Organizing Your Family Trip – Part 2: Preparing

So once you’ve settled on your dream destination, the timeframe that works with your schedule, and all the activities and experiences that have piqued your curiosity and matched your interests, it’s time to add some reality to your trip goals and start preparing for departure.  This means it’s time to start factoring in budget, finalizing dates, and booking tickets, reservations, and appointments.

Passports, TSA Precheck, Global Entry & CLEAR.  First steps you should take to prepare for your trip are the ones that require the most time.  If you need a passport for your vacation, get passport photos taken and fill out the application for new passport, renew, or replace at the U.S. Department of State website. If you require an in-person appointment, book it as soon as possible at your nearest qualifying acceptance facility which you can search here. Start the process as soon as possible since regular processing times can take 8-11 weeks or pay $60 to expedite to process within 5-7 weeks. Also, if you were planning to apply for TSA Precheck, Global Entry, or CLEAR to speed up and streamline the airport security screening process, you should do that well in advance of your travels to ensure you don’t have to pay additional fees to expedite your applications since that money could be better spent on your trip!

Vaccines, Mandates, & Other Entry Requirements.  You should also check the COVID testing, mask mandates, and COVID and other vaccination travel requirements for your destination, even if you’re traveling within the United States, COVID rules can vary from state to state.  Sherpa is a great resource for up to date information.  Any travel advisories for countries abroad can also be found here. If you have lengthy travel plans, you want to make sure a visa isn’t required for the country or countries you are visiting.  You can also find helpful resources and information here.

Airline Tickets.  Now that you’ve narrowed down a time frame, you can book airline tickets.  For the most part, booking early with flexible dates gives you the most seating, time, and pricing options.  As soon as you can, book your airplane tickets.  Once you have one of the most costly and important parts of your trip confirmed, you can start finalizing the rest of your plans and adjust your budget for other expenses.

Reservations.  As part of early preparations, you should prioritize the activities you would like to do on your vacation, then look up the official websites of any monuments, national parks, museums, exhibitions, restaurants, or events to see if they are open during your stay at your destination, have limited hours, or require a reservation.  This will help with managing your vacation time, and you avoid disappointment after traveling so far and not being able to enjoy something you’ve been anticipating or planning your trip around.  Just as an example of how a little research and planning can save you some disappointment or inconvenience, on my first trip to New York City, I was very much looking forward to seeing the view from the top of the Statue of Liberty but learned upon arriving at Ellis Island that no one was able to go up due to construction but, of course, seeing the Statue of Liberty from any angle was amazing so it was still worth the trip!

Accommodation.  Booking a place to stay is a priority and a large expense for any trip.  It is also key to enjoying your travels as a family to find clean, safe, and affordable accommodations with enough space to be comfortable.  And just like airplane tickets, usually the earlier you book, the more options you have for date availability and may save some money on lower room rates or fees.  When booking early, make sure to read the cancellation policy in case you need to reschedule or cancel your vacation plans.  When traveling with small children, ask if baby or child-friendly amenities are available such as cribs, high chairs, or games.

Transportation.  If you’re going to do any significant traveling around while you’re away from home, you may have to book transportation outside of round-trip airplane tickets.  Do some research about the most efficient way to get from point A to point B.  Preferred modes of transportation will vary by location, size of your group, and distance you need to travel.  If you’re traveling within Europe or in a large city with an expansive public transit system like London or New York City, a train may make the most sense for getting around, on the other hand, for a camping trip with your family on a long weekend, you may need to budget for gas for the car. In India you may need a taxi, or in Australia it may be more convenient to book a flight to see Uluru.  You decide what works for your family, budget, and schedule.  Also be sure to budget for any travel insurance you may need to protect yourself and family while traveling.

Get Excited!  Once you’ve booked and paid for the major expenses and activities on your to do list, you should use the time before your trip learning about your destination and anticipating all the fun you can have on the way.  Before my vacations, I love watching movies or documentaries about my vacation destination or reading travel and history books to find out more about what I will see or do and the story behind it.  Another way to start learning as a family in anticipation of your travels would be to cook some of the cuisine local to your travel destination that you and your children may enjoy or haven’t tried. You could also start learning any new languages you may encounter while traveling.  There’s many language apps and software such as Duolingo and Rosetta Stone that everyone in the family would enjoy.  Doing some or all of these things before your trip will help you start your adventure and promote learning before you even leave the house and enjoy your family travel experience to the fullest!

Here’s a couple of downloads to use as a start for budgeting for your travels. There’s a PDF to fill in your estimated costs:

or a spreadsheet version if you prefer:

Organizing Your Family Trip – Part 1: Planning

What better time to start preparing for your next trip than right now?  The busy travel season is approaching especially for family travel with kids finishing up school and warmer summer weather on its way.  It’s good to be prepared for anything while traveling this year since airline staffing issues, rising airline ticket prices, elevated cost of goods, and changing COVID rules and mandates globally may present some unique travel challenges to consider while planning.  Even if you’re not ready to get out there and start traveling yet, according to this National Geographic article, it may give you a psychological boost to plan a trip. I think we could all use a boost at this point so let’s start planning!

