In light of the current situation and the travel restrictions, we’ve been focusing on local and domestic travel. Since we generally prefer to travel to overseas destinations where it’s warm and sunny, researching places to stay so close to home is a massive change for us. Maybe it’s the same for you? If so, keep on reading! We’re planning to take more trips in our own country and I want to share with you the things we consider when we decide where to go.
Overseas travel isn’t in the stars While our home country (The Netherlands) isn’t a large country by any standard, we’re always amazed by the sheer amount of things you can do with kids in The Netherlands. Probably, when you research your own country, province, state or region you’ll find that there’s a lot more to do and see than you initially thought! Even exploring close(r) to home you and your kids can have amazing adventures.
If budget is important to you, as it is to us, your budget largely decides where you can go and what you can do when you get there. Budget may limit the distance you can travel, your accommodation type and the activities you plan to do. But even if your budget is small, keep in mind that there’s a trip for every budget!
Figure out your maximum budget and go from there.
As with any trip, your domestic travel budget consists of costs for
- food & drinks
What portion of your budget you allocate to transportation, depends on your mode of transportation and how far away you want to travel. Traveling by plane is generally more expensive than traveling by bus, train or car, but this doesn’t apply to all destinations. When you’re making your budget for a road trip, don’t forget to include the parking costs! In some cities parking is very expensive, especially in the city center.
Because we prefer to travel to warm and sunny destinations, airfare generally takes up a large chunk of our travel budget. Now that we travel domestically, obviously that’s changed. The Netherlands is only about 300km across, so we can easily reach all destinations by car in half a day maximum. Fuel isn’t cheap, but for such short distances it’s less expensive than plane tickets (unless you can get a very cheap EasyJet flight). So when I decide where to go, the price of accommodation is my main focus.
Everybody has different wishes when it comes to accommodation. Do you want to be in a hotel, with a nice breakfast buffet or even all-inclusive? Do you prefer a cottage or a city apartment? Do you want to be able to cook for yourself? Do you have a large family and need an accommodation that sleeps five or more people? All your wishes affect your search parameters. Luckily, platforms like Booking.com make it easy for you to filter out what you don’t need. It’s an art to find the right balance between your budget and your wishes.
When we were traveling with our son as a toddler we didn’t mind having one room for the three of us. He was very flexible and a good sleeper. Of course we were very silent, but we could easily stay in the room while he slept. We always used to bring our son’s own travel bed, so we could simply book a double room and not worry about an additional bed. Now that he’s a bit older it’s easier to get him to sleep if we have at least one separate bedroom. So we prefer an apartment or holiday house.
Food & drinks
You can make this part of your budget as cheap or as expensive as you want. Since we’re talking domestic travel, if you get your own groceries and get an apartment or house with a kitchen your costs for food & drinks are similar to when you’re at home. Of course, if you prefer an all-inclusive stay the costs for all your meals, snacks and drinks are already included in your accommodation price. A middle ground would be to have some meals at home and some outside of the house.
To save some $$ we usually prefer to have breakfast ‘at home’ (even if we’re at a hotel that doesn’t include breakfast, we still just get some bread or joghurt to eat in our room before we head out) and cook our own dinner a few nights. So we generally prefer to stay in an apartment or house with a kitchen. We often also bring some sandwiches and snacks for lunch, and our own water bottles.
Depending on your situation the duration of your stay may or may not be a consideration for you. If it’s not an issue you might be able to get a better deal on accommodation if you book long-term. Usually Airbnb hosts give you discounts for stays of 7 days or more and even better deals if you stay a month or longer.
Our overseas vacations used to last at least 4 weeks, preferably longer. Obviously, if your destination is 12 hours away by plane, a short stay is generally uneconomical. Domestic travel by car makes it easier for us to take multiple short vacations, instead of one long one. This is also dictated by the fact that if we only travel 3-4 days a week, Mau doesn’t have to take any time off from work. Even in a country as small as The Netherlands you can easily travel for a few weeks at a time, but because it’s relatively small shorter stays are a good option for us right now. Of course, the same goes for larger countries where you stay in your own state.
