We are always on the hunt for a deal- whether its a free exhibit, discount event tickets, cheap flights, kids eat free and any other way to take our larger than average family out to give them experiences that will teach them and show them little pieces of our world.
Our next big endeavor is an international family trip next spring, and I have been dizzying myself with research to make sure we find ALL the deals and hit ALL the hot spots.
I am going to share with you some of my tips and tricks for securing the cheapest and best flights and hotels, as well as a way to earn part of your trip throughout the year before you actually travel. These tips will hopefully inspire you to reach outside your comfort zone and make BIG plans for your tribe, whether that is a girls trip extended family, immediate family or group of friends.
First, you have to decide. Where should we travel?
This was the hardest decision for me, as my kids have only traveled within the United States and there is so much to see outside of our own country. Here are my five factors for narrowing down to the right location.
- Cost: Not just cost of flight but cost of hotel (or airbnb), food costs, excursions within country, transportation and any other expenditures.
- Safety: Ok, so our top destination is cost effective, but is it safe? Will we feel protected by the government and and secure in our surroundings?
- POIs: We have quite an age range in our crew, so ensuring we would all enjoy the trip was next. Doing research and planning a rough itinerary for your top locations is the best way to go about this, then narrow it down from there.
- Historical/Geographical Significance: Does this destination have a significant place in history or geography? We want our children visiting places they have read about in books both in school and at home. Sure sitting on a beach for a week sounds great, but we like to travel with intention, always learning and connecting our small corner to the larger world.
- Wow Factor: Does our location have a Wow factor? An extra special occurrence or spot that will really leave our entire crew awestruck? Always looking for the cherry on top, that will engrain the moments in their memories forever.
Now that we have our criteria for determining our location, next is logistics. There are quite a few websites I use to search for safety information, flight pricing, hotel booking and POI searching.
Safety is key. I scour the internet for resources pertaining to my desired location to determine if it is a safe place to take my family. My favorite resources are blogs, vlogs, and discussion forums. TripAdvisor has great commentary and advice within their comment threads, sometimes lots to read but definitely worth it. Often times countries don’t want to advertise their safety concerns, so they can get buried and hard to locate. These public commentary forums are a great way to get information from those who have been there before.
For flights, I use a combination of the app Hopper (which always seems to show higher than actual pricing, but will get you started), google flights, kayak, orbitz, and justfly.com. These websites have amazing flash sales and overall lower pricing than booking direct with airlines or on any other websites I have found. I usually cross check the flights I want to ensure I am getting the best deal. Flexibility is key, if you can give or take a few days to get a better price, sometimes you can save hundreds this way. Flights are the first thing I book to ensure I secure a deal before moving onto hotels. Always get the insurance, you never know what could happen between booking and take off, so I recommend paying the extra money to give you peace of mind. I typically book 6 months to a year in advance. However, the planning and estimating of prices occurs a year or more in advance. I begin to check trend forecasting of flights to help predict the best time to buy. Rarely have I purchased a flight that went down in price after I bought it.
POIs. Aside form the obvious such as the Eiffel Tower or the Great Pyramids, what other activities and locations will be worthwhile to visit? I use a combination of TripAdvisor, vlogs, blogs, and local travel guide shows to get a feel for the place we want to visit. Vlogs are great because you can see video of the locations from the tourist perspective. Watching travel channel videos is also another way to locate hidden gems such as restaurants or fun shops that just enhance the overall experience. During a typical day of travel I try to plan one large attraction such as museum or tour, along with two to three food stops, one to two “walk by” views or must sees, and a final night view or activity. If i am unable to fill the criteria, I usually decide against a particular location. I am all about planning. I plan a rough itinerary using maps, collected data/desired POIs, metro schedules, information about best times of day to visit, etc and create a daily outline of approximately what we will hit and when. This lays out a rough sketch of the day that we can later fill in with unexpected twists we find along our journey. If i am able to plan days with plenty of leftover items that we don’t have time to see, I know i have a winner.
Historical/Geographical significance is a given. I want to hit major locations before settling into smaller lesser known cities and countries. Always looking to cross things off the mile long bucket list.
Wow factor. Same here, we want to have that kaboom somewhere along our trip that creates a memory to stand the test of time. Eiffel tower, Coliseum, Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon, Aurora Borealis, I could go on and on. There has to be a pinnacle of each trip, and that is the Wow factor.
Hotels and lodging has been such a varied experience, I can tell you that keeping your options open and knowing when to splurge and when to save has been key. Certain areas/cities it is definitely worthwhile to splurge and stay near city center if the transportation is not great or the POIs are all within walking distance. If you are able to secure an affordable AIRBNB outside of the city and use the public transportation with ease, it may be worth your effort. One trick that has helped our costs has been using booking sites like hotels.com and orbitz.com to book hotels throughout the year as we need them, then earn reward nights. We have been able to transfer and use some of our hotel reward nights to our international stays, which has saved money and been a treat! Also, staying in less expensive countries, we have decided to splurge for the Deluxe Suite and really enjoy ourselves, and stay in super bare budget friendly options in the more expensive cities.
Budget. Usually our budget can be broken down like this:
After the number crunching and financial piece is underway, the fun begins! Restaurant researching, small shop scouring, vintage hunting, secret hidden nuggets, after hours activities, specialty drinks and foods local to the area, and so on. For us, the excitement of a trip begins when the planning begins and we are truly savoring the entire experience and grateful for the opportunity.
Here is to hoping these tips help you work hard to get the best deals out there, to create an unforgettable experience for yourself and your loved ones!