How We Chose Our Summer Vacation

A friend recently asked how we go about deciding where to travel and how we plan our trips so I decided to document the process of how we actually ended up choosing our summer vacation this year. Back in January, I daydreamed on National Plan for Vacation Day and brainstormed possible locations for our summer vacation. Due to Clay’s current position, he can only take leave during a specific week in July so we didn’t have the luxury of hunting for deals   and choosing a date and location in our usual manner. When we received the dates for Clay’s leave back in February, we sat next to each other on the couch with our laptops and started pricing out some options.

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Deerfield Beach, Florida

We first checked vacation airline packages. In the past, we’ve had great success with bundling flights and hotels directly on airline websites. We used Delta Vacations for our trip to Scotland, American Vacations for our trip to the USVI, and Southwest Vacations last summer for an extremely last minute trip to south Florida (I’m currently working on that post – we literally booked the trip the day before we left because we had to wait for our HHG to arrive).

When looking at vacation packages, we focused our search on the Caribbean. We looked at resorts on a variety of islands but the more we researched, the more we realized that we just weren’t feeling the beach for our big summer trip this year. We also looked at some cruises but none of the dates worked and to be honest, a cruise vacation just doesn’t appeal to us right now. We decided that we wanted to go somewhere we’ve never been before and spend the bulk of our vacation exploring. We kept referring to one of our favorite family summer trips – our New England road trip with stops in Newport, Cape Cod, and Ogunquit. We explored, we relaxed, and we ate delicious food. That is pretty much our trifecta for a perfect vacation.

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Marginal Way, Ogunquit, Maine

Okay – so we knew that we didn’t want to go to the Caribbean, we didn’t want to go on a cruise, and we wanted to go somewhere we’ve never been before. We briefly looked into going to Alaska again because we only scraped the surface when we went seven years ago but we only have a week. When we go next, we’d really like to spend at least two weeks exploring America’s last frontier. We also looked at Wyoming, Montana, and British Columbia but nothing struck our chord for this summer. We also thought about going to Maine again and combining it with a trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island but we just weren’t getting really excited – which is surprising because we do really want to go to all these places!

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Ben Lomond, Scottish Highlands

Just Do It.

Frustrated that our search wasn’t turning up anything that we were super crazy excited about, I remember turning to Clay and saying, “You know what? I just would really love to take the kids to England this summer.” And he immediately responded, “Me too. Let’s do it!” Back when we were brainstorming, we initially ruled out Europe because we’re hoping to get stationed there and reasoned that it makes better financial sense to wait and travel throughout Europe if (if!) that happens. However, planning our lives around the if’s isn’t really how we want to live.

We immediately began researching flights and hotels and realized that a week in England would cost us less than a week at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean or a 4-day Disney Cruise with a balcony room. It was decided – for our trip this summer, we would be going to England! We spent the next few weeks researching flights and found that our cheapest option was to fly into Manchester Airport in Manchester, England and out of Charles de Gaulle Airport outside of Paris, France. And that is the story of how we incorporated Paris into our trip. We bought our airline tickets and then began researching various lodging options.

Rough Itinerary 

We didn’t finalize our lodging until last week. Up until then, we didn’t really know how we’d be spending our time after landing in Manchester and leaving from Paris. First – we made a list of our must-sees/dos. We determined that our non-negotiables are London, Bath, Stonehenge, and Paris. We are not approaching this trip as a once-in-a-lifetime trip – we know we will be back so we’re not going to put pressure on ourselves to see everything – especially with two young kids in tow. It will be their first international trip so we’re giving ourselves grace when it comes to seeing all the things!

Once we had our must-dos, we read hotel reviews, figured out how much we are willing to spend, and found some options that worked for us. Hotel rooms that sleep four are few and far between in Europe so a lot of people find Home Away and AirBnB more economical for families. We looked into that option but ended up choosing three different hotels for our trip. In order to save money, we pre-purchased all three reservations (i.e. no refunds). We saved about $500 by not choosing the higher-rates that allowed for a refund should we cancel our reservation. We’re comfortable doing this because we figure that if something happened that would force us to cancel our trip, it would be so catastrophic that eating the cost of our lodging would be the furthest thing from our mind.

So what’s our plan? We will fly into Manchester, England, rent a car, and drive down to Cotswolds, and stay in a little country estate hotel for three nights. During our time in the Cotswolds, we will explore the English Countryside and go to Bath, Stonehenge, and anywhere else our hearts desire. We will then drive to London, return our rental car, and spend two nights at a hotel near Paddington Station. After our time in London, we will take the Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) to Paris, stay at a hotel near the Eiffel Tower for two nights, and fly out of Charles De Gaulle the following morning. While we’re not huge planners when it comes to vacations (we prefer to see where each day takes us), we will be pre-purchasing tickets to Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, and the Chunnel because we are traveling during peak season and we’re not masochists.

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Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado

I’ve learned something over the years that I tend to repeat to myself as a mantra in many facets of life – if it were easy, everyone would do it. Yes, traveling on a budget requires time, effort, and a certain amount of sacrifice. Over the years, we have never regretted spending money on travel. At all. That being said, we do not have an unlimited vacation budget and have to get creative in order to make our trips happen. We’ve flown economy in middle seats, we’ve taken 3000 mile+ road trips, we’ve stayed in the smallest room a nice hotel has to offer, we’ve only eaten two meals per day, and we’ve chosen many free activities (hiking, swimming, exploring cities) in foreign lands over ones that require admission. There is nothing I love to do more in this world than exploring a place I’ve never been before. I absolutely cannot wait to experience England and France this summer with the people I love most in this world. To me – that is what life is about. To love and to explore.

Are you going anywhere this summer? How do you go about planning trips? Do you enjoy planning travel?

