A friend recently asked how we go about deciding where to travel and how we plan our trips so I decided to document the process of how we actually ended up choosing our summer vacation this year. Back in January, I daydreamed on National Plan for Vacation Day and brainstormed possible locations for our summer vacation. Due to Clay’s current position, he can only take leave during a specific week in July so we didn’t have the luxury of hunting for deals and choosing a date and location in our usual manner. When we received the dates for Clay’s leave back in February, we sat next to each other on the couch with our laptops and started pricing out some options.
We first checked vacation airline packages. In the past, we’ve had great success with bundling flights and hotels directly on airline websites. We used Delta Vacations for our trip to Scotland, American Vacations for our trip to the USVI, and Southwest Vacations last summer for an extremely last minute trip to south Florida (I’m currently working on that post – we literally booked the trip the day before we left because we had to wait for our HHG to arrive).
When looking at vacation packages, we focused our search on the Caribbean. We looked at resorts on a variety of islands but the more we researched, the more we realized that we just weren’t feeling the beach for our big summer trip this year. We also looked at some cruises but none of the dates worked and to be honest, a cruise vacation just doesn’t appeal to us right now. We decided that we wanted to go somewhere we’ve never been before and spend the bulk of our vacation exploring. We kept referring to one of our favorite family summer trips – our New England road trip with stops in Newport, Cape Cod, and Ogunquit. We explored, we relaxed, and we ate delicious food. That is pretty much our trifecta for a perfect vacation.
Okay – so we knew that we didn’t want to go to the Caribbean, we didn’t want to go on a cruise, and we wanted to go somewhere we’ve never been before. We briefly looked into going to Alaska again because we only scraped the surface when we went seven years ago but we only have a week. When we go next, we’d really like to spend at least two weeks exploring America’s last frontier. We also looked at Wyoming, Montana, and British Columbia but nothing struck our chord for this summer. We also thought about going to Maine again and combining it with a trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island but we just weren’t getting really excited – which is surprising because we do really want to go to all these places!
Just Do It.
Frustrated that our search wasn’t turning up anything that we were super crazy excited about, I remember turning to Clay and saying, “You know what? I just would really love to take the kids to England this summer.” And he immediately responded, “Me too. Let’s do it!” Back when we were brainstorming, we initially ruled out Europe because we’re hoping to get stationed there and reasoned that it makes better financial sense to wait and travel throughout Europe if (if!) that happens. However, planning our lives around the if’s isn’t really how we want to live.
We immediately began researching flights and hotels and realized that a week in England would cost us less than a week at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean or a 4-day Disney Cruise with a balcony room. It was decided – for our trip this summer, we would be going to England! We spent the next few weeks researching flights and found that our cheapest option was to fly into Manchester Airport in Manchester, England and out of Charles de Gaulle Airport outside of Paris, France. And that is the story of how we incorporated Paris into our trip. We bought our airline tickets and then began researching various lodging options.
We didn’t finalize our lodging until last week. Up until then, we didn’t really know how we’d be spending our time after landing in Manchester and leaving from Paris. First – we made a list of our must-sees/dos. We determined that our non-negotiables are London, Bath, Stonehenge, and Paris. We are not approaching this trip as a once-in-a-lifetime trip – we know we will be back so we’re not going to put pressure on ourselves to see everything – especially with two young kids in tow. It will be their first international trip so we’re giving ourselves grace when it comes to seeing all the things!
Once we had our must-dos, we read hotel reviews, figured out how much we are willing to spend, and found some options that worked for us. Hotel rooms that sleep four are few and far between in Europe so a lot of people find Home Away and AirBnB more economical for families. We looked into that option but ended up choosing three different hotels for our trip. In order to save money, we pre-purchased all three reservations (i.e. no refunds). We saved about $500 by not choosing the higher-rates that allowed for a refund should we cancel our reservation. We’re comfortable doing this because we figure that if something happened that would force us to cancel our trip, it would be so catastrophic that eating the cost of our lodging would be the furthest thing from our mind.
So what’s our plan? We will fly into Manchester, England, rent a car, and drive down to Cotswolds, and stay in a little country estate hotel for three nights. During our time in the Cotswolds, we will explore the English Countryside and go to Bath, Stonehenge, and anywhere else our hearts desire. We will then drive to London, return our rental car, and spend two nights at a hotel near Paddington Station. After our time in London, we will take the Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) to Paris, stay at a hotel near the Eiffel Tower for two nights, and fly out of Charles De Gaulle the following morning. While we’re not huge planners when it comes to vacations (we prefer to see where each day takes us), we will be pre-purchasing tickets to Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, and the Chunnel because we are traveling during peak season and we’re not masochists.
I’ve learned something over the years that I tend to repeat to myself as a mantra in many facets of life – if it were easy, everyone would do it. Yes, traveling on a budget requires time, effort, and a certain amount of sacrifice. Over the years, we have never regretted spending money on travel. At all. That being said, we do not have an unlimited vacation budget and have to get creative in order to make our trips happen. We’ve flown economy in middle seats, we’ve taken 3000 mile+ road trips, we’ve stayed in the smallest room a nice hotel has to offer, we’ve only eaten two meals per day, and we’ve chosen many free activities (hiking, swimming, exploring cities) in foreign lands over ones that require admission. There is nothing I love to do more in this world than exploring a place I’ve never been before. I absolutely cannot wait to experience England and France this summer with the people I love most in this world. To me – that is what life is about. To love and to explore.
Are you going anywhere this summer? How do you go about planning trips? Do you enjoy planning travel?