In 2017, our family of 5 traveled to Mexico for our family vacation. Our children were 2,4, & 6, so it was a trip I was going to have to REALLY work on organizing, since it would be their first time flying! Yeah were we c..r..a..z..y or what!!! We really really really miss our kids if we vacation without them, so this time we were deciding to take them with us. Plus its really hard to find someone to watch 3 kids for that long of a period. We reached out to a travel agency, and after so many times of back and forth, leaving messages, emailing, we got sick of it and decided to plan it ourselves. Starting about 8 months prior, I began searching all of the top travel sites, researched airline vacations, comparing costs, etc. I also began researching traveling tips with kids, because we wanted to be super prepared(i.e. me, because, lets face it, women are typically known to be the preparer/organizer/make sure things are all in order). You definitely dont want to go on a week long vacation with 3 kids, without being prepared. This is what led me to creating the pro guide to traveling with kids.
The Pro Guide to Traveling with Kids
We were pretty limited at the time of year we could go, due to my husband’s occupation. He is a golf course superintendent, so he’s incredibly busy here in the Midwest, during golf season! I knew we could travel between the months of January-early March. Unfortunately this is still peak season for most resorts out of the country, so the cost was inevitably going to be higher than traveling in the off-season. Vacationing in mexico was significantly cheaper than traveling to the Caribbean. This allowed me to narrow it down, even more, from there. We had a budget and really needed to stick with it. Narrowing down the resort was the tough part, since there are only THOUSANDS to choose from there. Traveling to Cancun/Riviera Maya or Playa Del Carmen would be cheaper than Cabo San Lucas, so we ultimately decided on going to Playa Del Carmen(side note, my husband and I visited Cabo once and it was beautiful)!
-Lets jump to the list-
- Figure out what kind of budget you need to stick with. This is important, since vacations are quite pricey, and you will want to figure this out from the get-go! If you can, going in the off-season is significantly cheaper.
- Now that you have your budget, figure out which month(s) would be feasible to go between your work schedule(s), or kids’ schools(never mind that last part, obviously, if your kids aren’t in school yet)
- Decide what you want out of a vacation: Do you want to go hiking, skiing, beach, adventure(ex: Disney), all-inclusive, or a cruise?
- Now that you’ve figured out your budget, time of year you can go, and what type of vacation you want, start looking on all of the main travel sites(Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline, Trivago, Orbitz, Booking.com, Cheapair.com, cheaptickets.com, cheapoair.com, and Tripadvisor). Dont forget about which airlines fly out of your airport. Almost all of them have a section where they put together destination vacations at a set price, depending on the time of year. I like to pay attention to the reviews, and typically don’t like to stay in anything less than 3 1/2 stars(anything less might be a bit scary). This is where Tripadvisor really excels at is reviews. I posted an extensive review of our stay at the brand new Ocean Riviera Paradise in Playa Del Carmen when we went there last year. The resort had been open a couple of months before we went and they didn’t have many reviews, so I wanted to be sure to give people a detailed one.
- Consider opening a credit card with travel rewards. Southwest has an awesome rewards program with their credit card, where you can earn points every time you fly or use your card, and you can use those points for free flights/vacations, etc. The chase sapphire preferred card is also another great one, Capital One Venture card & Discover it miles also being another good one. If trip protection is important to you(which it should be in case someone is sick/injured, etc) then a lot of the cards offer trip protection. Be sure to get the details of that and in case you need to use that trip protection, what proof do they need? What requirements do they need if someone is sick/injured/family emergency, etc. It’s very important to also find out how they reimburse you. Is it a check reimbursement, is it a flight voucher(and does it expire), how long of a time period before you receive it? Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions!
- Fly on cheaper days. Huh? Did you know that there are certain days that are cheaper than others to fly on? If you’re flying within the U.S., Tuesday, Wednesday & Saturdays are the cheapest. If you are flying internationally, then weekdays are cheaper than flying on the weekends. Keep this in mind, because it could mean saving you a lot. Typically when you’re flying with kids above the age of 2, they are considered a full price ticket! OUCH….
- When packing- have each child wear a backpack with all of their snacks, travel wipes & entertainment items. Rolling their clothing helps prevent wrinkles & saves more room in the suitcase. Also, choose a roller suitcase, so its easy for them to help you through the airport with the bags! Be sure to check out the checklist printable below and print it off for your next trip!
- Begin your research in plenty of advance. Usually the least seats available on a flight is when the ticket amount tends to increase. I like beginning the search about 9 months prior. There are travel apps like Skyscanner, Hipmunk,Hopper, and airfarewatchdog) that you can put in your destinations and dates, and it will tell you periodically when you can get the cheapest flights. What would we do without all this technology? You can also speak with airline agents to see if there are any discounts/or specials that you don’t see or ones they know of coming up. Ask if you ca get any discounts on your kid’s airfares. It NEVER hurts to ask!
- To help you figure out where to go yet, you can narrow it down even more by the amenities you are wanting. We knew that we wanted a children’s swim area, kids club, and all-inclusive, and that we wanted to be on the beach(and I don’t mean facing a lagoon, either)! Of course check the room situation and if you can get a family suite, how many beds they have and if a couch pulls out,etc. Since our youngest was 2, she pretty much stayed free and ate free(this was a parenting WIN for us)! Don’t forget to make sure the resort allows children, there are a lot that are adult only.
- Begin preparing your travel documents EARLY, like 6-9 months in advance. All airfare requires a passport, whether you are a child or adult. EVERYONE must have a passport. If you are flying within the U.S. or for whatever reason you may want to drive to Mexico, then you can use a PASSPORT CARD, but this is very important here. If you skim over all other points on this list, DO NOT MISS THIS POINT: YOU CANNOT FLY ACROSS THE BORDER WITH A PASSPORT CARD. Why did I put this in bold? Well, because when we went to Mexico for our first official vacation, our kid’s first flight, we thought we would be smart by saving money and get the kids a passport card. I even verified this with our local post office. The guy behind the counter assured us that we could use it(failing to give me one important detail….that you couldn’t fly across the border with it, but you could drive). Insert eye roll and mouth falling open…..here. This is where I tell you that there will be a post on that of its own, all about that and the havoc that caused our family! (It’s a one of a kind story, & I’m tense just thinking about it all over again) We seriously could have made a movie of everything that happened on our trip. This also leads me again to why I wanted to write this guide, to help you be organized and cover all topics, and prevent you from making a HUGE mistake.
- Ok……back to Zen! Now that you have your trip destination narrowed down and your resort picked out and are ready to book. Visit www.ebates.com and see if your travel site is offering any cash back if you go through ebates first. This is what we did and saved a large chunk o cash! Its like having a coupon for whatever you’re purchasing online and you get a check in the mail(another parenting win). Check out my previous post on Ebates and how I save money with almost all of my online purchases here.