Travel Options

Deciding where to vacation

Because we fly stand-by our trip planning is often done quickly. We tend to change plans according to when and where flights are open, so we try to do a lot of research to be prepared for any number of situations. We plan on leaving on Thursday for a trip. Here is an insight into our planning

#1 Where to go?

We really want to go to Glacier National park. It looks incredible and this is the best time of year to be there. However, It is really difficult to get to! American has one (full) flight a day to Bozeman (which is a 5 hour drive to the park). NO flights to Kalispell (which is technically in the park, but still 3 hours from where we want to go. So we could pay to fly stand-by on another airline.  At $33 per person per direction it’s a great deal, but adds nearly $500 to our trip. We could also fly into Calgary which is only 3 hours from the park, but unfortunately, the girls passports haven’t arrived yet, so we can’t do this option this week. We should’ve been prepared with passports!! Also, flying home from Calgary would cost $50 per person so this adds to the trip. (International flights we pay taxes and fees). We decided to wait until we could potentially fly to Calgary once the girls passports get here. Hopefully, we get there someday. Glacier trip is put on hold. I did do a bit of research about the park and what to do with kids, so if last minute we decide to drive or take the flight from Seattle we will be prepared with a few things to do.

We also thought that upstate New York would be a great option. Once again, the girls birth certificates are in the mail to get their passports, so we couldn’t even drive to the good side of Niagara. Plus, the pull of the fall leaves and their colors in New England are inviting us to wait until fall and hope we can take a quick trip over Labor day.

We loved taking Jackson to Yellowstone when he was 2 and really want to recreate that trip. This is so close to our hometowns in Utah that we would love to do this trip when family could join us. So we will save this one for when we can drive from Utah. Maybe next Summer? (Although with a baby it will be much more complicated!)

With our top options down we are looking into other fun places. Because Seattle would be the stopping point if we went to Glacier National park, we looked into things to do in Seattle. Turns out there are 2 national parks close by. It is perfect and cool weather this time of year and there are 12 flights a day from Dallas to Seattle.

The problem with researching this many places to go is you end up finding many MORE places to go. We thought about driving to Portland and flying home from there, but the things we really want to see in Oregon are the coast and that would add significant time to the trip. As of now, I don’t want to add Portland, but Dave is still hoping we could fit it in, so we will see. Dave tends to want to do more and I want to take it a little slower and enjoy where we are and we try to find a middle ground.  I’m hoping we put this trip on hold and stick with juts Seattle and surrounding areas (although without passports and birth certificates we can’t see Vancover and Victoria like we would want to.)

And of course, we always check Hawaii and it is actually open this weekend! This makes it a very enticing place to go, but after a ton on research on a NEW place to visit, a long trip to Hawaii which we’ve already seen, probably won’t happen. (Although my sister will be on her honeymoon there that week, so maybe we should…)

Writing this article reminded me that I didn’t check out one of our most desired destination that has only a few flights and a very short travel period… ALASKA! The flights are mostly full and since I don’t have much time to research, we probably won’t do this one (not to mention, we want to go withOUT the kids!)

After disagreeing on how we want this vacation to play out, my husband also suggested, St. Croix in the Virgin islands, Mount Rushmore, the Oregon Coast and Utah (Where our family lives)

Wow. Doesn’t this just make your mouth water with the possibilities of great places to take a bite out of?!? It is so difficult to decide where to go when you don’t have a specific reason to go anywhere. How do you choose where to vacation?

#2 Flight Loads and date/time options

Since we fly stand-by we have to see if there are enough seats to get us places at the times we want to go. MORE importantly,  is there a way home and other options if there are cancellations or flights fill up. Going to a remote place means you may have to rent a car and drive to a different airport if you can’t get out. All of these are factors in which trip we take. We don’t get to choose exactly the dates, times and places we want to go like those lucky people who have to pay for their flights.

#3 Hotel prices and options

Next, we look at hotel options. We have a few credit cards with bonus points on them so we look at Marriotts, Starwood and Hiltons. Then we see if there are cheaper options on Hotels.com. We don’t mind a Super 8 or Days Inn if it saves us money (and the kids love the free breakfast). We really try to go cheap on hotels. We usually only sleep there one night and then move on, so it isn’t worth paying for nice amenities we don’t use. We have used points for resorts and nicer places, but the fees, taxes and parking make it so expensive it still feels like we aren’t getting our money’s worth. Everyone travels differently, so I understand those who love the relaxation and peace of a resort. But that isn’t our travel priority, so we stay as cheap as possible.

#4 Car prices

Different places and times of year the rental cars prices can be really high or low. This isn’t really a deal breaker for where we are going, but it is something to consider when thinking about the cost of a trip. Now that we are having a fourth child this will significantly increase the cost of our trip since we will have to either rent 2 cars or get a van for every trip!

