Infant Travel Thoughts Toddler Travel Travel Planning

On Children, Convenience, and Being Cheap

I’ve spent the last two podcasts talking about how I was going to write this post but it took this from Matt to finally kick my butt into serious gear.

Thanks to our latest major life change (family size increase of 33%), I’ve been thinking a lot about how to balance the following three things: children, convenience, and being cheap. I realize this is an oversimplification but that’s the way my brain best processes things. By being cheap I more mean “saving money” but saving money doesn’t start with the letter C, so…anyway.

Back when it was just the two of us, I was all about maximizing the travel experience. I was happy to take an extra connection if it meant another first class cabin or I’d book a longer layover if it meant a chance to try out a cabana. Ever since M was born, my mindset has slowly begin to change and with H in the mix now it’s just going to get more interesting.

M and her little brother - wait till they get on a plane together
M and her little brother – wait till they get on a plane together

Points with a Crew once wrote a post on the Traveler’s Triangle, positing that out of time, price, and location, for any given award ticket you usually can only maximize two of the three (to this day I still don’t get why that post didn’t gain more traction). At first, I thought children, convenience, and being cheap was like that – you can usually get two out of the three square. On further reflection, I actually don’t think these three things form a triangle – usually what’s best for your children is what’s most convenient and often that prevents you from getting things for cheap. It’s more like an acute angle…or something.

The bottom line is, kids, even the well behaved ones, are more or less completely unpredictable wildcards. That means when I am planning our family travel, I need to minimize all other possible wildcards that can be thrown into the equation. Every extra connection is a potential wildcard, every extra piece of luggage, flight times, or even gambling on grabbing an empty row. Obviously, travel disruptions are something you can’t account for, but you can minimize their potential hazard by doing things like scheduling a nonstop flight.

So I’ve started to come up with some general rules of thumb for myself until my kids are old enough to handle more. I of course reserve the right to break all of these rules to get into the Lufthansa First Class Terminal.

1) One layover maximum – stringing together two smooth flights with one child is pretty difficult. My guess is stringing together two smooth flights with two children is an even rarer occurrence (remember I’m dealing with an infant and a toddler). Three smooth flights with two children seems like a statistical impossibility. Luckily we can fly direct to both Europe and Asia now, which leads to my next rule.

2) No one night stays, unless being used to break up the journey – at this point, I think a one night stay is just crazy. By the time you finish loading everything into your hotel room (and we try to travel pretty light even post family expansion), it’s time to load it back again. I can see us doing this if we have to string two long flights together in a row, but if we’re already in our final country of destination, two nights per hotel minimum. Can’t mess around checking into the hotel across the street to accrue stays with toddlers in tow.

3) For now, traveling as a family, not the destination, is the priority – this is tough and I’ll probably get push back from my wife about this, rightfully so. Personally, I just want us to go somewhere, and I’d rather prioritize that (and, say, take a direct flight) than prioritize where we are going. My wife’s counterpoint likely will be that if it’s not a destination worth going to then what is the point of going through all the trouble in the first place? Which is a fair point – I’m not going to take my kids to the opera just to take them there (extreme example).

I bet M misses drinking in the First Class Terminal too
Preferably our one layover gets us into the FCT


4) Points “maximizing” will have to take a seat on the backburner for a little while – I’m no longer going to try to squeeze every cent of value out of my points. You have to understand, I kind of have a backwards philosophy when it comes to my points. Like, if I spend 62.5K to fly with a connection to Hungary I tell myself that’s more valuable than spending 62.5K to fly direct to London. Yes, that’s a stupid way to look at things, and I’ll need to stop doing that. It also means that if I can grab two saver seats and pay for one standard to keep the family together, I’ll do that (I fully believe in “splitting the team”, but that’s when the team is a bit older). It also means that I’ve been focusing more on cashback so we can buy coach flights to domestic destinations instead of focusing my game solely on premium international redemptions.

