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A Q&A about How to Plan a Trip

If you’ve been around for a bit, you know we love to travel.

Whether it’s a quick weekend trip to St. George to soak up some sunshine for our annual Winter Escape trip or a family trip to explore Japan for a week, we love to get out and see the world.

Just before our Japan trip, I asked what questions you had about how we plan trips and I thought it’d be fun to do a Q&A here!

So here’s more than you ever wanted to know about how to plan a trip. . . or at least, how WE plan a trip!

A Q&A about How to Plan a Trip

Travel agent vs. solo planning? 
We’ve never used a travel agent! We just plan it all on our own. For us, it feels like we know better than any travel agent would what our family will enjoy best.

How do you keep track of the details and to do list?
I always use a Google doc (I know some people prefer a spreadsheet, but for a document works better). Bart and I can both edit it, it’s an easy place to drop recommendations, we can share a copy with grandparents if we’re leaving our kids with them, and it’s easy to access from our phones or computers. It’s not pretty but it does the job.

I would love to see the itinerary when it’s all said and done.
Here’s our Japan itinerary, here’s our London itinerary, and here’s our Seoul itinerary.

What is your timeline of events when it comes to planning a trip? Flight then activity ideas then lodging?
We almost always book our flights first and then choose lodging and then plan our activities around that.

How to find flights? 
I am an avid user of Scott’s Cheap Flights (now called Going). We found our cheap flights to London and Japan there and other places. You can use the free version (which is terrific) or upgrade if you’d like (our London flights were on the free version!).

Quick flights or lots of layovers?
We highly prioritize reasonable flights – I don’t want to spend 3x as long as needed to get to the destination. I’m okay with one layover, but more than that is not ideal for me. It would have to be SO MUCH cheaper to justify the amount of time that wastes.

Favorite plane activities?
I’ve found that my kids find flights pretty fun in general – it’s so novel, there is a screen on your seat back and they bring around soda! So I don’t worry too much about packing a million activities for the flight. Usually my girls bring their Kindle readers (so they can read or listen to audiobooks), they watch a bunch of movies, and they usually have a little notebook to draw in and maybe a small card game or two that we can play.

How far in advance you plan?
We usually end up booking plane tickets 4-6 months ahead of time, finding lodging 2-3 months ahead of time and then doing most of our planning the month before we go. I only buy tickets for attractions ahead of time if there is significant savings for doing so, otherwise, I’d rather have the flexibility and pay when we get there.

How do you deal with/plan for language barriers?
It’s not something I worry about very much. Google Translate makes it pretty easy to read signs or get around almost anywhere in the world.

Where do you find ideas of what things to do? From books? Favorite websites?
I always ask on Instagram for suggestions, I’ll text and email friends who have been there or live there and ask for their suggestions, I’ll read blog posts or google top things to do in specific cities (with kids, if it’s a trip we’re taking our kids on). I rarely use a travel book.

How do you know what’s good to do in a place you’ve never been?
Part of the fun of travel is exploring places you’ve never been and sometimes a restaurant or activity is going to be a flop – that’s just part of the experience! I do my best to research good places and then I know sometimes things will go awry.

Do you plan activities while there/before there?
We try to do most of the planning beforehand (because I don’t want to spend my whole trip planning), but generally we’ll do a quick review each night of what we want to do the next day and adjust based on other recommendations that have come in (like in Japan, we hadn’t planned to visit Miyajima but on Sunday when we visited some friends who live there, they suggested it and we decided to add it to one afternoon), our interests and energy levels, and the weather.

Best research tips on what to hit/skip
Know what YOU value – if you’re a huge art fan, hit up all the art museums. If you care zero about art and find standing in galleries extremely tedious, don’t be swayed by everyone saying you absolutely cannot visit Paris without going to the Louve. You might want to do all the outdoor things or eat at Michelin starred restaurants or visit bookstores. When you can get clear on what will make your trip great for you, it’s easier to know what to prioritize and what to skip.

How do you pick what to do when there are so many options that all look fun?
There’s never enough time to do all the things in a place – part of traveling is learning to prioritize what matters to you and not letting the fact that you can’t do it all ruin the whole trip for you. And sometimes you’re going to choose wrong – that’s just life!

Do you try to leave time in each day for rest/flexibility?
Yes and no. I don’t ever plan it in – I’d rather have too many things to do than not enough and be scrambling to figure out how to fill my time, but I never feel like the agenda is the boss. If people are tired and worn out, then we’ll bail and go back to the hotel for a nap or hang out at a playground or garden. Or if something really cool pops up that we want to instead, we’ll make that happen and bump something else off the list.

