Travel Planning the Hound Way
Travel is a priority for our family. We simply love seeing new places, eating regional food, and challenging ourselves to explore and grow. We sacrifice other expenses to constantly save money for the next vacation. It's no surprise, after hundreds of trips in the past decade, that we have a 'way' of travel planning. Here's the gist of our casual, tech-centric, social, organizing style:
Pick the Place or the Place Will Pick You
We keep a life list of places we want to visit. Our dream list is impossibly large and expensive, including destinations as varied as South Georgia Island, Alaska, Asheville and Belgium.
More often than not, though, the place picks us. Lil and I tag along on Alex's business trip or the reverse when I have an out of town event. Tradition holds that we make our way to Lake Erie every Labor Day and we're often invited to Massachusetts for Alex's family events. Every few years my parents invite us on vacation with them and this year my grandmother is taking the whole family to Hawaii.
We don't mind pushing the dream list aside for other worthy destinations. We can enjoy each other's company and discover things we like in anywhere.
Push the purchase button or call in a credit card number to a hotel to commit to a date and reserve one of the big ticket items. Usually we start with airfare, if we're driving. Alex is a United man so we go with them unless flight routing or cost is clearly preferable on another airline.
If we're just staying a night, especially in a city, we book hotels with Marriott brands. Alex accumulates reward points with Marriott so we often receive perks or free stays. We like their Residence Inn brand for two-room suites with a small kitchen that we can cook a meal or two in.
For longer trips, we search VRBO.com and HomeAway.com for vacation rentals. Vacationers can search by destination and many other attributes to find a variety of owner-operated condos and homes on these sites. The VRBO experience allows you to live like a local, often in unique properties like the amazing Big Island estate we'll stay at during our upcoming Hawaii trip. Thus far, we have never had a bad time staying in a VRBO property.
When Alex and I get away for a romantic weekend, we like to choose Select Registry Inns. The small hotels and bed and breakfasts included in the Select Registry offer the highest level of service and accommodations. It isn't often that we truly relax but the Select Registry B&Bs we've visited are outstandingly calming.
Gather and Organize Ideas
Next up is finding activities and food for the trip - this is the fun stuff! Alex and I used to keep a shared Google Doc with ideas but now we use Pinterest. We pin restaurants, parks, museums, and more for the months before we travel. If we are driving, we make sure to find restaurants and parks along the way for rest stops. Twitter friends are great sources of tips for restaurants and cultural sites.
We surround ourselves with books from the library. We read travel guides, picture books, destination, music and videos. We print a map for Lil and mark our stops together.
A few weeks before the travel begins, I set up a basic itinerary in a shared Google Doc or Evernote. I include options that are date specific (like farmers' markets) and museum opening and closing times. Rarely do we follow the itinerary to a tee, so I don't spend too much time trying to perfect it.
We use TripIt to track paid travel details like flights, hotels, and rentals. Our smart phones run the app so we can travel with less paper but still have important details at our fingertips.
We try to pack as lightly as possible for easier travelling. Alex frequently reminds me that "it's only money" and "they have stores there".
Our travel toiletries bag stays packed permanently as does our first aid kit. Alex keeps a technology bag full of the cords, chargers, and ipod so that our various informational and entertainment devices are always ready to go. Our backpacks and suitcases are always packed with some necessities too: water bottles (empty for flights), corkscrew, bandana, pens, and ziploc bags for collections.
Other items must be packed per trip - clothes, snacks, swimming gear, binoculars, books, and Lil toys. We designate who will bring group gear, like games and field guides, when travelling with extended family. If it's a road trip, we take a crate with cutting board, knife, cloth towel, and foodstuffs. For camping trips, we include our tent, chairs, sleeping bags, and the like.
Typically we wait until the day before a trip to pack or maybe two days for a bigger vacation. Packing is routine now and we rarely forget crucial items. Of course, as soon as I typed that Alex revealed that he forgot business socks for her current trip to Chicago! I will cover some of our specific travel essentials in a post later this week.
Finally it's time to leave for vacation. We say goodbye to the hounds (left in the care of family or friends) and take off.
Our casual planning method works for us but I know it wouldn't work for everyone. How do you plan family travel?