Friday, March 11, 2011

Carol's Tips for Planning Great Trips

    Well, this week has been a little crazy - we have eaten dinner with someone different each night.  I have been working on the plaid wall in the craft room which will have to be revealed next week.  Also, I discovered a great recipe for Sopapilla Cheesecake which has given me a good, easy dessert option when I make Mexican themed meals.  Yum.  We are currently in Waco, TX visiting some good friends of ours from college and their sweet girl who is about 8 months younger than Lily.  Such fun.
     Anyway, the other thing I have been working on is planning our vacation for this summer.  Traveling is one of our great passions in life.  There are so many places to explore and experiences to have (what an amazing and diverse world God created for us!), and John and I would both say this is our favorite hobby.  We haven't wanted kiddos to slow us down, but they definitely change which trips we consider for the time being.  John has to always remind me that we do not have to do everything right now.  Example - we were really considering New Zealand with our two little friends two and under, but after realizing that they would slow us down a lot in one of the adventure capitals of the world, we opted for Canada this summer.  Not to mention a 12 hour time change that would rock our world.
     Since we have been together, John and I have traveled to Northern Ireland, Ghana, Costa Rica, England, Israel/Palestine, Jordan and Italy internationally and have had several trips within the United States as well.  Many of these I have planned completely, and we have had a great time.  Here are some highlight pictures from each country.

Northern Ireland (I have just started realizing how young we used to look .. .  We started officially dating in Northern Ireland on a trip with our school.)

Us Ireland

Ghana (mission trip with Fellowship Bible Church in NW Arkansas)


London (weekend stopover on our way back from Ghana)


Costa Rica (for Spanish Language school and to visit good friends)


Jordan (visiting friends who were in Palestine and taking a side trip to Petra - I was 8 weeks pregnant)


Italy (took baby girl on an amazing trip to a place we had always wanted to go)


So, after going on and planning so many trips, I have come up with a few things that work best for us, and I thought I would share.

1.  Buy a Guide Book of some kind.
      - I like Frommer's Books and because I keep using them, I know how they function and where to find the information that I need.  I have found that having a book is a good place to start, because it usually does sample itineraries and gives me a good idea of what the highlight experiences are in a given location.  Searching online gives so many results that it can be overwhelming.  I like to have a guidebook to simplify things.  I can't even put into words how much I rely on these books - they help me plan the nitty gritty details much more easily.

2.  Use Points.
      - Several years ago, John and I got a credit card with frequent flier miles rewards.  We actually put all of our expenses on it and pay it off each month, so that we can get more points to use towards travel.  These points are good for lots of stuff in life.  We booked the Driskill hotel that I mentioned in this post using points.  And, we just booked part of our plane tickets to Canada with American Airlines using points.  Score and double score.
      - The other way I look for airfare is on Kayak.  It compares all of the different fares out there for lots of different things.  I found our tickets to Italy, flying into one city and out of another, for $750 each by keeping an eye on Kayak and knowing what would be a good deal.

3.  Look for Unusual Places to Stay
      - What I mean by this is that there are often many options that you may not have considered.  On most of our recent trips, I have used the website Vacation Rentals By Owner.  I have found us some really great homes to stay in, and often for much better prices than hotels, especially if traveling with a larger family group.  The condo we will be staying in just outside of Banff looks amazing and even has a hot tub on the roof with a view of the Canadian Rockies, for less than we would pay at a very moderately priced hotel.
      - Stay with friends or family.  Easily the cheapest option, and often, the funnest.
4.  Go Where you Know People
      - As mentioned before, this can save you a ton on lodging and will give you an insider's look at things to do and how to get around.

5.  Use Trip Advisor
      - This site is another great resource for checking things out before you go.  Do read it with a grain of salt, because some reviews may be written by people whose expectations are wildly out of whack or who had an experience that was way outside of the norm.  It is best to read a wide range of reviews to get a true overview of what people really say about something.

6.  Plan the Details and Build around the Highlights
      - By this I mean, have an itinerary full of the highlight experiences that you don't want to miss.  And then figure out how you will get from place to place.  I type out what each day would ideally look like and how we are getting from point A to point B and ideas for where we could eat along the way.  This requires a lot of work before we go.  However, it drastically minimizes stress for us during the trip, because we are following a plan and have thought through what each thing will entail.  I know how we will get from the airport to the place we are staying, and so on.  This is especially important when traveling internationally and with children, because there are a lot more variables at play.

7.  Go One Way and Come Home Another
      - This could be true whether driving or flying, but I try to maximize our traveling by going and coming different ways so we can see and do more.  For example, we are flying into Calgary, and flying out of Vancouver.  I booked us a train trip between the two places to be able to see more of the country.  This way we do not have to back track, wasting valuable time.  These plane tickets may have been a bit more expensive - but not much, and it is definitely worth the time we save.

8.  Know that You will Need to be Flexible
      - For all that I said about planning, I try to build in some down time for special moments that will happen along the way.  When we were traveling in Italy, we knew we wanted to ride bikes on the city walls of a town called Lucca.  What we didn't know is that Lucca would be having a flea market while we were there that we would LOVE to browse once we stumbled upon it.  And we had the time to do it.  And we got these awesome Lion Door Knockers that we still need to put on our front doors.

As I was writing this, I realized that I could do entire other posts on traveling with small kids, packing and travel disasters (have you ever lost a passport?  I have.  Twice.)  Another day, another post.  Happy trip planning, and please let me know if you want any tips on the places we have been!  I love helping other people plan great trips!


Courtney said...

I'll have to get that sounds DELICIOUS!!

And you've inspired me to dream a little about traveling more, I love to do it when the opportunity presents itself! I don't think I'd want to take my 3 peeps with me...especially internationally, but I may start planning a trip for whenever...probably not anytime soon, but I can always dream right?!!