When I announced that we were traveling internationally with Liam this year, I got some comments about how other wished they could do the same. I’ve always been quick to mention that L and I are both fortunate to work for companies that have allowed us to travel AND keep all the points/miles for our travels. When it was just the two of us, we traveled SO MUCH for work and really built up a bank which has served us well over the years. That said, we also intentionally plan and save for our travels (more on this below!).
For this particular trip, we were able to book all of our flights to NYC and Ireland with miles (and a flight for my mom, too!). Now, this DRAINED my miles down to 64, but it meant that we only had to pay taxes on the flights. Something we learned when booking was that if you have an international layover on either end of the trip (or are flying a different airline like British Airways) the taxes and fees you pay are higher. Ideally you’d have direct flights both ways but it doesn’t always work out like that. We were able to get direct on the way to Ireland but on the way back, our options were a layover in London (Hi, Meghan & Harry!) or Philly. Philly cost us a total of like $165 for all three flights. London was going to be over $500. It took us a few searches to figure this out and find the flight times that would work best for our family.
We also have an airline credit card and a Marriott card because those points add up! When we lived in Charlotte, American Airlines made sense but we’ll probably look to change that now that we fly out of RDU mostly and the bigger airlines there are Delta, JetBlue and Southwest. If you use a credit card and you’re not getting points or cash back, you’re doing it wrong.
We also had enough Marriott points to book a hotel in one of our destinations and save ourselves hundreds of dollars! We only stayed in (the most adorable) B&Bs last time in Ireland but this time we couldn’t pass up a free hotel with breakfast and a pool for L. For the rest of our trip, we are staying in B&Bs / non-chain hotels and are super excited for some of the perks they have. One had a petting zoo (though apparently I vetoed this one because they only offered twin and full size beds. No thank you!). The B&Bs are VERY reasonably priced in Ireland (think $70-80/night). And we are always super conscious about how much we spend on where we stay because you’re not usually in there for THAT long. The exceptions for me here are A) being super pregnant and hot while walking around hilly Sorrento and splurging on a hotel with a pool because our Air B&B didn’t answer the door and we could get a full refund (read all about this here); and B) having a small child. We need to be comfortable and have enough room to exist together if for some reason we get stuck in the room.
For planning for our trips, we start daydreaming early. I am typically the one to throw out the most bizarre, far away options (South Africa, New Zealand, Bali and Australia are still HIGH on my list) and Landon looks for the more reasonable options. There aren’t many trips I’d turn down if I’m being honest. Ireland has been at the top of our list since we last went and we decided pretty early on that it would be L’s first international trip. I think I’d like to counter Ireland with a trip to the Caribbean – best of both worlds! I used to make extensive PowerPoint decks to lay out our options, complete with flight options, hotels, things to do, restaurant recommendations, etc. Don’t have time for that anymore so this trip was unique and we just said “Ireland?” “Yep.” “Let’s go.” And then it took us about 4-5 months before we officially booked the trip.
We put aside $50/bi-weekly in a special fund to use as spending money so that we don’t blow up our credit card on the trip. We use this money for food, gas, entry into places (if applicable)… As we get closer to the trip, we usually up that amount so that we have as much as possible. This has worked exceptionally well for us for the past 4 or 5 years. We only do this for our “big” trip, for smaller trips we are just extra conscious of our spending.
We also don’t typically spend a ton of money doing “things” when we get to our location. There are plenty of free ways to enjoy your destination. I do make an exception to this rule when it’s a really large place and you need to get the lay of the land and recommend a hop on, hop off tour if possible (this was huge for us on our Rome, London and Paris trips). Also, purchasing things like the “Firenze pass” in Florence, or the “Paris pass” in Paris helped with getting cheaper entry into museums/cathedrals/galleries and also helped save us time by either a separate line for pass holders or a skip-the-line option. Other countries have coupons, too! A nice couple in Ireland gave us coupons to the Rock of Cashel and saved us $20 or so on our entry. It helps to do your research in advance – and sometimes booking adventures in advance can save money!
I LOVE traveling and would gladly spend all of our money traveling the world; but Landon grounds me a little bit and is making sure we have savings, retirement funds and IRAs and a college fund for L. Our privilege isn’t lost on me that we are fortunate enough to be about to not only take an international trip each year but to be able to travel at all. We are very grateful for these opportunities.
Last thing, there are some GREAT sites where you can get good deals on trips. Our very first trip together was to Jamaica. We spent 4-5 days at an all-inclusive resort for $1,000 – including our flights. We’ve used cheapcaribbean.com to book in the past and have not been disappointed. I’ve also had friends use Groupon deals for their travels. Check out Air B&B or VRBO for places to stay and explore sites like Kayak, Orbitz, etc. to find the best deal. Search on different devices and different times and compare – do the same for your flights. Sometimes it’s best to go through the actual company (like the chain hotel website or airline), but in most cases, you can find better deals elsewhere.
Post coming soon about how we pack for international trips (and our first time packing for one with a will-be 16 month old!). Tips welcome!