#5 What to do

While we are deciding where to go we do some searches and map out different possibilities of things to do in each area. We have taken a few very last minute trips where I’ve done no research and we just look in our hotel room the night before and find somewhere to go. Thank goodness for the internet and so many travel blogs. Hopefully, this blog becomes a good resource for other fellow travelers.

 

How do you decide where to travel? What are your travel priorities?

Before I traveled a lot, I dreamed of Rome, Paris, New York and the big city travel draws. Now that I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, I’ve discovered I don’t really enjoy city travel. I like slower paced places, fewer tourists, off the beaten path hidden gems and mostly I enjoy the seeing nature and the outdoor sights.

We’ve decided we like nature more than the city life (which is unfortunate since airports are always in big cities and nature is a road trip to get to). We travel as cheaply as possible so we can afford to take more trips. We try to see as much as possible which means we don’t necessarily drink deeply of any one area, but take a sip of as much as possible. Knowing what will make you satisfied and happy will help you get the most out of your vacation and travel.  Once you know what you like on a trip, you can find something that works for everyone your family

***UPDATE: We went to Seattle AND Hawaii! We did Seattle City for 1 day, Olympic National park for 2 days, took a day to travel to Maui (through a over-night layover in Phoenix) and spent a day on the beach and resort pool (Yep, we splurged and spend ALL of our hotel points on one night in a resort). We were planning on staying another day in Hawaii but we were burnt and exhausted so we called it a success and headed home on day 5. (Post of the trip coming soon!)

Advertisements

To Bag or Not to Bag?

Tomorrow, I fly home with my 3 kids (ages 7,5,3) so today I pack their travel bags. When they were younger I NEVER let them carry their own bag that would just become another thing for me to tote around a keep track of.  After preaching this philosophy until I was blue in the face, my kids grew up a little and now I’m changing my tune.  I use to pride myself in carrying only 1 backpack and 1 carry-on, but now I’ve joined the circus of tons of luggage and it definitely has its advantages.  I realized that having their own bag allows them to determine when to play with what and they don’t have to ask me for every toy, treat and thing once on the plane. They have been fairly responsible with getting it through the airport, but it is annoying when they are all sleeping AND I have extra luggage.   We have rules that they can’t open the bag until we are on the plane (or we have a long wait in the airport.) The three kids tote around three separate bags and have the freedom to get into it at will on the plane.

IMG_20160702_171935170[1]

My  current travel bags include:

  • Tablet &Headphones
  • Coloring/activity book & crayons/ colored pencils (in wipes containers)
  • baggies of snacks (pretzels, fish, cereal, fruit snacks,apples, bagels, and vegi straws are the most common) & an empty disposable cup with lid like this
  • Magnetic builders like this
  • Travel games (Monopoly and trouble) & Card games (Uno,matching & pictureka) (These are used for the hotel and airports mostly)
  • Softback Book for reading (usually from our kids meals at Chick-fil-a)
  • An action figure/Barbie/my little pony from $ store
  • A small container of playdoh
  • Sheets of stickers
  • Chapstick, lotion &sanitizer(my 3 year old loves these)
  • Wikisticks or Bendaroos

I also throw in other odds and ends from my travel box that I constantly stock with little activities, games, or knick-knacks from carnivals, parties, happy meals, etc.  I’m a mean mom and I take away items they get before they can play/get bored of them and put them in my travel box.

Most trips, I trade out the toys and games so there is always something new for entertainment, but the tablets, snacks and coloring items are always present.

Note to self: MAKE SURE THE TABLETS ARE CHARGED!  Also, I’m glad I threw in a USB charger with both the AC adapter charger and  a plug because our plane happen to have a few AC plug-ins under the seats (look at the seat letters for a lightning symbol, that means there is a plug in under the seat.) so we were able to keep Jackson’s tablet charged and the girls and I made it through without screens.

 

This was Christmas day when we had to do 2 layovers in order to get home.  I let the kids bring all their loot so they were VERY entertained, but traveling through the airport (2 securities!!) was stressful and I was worried about losing all of their new items. (Yes, airport security let the kids through in a leotard, a swimsuit or even barefoot.)Christmas Day - In the TUS Airport

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is Flying by the Seat of your Pants?

In the past, airplanes weren’t equipped with the instruments and functions that they now have.   To fly pilots had to steer by the feel in the ‘seat of their pants’.  Thus, started the idiom that has come to define our family.

I’m Jamie.  I am a normal, run-of-the-mill, stereotypical stay-at-home mom.  I have 3 kids, ages 7,5 and 3.  I make home-cooked meals, I drive to soccer and dance lessons. I do a load of laundry a day.  I try to save money, eat healthy, work out, read books, volunteer at the school, teach boy scouts, serve in a church community,  have play dates, go to the library, be close to God,  be close to family, stay in touch with friends, and be the best mom I can be.  Usually, I feel I am failing in all areas simultaneously because I spread myself thin, trying to do it all.

