Upcoming Vacations

Our Europe trip is taking up most of my travel planning time. But we do have a few other vacations planned before that. In April, ¬†Justin, Jax, and I will be going to Hawaii for 5 nights to celebrate my sister in laws 18th birthday and for Justin to do some work for his mom’s business. (Justin does some computer work for them on the side.) The vacation falls over Jax’s birthday so we’re calling this his birthday vacation. We do a big vacation with each boy on their 6th or 7th birthday. (More on the past vacations to come!)

Then in June we’re all going to Hawaii for my sister in law’s high school graduation and for Justin to do more work at Cosco. We’ll be gone for 10 nights that time.

I’m looking forward to sharing more about these trips in the weeks to come. Justins family is moving here this summer so this will most likely be our last Hawaii trip for quite awhile. Hawaii has been a nice place to have in-laws. ūüôā We’re working on our lists of favorite places to eat and favorite places to visit while we’re there!

Then we have Europe in October. I am always working on planning our next vacation, especially since we travel on miles I need to make sure I have enough miles/points in the right spots for our vacations. We’re looking at possibly doing a road trip to Minnesota next summer (2016) and then looking even further ahead we’re looking at another big trip in Spring of 2017 to either Peru or India. At least for now those are at the top of our list!

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Traveling home from Europe

To read about how we’re getting to Europe go here. Now for traveling home, we had a bunch of Chase Ultimate Rewards points saved up for our trip to Europe. I transferred what we needed over to United miles. Reward seats open up at 11 months out from travel, so back in November I got ready to book our tickets. The United website is very easy to book award travel on. I was worried about finding 5 award seats on 1 flight so I was keeping an open mind and was willing to split our family up for the way home. I was able to find 5 award seats from Paris to Seattle, with layovers in Germany and Vancouver, BC. It was 40,000 miles per person and around $80 in taxes per person. Great right? So I was able to relax since our flight situation was all figured out and now I could focus on the rest of the vacation planning. But, and this is a big BUT, I looked up our flight times because I was working on some hotel reservations and I discovered that we were only ticketed for a flight from Vancouver, BC to Seattle. I had a total panic attack and then called United. Apparently they canceled the flights we were originally on so they weren’t able to ticket us. I guess when you book award travel you receive a confirmation of redemption and then you should receive the ticketing info in a separate email. I did not know this, so it didn’t even phase me when we only received 1 email from them. Well fast forward to February when I’m having a mini meltdown on the phone because we needed the lowest redemption category of 40,000 miles each and we needed 5 award seats. Which is why I book international flights 11 months in advance. Thankfully the lady was amazingly helpful and was able to find 5 award seats for 40,000 miles each flying Paris to San Francisco (12 hours long. Holy smokes. More on that at a later date) and then from there to Seattle. And she was able to do our seat assignments to get us all seated together. So in the end it worked out just fine. Possibly even to our benefit since we have 1 less layover. So I guess learn from my mistake and always double check your flight info. I am a total double checker on everything and yet totally trusted the system. We could have had a major problem if I hadn’t caught that. Can you imagine the 5 of us at the airport in Paris ready to fly home after an almost 3 week vacation only to not have a way home! There is no way we could afford the cost of tickets out of pocket and I’m sure we wouldn’t have been able to find flights with award seats on them…I’m so grateful that this worked out the way it did!

And just for fun, the cost of this flight (according to the United site) if paying cash is $4,020 each.

5 x $4020 = $20,100

we paid 5 x $80 = 400

So of course we would never pay $20,000 for one way airfare. I don’t know how anyone can afford that. We would have shopped around for a better price. But I always love to know the value of what I’m getting for next to nothing, only taxes.

A weekend in Port Angeles

 

 

Judah had a swim meet in Port Angeles this past weekend. He had events available to swim both days so we decided to make a weekend out of it. Unfortunately Justin wasn’t able to come because he’s coaching both younger boys baseball teams and they had tryouts and their draft. So it was just Judah, me, and my mom that went.

We left after school Friday afternoon and stopped in Poulsbo for some goodies from Sluys. And we called and ordered takeout from Poulsbo Woodfired Pizza to eat in the car. So good.

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We stayed at¬†Port Angeles Downtown Hotel (I think their website must be down so I can’t link it for you, but it’s easily googled!),¬†¬†we’ve stayed here several times before. We found it the first time when we were planning an anniversary weekend away and wanted to go to Victoria. The hotel prices in Victoria were so expensive but we found this place in Port Angeles and just rode the ferry across for a day trip to Victoria. We like it. It’s walking distance to the ferry and waterfront and it’s perfect for exploring the downtown shops and restaurants. And the price is right. This time we paid $55 per night for a room with 2 beds. It is a shared bathroom in the hallway but I’d rather pay $55 and share bathroom pay twice that for the other motels around town.

