Two Magic Words That Make Family Travel Easier

Jul 2, 2019

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You’ve probably heard the saying — “less is more.” That applies to so many facets of life, including family travel, though it doesn’t necessarily mean take fewer trips.

At least once a week in the TPG Family Facebook Group someone asks about tips for a first-time visit to Europe. Usually, that family is flush with excitement but understandably nervous about a first overseas trip with kids.

In these posts related to Europe and elsewhere, I see a common pattern I want to address: over-scheduling. I get it: You want you and your kids to see as much as possible with the limited time you have for vacation. However, you run the risk of going full-Griswold and making everyone miserable with your enthusiasm.

As I finalized my own five-week summer vacation to Europe, I kept my travel mantra in mind. Feel free to say these two magic words with me:

“Minimize Transitions”

I crafted my mantra by watching the relaxation many European families achieve by settling in on the journey. Europeans get longer holidays than we do, but even on shorter trips, they tend to concentrate on one location without the cross-it-off-the-list mentality so many of us have when we hop the pond.

When I recap our trips, I try to document the failures as well as the successes. Almost every mishap occurs during movement from one location to another. We’ve missed the Eurostar, run with kids and bags at top speed to make a three-minute train connection, scrambled for flights and lost our way in rental cars. In Austria, we missed our connecting flight and made the firm check-in deadline for our vacation rental only because of the crazily efficient operations of Lufthansa at the Frankfurt airport.

(Photo by Andrea Bacle Photography)
(Photo by Andrea Bacle Photography)

Not only are the logistics complicated when you jump from city to city, but also one parent yelling for directions, the other throwing luggage and kids ducking for cover are not conducive to family fun.

Lesson learned. Now I go out of my way to set up shop in one location when we can. This means I plan activities that are doable day trips from our home base, and I select our home base based on what we want to do. It takes more work on the front end, and some flexibility on what you see, but I find it’s definitely worth it.

How My Mantra Works in Real Life

This summer, for example, we have four days set aside to visit Western Andalucia. We want to see Seville, Gibraltar and Baelo Claudia (a Roman ruin near Cadiz). Seville is about two hours from the other two sites. Instead of spending two nights in Seville, packing up, checking into a new hotel, unpacking and packing up again two days later, we’re staying in Jerez, which is about an hour from all three. We have more car time each day, but driving is much less stressful than repacking and relocating. As a bonus, Jerez is a lovely destination on its own.

Gibraltar Rock, Mediterranean Sea (Credit:Westend61 / Getty Image
Gibraltar Rock, Mediterranean Sea (Photo by Westend61/Getty Image)

How Hotel Points Can Help

Three of the major hotel points programs can help you if you want to stay put in one place. IHG, Hilton and Marriott all offer incentives for longer stays on points. Many Airbnb hosts also offer discounts on longer stays as well.

Marriott and Hilton both offer the fifth night free on award bookings. With Hilton, you need to be a Silver elite member or higher, but you get Gold status with both Marriott and Hilton using The Platinum Card® from American Express. The no annual fee Hilton Honors American Express Card (see rates & fees) even confers Hilton Silver status.

The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is actually the newest card in my wallet. I got it for my upcoming summer trip to Marseille because it offers the fourth night free on award stays. I’m using my 120,000 sign-up bonus points toward a four-night stay at the InterContinental Hotel Dieu. (Note that the current welcome bonus is 80,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months of having the card.)

The Intercontinental Mon Dieu, Marseille. (Photo courtesy of Intercontinental)
The InterContinental Hotel Dieu, Marseille. (Photo courtesy of Intercontinental)

Why Slowing Down Matters

It’s now been almost six years since our first Camp Mom in Europe (where our family spent the money we would have on camp at home on travel instead). Our kids were 6 and 9 at the time. You know what my kids recount if you ask them about the trip? The fireworks over the Eiffel Tower? No. (That’s what I talk about.) They talk about the playground we walked to every day in Lofer, Austria. They talk about how, on the way back one day, they noticed a stream and asked if they could drink from it and how I told them to look for cows. Seeing no cows, meaning no cow poop, and running water from the mountain I told them it was safe to drink. They talk about drinking water they scooped from the Alps (and how I ordered ice cream for my Diet Coke).

The alps (Photo by Getty Images)

Bottom Line

Memories are what happens when you stop and look around. The travel memories you want your kids to have do not feature schlepping to as many destinations as you can fit into your precious vacation weeks. By minimizing transitions and maximizing your hotel points or dollars, you can share your love of travel with your kids with money left in your pocket.

For more family travel advice, check out:

Featured image by Cavan Images / Getty Images

For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex card, click here.

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