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I guess you could say we travel quite a bit. With my wanderlust, it is a good thing that I actually enjoy family travel planning. Today I want to break down how we go about planning a trip, how we book accommodation and flights and get expert travel advice from fellow travelers.
How we plan our trips depends a lot on the style of the trip. Are we backpacking for a month in a developing country or are we going away for a week in a developed country? No matter which type of trip we are planning, they all involve lots of research. It is probably at this point that I should stop using “we” because travel planning falls exclusively on my plate. Good thing it is something I absolutely love doing! You don’t need to spend hours researching and planning a trip. For me it is a hobby and I like the challenge of finding the best value accommodation in the best location, planning the perfect route and finding awesome family friendly activities.
Family Travel Planning
Where to Go
One of the key reasons why we can travel so much is that we are very flexible in where we go. We rarely have one particular destination in mind and instead research a plethora of options to find the best value. We sometimes try to tack holidays onto our home leave (we are expats) and take long weekends for shorter getaways. We wrote posts on how to travel more as a family and our tips for family budget travel.
I use Skyscanner and Google Flights to research flight prices because they are flight aggregators and show all airlines. I love how you can keep your destination and dates flexible. It is like a game to type in Melbourne to “anywhere” and see what comes up. Often places I have never thought to visit suddenly make their way onto the list.
I also like how I can easily plan multi-stop trips and take advantage of a layover to spend a few days somewhere along the way. Remember that it is always cheaper to fly outside school holidays and peak travel times, mid-week, early or late morning and to book 3-7 weeks out for domestic flights and 3-6 months in advance for international flights (longer if traveling during peak periods).
Once I have found a routing and price I like, I like to book with the airlines directly if I can or with Expedia. To be honest, I am scared of Skyscanner because they have you book with some dodgey travel agencies with terrible reviews. So yes, you may save a few dollars, but is it worth it, when you need to make a change or have a problem and you can’t get a hold of anyone? I booked a flight on Expedia to Japan last year and realized after I booked that I was flying with Air Canada’s budget line, Rouge. Since it was a trans-oceanic flight and I could have booked a full Air Canada flight at a different time for the same price, it was a no-brainer to try and change it. I called up Expedia and they happily cancelled my booking and I went ahead and booked the proper flight. This is why I love Expedia. It also keeps all my trips organized on my account and offers up discounts for hotels and car rentals in my destination.
If you are flying domestically, don’t forget to check out the budget carriers. Since we are a family of five we save hundreds of dollars a trip by booking with the budget carriers. Would we rather fly a full-service airline? Of course, but for us, getting more trips in is more of a priority then full-service. Remember to add in the cost of checked baggage, meals, and seat selection to get a full perspective of the total cost. Sign up for their mailing lists and Facebook pages to find out about special sales and discounts.
On our shorter trips, we book our accommodation in advance. For hotels, we have had good success with Hotels Combined. If you are a family of 5 or more, you will know the challenge of trying to find rooms for your family. Sure, we can stay in expensive suites or get two rooms, but just because we are a larger family does not mean that we have the means to do that. I like how I can easily find rooms on Hotels Combined that can accommodate our family of 5.
Although these hotel booking sites have their own internal reviews of accommodation, I much prefer to check Tripadvisor. I always check Tripadvisor before I book and I have a few tips for how to use it:
- Tick the “family” box to see reviews from other family travelers. They often will point out things that are really helpful when staying with kids, like what rooms are closest to the pool or the price for kids at the breakfast buffet.
- Read through the reviews with an eye on how many reviews the reviewers have. If I see a lot of reviews where they only have 1 review, I will be suspicious. I put much more weight on Tripadvisor reviewers who have done many reviews.
- If I find a review that is particularly helpful, I will click on that person and read their other reviews. They will have often reviewed restaurants or attractions in the area and maybe neighboring cities we will be visiting.
- I love looking through the traveler photos. Glossy, perfect hotel photos are great, but I want to see what a place really looks like.
Tripadvisor has recently started allowing you to book on their site and this is something I am starting to do more often.
When traveling in Asia, our preferred booking site is Agoda. Like many travelers we find they have the best inventory and best prices. You can search by country and often find accommodation options for more off the beaten path locations.
Since we are a family of 5, we are staying at Airbnbs more often. We have only ever had positive experiences staying at Airbnbs and usually find them better value then hotels for our larger family. We really like having more space, where the kids often have their own room. We can use the kitchen for breakfasts and prepare dinners at “home” to save money. Often the Airbnbs are located in real, residential neighborhoods where you get a real feel for a destination. My tips for choosing an Airbnb:
- Look for a property with quite a number of reviews (positive of course).