How do you keep a trip flexible and spontaneous, while still having events planned?
I truly believe it’s much easier to over-plan and then go with the flow than be scrambling to figure things out. So my recommendation is to have a pretty full itinerary and then set your mental expectations that you’re not held down by the itinerary and can be flexible and spontaneous as much as you want to! The itinerary and plan is a TOOL to help you have a great trip. If the itinerary gets in the way of you having a great trip, then it’s not doing it’s job.

How many activities do you plan per day with children?
It really depends on the age of the children and also the activities themselves. Some activities are 30 minute things (a stop at a bookstore, etc) while other activities are 4-5 hour events. And every child has a different temperament and tolerance, plus the makeup of your family matters (an oldest child being 5 is different from your youngest being 5). I try to guesstimate how long each activity will take so that I can figure out how many things we can reasonably fit in a day.

Do you avoid or seek out tourist spots?
Both! I’m not going to visit Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower but I also like visiting less well-known spots too. I want a mix of the really famous things and the things that appeal to our family specifically.

Do you use tour guides?
No, we never really have. I know some people love this, but it’s not usually the best fit for our travel style or Bart and my personalities.

Do you ever rent a car? How do you get around?
If there is a great public transportation in a city, we’ll for sure use that as much as possible – in London, New York City, Seoul, and Japan, it didn’t make sense to rent a car and we just rode the subway or train a lot. We’ll also fill in the gaps with taxis/Ubers as needed. We also walk a LOT on vacation (we did 10-12 miles a day in both London and Japan with our kids). And then some places, it makes much more sense to rent a car. We rented one in Maui and Miami and Nashville and Dallas in the last few years.

How do you choose accommodations? This always stresses me out.
The things I think about are location (is it convenient and central?), how much time we’re going to be spending there (for instance, when we went to Maui in 2019, we had a toddler and I knew we’d be going back every day for naps and I wanted a place that had room for us to spread out so we were comfortable and happy while we were there for hours and hours every day, so I was willing to spend more on our lodgings. When we were in Tokyo, I knew we’d be out and about pretty much all the time, so a small hotel room with six beds and little other space felt fine), and the price. At the end of the day, most accommodations are going to be fine and the more you travel, the more you’ll know what matters to you and what will work on a particular trip.

Hotel vs. Airbnb? 
Both! It just depends on the location, the price, and who is traveling. If it’s just Bart and me, we almost always opt for a hotel. When we have the kids, it’s a toss-up of what makes the most sense. For instance, in Japan, we stayed in an Airbnb in Kyoto which was much less expensive and had lots of space, and then once we got to Tokyo, a hotel was a more affordable way to be in the location we wanted to be in.

How do you decide what to pack? Planning a 3-week trip this summer and so overwhelmed.
I pretty much never pack more than a week’s worth of stuff. And then I go down the list: a week’s worth of outfits (almost guaranteed, you’ll reach for the same things you are comfortable in at home), a few pairs of pjs, shoes, socks and underwear, toiletries, and then a few place-specific items like swimsuits or hats.

Do your girls pack their own clothes or do you pack for them?
They generally pack for themselves now, although I help a little with the younger girls if they want help.

What do your kids travel with? Book bag plus luggage?
Usually they share a carryon suitcase with a sister, then each brings a backpack plus a fanny pack (which they put in their backpack while we’re traveling).

What do your girls put in their fanny packs?
For our Japan trip, they each had their Kindle reader, a small journal/notebook and pen, a snack or two,

How to go international? Visas? How does it all work?
It depends on the country you’re going to – lots of countries don’t require a visa if you’re just going for a week or two (we haven’t needed visas for London, Japan, Seoul, Mexico, etc). For those trips, all we’ve needed is a passport for each of us.

Do you plan where you’ll eat in advance?
Generally no. I usually make a big list of recommendations for a location and we’ll hit them as we’re able but we also often just walk by a place that looks good or pull up Google Maps or Yelp or whatever and see what has good reviews in the area we’re at based on what we’re in the mood to eat.

How do you keep track of ideas, sometimes years before you get to go to a place? 
I don’t have the bandwidth for this – I don’t keep track of things for future possible trips. I figure that when the time comes to visit a place, I’ll be able to find the right things to do at that point.

How to use credit cards smartly for travel?
Credit card points are not my area of expertise at ALL – it all feels overwhelming to me and so I just don’t bother with it.

How you pick locations? Do you pick and hub and then make day trips? Or move hotels? 
Generally, I prefer to stay in one place if possible because it’s easier to not move your luggage a million times AND especially if you’re staying in an Airbnb, the cleaning fees and other fees kill you if you’re paying them every day or two. In Japan, we stayed in Kyoto for five days and then did day trips out from there (which was very feasible with the bullet trains). But then we did move for the last few days to Tokyo. In London, we stayed in the same place the entire time and Bart and I did the same when we went to Seoul.