The initial stage of planning a trip is always my favorite part.  At this point in the process, before factoring in reality and your budget, anything is possible!  Researching and learning about other locations, cultures, and cuisines in anticipation of a trip is so much, but there are a lot of factors to consider before officially deciding where to go.  Here are a few things to take into consideration to help you organize your next family adventure.

Length of Stay.  The amount of time you are able to get away will help you finalize a few different things about your trip such as where to go and how many different places you can see or activities you will be able to fit in your itinerary.  It may mean a vacation closer to home if you can only manage a long weekend away versus a couple of weeks.

Type of Trip.  Deciding on the type of trip you want to take will narrow down your options as well.  For instance, if you want to spend some downtime recharging your batteries on your getaway, you may not want to plan to spend your entire trip at Disneyland but if you’re looking for a nostalgic trip full of fun, exciting amusement park rides for the kids, a stay at Disneyland would be a great destination.  If you were wanting to get away from it all to immerse yourself in a new culture then maybe planning a trip abroad to a new destination is the vibe you would enjoy.  There’s a travel destination suited for everyone that will fulfill your vacation wants and needs and the fun part is imagining the itinerary for your dream destination.

Number of People.  When planning a trip for a family, size matters!  A large group means more money, personalities, and opinions.  It also means more space and time may be required for enjoying your time away.  It will be more challenging but could mean a more rewarding experience with your family.  To plan a trip everyone can get excited about, try to get everyone’s input and accommodate as many interests and preferences as possible.  I learned this after getting married six years ago since my husband and I have VERY different visions of the ideal vacation.  As an experienced solo traveler, I love to use every second of my trip seeing and doing as much as possible while my husband, a less experienced traveler and lover of naps, needs more time to relax and recharge on his trips.  So now I make plans knowing I need to factor in some time for rest, relaxation, and naps for my husband and our small children if we’re all going to enjoy our time together.

Accommodations.  There are many options for your accommodation preferences while traveling.  Pick the option that works for your family and vibe your trying to achieve for your trip. For instance, if your priority is to see and experience everything on your trip to a big city, you may decide that a hotel in the city’s center may work best to give you the most of out your vacation but if you’re looking for more space and quiet, relaxing accommodations, a house rental in the countryside may be more suited to meet your needs. Bed and breakfasts and family-friendly hostels are also options, depending on your destination.

Reason for trip.  Your reason for traveling will also help narrow down your options for dates, season of travel, and location.  If you’re looking to travel on a budget, you can save money by being flexible with travel dates and arrival or departure locations as well as traveling during the off season versus the peak season.  If your reason for traveling is to experience a certain city like Venice, Italy, you may want to plan to go during peak season in the summer since Venice’s acqua alta season occurs, typically, from October to January.  Or if you want to attend a particular event like the cherry blossom festival in Kyoto, Japan, you would have to go when they bloom in spring.  Planning a trip around certain activities like an African safari or skiing in Canada could mean going at specific times of the year so make sure to plan accordingly!  Another thing to consider is the ambience of the trip you want to have.  For example, an Alaskan cruise is great in the summer when the wildlife is abundant and the weather is mild but if you’re looking to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, you may decide to brave the extreme winter weather.  And a trip to Germany during Oktoberfest may be a different experience than a trip during Christmastime.  Also worth mentioning would be the fact that the Southern Hemisphere experiences seasons opposite to the Northern Hemisphere.  This is something I found out when booking my spring semester courses at my home university in Alaska for my Australia study abroad semester, which was the fall semester in Sydney, Australia where I was going to be studying.

Most importantly, go where your imagination and research takes you!  Have fun learning about potential destinations and explore all of your options.  Sometimes what we think we know about a place may make it seem outside the realm of possibilities for family travel or budget but a closer look and a bit of searching may leave you with more answers, and you may find that your travel dreams are more family-friendly and affordable than you realized.

Wanderlust

This past weekend, I finally made it to the nearest passport photo location with my husband, almost four-year old and two year old.  I’ve been planning to get us all passports since my youngest was born.  That afternoon while filling out passport applications and booking passport appointments, I found myself reminiscing on my past travels and wondering how it was possible that it’s been seven years since my passport expired!

The last vacation I took as a single woman was my tour of Italy back in 2014, the year before I met my husband.  Before then, I had been bitten by the travel bug on my first solo trip to Washington, D.C. for a Senate internship fresh out of high school that gave me the confidence to go on my first solo international trip to Malawi, Africa that next year.  After that, I traveled and studied abroad in Australia and England and then my last trip as a single woman to Italy.  I met so many interesting people and had many unique experiences that shaped me as an individual on these solo trips.

Leaving my comfort zone allowed me to push my boundaries, broaden my horizons, and think outside my box.  One thing I loved about independent travel is that even though I am a classic introvert, it gave me the opportunities I needed to connect with people I met on my travels and the quiet time to process and reflect on everything I had learned and experienced.

During my travels and relocations with my husband before having kids, it didn’t feel necessary to create opportunities to connect with other people because traveling with someone familiar, sharing experiences and making memories changes the meaning of travel. 

