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  • Janis Nunez

Planning Your Vacation

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

This post is filled with tips to help you plan an unforgettable vacation with your family. This blog will address lodging, transportation, currency, sites to see, and how best to manage your time while on vacation. I will provide this and more for each of the places my family and I have visited while traveling the world.


I plan to provide a lot of photos, as that was something I wish I could find when searching online and in travel books for our trips. Enjoy!


WHERE TO START


LIBRARY: Use your local library! I like to get every travel book that they have for the location we are traveling to. Fodor's Guides are my favorite, but if I am buying a book I will get a Rick Steve's guide. I like to highlight it and mark up all the pages of where we are going to visit. Rick Steve also usually has a lot of maps of the various towns in the areas, as well as a website that is very helpful with a board for questions and downloadable audio guides.


ONLINE RESOURCES: I like to use TripAdvisor when I plan my trips. I read the comment sections and find what would be a good fit for our family. YouTube is another great resource. With everyone having a channel for something these days, it's easy to get a look at the place you are going to and find places you might want to see that may not be listed in various guidebooks or online resources. Travel Blogs are extremely helpful for planning. Just type in the location you are going to and you will find a ton of blogs with all kinds of tips for traveling.


WHERE TO STAY: We like to find a place of our own when we travel, so we book through Airbnb a lot. With some research you can get a great deal right where you want to be, and a great host to help with your planning. Having a few meals at your place will also save you some money. I like to get a place that has it's own washer and dryer since we only take carry-on bags. Many places provide things you will need on your trip without having to scramble to find things like beach chairs, beach towels, and coolers.


Another PLUS about Airbnb is that you communicate with your host through the app. This means if your host speaks another language, you can still communicate perfectly. This was very helpful to us in Italy. They also have excellent suggestions for local food and sites.


You can sign up for Airbnb through my link, and you'll get $40 off your first trip. Just click here to SIGNUP FOR AIRBNB.


Not a fan of Airbnb? We also use Hotwire to look for good deals for hotels. You can find a last minute deal for a really great price too. We like to stay at Hilton Hotels, so if you sign up for their membership you can earn points. We used points to stay in Paris for the week! So if you have a favorite brand of hotel, it's worth it to accumulate points.


Another great way to stay for discounted rates or free is to use points. There are a number of credit cards that you can do this with and pay next to nothing for hotel stays. You need to do your own research to see what works best for you and your family.


CAR RENTAL: Before renting a car make sure you will need one. When traveling in Europe, for example, they have an amazing metro system so you may not even need a car. We used the metro in many cities. Sometimes it's also easier without a car because you do not have to deal with finding a parking spot and fees. You can always Uber or take a taxi somewhere if you are worried about being late or its too hot to ride the metro (Paris has no air on their trains, and in July it gets hot).


Did you know you can rent a car through Costco with your membership? When we do rent a car we always check Costco first. The best part is that it has free cancellation. Most of the time it's the best deal. Hotwire, Travelocity, and Kayak all have good deals too, so you really just need to shop around.


Hertz is also a great company to rent through. If you have the Gold Plus membership you get extra value, so check it out.


HELPFUL APPS FOR YOUR PHONE: Google Maps, Google Translate, Uber or Lyft, Currency Converter, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Citymapper, Rick Steve's Audio Guides, and Messenger or WhatsApp for internet calls when out of the country are all good apps to load before you travel. My kids like DuoLingo to learn a few words in the language of the country we are going to. It's a fun game you can start a couple weeks before traveling. Many countries have local apps with maps and tourist attractions to download as well, so take a look at the app store. If you are traveling to a country where you will use the metro, be sure and download their app and any passes you may need ahead of time so you aren't scrambling for wifi at the airport when you arrive to do it all.


ITINERARIES: I'm a fan of making an itinerary. It's not something we follow on a timed schedule or even do everything on the list, but rather a list of all the things we are interested in doing/seeing in various areas. For instance, when we went to The Vatican, I knew what to see, where to eat, etc. so that we are not wasting time going to places that are not close to one another. If you do your sightseeing "by neighborhood" so to speak, it saves you time and you can do more activities while you are there.


