Six Steps to Family Travel PlanningAugust 10, 2011 No Comments
I’m about to embark on a two week trip tomorrow, up and down the Eastern Seaboard. The trip is both a tour promoting my adult daughter’s acoustic folk rock career, and an exploration of things family and friendly for kids of all ages. Some cities I’ve never been to, some this will be a second visit, some I used to live in, but behind all of this travel there is the planning.
I came up with a forty-seven plan itinerary that of course includes my daughter’s gigs, our hotels, and transportation between cities via automobile and Amtrak, but which also includes a compendium of tips, restaurant choices, and a collection of sights all our family members want to see either collectively or independently. In printing this epic, I realize that every family needs a guide of some sort to make the most of their vacation travels. Here are some ideas to make this kind of planning relatively painless and your trip – pain free.
Almost every family I know has at least one member that serves as the travel planner, seeking hotel bargains and upgrades, finding restaurants and grocery stores to accommodate a variety of diets, researches time tables for planes and trains, rents the automobile, and more. If you’re that person – or if you’d like someone else to take over those duties for you – then read on!
1. First, get the kids interested in your destination. Read aloud from travel guides, show them photos on line, find appropriate kids books or DVD’s and let them explore the region they’re headed to before they get there. Let your kids think about how they wish to document their trip – help them put together a journal or scrap book they can take along with them, their own cameras or put older kids in charge of taking the photos or videos of the trip.
2. Second, select the time you’re going. On this trip, due to scheduling issues, I was unable to avoid the height of summer tourist season. In general we like to go to the southwest in the summer and we don’t mind the heat. The costs are down and we enjoy visiting National Parks when the tourist flow is at its lowest point, usually early fall or early spring. Look for hotel bargains and don’t be afraid to snatch up a vacation you didn’t consider when it shows up on your travel radar. I’m still regretting not purchasing hugely discounted round trip tickets available for one June week only – to Anchorage, Alaska.
When restricted by your children’s school schedules, pick destinations that will be the least crowded for the time – for example, don’t look at Florida beaches, Palm Springs, or Las Vegas during college spring break season.
3. Third, when you’re looking for a place to stay, look at square footage. Sometimes a big room with a roll away or two in a gorgeous old school hotel trumps a chain suite hotel with yes, separate rooms, but less square footage and a bumpy sofa bed. And sometimes not: know when the most beautiful bed and breakfast in the world is not going to win out over a swimming pool and breakfast muffins at a chain motel.
Look for special travel points in the summer: will staying two nights at one chain give you a free night down the road? Will your auto club or other discount travel membership offer a better deal at one place over another? Are you able to work with the blindness of Priceline or Hotwire? How many beds do you really need? But don’t drive yourself crazy. I’ve spent days hunting travel bargain and insider travel sites to get the best deal – but there comes a point when saving twenty dollars a night isn’t worth the twenty nights you spend to find the bargain.
4. Fourth, consider a tour. Not necessarily a bus with a group you’ll be sharing ten days with on your journey, but consider a boat trip across a lake, an urban “Duck” tour or guided half day open air bus ride through a city, a park ranger led expedition through a national park’s treasures. Sometimes you’ll gain knowledge you wouldn’t otherwise, sometimes it’s just so much easier to view the major sites of a place you’ve never been before if you’re only staying a short while.
5. Fifth, food. Yes, we have special diets in our family, and they’re not all the same special diet. But even if your family can happily consume hot dogs for days on end, there will come a time when you need something that didn’t come from either a four star restaurant or a fast food pit stop. Look for grocery stores and speciality purveyors such as fruit sellers, chocolate makers, juice bars, and the like near your hotel. For us, that avocado roll from Whole Foods deli can mean the difference between staying on time rolling down the highway or snapping at each other over a gas station mini-mart’s candy bars. And, check out the local farmer’s market. A recent happy memory: discovering the fresh tomatoes, fresh-from-the-hen eggs, and hand-made hummus at a small farmer’s market held roadside in Cambria, CA — there was dinner.
6. Sixth, trust your kids. From the time mine could talk, they had “ideas.” Some of them led to chocolate syrup covered twinkies inside a house built from a giant fallen redwood on California’s Lost Coast, some led to actual conversations with work artists, some to exploring museums or shops I would never have put on an itinerary. It doesn’t mean you should change your Everglades expedition for a day in Disney World, but it does mean include them, and listen to their suggestions. And that goes for impromptu road stops as well.
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