It is exponentially easier to plan a trip with kids to somewhere you've been before than it is to plot an adventure someplace new. I was forced to acknowledge this last spring as I struggled to map out my family's itinerary for a three-week, three-country European vacation.
Here are my top tips:
Buy the book: Even though the internet pulses with constantly updated information, it can overwhelm and delude people like me. After wasting hours down internet rabbit holes, I bought the Lonely Planet guides to Scotland and France, and significantly simplified my planning.
Don't be afraid to miss "don't miss" destinations: I had the best intentions of steering us toward the Isle of Skye, Scotland's famous crown jewel, but thanks to my procrastination, I had trouble finding lodging during the (apparently, very popular) dates we would be there. At first, I was crestfallen. But our alternate destination, the Isle of Arran, also known as "Scotland in Miniature," proved to be remarkably accessible and stunning. There, we discovered an island filled with cheerful locals; an impressive distillery; a brewery and charming cheese shop; a large mountain we hiked as a family; and bucolic views that still make my heart surge months later.
Splurge on a nice hotel your first night: We couldn't afford to fly the whole family first class, but we did splurge on a large room at the luxurious Balmoral Hotel at the intersection of Edinburgh's new and old towns. J.K. Rowling wrote the seventh book in the Harry Potter series here, but even more impressive was the elegant decor and Number One, the hotel restaurant where we ate the best meal of the entire trip. The kids loved the shortbread and bath toys awaiting them in our room.
Call the local tourism bureau: Logging onto Skype and calling both VisitScotland and the Tourist Office of Lauzerte, a small French village, was the most efficient way to get a list of family-friendly options. Upon learning of my kids' proclivity for climbing things and being outside, Michael at VisitScotland directed us to Trossachs National Park and the Isle of Arran, assuring me that there would be plenty of opportunities for walking hills and exploring tide pools. Delphine in Lauzerte assured me that children would love the prehistoric cave drawings at Pech Merle and informed me about nearby winery called Chateau Feely.
Pay luggage fees in advance on budget airlines: It's true that European budget airlines have mind-bogglingly low rates, such as the $39-per-person, one-way flight on Flybe that I booked from Birmingham, England to Toulouse, France. But that didn't include the baggage fees, which I realised applied to every piece of luggage, even carry-ons. Paying those fees in advance saved a significant amount of money. Always read the fine print, especially when dealing with budget operations.
Aim for balance:For part of our trip, we were on the go, seeing the sights in Edinburgh, driving to Loch Lomond and exploring the nearby national park - all while fitting in castle visits along the way. For other parts we stayed put, renting a house for four days on the Isle of Arran and settling into another house in France with family for a week and a half. Having the balance of activity and a slower-paced base camp kept our energy high.
Always ask locals where to eat: Despite the prevalence of apps with extensive restaurant reviews, our best meals always came from local suggestions.
Less is more: In everything. We each had the smallest suitcase on the market, generally marketed for children, which was guaranteed to fit in the overhead bins of most airplanes. This forced us to pack light. And did we ever keep it simple: a few changes of clothes, one sweater, a rain jacket, a bathing suit. Yes, we did a lot of laundry. We also all wore everything we brought. -The Washington Post.