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