Organising a big trip can be fun but challenging when you’re juggling family and work commitments. To give you a head start, here are some of my ‘go to’ resources for planning your family trip of a lifetime.
In Part 1 of our Travel Planning Guide we looked at the first steps; setting your intention to take a trip, deciding destination, budgeting and the best route getting there. Now in Part 2 I’m sharing some of my favourite resources and tips for finding affordable family accommodation and great experiences and activities for your time away.
Accommodation: Finding authenticity and balancing the budget
Think outside the box. By box I’m referring to the very nice, decent quality hotel-with-a-pool-and-a-buffet type box. While some are outstanding and frankly a welcome relief at times, there can also be the feeling that you could be almost anywhere in the world and experience the same hotel. Westernised, clean, predictable… a safe option. Actually I think there is a lot to be said for this; it’s easy and mostly suits families very well. And when you’re culturally well outside of your comfort zone, having a predictable family hotel in which to rest your heads can be a welcome switch off. But for me personally… when I travel I like to feel the vibe of the locality I’m in, including in the place we lay our hats. I want to be absorbed in the culture, to experience a small taste of what it might be like to be part of the community. I don’t think the two sides of the coin are mutually exclusive. Thorough research means you can find the best of both worlds… an authentic stay that supports local (as opposed to big) business and a reliable, quality experience.
My first stop for research is usually Trip Advisor, an obvious but amazing resource! There are such a huge range of accommodation types and experiences, accompanied by lots of reviews and traveller photos so you can get a real feel for a place. Sometimes you can find something a bit different at more affordable prices under the ‘B&B and Inns’ section, and always check out the ‘Speciality Lodging’ option as there can be unexpected gems there, including nice hostels which will often have private family rooms and can be a great budget option. Trip Advisor also has fun features like your personalised travel map where you can pinpoint the places you’ve been, your favourite spots and the places still on your bucket list.
Another top spot for finding accommodation is a home sharing website such as Airbnb and Home Away. In fact you can search for rental properties on both of these sites (and others) via the holiday lettings search engine Tripping. You might also consider house/pet sitting or a home swap, great ideas if you’re on a tight budget as it means free accommodation! In which case check out websites such as Trusted Housesitters, Love Home Swap and Home Exchange. There are plenty of options these days for those who are seeking affordable means to travel further afield.
If you opt for a homestay you will stay with and be looked after by the hosts, who can offer you an abundance of local knowledge. These experiences can be culturally rewarding and educational for the whole family, as you live as a part of the family or community and have the opportunity to make memorable connections with people, not just places. The website Homestay puts you in touch with these opportunities worldwide.
Another route is volunteering together for part (or all!) of your trip. There are many volunteering options available worldwide, from helping orphaned animals in the rainforest or being part of a marine conservation team to helping a community build a school or to teach in a school. Be a little wary when researching, take time to find a responsible, ethically led volunteering organisation. Many companies offer ‘voluntourism’ holidays now but in some cases the volunteering is more about the volunteer’s experience than the help they can offer to the communities they visit. Plus the price can be high. Make sure the experience you choose is genuinely assisting local organisations. Ask how the money you pay is distributed and keep in mind that you are there to help a charity project. Think about what skills you have between you and how they could be utilised by an organisation or project.
If you’re travelling around a country (or countries) think about overland travel options on public transport instead of internal flights. Travel like a local and get on the trains, water taxis, buses, ferries and songtheows with everyone else. These journeys are opportunities for adventure in themselves, possibly out of your comfort zone but with the chance of making genuine connections with fellow travellers. Some of our most memorable experiences have been the journeys… the overnight train from DaNang to Hanoi or the Tuk Tuks in Bangkok have all played their part in shaping the children’s special memories.
Make overland travel a part of your itinerary… An example might be; instead of flying direct to Kerala, instead fly to Mumbai, take in a couple of days in the city before catching the scenic overnight train to Kerala. Train travel in particular can offer opportunities to relax and make friends whilst watching new landscapes unfold through the windows.
Family Friendly Activities and Attractions
What do your family like to take part in? I often plan itineraries around unmissable activities, events and attractions. Maybe there’s a festival or concert on while you’re in the locale? I use everything from Google to Lonely Planet travel books to websites like Trip Advisor and Viator to find out what’s going on while we’re there, what activities are available, and what bits we really don’t want to miss!
To hook up with local companies and individuals try websites like Tours by Locals. They put you in touch with tours offered by local guides that you might not find elsewhere on the internet.
The adventures you have on your travels are the key to making your trip really special. There are bound to be well known sights you’ll love to tick off your bucket list, but there will also be chances to connect with the country, its people and culture in a more meaningful way. When those opportunities come, grab them with both hands! You might find the friendly offer of a meal with a family whose acquaintance you’ve just made will lead to a far more memorable experience than the 2 hour queue in baking temperatures you endured to see the famous tourist attraction.
Whenever and wherever you are travelling, keep your eyes and your heart open and always be ready to say ‘Yes!’
Accommodation and Activities Resources