So I forgot to take a picture before we messed up the room, but here’s a peek at what the room setup looks like. It does have a sink and mirror in the corner you can’t see.

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I did notice that it was looking a little “worn” this time, for example the windowsill looked like this:

 

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But it is always super clean. And I am really¬†critical of cleanliness at hotels! Not much grosses me out more than a dirty hotel room! Sharing bathrooms doesn’t bother us, but I know not everyone is comfortable with it. I think it’s a great value for $55 a night!

Saturday morning we spent at the pool (Judah did great!) and we spent the afternoon wandering around the waterfront and downtown shops.

 

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For lunch/dinner we ate at New Day Cafe. It was really good! I had the veggie sandwich and homemade chips and it was amazing. I’d definitely go back again!

Sunday morning we lounged around the room and then had a snack at Bella Rosa Coffee shop. Judah and my mom both had crepes and I had a yogurt parfait. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool.

So for only $55 a night and some food money we had a pretty inexpensive weekend adventure!

 

Where we’re staying in Europe

We fly out of Boston in the evening and arrive in London around 10 a.m. the next day. We’re spending that night in London. Our plan is to stay at an EasyHotel, getting 2 rooms. Budget accommodations at it’s best I think!

The next morning we fly up to Edinburgh, Scotland.

I saw this place on VRBO and fell in love with it. I love the location, the price, the space. Pretty much everything about it! We’re spending around $150 a night on this place. Here’s a link to the house on VRBO.¬†We’re spending 4 nights there.

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Next we fly back down to London and we’re spending 5 nights there. This was by far the hardest place to decide on. London is expensive. So expensive. I decided on this place¬†and we’re paying close to $200 a night. More than I’d prefer to spend. But I think it’ll work out great. Justin has some points from his Barclay Arrival Plus¬†that we’ll redeem for credit to offset the cost of it. ¬†It is 3 bedrooms which is more space than we actually need but it will be nice to spread out a little bit! Plus I had a Airbnb credit for $25 so that helps a little. So after all that we’ll be paying about $150 per night which is more reasonable.

Next we’re off to Paris. Paris is also expensive. We’re staying at this place. It’s in the general area we were hoping to be in. We stayed in the Marais district for 1 night when we went last time and loved it. It’s very centrally located to everything we wanted to do. And at around $110 a night the price is right! I had a credit card that had cash back rewards so I cashed those in so 4 nights at $110 a night minus my $250 cash rewards we’ll be paying a little less than $200 for this place.

At the end of our trip we’re surprising the boys with a very special day. I’m not going to share about it on here yet because I don’t want them to find out! But we’ll spend our last 2 nights near the airport to have easier access to our surprise location! I haven’t booked these nights yet. I thought I had decided on this place. But then I looked into the Hilton. They have a swimming pool which is a huge draw. We’ll have to check out of our rental by noonish and then we’ll either have to carry our luggage around (which doesn’t sound like a good option!), find a place to check our luggage, or we’ll go check into our hotel. And I think by that point in our vacation and afternoon spent at a pool will be a great idea for us! Either way we’ll have to get 2 rooms. We’ll either pay for both rooms at the Comfort hotel or pay for 1 room out of pocket at the Hilton and use points for the other. Either way the price is the same. It just depends on if we want to use points on that.

So, theres the result of hours of research! I’m hoping our rentals turn out to be as great as I’m expecting! And the 3 hotel nights will mostly just be places to lay our heads at night! I’m excited to share with you all the after reviews from these places!

How I select accommodations

The travel world, especially hotels, generally are created for families of 4. Here in the US we are semi-experts in finding places like Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn’s, and Holiday Inn and Suites that will accommodate our family in 1 room. Unfortunately that is even more difficult in Europe.

We have rented houses/apartments through¬†VRBO before and have had great experiences. We prefer to have a kitchen when we travel, eating out as a family of 5 adds up very quickly and multiply that by 3 meals a day…it would take up our entire vacation budget! In general we eat 1 meal out a day when we travel and either pack picnics or eat in the room for the other 2 meals.

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We rented a house through VRBO in Sun River this summer, the boys were thrilled to have our own private hot tub!

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And we saved money by cooking at our house. Not much beats some bbq burgers on your back patio in Sun River after a long day of exploring! It definitely doesn’t always feel like a sacrifice to eat in!

Eating in Europe can be very expensive, especially when you add in all the yummy snacks you “have” to have like gelato and crepes. Yum! So I knew when we planned this trip that we would want access to a kitchen for the majority of our trip. Our plan this time is 1 meal out per location, so 1 meal in London, 1 in Scotland, and 1 in Paris. Plus we will have a snack out each day because we all need more of this in our life!