Family Pictures - Nov 2014 - Family (2).jpg
This is Jackson (6) Hallie (4) and Mariah (1) with my handsome travel partner, Dave in 2014

There is one thing that I do that is different than many other stay-at-home moms I know.  I travel.  With kids.  A lot.   Our family has been on 70 flights in the past year.  I mostly travel with my whole family, but I’ve been known to take trips alone or just the kids and I and also as a couple, with my husband.  I have always dreamed of a stable home and predictable life.  I  knew being a mom would be my most important calling and job in my life.  But I never could have imagined it would include seeing the world in so many ways while fulfilling my role as a mother.

San Diego, California                 Maui, Hawaii                  Las Vegas, Nevada

Five years ago, I had only taken a handful of flights ever.  I was the oldest of seven kids and although my parents took us on road trips each year and showed us the world (or rather the US of A) as best they could,  taking nine people on a flight together was a bit out of their financial reach. Because I hadn’t flown much, I was actually a {bit} terrified of flying.  I had seen that show in the 80s that shows the top of the plane being ripped off and flight attendants flying out of the plane… terrifying!  On the  only international trip I had taken, I remember thinking I was going to die. I gripped my seat in terror for 16 hours of the flight.

Chicago, Illinois              Denver, Colorado            Fort Myers, Florida

But five years ago, all this changed.  My husband was hired by US Airways in their corporate office.  He had just finished an MBA and was searching for jobs to use his sparkling new degree.  We had no hopes or dreams of working for an airline, it just happened.  And when it did, our eyes grew wide at the possibility of exploring the world more fully and we began to dream.  We made lists of places to go and things to see.  We put up a map and talked and planned night after night together.  Working for an airline we get to fly for free in the US and for a small fee internationally.  However, we fly stand-by, meaning we only get the left over seats IF there are any.

Boston, Massachusetts        Washington DC          Rotenberg, Germany

Because we fly stand-by we have the opportunity to fly for a fraction of the cost.  However, stand-by is not actually ‘free’.  You pay in uncertainty.  In being flakey and uncommitted when visiting family or friends. You pay with stress of never knowing if you will make it to a desired destination and never being able to plan in advance.   You pay with anxiety as you watch the seats on your ideal flight filling up.  You pay with disappointment and packed bags that never lift off the ground before returning home.  You pay because planning ahead and ‘getting the best deal’ is not usually possible.  You pay by booking something you may never get to use.  You pay with making plan a,b,c and d and usually doing z (and being grateful it worked out that way).  Most airline employees know this and have experienced these stresses. In fact, many decide it is not worth it to travel stand-by and buy confirmed seats just to by-pass the madness.  However, for us, we love a good deal.  We also love being together as a family and want to include everyone in the fun, so traveling frequently at cost would not be possible for us.

New York, New York           Indianapolis, Indiana           Nauvoo, Illinois

We are never quite certain what day or time we will arrive in which airport or in which city.  Thus, we’ve learned to travel ‘by the seat of our pants’. We’ve learned to be totally flexible and last minute.  Our extended family has learned to not be shocked by a call saying we will be visiting in a couple of hours. Frequently, we wait to get on the plane before we book a car or hotel.  More frequently, we sit outside a hotel and book from our phones before heading in to check in.  We usually book several rental cars in many different locations and times just to cover our bases.  Most of the time, we don’t know exactly which flight we will be taking home.  We just have to check in and see what feels like the best fit for us at the time.  We sometimes have to take early,early morning flights waking our kids up.  Sometime we fly late into the night, hoping that ours kids will sleep on the flight and wake up enough to walk off the plane and through the airport.   Sometimes we take a red eye through the night and pray we all get to sleep.  You see, we don’t get to choose the prime time for traveling, we take the left over seats that no one else bought.  We make do with what we get.

Big Island, Hawaii                Snowbird, Utah               Portland, Maine

This blog is meant to pass along the many things I have learned traveling with small children without being able to plan for our trips in depth. I often get asked travel advice for being on a plane for little ones.  I have typed up countless novels for people. This blog is meant to get everything I’ve used and learned is all in one easy to access place.

Carlsbad Caverns, NM              Saguaro NP, Arizona           Austin, Texas

Traveling is valuable for our children and our families.  I want to show families that it can be done… quickly, easily, without too much work and provide memories and connections forever.  Sometimes the thought of travel is so overwhelming that moms don’t want to do it more than one big trip a year, but smaller more manageable trips are possible (and even desirable!)

So plan (or don’t plan) your next adventure and lets experience this world as a family!