5) If I have to pay a change fee to make things work better for us, I’ll do it – this is kind of a weird one. But the question is, is it worth a couple hundred of dollars to have a less stressful flight? Three years ago I’d have said no way – now? I think it can definitely be worth it. A lot of times, a flight can set the tone for your entire trip, a rough outbound journey can set you back mentally on your vacation for days. With two kids, nobody can take a break since it’s almost always 1v1. So if at any point I think the itinerary we’ve strung together is too stressful, and paying a little bit of money can offset that, then that’s probably what I’m going to do.

Final Thoughts

As always, I recognize that we are blessed with two solid paying jobs and the ability to take these luxuries. Ultimately, what I’m saying is this. For our family, if we want to prioritize traveling with our children, we’re going to also have to prioritize convenience for the time being. That might mean not being able to emphasize being cheap for awhile. In the end, that’s something I’m happy to live with if it means I get the chance to broaden my kids’ horizons.

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts about how they balance cheapness and convenience once they have children in the mix. And of course, the biggest problem a lot of people might have with all of this is – why bother dragging your kids around the world in the first place? But more on that later.

This is crazy enough. Might as well make our travel more convenient
This is crazy enough. Might as well make our travel more convenient
Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less

11 thoughts on “On Children, Convenience, and Being Cheap

  1. As a grandma, not a mom of small kids, I don’t have the same needs as you do. But getting older can also mean not loving multiple plane changes. Two years ago, I had three flights and two train trips to get to the city where my grandson was going to be born. And was exhausted beyond the jet lag, for too long.

    This year, for his second birthday, I’ll have two plane trips and a door-to-door pickup at VCE. Multiple flights back, but an overnight stay in London will ease that.

    All that said: you have a BEAUTIFUL family and gorgeous (not doubt also brilliant daughter and son!)

  2. Limiting yourself to non-stop flights is nice when you live near a major airport, but it’s often an impossibility for those of us who live in the “middle.” I settled for a 4 segment itinerary to get us to Hong Kong in business class. We even checked bags, and they actually made it. My kids don’t care how many segments we take as long as there’s a movie to watch or a video game to play. Extra screen time is the tradeoff we make to take our kids where we want to go.

    1. Yeah, we’ll definitely open up our criteria as they get older, but extra screen time doesn’t buy a lot of good will before they hit a certain age!

  3. My philosophy is to save the globetrotting for down the road when the kids are older (right now only one toddler) and able to appreciate the experience. I’m fortunate that we have family within driving distance, and the priority for our vacation time is family time, so no flights for a while.

    1. Interesting – how would you define “appreciate”? Like M definitely had a ton of fun in Germany at 18 months but she definitely won’t remember a thing

  4. Congrats on the new baby! I totally know where you’re coming from. I think you hit the nail on the head with “traveling as a family, not the destination, is the priority”. Toward that end, I highly recommend looking into low level hotel redemptions within a few hours’ drive of wherever you live for the occasional weekend trip. The kids will love it wherever you go, you’ll see places that otherwise wouldn’t be on your radar, and it won’t wreck your points balance. And one/two-night trips by car are much easier to pack for than weeklong trips by plane.

  5. Congratulations on your baby boy! As a fellow father of an infant and toddler I appreciated your post. My wife and I came to the conclusion that the children are way to young to remember the iconic stuff like the Eiffel Tower or the Space Needle. Therefore, going far or overloading our itinerary is not the priority for us. Its being able to give them the travel experience while limiting the stress it’ll take to do so. This means flying out of and to the smaller airport that doesn’t require a lot of transfers (parking lot buses, long walks from plane to baggage claim, offsite car rentals vs onsite car rentals). It also means going within the state rather than going across the country or international. The cheap part of the planning is finding ways to insert using miles/points where I can and gain points/miles where I can and finally being okay with everything if there are no miles/points to use or earn.

    Great Post!

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