Every now and then in my life, a luck bomb explodes. Circumstances happen to come crashing together in a way that makes amazing opportunities drop into my lap. One of those resulted in my amazing solo trip to Europe in 1995, and another resulted in our family trip on the Allure of the Seas back in 2012. They don’t always involve travel, but when you’re a family of five, international travel can be prohibitively expensive, and sometimes a luck-bomb is what it takes to make it feasible. In this case, I had a very short window to decide whether to cash out or lock in a severance allowance that I’ve been accumulating over my 27+ years with the government that was being phased out, and couldn’t think of a more spectacular way of investing it than planning a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Europe.
I committed to cashing out the allowance not too long before my dad died. There’s nothing like losing a parent to instill a little “carpe diem” into your outlook. Some of the last afternoons we spent together, my dad and I chatted about places to go and see, and talked about some of our favourite trips. The older I get, the more I’m beginning to value travel over things. It’s been a few months since we’ve committed to the trip, and I’m still breathless with excitement when I think about how lucky we are to be able to show the boys more of the amazing world outside the paths we usually tread.
We chose London and Paris because as much as I loved cramming five countries and 12 cities into a four week solo trip in 1995, I’m not sure my crew is up for that level of nomadic intensity in a travel schedule on an international trip. I loved my time in Paris in 1995 so much that Beloved and I spent our honeymoon there in 1999, and revisiting one of our favourite places in the world seemed like a great way to travel and yet not be completely overwhelmed by everything being new and, for lack of a better word, “foreign.” Also, because Paris!
We chose London because it’s somewhere we’ve both always wanted to go. I have to admit, I wasn’t as keen on the London part of the trip until I started getting into researching what we could see and do, and now I’m not sure how we’ll ever cram everything in, and especially how we’ll ever leave. Platform 9 3/4 and the Tower Bridge and the Thames and fish and chips and Buckingham Palace and the Tube; from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere to Abbey Road to Aziraphale and Crowley feeding the ducks at St James Square, it seems like a lifetime of cultural touchstones are just waiting to be discovered.
In addition to the excitement of actual travel, I have to say that I am incredibly excited to be planning this trip. It’s like a hundred research projects to be managed, all wrapped up into one! From pricing flight options and route itineraries to comparing neighbourhoods; from AirBnBs to budget hotels; from Notre Dame to Paris Disney; there are so! many! things! to learn about. I have spreadsheets and lists and a stack of library books as long as my arm, and I am loving every minute of planning this trip. (Obsessive much?)
Admittedly, we are not the world’s most sophisticated travellers. The last time I actually purchased my own airline ticket was in 1999, for our honeymoon in Paris. And when I was planning my big European adventure in 1995, it was in a pre-internet world. I made my hotel reservations via fax machine! So, I thought sharing the planning process here might be a way to both pick your collective brains, and lay some groundwork for other newbie travellers too.
The biggest expenses will be flights and accommodations. Getting five people to London, and back from Paris, looks to cost us about $5,000, and I’ve been using Google Flights to track prices for a few months. We’re thinking of flying out of Ottawa into London, taking the Eurostar through the Chunell to Paris, and then flying home from Paris. We could drive to Montreal and increase our number of options, but at current prices we won’t actually save anything for the massive inconvenience.
I’m also debating between a daytime or an overnight flight. We can leave at 7 am local time and arrive in London at around 9 pm local time, so probably not arriving at our rental flat until nearly midnight. It won’t be too bad from a jet lag perspective, as it will feel like much earlier in the day due to the time change, but navigating a strange city in the dark with kids and suitcases does not seem appealing. What seems even less appealing, though, is the other option of flying out in the evening and cobbling together a few hours sleep on the plane, arriving early the next morning. There are some members of our family who are not at their best (cough cough) when they are tired.
So bloggy peeps, let’s talk about planning flights. Got any tips to share? Do you prefer the red-eye or a daytime flight? How do you find good deals on flights? Am I right to hope for a seat sale for high season travel, or should I just lock in our flights now? Am I crazy to look at Air Iceland flights because they have free wifi and cheaper fares, even though (okay, and because) there is a stop-over in Reykjavik and the flight is four hours longer than the non-stop from Ottawa?
Please share your best flight-planning tips!