- Use the map function to narrow down your search to your preferred neighborhood
- Often when you put in 5 people into the search, the prices are significantly more than 2 people for the same property. Airbnb treats children the same as adults. If the price is significantly more and out of my budget, I will often contact the host directly and see if they can offer a discount since the extra 3 people are children. I find they will often knock it down to 4 people, which on a multi-day stay can mean significant savings.
- If you stay longer, you often are entitled to a discount.
- If traveling at the last minute, tick the “Instant Book” filter. This allows you to book instantly without the back and forth communication.
- Checking into an Airbnb can often be more complicated then checking into a hotel. Usually a host will send you a message beforehand with detailed instructions. Often they will use a lock box for your to obtain the key. While I try not to print out travel details anymore, I like to have this info printed and ready for when we arrive.
- Take Uber to your Airbnb. This works best if you are a family of 4 or under, otherwise you will require UberXL. If it is difficult to take public transport to our Airbnb, we find Uber works really well. Don’t you love this new sharing economy!
If you don’t already have an Airbnb account, use this discount code to book your first stay. You save $50 dollars and we receive a small credit to go towards our future Airbnbs stays.
When we traveled in India last year, we stayed in home stays (like Bed & Breakfasts) a lot. We loved how this allowed us to experience Indian culture and get to know our hosts. Usually some meals are included and it gave us the chance to eat traditional, home cooked meals. I know some people worry about having enough privacy staying in home stays, but we always stayed in a separate building or floor with our own bathroom. I love how staying in a home stays helps families benefit from tourism and it completely enriched our time in India.
1. Guidebooks – I know you can buy guidebooks online, but I still prefer to have a paper copy, especially for a bigger trip and in a developing country. Sure, the internet is more up to date, but I love to get an idea of what to do in a destination from a guidebook. Years ago we got hooked on Lonely Planets and to this day, they are still our guidebook of choice. In fact, I love the story of how Lonely Planet got started – have you read it?
2. Online Message Boards – there is so much great information online that sometimes it can be really overwhelming. I often like to get kid specific tips and recommendations from fellow travelers. We love Lonely Planets because most of the other travelers are independent travelers. In addition to the destination boards, there is a Travel with Kids board that provides a wealth of information. Tripadvisor has some great message boards as well. I will scroll through them, search and sometimes post my own specific questions. I have had great recommendations for a driver in Sri Lanka and guesthouses in Bangkok through these boards. I love the community element to online message boards and try to give back and post reviews and recommendations once we return from a trip.
3. Facebook Groups – There are some great Family Travel Facebook groups where you can post questions and fellow family travelers and bloggers will share their expertise and experience. My favorite one is Our Tribe Travels, which features adventurous, independent travelling families and off-beat destinations like Nepal and Vietnam. Some other ones I like are Families Who Love Travel and Family Can Travel. You will have to join the group to read and participate in the threads. This has become my new fav way to plan trips. The search feature lets you find older threads on a destination you are researching.
4. Blogs – I love reading detailed trip reports from other family travel bloggers. I usually just search “Ireland with kids blog” or something like that to find them. Travel blogs have recently adopted “X things to do in Destination” listicles which are great for travel planning, but I love reading raw, unstructured travelogues the best.
5. Tripadvisor – If you go to a particular destination, Tripadvisor will have a “Best Things to do in X” list where you can read reviews of all the attractions, tours and sites. You can filter this by a number of things to zero in on what might be of interest to you. Sometimes Tripadvisor also has articles that Destination Experts have written that I find really helpful, like how to apply for an Indian visa.
6. Pinterest – I used to just use Pinterest to research pathetically elaborate birthday party ideas or find new recipes. However, it is a great way to find blog posts about a particular destination. Pinterest is essentially a visual search engine and you can find lots of relevant blog posts to keep you reading for days.
Tours and Activities
I always like to find the best price on tours and entrance fees. I just seem incapable paying full price and I will scour the internet to find discounts. These really can add up when multiplying by 5. Here are some of the ways we save money on pricey attractions and tours:
- Klook – a tour aggregator that offers great prices for tons of world-wide attractions and tours. In Singapore, I would book cheaper tickets on Klook on my mobile right in front of an attraction’s front gates.
- Groupon – sometimes you can find good Groupon deals on a particular destination.
- Company’s Website – check their website or Facebook page for Specials.
Since you are spending so much time reading and researching, make sure you find a way to record what you are learning. I still like to jot notes in a notebook, but would love to move towards an electronic organized system. I have just started experimenting with the Trip It app where you can keep all your travel emails and notes organized.
How do you go about planning your trips? Do you like planning travel as much as I do?
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