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.
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).
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.
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.