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January 23, 2020

Vacation Planning Hacks for When You Need to Get Out of the Bubble

My husband and I absolutely love to travel.  The sights, the history, the adventure, the food…just thinking about it sets off my wanderlust.  We promised ourselves that once baby came, while traveling might decrease it would not stop.  Planning a major vacation can be so daunting.  Especially when juggling budget, specific school and work break times, and the general stress around trying to choose something that will make everyone happy.  Some people enjoy the hunt for the best deals to great locations (for my husband, it’s an outright hobby), and others just want an easy button (this would be me).  In the following article, we will deal with both, so that everyone has a few more tools for booking their next vacation.

“Could someone please plan my vacation for me?”

Luckily, yes, there are plenty of services that serve as substitutes for the old school travel agent.  https://scottscheapflights.com/ and https://justgetoutoftown.com are examples of such services.  You will pay a membership fee.  For this fee, you will receive emails and access to curated deals.  If you love travel, but hate the searching, then these types of sites might be for you.  As an example, my husband and I took a trip to Lisbon, Portugal that was a suggestion from such a site.  We spent 10 days in Lisbon as our hub for exploration, and paid $1600 total ($800 per person) that included both flights AND lodging for the trip.

On a side note, there are still real life people who are travel agents. My sister used an agency to go on a tour of Greece with her best friend and had an amazing experience. Did you know that at Stapleton Scoop we have a travel blogger, Melissa Downham, owner of Roaming Family Travel. Here’s her latest post on planning a spring break trip for your family. Or, you can always Google search “Denver travel agent” and there are a whole bunch of options of real, live folks you can call.

“I’m willing to do a little legwork.”

The next suite of sites to look at if you want a little more control over your search are the aggregation sites that book airlines/hotels/cars.  You probably know them well: Orbitz, Hotels.com, Travelocity, etc.  The dirty secret, most are owned by a couple of huge companies, so the deals they offer are quite similar.  Kayak.com searches many of these sites at once, so we find it a useful tool to look for our own deals.

These sites are great at trying to bundle together everything you need for vacation, but how do you figure out the deals?

Option 1:  You can use the pay services already mentioned which are good for identifying periods when deals are present, and then you can customize the trip using these other sites by playing around with dates and other variables.

Option 2:  You can just search a lot on these sites and see if you can stumble upon the deals.

Option 3:  Google it.  Which is our next section…

“I want to do a full deep dive and find an awesome deal, of my own choosing, for my next vacation.”

There are many ways of doing this, but my husband’s preference is www.google.com/flights . Specifically, the most useful feature is the ability to search Denver to basically anywhere in the world for a week or 2 week trip for the next 6 months (or by a specific month).  So, you can search Denver to Europe for July, and see a map of every airport and a price.  He used this method a couple of years ago to snag $380 roundtrip flights from Denver to Zurich, Switzerland.  Once you have identified places and time frames for good flights, you can jump back to Kayak and Orbitz to see what kind of package deals you can work.

The 3 previous examples provide methods for booking cheap and awesome vacations, from the least work to the most.  Below, I’ll include a couple more tips for saving on your vacation.

  • Bundling hotels/airfare/car rental. This requires some legwork.  Lisbon was the best possible example, where flight + hotel together was cheaper than just flight.  But you might not want to stay in one place for your entire trip.  Some of the sites allow you to book hotel for only part of the trip.  We have another trip to Switzerland coming up, and we were able to get a $350 a night hotel room in Lucerne for $50 a night for 4 nights just by pairing it with our flights.
  • Don’t overlook the airlines’ direct websites. A few years ago, we found a relatively cheap flight to Hawaii for $380.  On Orbitz, it didn’t really help any to add a rental car to the booking.  However, he tried Detla.com directly, added the car option, and was able to get a car rental for the week for free.

So, if you want the easy button, research curated pay sites and find one that suits you.  Then, just open your emails every week, and book whatever trip pops up that captures your traveler’s soul.  If you’re willing to do a little more work, it boils down to:

1) Identifying cheap flights

2) Determining if you can add lodging and/or car to the trip for a discounted cost (sometimes for free).

3) Trying a few different sites to see which can give you the best deal.

4) Explore all the lodging options. Don’t just look at hotels. We have stayed at some really great places using VRBO and Air B&B. These are especially useful when traveling with a big group. We stayed in a really fabulous yet cheap house in a non-touristy part of Paris once when we traveled with my parents, my husband’s parents, and my sister. (We’re bonkers, I know.)

I recommend doing these searches periodically, as its less stressful to “accidentally” stumble into your next vacation, as opposed to only searching when you know you have to book a vacation.  It also means you’re more likely to branch out and try new places when you realize you can spend a week in Portugal for less money than a week in the mountains at one of the ski resorts.

If you have any questions or would like to chat more about my experience, please don’t hesitate to reach out. My contact info is below.

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