Summer vacation? Expert tips for family travel

It’s no secret. I have wanderlust. My grandparents ignited my passion with a quickie Paris/London tour when I was 15. The next year, I headed to Spain for a summer exchange program. After college, I Euro-railed through Europe for two months delighted to lodge at seedy hostels and subsist on day old croissants. Once I started to work, I managed to pop over the pond as an air courier  ($100 tickets pre-terrorism!) for spur of the moment jaunts. At 25, I was fluent in the language of champagne, high tea and sauccison. Then, I had kids. As soon as they were old enough, we hopped on a plane and started a tradition of family adventures. Now, with daughters 7 and 11, I bring them everywhere. This summer we are off for a month long trip to Europe. Travel is fun, yes. But the experience (especially dealing with the inherent mishaps of any trip) of conquering unknown cultures inspires a type of curiosity that cannot be gleaned from any classroom.

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MONEY SAVING TIPS

• Early bird gets the deal! There are no substitutes for planning

• Always ask for a deal!: When making reservations for restaurants or lodging, tell them you are budget conscious and looking for discounts or deals for groups

• Late night booking: If a hotel, cruise or plane is all booked up, check back late at night—around midnight computers dump inventory that’s been on hold but not actually paid for

• Restricted Fares: For group travel, go through a travel agent because they have access to restricted fares for certain groups that you wouldn’t be able online on your own. Law enforcement fares, military fares and senior fares usually have to go through a travel agent.

• Travel midweek: A family of six can save up to $1200 by travelling midweek

• Book plane tickets on Saturday and/or Sunday: Studies show prices drop nearly 5 percent on the weekends

• Connecting flights are always cheaper then non-stop flights

• When temperatures get hot, prices drop: If you can stand 100+ heat, prices drop in the summer time for destinations likeLas Vegas, Cancun or Florida

• End of Summer travel: End of August and after Labor day travel can save you over 25% opposed to rates during June and July

• Visit the tourism board of the city you’re visiting for resources or deals on attractions, lodging and restaurants

• Souvenirs can be pricey. Encourage the kids to start a cool (inexpensive) collection, like sea shells, postcards, pins, patches or room keys.

• Avoid taxis: Explore a city using their public transportation, walk or even bike

• Invest in the Entertainment coupon book: This giant book of coupons will come in handy at many restaurants, hotels and attractions

• Save on hotel breakfast: Bring oatmeal/own breakfast to save $ on hotel breakfast

• Bring travel-size grooming to reduce weight of bags

• Most hotel chains offer seasonal deals and promotions that can be easily researched on their website

• Always ask about discounts for kids, students, armed forces, teachers and/or seniors. Front desks also might have information on deals or packages with local restaurants or attractions

• AAA 48 hour deals: Deals up to 50% on hotels come out each Tuesday, and you have two days to book them before they disappear

• Get airfare alerts on sites like Airfarewatchdog.com or kayak.com

• All-inclusive resorts get rid of the daily budget hassle

• Cruises can be a great option for families that want the option of several destinations without the hassle of packing up every few nights and switching hotels.

• Renting a house can reduce many travel costs, from free laundry to a full kitchen to cook a couple meals a day. If you have a larger family you can be in one place opposed to multiple rooms. Let’s you live like a local!RESOURCES: Vrbo.comAirbnb.com,  Homeaway.com, Vactationrentals.com (accommodates last minute travel)

**Babyaway.com offers delivery on cribs, car seats and all things baby

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GREAT VALUE PACKAGE DEALS

• Apple Vacations: Stay in Jamaica for 7 nights at an all-inclusive hotel including airfare for $1000 per person

• Vegas.com: Save up to 50% on flash deals toLas Vegas

• Groupon Getaways: Stay at the Marriot Niagra Falls for $150 a night which includes $50 dining credit, bottle of wine and free breakfast

• Jetsetter by Gilt Groupe

• Expedia

• CheapOAir

• Living Social Escapes

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ATK TIPS

• Anticipate issues, be prepared for delays, boredom and/or sickness. Have these items on hand:
• Diversions/activities: iPad, electronic, candy for bribery

• Snacks, water, Toilet toppers, table toppers, wipes, medicine

• Get organized: Put all documents in a folder or binder with all hotel addresses, check-in times and flight details and any or everything you can think of! Even make a spreadsheet!

• Spontaneity can be fun with your itinerary, but not trip preparations: Organize and be prepared for all would-be scenarios. (weather, sick, food, allergies, navigation, soothing mechanisms, extra battery source for cell phone) all these things can cost a lot of money when you’re caught in a pinch.

• Make it a learning experience: If a cultural destination, have kids do a worksheet that the parent made to have them understand and learn about the destination—doing research helps them learn. Visit the library or research online to prepare for the trip.

