I have a friend who travels often for work and stateside with her family. But she is planning her first international trip with her spouse and two girls next year. She is overwhelmed. She works full time. She has two children and participates in all of their activities. Here is the advice I gave her:
Don’t let it be overwhelming. Take one step at a time.
1. Decide where.
2. Decide when.
For her, these two steps were easy. She wants to take them to London over spring break. In some cases you may need to reverse the order. You have a week at spring break and know you want to go somewhere…. In this case, I like Kiwi. They have a destination option for “anywhere”. It can give you ideas and let you know the cheapest options.
If you know where but not when, I like google flights. It will give you prices by date in order to help pick your timeframe.
3. Book your first plane (train, bus) tickets. For flights I start with Google flights, Kiwi and Sky Scanner. When I find a flight I like, I double check the airline website. I would prefer to book directly with the airline in case something goes wrong but I won’t if I have to pay more.
4. Plan your main activities: Ask each person their 1 or 2 must do items. If you want to keep the trip relaxed, plan on just 1-3 things per day. Organize them by location. Have an idea of when they open and close and how each stop will take.
5. Fill in the gaps: Then once you have the important building blocks done, do some research on other things in the area. Have a backup plan for rain (museums usually fit the bill), a cool neighborhood to explore etc… Places you want to eat.
As an example: If her husband said he wanted to see the iconic Big Ben clock tower. Plan that for one morning. Through research you would find you could also do a tour of parliament, Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms, and the London Eye. Big Ben combined with one of these historical stops topped with the London Eye would make a great morning for the entire family!
6. Hotel: I like booking.com or Airbnb. I usually wait until a rough schedule is done so I know where I’ll be to make sure my lodging is conveniently located.
7. Ground Travel: At a minimum I make arrangements from the airport to my hotel. My favorite app for this is Klook. This is also when I make plans for any day tours and have a rough idea of how to get around the city (Grab, subway, taxi, walking).
8. If you are visiting multiple cities repeat the process realizing that for step #3 it might be car, bus, or train.
-Take your time. You don’t have to plan a trip in one day. Break up key chunks and do a little at a time.
-In a large city where things are spread out, you can wait to book your hotel to see where you will spend most of your time.
-Book a local tour (free walking tour or a more formal tour) your first day so you can get a sense of the history and feel more comfortable in the area.
-Leave a bit of space in the schedule to wander, shop, explore, linger, talk to people etc…. This is a fine balance. I usually over plan because I hate wasted time but I am getting a little better about throwing out the plan if a better option comes along.