Since we’ve had children, we have relocated twice and traveled back and forth to see family (only one time have I gone alone with my toddler daughter and never again…) and traveling with infants and toddlers has been completely different in so many ways with its own set of challenges.  I’ve been contemplating how traveling alone is different from traveling with a family of little ones and have asked myself if the benefits are worth the challenges and decided to share with you why I feel it is definitely worth it.

Challenges.  The first challenge that came to my mind was money, especially since our youngest recently no longer qualifies as a lap infant; we are now required to purchase four airplane tickets for our next family trip.  Also, like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have scheduled our passport appointments for all four of us, which, turns out, is quite the investment with photos at $15.99 each, $35 each for acceptance fees, and $130 each for the application fee for me and my husband, and the kids’ application fees of $100 each.  You get your money’s worth, though, since adult passports are valid for 10 years after issue date and children under 16 years of age are valid for 5 years, but still hurts the wallet a little upfront.

The costs of vacations vary of course, but it is indisputable that money is easier to spend when away from home.  I found this out firsthand while I studied in England, I found myself spending the £1 coins like they were American quarters!  Food is also always a major expense and after throwing in a couple of picky eaters that will only eat macaroni and cheese, things can get expensive quickly.  Accommodations and rental vehicles for more people are also expensive since space is at a premium anywhere you travel in the world.

In addition to expenses, having children while traveling can present unexpected challenges when planning for something as basic as a place to stay.  I didn’t realize this until recently, I was looking at house rentals for pricing for a possible summer staycation only to find that some rentals allowed pets but not children!  Obviously, this is their right as owner and manager of the property but don’t let this discourage you.  There are also rentals that cater to families with kids and even provide amenities like cribs, toys, or equipment such as high chairs.  Another thing to keep in mind when planning a family getaway will be the amount of prior planning that may be needed for a more pleasant trip.  As someone who enjoys planning and organizing, the planning and anticipation of a vacation is part of the fun, but I also realize as a parent that trying to plan, prepare, and pack for every situation that may arise is very stressful and doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity.

Benefits.  Hopefully you’re still reading because this is when I tell you why I enjoy traveling as a family with my little ones despite the challenges.  My favorite thing to see while we’re traveling and the number one thing I enjoy as a parent, is watching them learn. Seeing my little children see, feel, taste, and hear new things and watching their response is the highlight of parenthood for me.  Whether we’re visiting family, a new state, or just a new playground, it’s always fun to explore with them.  I feel like I’m getting to know them better.  Traveling is an excellent opportunity for kids to learn about themselves and their surroundings while figuring out their place in the world as they get older.  It’s been my experience that seeing life lived in a different way than I am accustomed to changes the way that I look at daily life and provides perspective on things I’ve never even questioned. 

For instance, while in Florence, Italy, I was surprised when I was not able to find an electronics store within walking distance in the city center that was open from the hours of 1 pm to 3 pm but completely respected the importance behind prioritizing a riposo in the middle of the day to rest and share a meal with friends and family over the possibility of making more money.  It was a valuable lesson for me to learn how proud the Italians are to work to live la dolce vita full of excellent food, wine, music, art, architecture, and history instead of prioritizing work over quality of life.

I hope I’ve demonstrated through my own travel experiences what an important part family travel can play in your life as a parent and your little children in their most formative years.  You’ve probably noticed that the benefits were all intangible things like creating memories, learning about the world and growing as a person, while the challenges were material things that are replaceable like money and manageable things like stress and prior planning.  All the challenges are simply inconveniences that can be viewed as investments in the future of children’s lives by spending time learning and growing together.  Even if you don’t have an elaborate family vacation planned, any new experience with your children can encourage their love of learning and teach them to look for adventure in any situation.  My love of travel and how it’s shaped me over the years is what drives me in my mission to make traveling as a family not such a hassle by giving parents convenient options and helpful resources.

Happy Travels!

PlayShifu Interactive Globe

The PlayShifu interactive globe is a great learning tool to discover new places and learn about animals, cultures, cuisines, and more around the world. My husband and I got our children this globe for Christmas, and even though they are only three and two years old, they love it!

Screenshot of Explore Option in Orboot Earth App

Their favorite thing is to take turns using the Explore option on the Orboot Earth app that allows interaction with the globe for an augmented reality experience. There are other fun, educational games on the main menu.

The globe comes with a pretend passport and a book with stickers of national flags from around the word to stick into the passport booklet. Anytime is a great time to learn about the world along with your kids but this globe can also be an exciting tool to build anticipation of an upcoming trip and help understand their travel experiences.

Now Open!

Next time you’re traveling in Seattle, stop by the new Baby Foodie vending machine in the North Satellite terminal on the mezzanine level by the nursing suites and Alaska Airlines lounge for snacks, formula, diapers, wipes, pacifiers, and hand sanitizing wipes. See the list of products here: https://babyfoodie.com/seattle/
Looking forward to sharing more helpful travel resources in the future! Follow Baby Foodie to stay updated!