Travel Planning: Five Favorite Things

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Doing a little travel planning? Me, too! Here are five of my favorite things when it comes to planning a family vacation.

Travel Planning: Five Favorite Things | Life as Mom

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While I’m a total homebody, I do love the occasional trip. Heading to the airport, even if it’s just to pick up someone, is fun for me. Travel has taken me places and shown me things that no book or movie ever could.

This year our family has a great adventure planned. We are going to spend a month in the United Kingdom, hiring a car and taking a massive road trip through England, Scotland, and Wales. A month seems like a long time, but I know that it will fly by — and we still won’t get to know every region as thoroughly as we would like.

I’ve been spending the last month trying to make sense of what it is to plan a long trip for a group of eight. If there were just two of us, we could be spontaneous and go wherever we liked at the moment. You can almost always find room for two.

However, you can’t turn an aircraft carrier on a dime. Neither can a family with six kids go on a grand adventure without some detailed travel planning. The modern day hospitality industry just doesn’t cater to large groups on a budget.

This week’s Five Favorite Things is basically all about what I’m doing these days: travel planning.

Five Favorite Things: Travel Planning

Here are some of my favorite resources for planning family travel.

1. Google Maps

I confess. My kids know geography better than I do. Google Maps has been my hero when it comes to researching possible destinations, gauging how far we can realistically drive in a day, and identifying where exactly a certain location is.

My high schoolers are reading The Canterbury Tales right now, and it made us wonder, “Where is Canterbury anyway?” Google Maps showed us where.

Another great thing about Google Maps is that we can check out the street view of a location and get a feel for a hotel or restaurant without actually being there. While it certainly doesn’t replace on-the-ground-visuals, it’s a nice approximation for checking out how close two locations are, whether or not we can walk to the grocery store from our hotel, and what kind of parking we might find at our destination.

Travel Planning: Five Favorite Things | Life as Mom

2. Trip Advisor

Trip Advisor is my go-to website/app for travel and food recommendations. I used it extensively to plan our trip to France and reference it often for date nights. When I went to Rochester a few weeks ago, I scoped out our hotel as well as the three restaurants we ate it with great success!

I’m trusting the folks on Trip Advisor to help us plan our UK adventure as well. One of the things I didn’t take advantage of last time was the drag and drop scheduler. I can lay out our entire trip on a calendar, mark the sites we want to see, and then drag and drop them into the correct days.

3. Ebates

I’ve loved Ebates for a long time. I signed up for it almost a decade ago and since then have earned over $1000 in cash back from online purchases. Ebates is basically a rebate service. As long as you click through their link first, you get a certain percentage back on your purchases.

I’ve long used Ebates for clothes shopping, but I had no idea how many travel sites participated! Not only did we get over $80 back on our plane ticket prices, but we’re also getting money back from car rentals and hotel reservations. Be sure to check Ebates before making any travel plans. You may save some extra moolah!

Travel Planning: Five Favorite Things | Life as Mom

4. Pinterest

Pinterest isn’t just for recipes and kids’ crafts, it’s a great repository for travel ideas and packing lists. When I’m not sure where to go next in our travel planning, sometimes I just take a scroll down Pinterest. Look at enough travel posts and the smart feed does the work for you!

I have discovered some great travel and fashion bloggers this way. You can find my UK Travel board here.

5. Time

In 2014 we took our kids to Europe for a month in France via London on both ends. Last summer we committed to making another big trip and settled on Ireland as our destination. As the fall and winter progressed, FishPapa and I had second thoughts. We’d loved our time in London and really wanted to go back to England and to visit the rest of Great Britain. In a spontaneous move about six weeks ago, we changed our minds and booked flights to London that same day. (While we could hop over to Ireland as well, we feel like this would be squeezing in far too much.)

That is as spontaneous as our travel planning is going to get this trip. There are just too many things to plan for when taking an extended holiday with many children. This is when time is on my side.

I had originally hoped to have our trip funded and booked six months in advance. Like at Thanksgiving. For whatever reason, I delayed in the booking part, and as it turns out, that’s a good thing. We had time to change our minds about our destination. And we still have time to get some good deals.

When I take time to do our travel planning early I can get the accommodations we want at prices we can afford. I know that when I dawdle, we pay more or we don’t get the ideal train tickets. I’m hoping that in the next week or two I’ll have things sewn up because I know time is a valuable commodity when it comes to travel planning.

What are YOUR favorite things for travel planning?

Travel Planning: Five Favorite Things | Life as Mom

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  1. Hey Jessica,
    I’m searching for a hotel for one night in London and everything for a family of 7 is crazy expensive or has horrible reviews. Where did you stay in London on your France trip and how much was it per night? Will you be doing any budget/financial posts about your upcoming trip to the UK? Its hard to know if I’m truly getting good deals having never been and not finding much info from other large families as far as costs go. I would love to see posts of where you stayed and cost of accommodations, transportation, food, sight seeing when you get back.

    1. To be honest, Premier Inn pricing is making this very doable. I know it’s not “traditional”, but we are anything but. LOL! Definitely fits our budget and the reviews are always good. Does that make us cheap tourists? Not sure, don’t care.

      I think you’ve seen my posts on London but keep in mind that those posts were written in 2014. The pound has taken a drop a lot since then, so the exchange rate is currently more favorable to Americans than when I wrote those posts.

  2. We’ve traveled often overseas while living overseas. We used GoogleMaps and TripAdvisor on some trips, while Lonely Planet and other resources helped us as well. This was a great post, thanks!

  3. Sounds great to me. I will add it to my things to do list. I will put images on my phone too. Thanks for that idea. I didn’t do all that when we went to Canada, but this time I will.

    Do you have any other any other tips on keeping a large group of kids safe overseas?

  4. Oh I hadn’t thought of having the kids carry photocopies. I guess that would be a good idea if they got lost.
    Thank you for the tip.

    1. Yes, can’t remember where I read that, but it seemed like a good idea. I keep images on my phone, but having photocopies too while the originals in the safe can be a good idea? I’ve never had to have one replaced, so I’m not sure what’s best in that situation.

  5. Ebates is awesome for booking trips. We use it every time. From tickets, cruises, hotels, and car rentals. It is nice to come home to money that you earned by taking the vacation.

    Do you use hotels at all? is a good way to go. You get 1 free night for every 10 nights. Plus you can earn ebates on that too and or buy discounted gift cards. Or if you like Airbnb you can buy discounted gift cards for that too.

    We are headed to Europe too for the first time too. We travel hack so the price of our tickets was $0. Have you ever thought about hacking? It really is easy and makes family travel so much cheaper. I need to do more of it and get the hotels for free too.

    I had a question. For passports what do you use to carry them all? I have 5 kids and I will have to carry them all, so I was looking for something secure and big enough for all of their.

    1. I carry the little kids’ passports on my person with my husband and elder sons carrying theirs in their money belts. Depending on the location, we’ve also left them in the hotel safe. This time around I’m going to have the littles possibly carry photocopies in money belts. still thinking about that o ne.

  6. I had not thought about using Ebates to book a trip. Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. We travelled across Canada west one year, east the next. Four kids and camped the whole way. Each kid was given $25 at the start of the adventure to spend as they wished , Souvenirs, treats etc. They could keep leftover money at end of trip. Stopped all the whining about wanting to buy some plastic piece of junk. They would ask our advice at times and at times they just went ahead and bought the piece of crap they wanted. Almost invariably they regretted it. I think that their relationship with money expanded on those trips and today they are all world travelers paying their own way and saving to go to some pretty amazing locales.