I like to list the local cuisines as well and make sure we try various dishes before we leave. I also like to list area grocery stores, restaurants, beaches, and tourist attractions. Sometimes I add the addresses and phone numbers, and sometimes we wing it. It's good to have an idea of what things will be closed and the site opening and closing times before you go so you aren't wasting valuable time. It's also nice to have your Airbnb, car rental/metro info, restaurants, attractions, etc. all in one place. Once we are on vacation, I will cross off things as we go. I always update what I thought of it on TripAdvisor. It's been a wealth of knowledge for me planning my trips, so I like to help other people do the same.


PACKING LISTS: While you are doing all of this research, you can be jotting down all of the things you will need to take on your trip. I have a general packing list saved on my computer and then just adapt it to whether we are going to warm or cold weather. My sons also have their own packing lists to pack their bags. If you don't trust your child to do all of the packing, have them lay it all out on the bed and then you can double check it with them as they pack it into the bags. The earlier you start doing this with your kids the better (and easier) for you!

 

BEFORE YOU GO


CELL PHONES: Contact your cell phone provider about using your phone out of the country. T-Moblie offers free data and texting, but $0.25 per minute for calls.


BANKS AND CREDIT CARDS: Let your bank and credit card companies know you are going out of town. Banks will want the travel dates. Also ask about the fees for using a bank card both for taking money out at ATMs and for making purchases. Some have a minimal fee if you withdraw in another country but charge a percentage if you use it as a credit card. They also charge a currency exchange fee, so just ask so you aren't surprised when you get back from your trip. Credit card companies don't usually have the purchasing fee, so find out which is the best for you and your bank/credit cards.


CURRENCY EXCHANGE: We like to take our bank card and withdraw the currency from the country when we land. Be sure to find a bank ATM as it is usually cheaper than a currency exchange. You can usually find one at the airport or get it when you get settled if you don't need cash right away. You may need cash for a cab right away, so it just depends on your plan for your arrival day.


PUT YOUR MAIL ON HOLD: You can do this online via the USPS website. No need to do it the old fashioned way by getting a card from the post office. If you forget before you leave, you can go online anytime and put it on hold. (I've done it on the way to the airport.)


DO YOU NEED AN ADAPTER? When traveling out of the country you really do need to check to see if you need an adapter. You can get them fairly cheap just about anywhere. I got these adapters on Amazon. We all keep one in our travel bags. Another thing to find out (ladies) is the wattage of your flat iron or other electronics you will be taking. I found that getting a universal wattage flat iron saves me the hassle of worrying if I need an adapter AND converter. I got this Kipozi Flat Iron on Amazon and only have to get an adapter. Makes it easier and I can use it at home with no issues. Just be sure to get one that is compatible with Worldwide Voltage, and you will be fine. Most places provide a hair dryer, so you should be good there.

 

PACKING BAGS AND PURSES


CROSS BODY BAGS AND PURSES: Take everything that you won't need on our trip out of your purse. Local store cards, library cards, etc. should all be left at home. You need your ID, passport, and $100 cash for your travel. The $100 is for airport food to and from your trip and anything that may come up along the way. As far as the bag I take. I use the Baggallini cross body bag I got from TJ Maxx. They sell them on Amazon too, they are just more expensive. I keep my headphones, phone, travel wallet, passports and/or metro cards, keys for the Airbnb, sunglasses, itinerary that I make, and can fit in a water bottle if I need it.


WALLET: I got this Travelambo wallet with blocking passport holder from Amazon and absolutely love it. You can also use the long straps that clip on to use it solely as a purse. I leave the wrist strap on and keep it in the Baggallini bag. It can hold your IDs and passports along with money and coins with no issues.


My husband likes to take a money clip. If you use your daily wallet, just be sure to take out anything you won't need on your trip. Unfortunately, wallets can get lost or stolen. Sometimes my husband has me keep his money clip in my cross-body bag if we are in a very populated, touristy area and I have one hand on my bag at all times. I like that it is adjustable so I can wear it on one side or across the body.


