We start with the budget. The year we went to Costa Rica, we were really planning on going to California. I was just playing around on Orbitz. The plane fare to Costa Rica was cheaper. This year we were supposed to visit friends in Germany. The Euro was going to kill us. I got a tip on the soccer field. We decided on Ireland instead. We still had the Euro, but it was a much cheaper trip because it was all nature which is free. I forgot to mention our trip to Colonial Williamsburg in Feb. a couple of years ago. We go everywhere off season. We were at Mesa Verde the day after it opened for the season. Sometimes we don't see everything that you would see during the summer, but we are always the only people there and that makes it GREAT!
I have the money saved before we go. I found that a dedicated ingdirect account that I add to every month keeps the money safe from being used for other things. I love to see my spring break travel money in that account in Feb. when I am buying the tickets. This way we come home with the photos and no debt to play catch up with. It enables us to say "let's charter the boat out to seal island" without worrying about the extra hundred dollars.
I trade notes with my like-minded friends. All of my best ideas are versions of trips I borrowed from them. We visit friends when we can and some day soon we will probably start trading apt. overseas.
I also look for locations where the dollar is going to go the farthest. That isn't many places these days, but it sometimes leads us places we wouldn't normally go, including the Erie Canal.
My kids don't like museums. Even though they say they want to go to Paris, I know that they would be awful there; tired and grumpy. They will really want to go someday, but not just because it is where their friends went. When I plan, I have to be very realistic about my family's needs. My husband is unhappy if he doesn't feel he's getting a deal and he really doesn't care about the food (give him a jar of peanut butter and he is good to go in any country). He also doesn't like the same experience twice. My kids like nature and adventure travel and they have a pathological fear of being seen as tourists. We try and focus on being travelers rather than tourists for their delicate sensibilities. I am all about the food and the weirder and more original the experience the better. We ate crickets in Oaxaca. I can't remember where the car is parked, but I remember what was on the sandwich I ate when I was 10 years old driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains. To compromise we shop at local markets. I love them and I love to haggle, and my husband thinks we are getting a bargain. We like quirky experiences. The Neon Museum in Vegas and the Erie Canal going over a road were two highlights. We limit the electronics. I prefer to get lodging without TV. We have been reading aloud to each other from "All Creatures Great and Small" since Costa Rica. We laugh and do voices and read the same passages over and over because we always lose our place and fall asleep too soon. When I am older and grayer they will be the fondest memories of my life. I am not an ogre and my kids are not perfect. I will occasionally splurge on a fancy hotel (usually some great promotional deal online) and we will have the beautiful lobby, pool and huge TV. Not having it all the time really makes it a bigger deal.
I hope that I am teaching my children about the value of a dollar as I teach them about the value of the experience. They know we make a conscious effort to save to get something that we really love. They also know that we are saving for many other things as well; college, retirement, causes we believe need our support and a rainy day. It is no fun missing pizza night, but would you rather have Chinese food in Brooklyn or China?
Let me know where we should go next.