It’s a common question when you want the best international travel experience for your family. You’re comparing two different international travel outfitters and find they offer similar itineraries for the same number of days, but the price differs by thousands of dollars.
What’s going on? Many things can change the price of a family adventure. Some are easy to spot, like the quality of accommodations. Other things, like airport transfers and transit time, can be harder to notice.
We want every traveler to know their options and make informed decisions. Here’s what we recommend you keep in mind when reviewing a trip proposal.
- Hotel room sizes, amenities and star rating
- How much time do I spend traveling in-country?
- What kind of transportation am I taking: public or private?
- Are the activities family-oriented?
- Are my guides local or non-local?
- How many meals are included?
- Are airport transfers included?
- What activities are included in the price of my trip?
- Will the outfitter help me plan my pre-arrival or extension?
The quality of the accommodations directly influences the quality of your trip. Itineraries that use hotels with family friendly room configurations will ensure your kids are always with you. Always keep the star rating in mind – 3 and 4-star hotels generally offer the most family-oriented accommodations and amenities, such as pool facilities, air-conditioning, Wi-Fi and TVs.
Also, pay attention to the amount of hotel nights offered in comparison to the trip length. Some outfitters don’t officially begin the itinerary until the day of the first activity, meaning the hotel space needed the night before is not included in your cost. In these cases, you’re expected to either pay for that night out-of-pocket or arrive on an international flight the morning your itinerary begins.
Depending on the itinerary, you might spend most of your time driving from one location to another, not necessarily enjoying excursions, activities or local culture.
Here’s an example. We’ve seen a 9-day itinerary for a Costa Rica family trip that has a total transportation time of approximately 19 hours and 45 minutes. That’s over a waking day of your trip spent in transit. So much time on the move also means you’ll be rushed for meals, sleep and relaxation, not to mention cranky kids!
Expert outfitters optimize travel paths and maximize activity on your itinerary, decreasing your total transit time and allowing for a more relaxed pace. This means more time for activities, meals, rest and enjoying your destination, rather than seeing it from a window.
Private transportation, usually in a van, is a safe and reliable travel option in an international destination.
However, not all outfitters guarantee private transportation on their itineraries. One itinerary we viewed did not offer any whatsoever – travelers and their guides rely on bus systems to get around. That’s not to mention the extensive walks required in busy cities to keep costs down!
We strongly recommend outfitters that only use private transportation. When used, your family will get where you’re going quickly, safely and with an ease of mind that a foreign public transportation system can’t offer.
Your family’s specific interests and activity level will determine what sort of itinerary you’re looking for. A group of young kids and grandparents might enjoy a nature-exploration-focused Panamanian adventure more than they would enjoy a rugged week of hiking in Peru.
Regardless, the best activities will help your family develop a personal connection with your destination. An itinerary that lets you meet local children and enjoy a cultural exchange will enrich your travels more than countless shrine and temple visits can. We’ve found from experience that kids love being a part of the community!
The quality of a guide can vary dramatically between travel outfitters. Some hire from outside of the travel destination. These guides don’t speak the local language and only have a broad general knowledge of the destination they’re working in.
That’s why local guides with an expertise in family travel dynamics are ideal. They’re experts in their destination, speak the language and know how to set the pace of trip to keep kids of all ages engaged and learning.
When reviewing an itinerary, keep in mind how many guides are included per traveler. Two guides for a group of eight or more people will provide you with the adequate focus and support your family needs when traveling internationally.
The number of meals included on a trip will determine how much extra cash you need to bring on your travels. Itineraries usually specify what meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) are included on each day. Outfitters that schedule regular group meals do so with a few benefits in mind:
- Reduced sit-down times. Since the outfitter plans restaurant visits and handles the check in advance, you’ll spend less time sitting around.
- Fewer antsy kids.
- More time for activities. No need to wait around to pay, you’re already on to your next activity!
Outfitters who operate this way will usually keep one or two nights unstructured so you can experience local cuisine at your leisure.
When outfitters include half or fewer meals, it means you’ll pay hundreds of dollars that weren’t included in the price of the itinerary just to eat. It also means you’ll have to test your luck with restaurants that haven’t been vetted by the outfitter – a risky choice when picky eaters are involved.
After landing in-country, a private transfer to your hotel from the airport makes for an easy transition into your destination. Outfitters generally offer this option as a courtesy, though the fine print might include some stipulations.
Some outfitters don’t guarantee private transportation from the airport. If you run into any complications after disembarking, you have a limited window of time to locate your travel representative. Otherwise, they will leave and recommend you take a public bus or taxi to the hotel. And when the end of the itinerary comes around, you might be expected to find your own way to the airport.
While some outfitters include every activity on the itinerary in the cost of the trip, this isn’t the case everywhere. Some will mark certain activities as optional, meaning you can opt in at your own expense. Usually, these must be booked in advance, resulting in extra expenses tacked on to the original price of the trip.
Travel opportunities broaden when a company works with you to plan a pre-arrival or extension. Itineraries with pre-built extensions will include hotels, activities and transportation, so your family can quickly and easily get the most value of out of your plane ticket.
Some outfitters don’t lift a finger until your itinerary officially begins. They will expect you to figure out the logistics of a pre-arrival or extension, including hotels, airports, activities and transportation.
This is a lot of information to keep in mind! Here are the main points to remember when comparing family travel outfitters:
- When viewing an itinerary’s price tag, take into consideration what the outfitter might exclude (meals, transportation, optional activities and hotel nights) that could drive down the cost of the trip.
- All-inclusive service for meals, transportation, activities and hotels will streamline your international travels, which is especially important when a family group is involved.
- Local guides with family travel experience will enrich and personalize your in-country experience in ways that nonlocal guides can’t.
- Outfitters that assist with pre-arrival or extension planning will help you quickly and easily get the most value for your plane ticket.