How you decide on the dates? Do you pull the girls from school?
We tend to try to travel when things are cheaper which is during the school year so we generally do pull our kids out of school for a week or so. Our kids’ teachers have always been very easy to work with and all our girls are ahead in school, so it’s not an academic issue for them to miss here or there.

Age of your kids when you traveled?
We have traveled at every age they’ve been! We’ve traveled with newborns (I took Tally to NYC when she was five weeks old), toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary schoolers (and now middle schoolers!). The great news about kids is that the more they travel, the better they get at it.

How you plan with kids at different ages?
We usually aim more toward the older kids and then add a few things in that might be more toward the younger kids – one thing I love about traveling with multiple kids is that everyone has a chance to practice doing things that might not be their first pick and being good sports about making it a fun trip for everyone.

How much do your kids choose?
We try to involve them along the way – showing them pictures or videos of possible places to visit and see what sparks their interest. We usually ask each of them to pick the top two things they want to do/see/visit and then work those into the schedule.  And it’s also a family trip, which means we’re balancing everyone’s desires, not just one persons (including the adults!).

Do you also travel just as a couple and leave the kids at home? Kids what age?
Yes! We try to do one couples trip a year – our first one was when Ella was about 2.

How you save/budget for trips? Do you have a vacation bank account? 
We have an annual budget for trips (it’s actually one of our very biggest line items because it’s one of our biggest family priorities) but we don’t have a separate bank account set aside for it. The spending for a trip is usually over many months, so we just pay for each part (the flights many months ahead of time, the lodging a few months ahead of time, the food and activities while we’re on the trip) on our credit cards as we go and then pay them off in full each month.

How to decide how to allocate funds for different things? 
I actually wrote a post about how I think about budgeting for a trip a few years ago – every trip is different, so where our money goes on a specific trip varies by location!

Do you budget for eating out, activities and spending/shopping?
Not really. Generally, the bulk of the cost of our trips is the flights and lodging, so the food isn’t going to swing wildly in any direction. We’re not eating at high end places usually and we’re not shoppers (I almost never buy a souvenir), so we can generally ballpark what it’s going to cost for food and activities beforehand and make sure we have the funds to cover it with a generous buffer so we don’t have to stress about it.

Do you have any picky eaters? How do you deal with that, especially in a new country?
I don’t have any SUPER picky eaters, but I do have one that is definitely on the fairly picky side right now (crossing my fingers she’ll grow out of it like my other kids have). I’ve found that it’s not really that big of a deal – there are almost always plenty of snacks to be had, grocery stores have foods she’ll happily eat like yogurt or crackers or bread or fruit, and I try to make no big deal out of it at all.

What do your kids like to eat on the go? Hard to find healthy things to keep the hangers away! 
We usually just stop at little shops or convenience stores each day to pick up some things to take with us. Part of the fun of traveling for us is trying new and different foods and snacks than we would find at home and everyone can pick out things that appeal to them. In Japan, there were lots of dried fruits, sushi, breads, candies, yogurts, and more.

How do you deal with jet lag?
I HATE jet lag. And yet, it’s just part of the travel experience. If we get somewhere early in the morning, we try to check in early and have a pre-lunch nap (we did this in London). If we’re getting in late, that’s easier to just go right to bed. I’ve found that my kids tend to have an easier time than I do with jet lag and I’ve just accepted that switching night and day is just not easy.

Any other questions about how we plan a trip? I’d love to help – leave your questions in the comments!


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  1. We approach a lot of our travel planning similarly. One thing we started doing a few years ago is having our kids (and ourselves) put together a simple slides presentation on something about the trip. We just did 2 weeks in Spain and visited multiple cities so everyone chose a city to present on (famous food, well known sites, history/culture, etc). But if we are only visiting 1 city, then they will each take an aspect of it (food, sites, history, flora/fauna, etc) to present. It’s simple and they complete it in less than an hour (typically on a Sunday afternoon) and then we present them the last Sunday before we depart. It’s so fun for them to then discover in person on the trip what they researched. When our kids were younger they would share with an older sibling and work together, now they each do their own. It’s an easy way to get them excited and prepared for the trip.

  2. I am traveling to Germany in December for the Christmas Market. I understand that most stands do not accept credit cards- they want cash.
    What is the best way to get foreign currency before I go and while I’m there.
    Thank you.

  3. My mother-in-law told me not to count food towards your vacation budget since you have to eat either way! That makes me feel like the overall price tag for the vacation is less.

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