Hooray! You’ve decided where you’re going on your affordable family trip. Now the fun begins. Researching your destination has multiple benefits, not the least of which is giving you more time to think about your trip. A really interesting study in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found that vacationers were happier than non-vacationers in the period before a trip, but not in the period after a trip.
Let’s ignore the second part of that sentence, shall we? Even if travel doesn’t boost our happiness immediately after a trip (and that’s not entirely surprising, given the amount of hassle that comes with returning for a trip), we are happier before a trip.
Doing research on your destination gives you a way to pregame the fun of your trip, in essence giving you more weeks of happiness. I think this is perfectly reasonable, especially since you’re the one doing all the work.
In any case, researching your destination gives you the joy of planning, but also pays off in a smoother, more cost-efficient trip. There are several aspects of the trip that your research will benefit.
Deciding how to get to your destination might be really simple or it could be complex. Many places have multiple airports and lots of ways to arrive. Digging deeper into this can save you both money and hassle. We saved a lot of money on our trip to Washington DC, by flying into one airport and out of another. Researching other ways to arrive, like train or automobile, might also pay off in savings of time or money. In addition, researching local transportation options, such as subways and buses, is really helpful. Local transport systems often have quirks. Knowing these in advance can save you money and hassle.
Deciding where to stay
Where you stay can make or break your trip. Do you want to be right in the middle of the tourist district? (Here’s my tip: you probably don’t.) How about a more residential neighborhood? Close to attractions? I like to stay near public transportation options to make it easier for us to get around. I typically Google “where to stay in (name of destination)”, and start reading about different neighborhoods. I can usually narrow down the best options for our family by reading two or three articles.
While I’m researching the city, I’ll read about the local cuisine to see what foods we don’t want to miss. In Barcelona, for example, I researched churro shops and made a list of the ones that appeared to be the best in the city, divided by neighborhood. Then, when we were wandering around and hungry for a snack, we’d head to a shop that I’d already identified as being a good option. I did the same with gelato shops in Italy and creperies in France. I also usually read up on the grocery store options in the city—which is how I discovered Picard in France.
For the above topics, I usually plan without input, but when it comes to experiences, I get the family involved. I ask (bug) my kids about what they want to see, sometimes watching travelogues with them to get a better idea of what’s in the area. I’ll compile a list of places that we want to visit and read up on them. I’ll decide the best, and most cost effective way to purchase tickets, and sometimes find out how to skip lines.
City passes are often a good way to save money on admission, but not always. Doing research ahead of time means I can figure this out. I can also figure out if buying tickets ahead of time will save us money and/or hassle.
Doing plenty of research, and doing it early, ensures that you can get the best prices and eliminates the chance that an attraction will sell out. It also gives you time to get really excited about the trip.
Research your destination early to maximize your enjoyment and have the smoothest trip possible.