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22 thoughts on “How We Chose Our Summer Vacation

  1. Beth April 16, 2018 / 10:43 am

    How fun that you’re going to England!! That is so exciting! I liked reading your process of how you choose your vacation! We have family that live in another state than we do, so this is our year to go visit them. Every other year we try to do that and then opposite years we try to do something else.

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    • Karen April 16, 2018 / 1:42 pm

      We don’t live in the same state/part of country as our families either. We make an effort to make sure that all of our vacation time isn’t eaten up by visiting them. It can be hard!

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  2. Kimberly (@momgosomething) April 16, 2018 / 10:47 am

    I love that – To love and explore!
    So you’re going to England! That is where I want to go some day when we have enough funds. We can’t make just yet because of illness but we will one day.
    This year my husband wanted to go camping again and I wanted to throw a book at him. I put my foot down and said no. So we are traveling across the border to the US. We rented a cabin near the mountains somewhere. I honestly can’t remember what it’s called! Is that terrible. But it over looks mountains and a river and it’s secluded and gorgeous.
    And I love that you just do it – that is what we did. We just did it. Obviously we did a wee bit of research with cabins and local ammenities and such but basically, we did it!
    I hope you have a wonderful time!

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    • Karen April 16, 2018 / 1:41 pm

      Renting a cabin near the mountains sounds like an amazing vacation. If I had to choose between the beach and the mountains, I think I’d choose mountains.

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  3. Lecy | A Simpler Grace April 16, 2018 / 10:51 am

    I’ve always wanted to tour the English countryside! I love a good website where you can plan out a vacation. I haven’t used one in a long time, but they are so helpful!

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  4. kimberlymunoz April 16, 2018 / 11:24 am

    We have two big trips this Summer. Both include 15+ hour road trips. In June we are packing the boys up and headed to Disney World. In August we are headed out to Guntersville State Park for a wedding and some exploring and the visiting with family. We usually stay in the big ole state of TX so two big trips in one season will no doubt be interesting. One day we will get out of the country!

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    • Karen April 16, 2018 / 1:40 pm

      We love road trips and living in various states courtesy of Uncle Sam has given us ample opportunity for many 15+ hour road trips. Have a fantastic time on your trips! We were stationed in Texas and it always felt like such a chore to leave the state because it is so big. Haha.

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  5. Nat April 16, 2018 / 12:55 pm

    Great choice, the Cotswolds are lovely, where are you visiting in Cotswolds? I’m about 30 mins away closer to Oxford. Fingers crossed you’ll get some beautiful weather and have the perfect trip.

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    • Karen April 16, 2018 / 1:39 pm

      We will be staying near Cheltenham. We can’t wait to explore the Cotswolds! 🙂

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  6. Erica | Whimsical September blog April 16, 2018 / 4:16 pm

    I love this SO MUCH!! I echo SO many of your thoughts when it comes to traveling. What an absolute ball you guys will have. Thanks for sharing your thought process. I can relate to so much of it, which is so validating to me when I think I’m crazy for wanting to travel here, there, and everywhere. 🙂

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    • Karen April 16, 2018 / 6:53 pm

      I am happiest when traveling and exploring somewhere new…maybe thats why I really like moving around with the military so much? I wonder if I’ll ever want to settle down? What does that feel like? Haha. 🙂

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  7. Lauren Becker April 16, 2018 / 6:17 pm

    That’s wonderful you’re going to England – and Paris! I went to London about a year and a half ago, but that was a long time coming. It was fantastic though, and I’d love to go back – and explore more of Europe too.

    -Lauren
    http://www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    • Karen April 16, 2018 / 6:52 pm

      It will be my first time in both cities…I can’t wait!

      Like

  8. Bailey at Becoming Bailey April 16, 2018 / 6:42 pm

    Our big trip for this year is to visit Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We’re thankful to be stationed only 18 hours away, instead of the usual 30+ hours, so it’s actually do-able for a summer vacation this year!

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    • Karen April 16, 2018 / 6:52 pm

      That was on our list of possibilities! But when you factor in flying, renting a car, and lodging, it was just as expensive as flying from the east coast to Europe. Isn’t that crazy? We did a road trip of the southwest last year for Spring Break. If we wouldn’t have PCSed from Texas, our plan was to do the Grand Tetons this year. Have a fabulous trip! 🙂

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  9. Rachel G April 16, 2018 / 7:12 pm

    I really hope to take a vacation this year! Maybe over school break in October it’ll work out, but I haven’t narrowed things down to just one destination yet. I think a trip to England would be amazing! International travel especially requires a lot of planning and research, but I enjoy that part almost as much as the vacation itself!

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  10. Jen April 16, 2018 / 10:45 pm

    This is going to be such an amazing vacation for you all! No real vacation for us this summer, well unless you count another move haha. Hopefully at some point we will get to take a family trip.

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  11. Hannah April 17, 2018 / 8:15 am

    The UK sounds like a great trip destination! Safe travels!!!

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  12. passportsandpcss April 17, 2018 / 9:58 am

    Sounds like a great trip! Enjoy!

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  13. Charlotte April 17, 2018 / 11:27 pm

    Loved reading this and that you ended up deciding on England!! You’ll have a wonderful time with your family, I’m sure 🙂 I haven’t been to England in ages, but crazy that summer travel there ends up being less expensive than an all-inclusive to the Caribbean.

    Can’t wait to hear all about it!

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    • Karen April 18, 2018 / 6:40 am

      Thank you, Charlotte! 🙂

      Like

  14. Kait April 19, 2018 / 7:07 pm

    I love this so much (and happy I found your blog FB page finally!) Planning trips is my love language, so this post spoke to me in so many ways. I love trying to figure out where we can head off to next and your trip sounds amazing! I can’t wait to follow along 🙂

    Like

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