When we set out to take a major trip abroad with our kids, I had no idea where to even start with planning. Book the flight first and then find a place to stay? Set a budget and make the trip fit the budget? Decide how long we wanted to stay and then save up until our budget fit our vision? There were endless questions, and I had no experience with such a huge undertaking. Well, now I do have a little experience so here are some things that worked well for us. Here are some things to consider that may help you in planning a grand adventure for you and your family as well.
Ask for help.
The best first step for me was to ask around for suggestions and advice. Who do you know who has traveled abroad, with or without kids, and do they have suggestions of fantastic vacation spots you should consider? If you know where you want to go, who do you know who has been there? Worked there? Lived there? We knew we wanted to go to London, but neither of us had been there (for more than 48 hours anyway) so we had no idea what time of year was ideal, how much time we should plan to stay, what sights were worthwhile and which were not, what a reasonable budget would be, and on and on….I was truly overwhelmed with the options, even knowing exactly where we were going. Lucky for me, I have a friend who used to live in London. She was willing to spend three hours on the phone sharing everything she knows–all the things we must see and do, the very best spots to take kids, which tours to take and which to skip, and what the heck those hotel descriptions really mean. So I think the best first step is to start talking to everyone you know about traveling and discover what a wealth of information your friends, family, and co-workers can be.
Consider your priorities.
This was really the hardest part for my husband and me to do because (as you might have guessed) I’m a detail person, and he is more of a fly-by the-seat-of-your-pants person. I am happy staying in a hostel, and he expects a minimum three star hotel. I want to see ALL THE THINGS; he is happy to see whatever he happens to pass on his way to the bar. Once we made some basic decisions about our minimum requirements to call it a successful trip, the planning went much more smoothly. A clean bed and a hearty breakfast at a hotel near public transportation? Yes. A hotel in the trendy part of town? No. A budget big enough to include the top “must see” sight on each person’s list? Yes. Expecting my husband and kids to see all the art and cathedrals I wanted to see? No. Seeing ALL THE THINGS or getting enough sleep? Sleep. These are the kinds of decisions that can make or break a vacation.
Choosing a destination.
Some places make for lovely romantic getaways and others make for ideal family vacations. Some destinations may be exotic adventures for adults but terrifying death traps with small children. Spend some time figuring out if the destination you are considering suits your family. Do you know the language, and will you be comfortable if not? Is a romantic setting going to make you and your spouse cranky that you brought along the kids? Are there safety concerns (wildlife, crime, transportation) that will make you nervous the whole time you are there? If you say yes to any of these, you probably haven’t found the perfect place for your family vacation yet. Keep looking.
Determining your budget.
Sometimes my budget doesn’t match my dream. Ok, pretty much always. Know the feeling? That doesn’t mean you can’t make it work. Depending on your priorities, you have a few options. Can you travel in the off-season? Are there alternate destinations that offer the same type of trip you want—culture, eco-adventure, wilderness, history, etc., but are less well-known and less expensive? Is your timing flexible so that you can take six more months to save up the extra cash it would take for the trip you want? Have you looked into alternative lodging, packages, or checked with a travel agent for help finding deals?
Consider a travel agent.
I had never worked with a travel agent before planning our big London trip last year, but I knew I was in over my head and thought it best to seek help. As I’ve only had experience with two very different travel agents, my best advice is to keep looking until you find someone you click with, who seems to hear what you want and asks lots of questions. If it feels like the agent is trying to convince you that you really will enjoy this trip they have planned even though t isn’t really (or isn’t at all) what you had in mind, keep looking. That being said, the person we ended up working with was a huge help. I still did plenty of research and some of the leg-work because I wanted to, but she made suggestions, researched deals (and found some we couldn’t), and answered a ton of questions.
Don’t let the planning intimidate you away from going on a wonderful adventure with your family. Traveling with my kids certainly takes more effort than going it alone or with another adult, but to see the world through their eyes is completely worth the effort. So get busy and go! Yes, GO SOMEWHERE!
***To read the first installment in this series, click HERE.