Longer trips obviously allow for a larger search radius. If you know you’ll be somewhere for a while, you usually don’t mind if it takes you a bit longer to get there. So your travel time generally depends on your budget and the duration of your trip.
We’re choosing not the fly right now, but prefer to travel by car instead. Usually, this means it takes longer to get to our destination but since we’re staying relatively close to home, it’s not an issue. The Netherlands is so small that you can drive from one end to the other in less than 4 hours.
In all of our travels, we’ve found that there are no real ‘bad’ destinations (unless your hotel or apartment is in a really nasty neighborhood). There’s always something to do. Of course, some locations definitely have more to offer than others. Do your research! In the current situation theme parks, museums and other attractions might have limited capacity and require a reservation in advance. And a lot of activities are either closed or operate with strict rules. It pays to do your homework. We’ve found that creating a wish list for our domestic trips helped narrow down our search options. But I also keep an eye out for budget accommodations and good deals, regardless of where they are!
Sights & activities
Make a list of all your domestic travel wishes. Even though travel nearby seems a lot less exciting than traveling overseas, you might still be surprised at the fun things you can do and see closer to home. It can help narrow down your search if there’s a specific attraction you want to visit. There might be a national park that’s high on your wish list, a certain town you want to see or a museum or theme park your kids want to go to. Of course, it might take a bit of time to find affordable accommodation nearby. So set a few alarms on your favorite booking site for destinations that are of interest to you.
When creating a local or domestic travel wish list think of
- famous landmarks
- touristic activities
- touristic destinations
- theme parks
- national parks
- historic sites
Where our pre-covid bucket list contained mostly exotic destinations, we’ve now also made a wish list for our domestic trips. It includes a range of activities, from a trip to picturesque Giethoorn to visiting the comic book museum Storyworld in Groningen.
Last minute deals
If you have a relatively low budget and are flexible in your travel dates, last-minute deals can be a great choice. While it’s often said that you can get better deals if you book well ahead of time (and it’s fun to have something to look forward to), you can definitely find great and highly discounted accommodation and flight deals at the last minute. Especially in uncertain times with changing rules and regulations both airlines and accommodation owners are keen to fill any empty flights and rooms. Hotels generally have a 24-48 hour cancelation policy and a lot of bookings are canceled just before. Since they don’t want to keep rooms unused, they will cut the rates to fill them. This works especially well for short stays.
Make sure to sign up for newsletters from airlines and booking platforms and also keep an eye out for last-minute deals from discount platforms like Social Deal, Groupon and flight deals websites like Secret Flying.
Booking in advance
There have been studies about the best time to book your flights and generally, it’s said that anywhere from 4 months to 4 weeks before departure is the prime booking window. This is especially true if you want to travel during peak season or to a popular tourist destination. For hotels it’s a bit more tricky. Usually, prices are higher if you book well in advance so definitely don’t book more than two months in advance and make sure your reservation is refundable in case you find a better deal. Of course, in light of the current situation, you’d definitely want to make sure that you book something that’s completely refundable, even on short notice.
One tried and tested tactic (not by us as we’re not usually so well organized that we book far in advance) is to select the hotels that you like when you book your flight, keep an eye out for price changes over the course of the next few weeks, book refundable accommodation at a price that looks good and then look again about two weeks to one day before departure to see if you can find a better deal.
Although we’ve never managed to plan too far ahead so far, this is definitely something I want to look into when travel is ‘normal’ again. Again, flexibility is key.
By focusing on local and domestic travel we’re making things easier for ourselves. It’s too stressful to keep track of which countries are and aren’t accessible and what rules and regulations are in place… and to try to get your money back if it turns out you can’t travel. So we reduce stress by chose destinations that we can definitely travel to! That way we can save yourself hours of planning trips we aren’t actually able to take.
Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but we feel that in light of the current situation we should limit our travels. Social media accounts from friends that are traveling and friends that are working their butts of in healthcare couldn’t be more contrasting. Those travel pics definitely make us jealous and our son often says ‘I wish we could travel again’. We’re not sure about the wisest course of action but it looks like this situation might last longer than anyone originally thought. It’s a double-edged sword because the travel industry is suffering and a lot of countries rely on tourists for income. We might have to reconsider at some point but for now, we’re only taking trips close to home.