I remember having to plan for our first trip. It was a daunting task. I had no idea where to start. I didn’t know what the first step was. And back then, there were no blogs to help me. There were no apps and certainly no Google to rescue me, either!
Since then I have planned countless trips for ourselves (and even some friends) and over the years I have now come to enjoy it! I even look forward to it!
But I recently realised that this isn’t the same for everybody.
I was shocked and amazed to learn that an ex-work colleague of mine, whom I met for lunch recently, is planning her first holiday… E.V.E.R!
So in an effort to help anyone that may be feeling completely defeated at the thought of organising a trip or if you’re trying to sort through the amount of information available, here are some guidelines that I hope will help kick start your travel planning.
Decide on a date or destination
It can be difficult to pin down a decision – even for a travel-loving family like us. There are so many places to see and with each trip the bucket list grows!
But just like you would never drive off in a car without knowing where you’re going, there is no point taking the first step until you ask yourselves these 2 questions… Where do I want to go? and When do I want to go?
Ultimately, one of these answers will be stronger than the other.
Whether you’re really compelled to go on an African Safari or you want to get away to celebrate a milestone birthday. One will be more flexible than the other.
So if your heart is set on seeing Paris, visiting New York at Christmas time or if you’re looking to get away for your anniversary, then commit to either a date or a destination then plan what you can in the time that you have available.
Break it down
Planning a family holiday can be overwhelming. Everyone has their own expectations and there are different interests to consider. At times, there can be a lot to do before you set off for the trip. Especially when faced with the process of having to get passports or obtaining visas!
But don’t let this phase you. Instead, break things down into chunks of tasks that need to be done.
Divide the time that you have (in weeks or months) between now and when you leave, then just list the things you need to do. And write it down – don’t keep it all in your head.
Perhaps put it on the fridge and if possible, get the family involved by asking other family members to take responsibility for some of the tasks.
Do your research
Before you purchase your tickets or book your hotel, it would be wise to do some reaseach on your intended destination. Knowing some key information will help in making your time spent there much more pleasant.
We like to use TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com) as our main research tool. There are many other forums and travel review websites, but TripAdvisor is a site that we trust and with a huge number of independent reviews worldwide on places to stay, where to eat as well as things to see & do.
I especially like to filter the results by ‘family’ as it gives me a good indication of how an establishment deals with families and their personal experiences.
The research can go on for as long as you need to. However, before you put any money down you should know:
- Things that you can do or attractions you would like to see?
- Based on above, which area or which part of the town/city is a good place to stay?
- What are the accomodation options?
- Roughly, how much will it cost?
However, take care not to spend too long doing this. Just do enough so that you can make the decisons needed.
Remember that time is finite. So spending 6 hours researching to save only $50 on accomodation, when you could have spent that same time completing a whole lot of other important things, is probably not time well spent.
What are your must see/do?
Sadly, you will most likely not be able to see and do everything everything in one visit.
It’s often bittersweet to learn of all the great things for your family to see & do but then realise that you won’t have time to do it all.
So determine what your MUST DO’s are. Ask all members of the family to participate to make sure that there’s something for everyone.
You may be surprised at the things that your kids want to discover. I was pleasantly surprised when I learnt that equally important to her visiting Disneyland Paris… my daughter also wanted to see the Mona Lisa!
If it’s relevant to you, another thing to consider is the pace that you want to or normally travel. This may help determine if you’ll have enough time to be able to do all the things you want.
If you’re not able to stay a little longer, then ask family members to vote for their top 2 (or 3) activities and/or attractions. A clear favourite will soon emerge.
Whether you like to make your own arrangements or use travel agents, I would recommend comparing your options with multiple suppliers.
There are so many websites that you can use to book accommodation, flights, train tickets it’s hard to keep track of them all. Using comparison websites can really help you find the best deals to help you stay on budget and provides lots of information so that you can make an informed decision.
We like to use Skyscanner (www.skyscanner.com) for domestic & international flights. The handy price alert feature is fantastic for keeping abreast of the prices so that we can act quickly when the price is right.
For accomodation, our preferred comparison and booking site is Booking.com. They have a great selection of hotels for any budget. They’ve also got great filters and I suggest you use them to be able to narrow down your hotel comparisons based on your research.
This is the same if you need to use travel agents. Speak to multiple travel consultants and give them all the same brief and same level of information. Their initial quote and proposed itinerary will give you a good idea of how well they’ve understood your needs.
A lot of people think that travel agents intentionally seek to rip people off. I disagree. Most travel agents are well aware that customers are savvier than ever and comparing against other agents or the internet is to be expected. So all agents that I’ve spoken to are happy for the opportunity to quote us and genuinely want to do the best deal for you within their realm of control of course. It IS possible to get great value from a travel consultant, so open yourself up to that possibility.
Book in advance (but not too far in advance)
Once you’re reasonably happy that you’ve determined where you want to go and when you want to go there – then go ahead!
Book your flights, purchase the train/bus ticket and book your accomodation. There can be so many things that can distract you from your plans. It’s a little harder to let life’s obstacles to get in the way when you’ve got a little financial investment (or a little “hurt money”) in it.
If there are some things that you simply must do, then book those as well if you like. Especially for big trips. Why go half way around the world only to miss out on an experience that you’ve always wanted to do? For us, even though we can always cancel them, having made the booking means that we won’t be going home with any regrets.
When booking flights, I suggest considering the arrival & departure times and how this fits into your family travel habits. At almost 6 feet tall my husband doesn’t sleep very well on planes and neither does my daughter. So I avoid overnight flights and opt to sleep at a hotel instead.
Once again, 99.9% of the time we book via these trusted sites, as we’ve found that most other sites only offer marginal savings. Our preferred websites to book are:
- Booking.com for hotels, resort and villa accomodation
- Airbnb for holiday homes & apartment
- Skyscanner for all flights (domestic & international)
Have a game plan
I like to have a general idea of how we’re going to spend our time there. For our 5-week trip to Europe through multiple cities, we stayed a week in each place and had a general idea of how we’re going to spend 3 or maybe 4 days of that week.
Don’t overplan or overthink too many things. There’s no need to plan each day to the minute. Allow yourselves the time and flexibility to explore and work out the rest as you go. Part of the joy of travelling as a family is working together to figure things out!
Our style of travel planning also includes budget. We like to know roughly (within a small range) what we’re going to allow ourselves to spend. So our planning of activities takes this into consideration. For example, if we have a fairly expensive activity planned then we may balance this with some free or quiet activities in the days before/after it.
Enjoy the trip
Now that you’ve done all that, enjoy your hard work and effort! Because everything will go smoothly and you can bask in the glory that your family will bestow upon you … Oh, Master Planner!
Who are we kidding?!?!?! Of course there are some things that will not go as planned. There will be something that you may forget to pack but unless you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can always buy whatever you need when you get there.
Regardless of where you’re going or how long you’re travelling for, these guidelines will help to make sure that you are organised and prepared to explore the world. So… where do you want to go?