, I know if I’m going to need to cut back or not. This is also for kids with obligations (sports, music, etc.). For example, spring break travel can get expensive and the earlier you buy those tickets, the better.
2. Pick one or two big trips for the year and balance those out with smaller trips: I have two annual travel traditions for my family: one trip to a new country (new for my son at least) and one holiday trip (late December). Those are the trips that I focus most of my time and budget on because, I hope, when my children are grown, they will always remember those traditions as a big part of our family. Beyond those trips, I try to fit in logistically simple trips, like going to a nearby National Park. I also like to take advantage of low-season, cheap flights to do quick weekend trips.
3. Pick a few favorite travel websites and stick to them: The amount of content available online is outrageous. You could literally spend an entire month researching one destination. Pick a few sites that you trust and use those to book your travel arrangements. For flights, I use Kayak and then if it’s a local destination, I’ll also check Southwest because they won’t show up on Kayak and they are the only airline with no fees for canceling. You’ll find similar site like this for hotel and car as well.
For trip inspiration, I like http://www.travelandleisure.com/, but I’ll usually check out a few other sources to supplement. The point is, don’t spend too much time scouring the internet for the best deal. Now that we have access to aggregator sites like Kayak, you’re mostly going to find the same prices wherever you go.
4. Leverage travel for work or holiday visits: This obviously isn’t for everyone, but for parents who travel for work or who have extended family living far away, this is a great way to squeeze in family vacations. My husband travels extensively for work (I’m talking more than 150 nights per year in a hotel) so I am constantly on the look out for appealing travel destinations on his calendar. Since he is already flying there, that’s one less flight to pay for and we can potentially leverage his hotel room, assuming I’m willing to take a vacation day if it’s a mid-week trip. Similarly, we’ll sometimes tack on a quick trip after visiting extended family.