• Give responsibilities: Give older kids responsibilities that keep them engaged and help you out during the trip, like mapping directions, daily budget, checklist or snack keeper.

• Packing: Pack a week before—lay it out—this way you wont overpack. Always make copies of credit cards, licenses to leave with a family friend in case of emergency, lost or stolen.

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SETTING A BUDGET

• Pad your budget with an emergency slush fund—emergencies happen!

• Set up a direct deposit each month with an automatic transfer of x amount of $ into a savings account earmarked for vacation

• Go old school: Put change and extra dollars into an old pasta sauce jar

• Souvenirs budget: Set a souvenir budget before leaving for the trip so you don’t overspend

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TIPS FOR CURING FAMILY TRAVEL HEADACHES

• If connecting flights with kids in tow, always allow a couple hours of layover time. Use it as a fun opportunity for kids to stretch legs and explore.

• Be prepared with earplanes for ear irritations, a portable DVD player, toys, books, gum or candy for bribery and even medicine.

• Avoid having to haul both a stroller and a car seat on plane trips–the Sit ’n’ Stroll is one piece of equipment that’s both a car seat and an FAA-certified child-restraint seat and that converts into a durable stroller.

• Checking bags for a whole family can cost $200+, airlines like Jetblue and Southwest allow 1 free checked bag.

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SOME HOTEL PACKAGES WORTH INVESTIGATING

• Sofitel Packages

• Holiday Inn Packages

• Starwood Hotel (Sheraton) Packages

• Best Western

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CRUISE OPTIONS

• Family cruises often have free daycare options, so that mom and dad can get away for an evening or two

• Cruise Critic deals

• Royal Carribean Deals

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THEME PARKS

• Disney Package Deals

• Mousesavers.com: Great deals on all things Disney

• Theme parks like Disney and six flags always have running promotions with local hotels and restaurants.

• Say no to theme park food and half way through your day trek back to your car or hotel for a picnic break.

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NATIONAL PARKS/CAMPING

• Consider a camping trip in one of the more than 5,600 U.S. state parks

• State parks offer access to free recreational activities such as hiking, swimming, and biking for a small entrance or parking fee (usually under $10) and some also offer museums, cultural and historic sites, and educational programming for little or no fee.

• And, in most parks, you can reserve a tent/yurt site with access to running water, toilets, and outdoor-cooking facilities for under $20 a night.

• Favorites: Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Zion

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ROAD TRIPS

• Driving can save you money on transportation costs, but the real skill is keeping an organized and chaos-free car

• Planning and organizing is imperative

• Having a portable dvd player/iPad for kids to watch and other games and diversions are key!

• Triple AAA could not only save you in a car emergency, but they offer many member discounts at hotels and tourist attractions, such as, Hyatt Hotels save 10%, Universal studios save 10%, Sea world Save 10% and more

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TRAVEL APP RESOURCES

• Hotel Tonight (last minute): Hotels give us last-minute deals on their unsold rooms, with discounts up to 70% You book the deals easily and securely on your smartphone.

• Kayak (last minute): In a pinch? Set up price alerts and book hotels, flights, car services and more at low prices, on the go.

• Trip It (for the busy mom): Organizing a family is overwhelming. TripIt merges all of your travel plans into a comprehensive itinerary so everything is in one place.Here’s what to do: Forward confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com and TripIt will automatically build an itinerary for your trip that you can access anytime, either online or from a mobile device.

• Trail Wallet: Nobody wants to worry about money when travelling, but it’s a necessity. Set a daily budget, add expenses quickly and even take pics of receipts.

• Gate Guru: Who has time to track flight details? Looking for a decent meal during your layover? Or a last minute souvenir? GateGuru delivers flight details, gate numbers and navigates airport amenities. Think of it as the Yelp of airports.Pro-Tip: Connect and sync GateGuru account to TripIt or KAYAK for an uber personalized travel experience.

• MetrO (Save $ on vacay): The confusion of fold out public transit maps is over! MetrO helps you find your way in the public transportation systems in more than 400 cities around the world. Here’s what to do: Download the cities you need and search your route by subway, bus, tram, railway…AND you don’t even need an internet connection after you have installed the cities.

• Trip Advisor’s City Guides: FREE city guide with the restaurants, attractions, hotels and reviews you love from TripAdvisor, stored in the app — no data roaming charges! Takes all the information and reviews from TripAdvisor.com to bring you the best hotels, restaurants and attractions. Create your own trip journal. Curated itineraries allow self guided tours.

• Skype: Say “hello” to friends and family with an instant message, voice or video call on Skype for free–right from the palm of your hand.

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