CARRY ON BAGS: My husband works for the airport. This means we get to fly standby for free, but it also means we may or may not get on. For this reason, we prefer to only take carry-on bags. We've gotten pretty good at packing for trips and knowing what we can and can't take on the plane. And if you are staying at an Airbnb that has a washer and dryer, it's very easy to pack less clothes. You can even pack powdered detergent if you need to, but I've found most places already have it or you can buy a small pack at the local grocery store.


My boys each take a backpack and a carry-on suitcase. In their backpacks they keep their phone, headphones, chargers, hoodie, playing cards, reusable water bottle, sunglasses, toiletry bags, glasses/contacts and solution, neck pillows and sleep masks if we have a long flight, a quart size bag full of snacks (granola bars, trail mix, fig bars), hats, book, outlet converter if needed, tissues, sunscreen, and any medication they may need. Their suitcase has everything else in it: clothes, shoes, snorkel masks, etc. If it doesn't fit, we don't take it.


My husband and I each take a personal bag (him a backpack and myself a duffel bag). You are allowed 2 carry-on items, so I put my Baggallini purse inside of the duffel so there are no issues. We all carry stainless steel water bottles and fill up at the airport before we leave for our trips. And everyone has a quart size bag of snacks just in case. You never know when you will be stuck somewhere and you're starving, or maybe just don't have time between flights to grab something.


I also bring along the car charger (if we are renting a car). Most times you will be using your phone to navigate, take photos, search online and the last thing you want is for it to go dead. Mine has a dual prong so two can charge if needed. It doesn't take up a lot of space and so worth taking. You can take a mount for your phone too, but we usually don't. Most updated cars do have a USB port, but it's usually only one.


SHOES: I've found it easiest to travel with slip on shoes. They are lightweight and easily come off for security checkpoints. I found Sketchers Go Walk to be the most comfortable for sightseeing in Europe. I have them in a couple of different colors. If I don't wear them and need to pack them, they barely take up any space and add no weight. I also take a pair of flip flops for the beach, and a pair of sandals that can be casual or go with a dress, and swim shoes if we plan to go snorkeling. It all fits! If I'm worried about colder weather I will wear my leather sneakers, so my feet stay dry. Whatever is lightest goes into the suitcase.

 

TRAVEL DAY


GET TO THE AIRPORT EARLY: If you fly like we do and plan your travels at high peak times because that is when the kids are off, you want to get there early. The security lines are long, and people are eager to start their vacations. TSA Pre-Check is a huge time saver if you travel often. I believe it's $85 for five years. Global Entry is another time saver. It costs $100 and also lasts 5 years. The Global Entry includes the TSA Pre-Chek PLUS expedited US customs screening for international travel when entering the US. Clear is another time saver. This will get you through security the quickest.


You can look up the airport you are traveling to/from and get information on wait times. When we went to Aruba, we were advised to get to the airport 3-4 hours early, and it was completely accurate! There were a ton of check points leaving the country.


Another airport option if you travel a lot is getting an Airport Lounge membership. We usually fly Delta, their membership is called Sky Club. When you have long layovers, or don't get on a standby flight it's nice to have a place to hang out more comfortable than the seating areas. Food and drinks are also included. Some even have showers (mostly for international flights). Check pricing online, as most airlines have their own. Some airlines allow first class passengers access, so it's something to look into.


Some credit card companies get you into airport lounges for free. Check your cards and see if it's an option for you. We can get into Delta Sky Club free as American Express Platinum members (each person has to have the card, or you pay for guests). We also have Priority Pass access with the Amex card. This allows you to use not only US lounges, but international lounges.


Before we leave the house, I always check this list:

  • Cash

  • Debit card for ATM withdrawals

  • Credit Cards

  • Passports

  • Driver’s license/International License

  • Guidebooks and maps

  • Notebook, pen, highlighter

  • Itineraries

  • Day pack/wallet


I hope you found this helpful to start your planning. Be sure to check out the locations we have visited and where to stay, eat, and how to get around. Enjoy!


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