We are in the middle of planning our summer vacation and it’s been an eye opener on several fronts. Although I have traveled extensively myself and we have taken a few trips with the kids, most of that has been as a single person or in the form of a road trip. This year we are bucking the trend and planning a two week cross-country trek to the East Coast. We will be flying. We will be renting a car. We will be staying in a hotel. We will be traveling with three kids. Have I given you a headache yet?
It’s a little overwhelming if you don’t normally go on trips of this kind. What I have realized in all the planning and preparation is that one size does NOT fit all. I wanted to share some of things I’ve learned.
1. Flying from Los Angeles to New York is ridiculously expensive. With airfares going up even as we speak, it’s a major roadblock for large families to fly these days. That’s part of why we avoided doing so for many years. While researching airlines and their fares, we looked at every conceivable variation. For instance, from Los Angeles there are several different airports to choose from: LAX, Burbank, Long Beach, Ontario. There are also several different airports in New York to choose from: LaGuardia, JFK, Newark. But… one thing we hadn’t ever thought of were those airports outside of the norm. We will be flying into Philadelphia Airport this time. Why? Because it is OH SO MUCH CHEAPER than flying into New York. Since we are staying in New Jersey, the drive will be similar and we are saving at least $1,000 on airfare. YES…. $1,000!
2. All rental car companies are NOT the same. We have a large family… and it’s going to be even larger since we will be traveling part of the way with my Mom. That’s 6 people and as much luggage that need to fit into a car of some sort. Obviously, we need an SUV or a Mini-Van to haul all of us. While one car rental company told us renting an SUV would be more expensive than a Mini-Van, another company came in much lower for renting an SUV. Go figure! Not sure you will all fit? What we are doing is calling ahead to find out exactly what model SUV/Mini-Van they rent. We can then go to a local car dealer to actually see if we’ll be able to cram in all those suitcases. We don’t want any surprises once we land and we certainly don’t want to leave luggage behind.
3. Hotels. Summer hotel rates are enough to cancel the trip even before it starts. While we are getting a great weekend rate because we’ll be there for a wedding, we are also planning on staying at the same hotel the rest of our stay as well. We called the General Manager and explained that while we are staying for a wedding, we’d like to extend our stay at the same rate if possible. Even if they can’t guarantee the exact same rate, hotels don’t want to have to lose a guest who will be committing to a 2-week stay.
4. Plan, plan and plan some more. Then don’t expect anything to go as planned. One thing we know about traveling with kids is that nothing will go as planned and if it does… it’s like winning the lottery. So, we will have our days mapped out ahead of time and a file with everything we need in it. Then… we will expect it to all fall apart and try not to freak out when it does. As long as the few things we HAVE to do get done (i.e. Wedding, Statue of Liberty, my hometown in CT) then I’ll consider it a successful trip.
5. AAA is your friend. If you aren’t a member of AAA, find someone who is and have them go get you stuff. Stuff like guidebooks of the states you will be in, maps of states AND city maps, discount tickets to attractions, bus schedules, subway schedules, etc. Although I grew up in CT, went to college in PA and lived in NYC for a while, I am STILL getting maps for everywhere we plan to go. Things change and our memories aren’t always as great as they used to be. Plus… the maps are great for keeping the kids busy in the car. They love following along.
That should be enough to start you on your summer vacation planning. Coming up soon: Tips for Traveling with Kids.
And if you ARE taking a summer vacation… I’d love to know where you’re going.