Get Ready... (Traveling Tips Part 1)

Though our family are by no means seasoned travelers, we try to do at least one family trip a year. These have been some of our favorite times together as a family. This year's trip to China will probably be the ultimate! Through the years, we have learned a few things about traveling. Here are five tips that have helped us tremendously in planning an enjoyable experience for everyone:

1. Set yourself a budget.

Unless you really like spending more than you want, setting a budget is a must. Coming home to a pile of bills is not a fun way to end your trip!

So what do you need to budget? Some line items to include are:

  • transportation costs (airfare, car rental, train, gas, etc.)
  • accomodations (hotel, condo, RV site, campground, etc.)
  • meals (on the road and during your trip)
  • activity expenses (tickets and fares, etc.)
  • souvenirs
  • extra/emergency 

Ideally, we like to save up throughout the year so that we are working with a budget that we actually have, not one that we are going to have to pay off. What we have is the maximum we will spend. Based on that total, we subdivide that amount into the above categories. 

2. Be willing to be creative with your options to cut down on costs.

For us, food is usually a big chunk of our budget. So some of the ways we have shaved some off our budget is to look for a place that includes a kitchenette, microwave and/or a full-sized refrigerator (preferably all three). We select one meal a day to go out and eat. If the hotel has a continental breakfast, then we usually go out for either lunch or dinner, depending on what we have planned for the day. The other meal we eat at the hotel (more on this tomorrow!). We often like to go out for lunch, when entrees are smaller and prices are lower. But usually they are larger than our usual lunches at home so that by dinner, we only need a light meal of fruit or a sandwich.

3. Plan your trip with purpose.

For us, we usually have a "main point" for each of our vacations. One year, we went to a beach town, with the goal of enjoying the beach. One year, we went to Hawaii, with the goal of hitting a luau, snorkeling, and hiking. Last year, we went to Legoland in Carlsbad to see the Star Wars exhibit. And so with every trip, whether it is to our local Disneyland or visiting grandparents in the Pacific Northwest, we like to have a list of "must sees" and "must do's." We put those in first, then whatever else we can fill in, then we will.

4. Include margin in your days.

Have you ever been on a vacation where you try to hit every possible destination and end up exhausted? Then we need a vacation from our vacation, which defeats the purpose of getting away in the first place!

The solution? Plan space into your days. Don't cram it in. This is especially true if you are travelling with little ones who still need their naps. Cranky kids are no fun. Often times, our littlest ones have no say in the planning. The least I can do is honor their limits instead of dragging them around on our schedules.

When we go on vacations to amusement parks, we usually buy multiple-day passes and then we don't feel like we have to cram it all into one day. We can go just for a few hours in the morning and come back in the evening until it closes. Or we can sleep in and go in later. Or we can go for half the day, take a nap and doing something completely different in the evening.

And one last thing: give yourself margin in traveling. The younger the kids, the more you will need to plan to stop and take it slow. Let the journey be part of the adventure!

5. Make sure to plan something for everyone, especially if you have kids of varying ages.

Little ones may just like the neighborhood park! Older kids may enjoy participating in selecting landmarks or destinations they'd like to see. This is a fun way to engage your kids in the process and get them excited about where you are going. Sometimes, along the way there are fun stops we can make as part of our journey. On a recent trip up to Oregon to see family, we spent a night in Ashland and enjoyed a Shakespeare play at the festival and then found the local park for Jonathan to play in the next day.

Another idea may be to plan some one-on-one time during your trip for you or your spouse to spend with each child, or even some time for you or spouse to have some alone time. When we went to Hawaii five years ago, my husband really wanted to do some hiking at the NaPali coast. I, on the other hand, was five months pregnant and not in any shape to scale cliffs. So as a treat, I let him go alone on a hike. He got to do something he wanted to do. I got to go to the pool with the kids.

For us, the key to a really enjoyable vacation is in the planning. When we plan thoughtfully, we end up with a trip that doesn't blow our budget, is enjoyable for all, and is actually restful!

Stay tuned over the next couple days for more!

Recommended reading:

Using the internet to book hotels and save money Tips from Life as Mom. She's got a great site with tons of tips for traveling with kids!