January 10, 2012

Five Resolutions for the Family Traveler

1. Make sure you have a valid passport – If it expires this year, get it renewed early, as many destinations require that your passport be valid for at least six months beyond the last date of travel. Getting passports for children is a good spring break or summer task, since they have to be present, and most passport agencies close by 3 pm. I made the mistake of procrastinating, and ended up having to take my kids over Thanksgiving break which made a busy time even busier. And I had to go twice because I didn’t read the instructions thoroughly and forgot some required documents! Even if you’re planning a trip that doesn’t require a passport, like some cruises, it’s still a good idea to carry one, as I’ve discussed previously.

2. Create a travel roadmap - Kids grow up fast, and their abilities and interests change with each passing year. If like most families you are limited to taking your trips during school vacations, that means you can only fit in 1-2 trips a year. So make your travel wish list, then think about the ideal age for your kids to experience it. For example, a trip to Washington DC or Gettysburg is more appreciated by kids who have studied American history. A cruise is a great way to experience Europe with very young children, since you don’t have deal with challenging travel logistics. Though Alaska is one of my favorite destinations, I have been waiting until my kids are teenagers so that we can have an authentic backcountry experience. Your roadmap doesn’t have to be etched in stone, but I personally find it less stressful to have some idea of where I am going over the next couple years, rather than trying to figure out where we are going only a few months ahead of time. And you almost always save money planning earlier rather than later….which leads to the next resolution.
3. Don’t chase travel deals – There is nothing wrong with trying to find the best value , but only after you’ve made sure you have planned the trip that is truly right for your family. And it can be very risky to procrastinate on booking your trip because you want to see if some “last minute” deal comes up. If your family vacation time is as precious as mine, you won’t want to take the risk of not getting what you want. Trust me, you aren’t missing some amazing travel deal by booking early. In fact, there is a good chance you missed a great affordable place to stay because the savvy travelers/travel agents know about these places & book them up early. (This is very true for Europe.) Also, the lowest rates are not necessarily on the internet. There are many unadvertised packages & promotions available through travel professionals who have preferred relationships with suppliers. For example, this holiday season a hotel was offering free nights & free breakfast on their website. A traveler who booked with me would have paid the same rate, but also received an automatic upgrade to Club level accommodations, and have stayed in a room hand-picked by the sales manager. So how do you find out about these deals and get VIP treatment?

4. Find a trusted travel advisor – If you plan to make travel part of your lifestyle, take time to research & interview travel advisors. By building a relationship with a professional you trust, you will save time and money in the long run. A good travel advisor takes time to get to know you and your family, so they understand your “travel personality.” No more wasting time trying to sift through the vast amounts of information on the internet (which can be unreliable or outdated). Instead you can relax & let your travel advisor tap into his or her industry network to find the hotel, cruise, tour guide, etc. that is the best fit for your family. And because you have shared your travel roadmap with them, they can keep an eye out for opportunities to make your travel dreams come true.

And last, but absolutely not least:

5. Buy travel insurance – Or at least buy it when the amount of money you could lose due to a last minute illness, injury, death in the family, cancelled flight, etc., is more than you care to stomach. A good policy from a reliable company is very reasonable, and the peace of mind you’ll have is priceless.

Happy New Year and Happy Travels!


Family Travellers said...

Great tips. In fact it made me check my daughter's passport and glad I did, IT HAD EXPIRED! Going to get on it right away. Would love to do Spain with our family this year.

Julia, KidsTravel2 said...

Wise advice - particularly like the recommendation about matching your trip with the age of your child so that you can all get the most out of it