Family Vacation Planning as a Second Career

Last night my husband broke into one of my nightly monologues (I feel the need to narrate everything that has happened that day to him, since he travels quite a bit for business) with this, “I know you’re really excited about our December vacation, but I honestly don’t really care what you decide we’re going to see. You’ve always chosen good places, I’ve loved all of our travel.  I’m sure this will be wonderful as well.”

Dude.  Buzzkill.  I know that half-an-hour on this hotel vs. the other hotel might seem like overkill to the uninitiated, but I love figuring this stuff out.

I probably spend at least the equivalent of a heavy part-time job (on top of my actual full-time job) planning travel for our family.  If I hated planning travel, we’d probably spend a lot more time at home, or have to spend a lot more money.  I’m not up for either of those options, so there is a lot of research and reading and window shopping going on around here all the time.

But I *LIKE* travel planning.  And I *LOVE* finding ways to afford travel.  And I *ADORE* going all these places.  Travel planning is soothing for me, as well.  When I’m having a day, I research countries  and figure out where I want to go next-next-next (because our tentative travel plans stretch to December 2016 at this point, and I’m making lists for trips past that as well).

Move! I have planning to do!
Move! I have planning to do!

At the moment I’m totally caught up in planning our December 2015 sojourn, which involves four (possibly five) Asian countries, airline miles, hotel points, Expedia, Rocketmiles, and Hotwire.  I’m pretty sure that list is not complete – I’m still looking at this website for our visit to the Big Buddha. I haven’t even started on countries 2 – 4 (5) yet.  It gets intensive.

It took me, without exaggeration, four hours to make our hotel reservations in Hong Kong.

I know.  Ridiculous.  Yes, this is normal for me.  No, I don’t think everyone should travel this way.  Yes, I think it was worth it. We travel with several kids and we want a certain experience.  We aren’t rich, we can’t flat-out pay for that experience it, so I have to put that experience together using all the tools at my disposal.

In timeline format…

The purchasing for December 2015 actually began in January 2015. Again – yes, I know.  Ridiculous.  But bear with me – it wasn’t that ridiculous.  We booked our airline award flights to the Far East in January 2015 because British Airways announced that they were changing their Avios program to something that wasn’t going to work for us and we needed to get our flights planned under the old Avios redemption rules.  I’m going to hazard a guess we weren’t the only ones working to get those miles working before the changes kicked in.


So – we had Avios to use, but we didn’t want to use them on British Airways because  FEES! BA tacks on so many fees for their “award” tickets that you end up almost paying full fare anyway. It’s dishonest, really.  I mean, it’s upfront – they do all the informing necessary that you will still be paying an arm and a leg for your “award” ticket.  So it’s not dishonest that way.  It’s dishonest because  you aren’t really getting any sort of real reward for your customer loyalty.

Enough of my ranting on this(until the next time British Airways comes up in conversation), but yes – I feel quite strongly about it.

It took a few hours to find flights that worked for us and then figure out how to book them on the British Airways website that defaults to BA only flights, but I managed to snag great seats on Cathay Pacific for less than 1/4 the fees that BA tacks on with such undisguised glee.

Time Spent on Actual 12/2015 Trip Planning in January 2015: 4 hours- cumulative- making airline reservations and several non-recorded hours  messing around gathering information.

I pretty much took February off and didn’t bother with any concrete planning for 12/2015 but March rode in with a vengeance.  My kids wanted, more than anything, to stay at at Hong Kong Disneyland‘s hotel.  They heard tell somewhere that you could have a bedtime story read to you buy a COSTUMED DISNEY CAST MEMBER at night.  A bedtime story.  In your hotel. With Mary Poppins.

You might think that a fourteen-year-old girl would find such a thing silly and childish.  You would think wrong.  The twelve-year-old boy agreed.  A bedtime story with Goofy.  And cookies.  They were desperate for the experience.

Alas, the prices at Hong Kong Disney about made my eyeballs bleed. When you add in breakfast and the actual cost on the dates you want to go (the low price shown is never actually the low price, right?), we would have been paying close to USD $400 a night.  NO.  I just can’t.  NO.  I know Hong Kong is known for being expensive, but eeeesh!

Maybe, thought I, I can find a deal somewhere!  We took a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida a few years ago that was fantastic and quite price-friendly.  We even stayed in an awesome suite at Animal Kingdom and woke up to zebras and giraffes meandering around.  There should be deals, right?

There aren’t, not really.  I guess Hong Kong Disney doesn’t need deals.

So I steeled myself to pay for a stupid hotel room using my children’s education fund.  To my children’s chagrin and my vast relief, someone above was watching over me – Hong Kong Disney’s hotel was fully booked for the days we had planned.  Alternative plans would be necessary.

Time Spent on Actual 12/2015 Trip Planning in March (fruitlessly): six hours of intensive deal searching and redefining hotel search parameters

In April, defeated by my inability to find a deal and see joy and happiness in my children’s eyes as Donald Duck read them Goodnight, Moon – I kept my activity to an impossible-to-measure surfing the web for interesting facts while watching iZombie and Mr. Selfridge episodes.

Time Spent on Actual 12/2015 Trip Planning in April:  None. Shut up.  I was wallowing.

And now it’s May.  And things are getting ugly.  Many hotels that I checked in January have increased by $75  a night since I last looked.  Steps had to be taken.  A room in Hong Kong had to be booked.  I HAD TO MAKE A DECISION.

I started by searching Expedia.  That didn’t last long, but it did give me a very good idea of the areas we would most prefer and the amounts we could expect to pay.  Given that hotel prices in Hong Kong are higher than many other places, I didn’t want to shell out Hong Kong money without getting something back for it, so a Hotwire or Priceline search was not going to work for us.  With one window open to Trip Advisor to research hotels as their names came up, I decided to use Rocketmiles.

What followed was, to my husband’s eyes, vacation planning torture that is probably outlawed by the Geneva Convention, although I was perfectly happy playing Fifty Shades of Vacation.

  • Insert search parameters into Rocketmiles.
  • Peruse results.
  • Choose hotel, click on hotel for more information.
  • Look up hotel on Trip Advisor to read reviews.
  • Consider extra amenities at hotel.  Breakfast? Use of a 3G phone? Size of room? Location?
  • Return to Rocketmiles.  Click on another hotel.
  • Repeat 3 – 6 several more times.
  • Make a list of hotel amenities and spend 45 minutes comparing mentally. Remember that one area is prone to flying and biting bugs, cross that hotel off list.
  • Choose hotel. Click on purchase. Rocketmiles site is down.
  • Attempt purchase again. Internet goes down.
  • Get internet back, go to main website for chosen hotel. Attempt reservation out of frustration. Hotel website goes down for maintenance.
  • Go back to Rocketmiles.  Repeat “Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease” as you input purchase information.
  •  Success.

I am now proud to say the Hong Kong portion of our 12/2015 trip is fully planned.  I am energized and charged-up and ready to go.  My husband is ready to drop from exhaustion.  That’s going to have to change pretty quick so we can make the rest of our reservations throughout Asia.

Time Spent on Actual Trip Planning for 12/2015 as of May 19: Six full hours, counting hotel research, multiple attempts to reserve, emailed questions to the hotel staff, and time spent making an itinerary for Hong Kong.  Oh, yes.  And the initial research for another airline flight.

But hey -we get an awesome vacation *and* I’m feeling quite a lovely sense of smug about managing the perfect place for our perfect price.  Lots of smug.  Smug is a huge part of the vacation planning experience.

So.  Yes. Smug.

featured image: “Hong Kong Is. From TST” by Kurosuke88 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –