After we’ve compromised and decided on when and where to go, and we’ve calculated the day(s) needed to acclimate to our new temporary home, my favorite part of trip planning begins: The research.
Yep. I’m crazy about it. I actually turn into a kind of destination information junkie (and even then I feel like I only touch the surface). Hours, weeks, or even months are spent flipping through guide books, employing various apps, and combing the internet.
For me, researching a place we’re going to visit is like a dreamy escape, and at the same time, a challenging puzzle to be solved. While I’m fantasizing about what we’ll get to see and do, I’m simultaneously trying to look for the best prices, the most convenient areas for us to stay, and the things we’re going to want to see and do. All the while, I’m also considering budget and figuring out ways to save money.
It’s like opening up a 5,000-piece puzzle. (Or, so I’m imagining because, as you well know, our busy parent lives leave little time for tackling such lofty ventures. Plus, with small children milling about, at least one of those pieces is likely to get eaten, or hidden.) As with any good puzzle, when planning a trip, you begin with an idea of what the end result will look like, you tackle one piece at a time, and you analyze each piece before setting it in place to make sure it’s going to be the right fit (for you and your family).
It’s Definitely A Process
The first thing I do in my thirst for destination information is likely much the same as you: I start by asking myself (as well as multiple search engines and apps):
What are the…
- …top things to do and sights to see?
- …best family-friendly spots, excursions, and/or experiences?
- …most family-friendly hotels?
Each of these search results receives an in-depth analysis regarding location and transport options to and from the airport or hotel. I read reviews, comb through photos (by both professionals and travelers), and check multiple well-known websites to compare pricing and options. As I do this, I’m considering whether or not it’s something that will work for my family and our particular desires and aversions.
Sights, Excursions and Experiences
Regardless of its status as “family-friendly,” some things just won’t work for us personally. For example, in researching Costa Rica, zip-lining canopy tours are always listed as a good family outing; however, while one might be doable today, it wouldn’t have been feasible when our children were babies and toddlers. The catacombs in Paris, with their narrow tunnels and low ceilings, aren’t an option during the packed summer season because I have issues with tight spaces. And, really, anything that is going to include a long line and require the patience of two small children, we’ll likely forego as well.
After we’ve compiled our options for things to do, we discuss each, pick a few, and book anything that is a must-see or -do for us and that might sell out before we get there. Everything else remains on a list of, “maybe we’ll get to it, maybe we won’t.” We stay realistic about the fact that we may not get to do everything we want, and always remind ourselves that we can hopefully return one day.
Where to Stay
Next, we move on to choosing lodging, and as with all real estate, it all comes down to location, price, and whether it suits our family’s needs. Sometimes we’d like a kitchen and a separate bedroom with a king-sized bed and pullout sofa, other times we’re good with two double beds and a TV. When choosing locations in major cities, we prefer to be close to public transport and within walking distance of shops, if possible.
As is my process, I pore over maps and start locating train stations, grocery stores, and pharmacies. I get to know a general area where we want to be and proceed to dig deeper by seeing what our hotel, hostel, or rental options might be. Once we find some places that match our wish list, we balance it all with what we can afford to spend.
Trip planning is truly a process, not unlike a massive puzzle, but I actually quite enjoy it and the promise of the wonderful family adventure that comes with it.