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We do have a few days where we won’t have access to a kitchen so we’ll probably do some grocery store picnic type meals or eat out. ¬†And of course if we have a long day out on adventures and everyone needs food, because we all know sometimes kids need food NOW, then we will definitely eat an extra meal out. Traveling with kids has taught me to be extra flexible in my planning!

I spend a lot of time researching our hotel/rental options before booking one. I had a coupon code for airbnb which I had never used before so I added that into my usual search options this time. ¬†( I have $25 off codes for airbnb if anyone wants one, it’s a referral link so I can e-mail it to you if anyone is planning on booking through them!) I like to use Expedia as a general guide to find out what hotels are in the area and what price range most are in, it also helps me to know which hotels will actually fit our family. I occasionally book through Expedia but I prefer to book through the hotels own website. We have reward programs set up through all the major chains and stays booked through 3rd party sites don’t earn points. When Justin travels for work he is always booked at Hilton chain hotels so we tend to accrue the most points through that chain. He also has gold status there from all the work travel so we get extra things like bottled water, free breakfast, room upgrades, etc. So Hilton is often my preferred chain to stay at if the price is good.¬†The Hilton chain includes Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn’s, and Hilton Garden Inn’s which often have rooms for a family of 5. For longer stays I always check VRBO, the price is often comparable to a hotel and with a kitchen it often ends up being overall cheaper for us since we’re not eating out. I also do some google searches because not all hotels are available on Expedia, mostly smaller mom and pop type places which are sometimes the best places!

And when I say a lot of time, I mean hours and hours of researching and reading reviews. I look at location and how far from the places we want to go to it is. Especially in Europe, when we won’t have a car, it’s important to see how far away from public transportation it is. The place in London we booked is actually a little further out than I had originally planned but it’s less than a 5 minute walk to a tube station which will take us right into the city. One of the closer houses I was looking at was only on a bus line and would have required changing buses to get into the city. I also look very critically through the pictures. Do they have a lot of breakable things out? It’s not worth it to me to worry the whole time about my boys breaking stuff, our time at the rental needs to be restful for all of us! Will the bed arrangement work for us? I found one that had bunk beds but no rail on the top bunk, my boys aren’t ready for that yet so it was ruled out. Reviews are so valuable. And number of reviews. That said, our rental in Scotland only had 1 review (it was a good one), but from the minute I saw it I fell in love with it and knew we had to stay there!

Tomorrow I’ll post the places I picked for us in Europe!

Getting to Europe

After our last trip to Europe without our boys we knew we had to go back with them. We had started talking about planning a trip for Spring 2016 and started to save up some air miles.

We had a bunch of Chase Ultimate rewards from signing up for Chase Sapphire Preferred cards¬†which we had both signed up for, ¬†Chase Freedom¬†(I had gotten in on a better sign up offer than what is currently available), and Chase Ink business card (which we also got in on a better sign up offer on). I have our monthly utility payments set up to auto pay onto the Sapphire card so we are constantly acruing points on that card, although it’s not a ton each month it does add up over time. So we had around 300,000 points that can be transferred to various airline partners (and hotels), one of which is United which we were planning on using.

BUT, one day I was reading one of my favorite travel blogs¬†and he shared about a new airline called WOW air. They were offering introductory rates on flights from Boston to London for $100 one way. That was way too good of a deal for me to pass up! So we moved our trip up to October of this year and booked 5 one way tickets from Boston to London, with a short layover in Iceland which I am overly excited about. Even if it is in the middle of the night, I’ll still be in Iceland!

One of the big negatives about WOW air is that they charge for everything. EVERYTHING! You’re only allowed one carry on for free and it has to be less than 11 pounds. We are not fans of ever paying to check luggage so this was painful for us, but for a $100 flight we shelled out a little extra for a total of 1 checked bag and 2 carry ons. For almost 3 weeks in Europe with 3 kids! I consider myself a pretty good packer but this will be a challenge. On the positive side one of my very favorite stores is in London, Boden. My plan is to save all my extra money and buy myself new clothes while we’re there! Sounds like a win-win to me!

Wow air is still offering some great rates for travel to Europe. Flights leave from the east coast but if you have air miles to use or can find a cheap flight to the east coast it still can be a great deal.

We still have to get flights from here to Boston, which I actually haven’t booked yet. And we used miles for our flight home, which I’ll share more about later.

I did a quick search to find how much Boston-London flights normally cost. According to Expedia the cheapest flight (on the date we’re flying) is on Delta for $1210.80 per person. They are still listing the Wow air flight which is now $381.21. Those are both one way flights. So…

5 people x $1210.80 = $6054

we paid 5 x $100 = $500

I like the savings!

Of course we would have shopped around for better prices if we were paying full price for a flight and could probably find a better deal. But I always love seeing how much money I saved!