This is part one of four blogs discussing extending a package vacation to include independent family travel.
We have always been independent travellers and the thought of going on a package holiday never really crossed our minds. The idea of being in an exotic location and being stuck with a bunch of tourists in a cookie cutter resort was never that appealing. We would rather be out learning the local culture, exploring the local cuisine, and experiencing the activities of the area. But there we were, mulling over what our first trip with a child should be like, and we were seriously considering a package holiday.
The two weeks we had booked off work were only a few weeks away and the window of opportunity for Annika to fly for free (her 2nd birthday would be a couple weeks after our holiday) was fast approaching and we were trying to plan a holiday within a limited budget. We really wanted to get away to a tropical destination but we were not sure if we had the energy to follow our normal ‘just wing it’ approach with a child under 2. We both agreed that we needed to have some relaxation time, we were leading a busy working family life and some time to unwind sounded great. We had to include some exploration as well as we couldn’t dream of going all the way to another country and not getting an appreciation of the area and its people. Then I came up with an idea, why don’t we do a split holiday? Let’s see if we could get one of these hot 1 week deals but fly home a week later after we have done some independent travel?
Package holidays usually run in a one week cycle with the same flight time occurring every week during the holiday season. While most people do a one week package vacation, there is usually an option for a two week package as well. I made some calls and found out that while it is not common, we could do a one week holiday but catch the same flight one week later. Our trip was coming together, we would spend out first week in a resort unwinding and getting comfortable with traveling with a toddler, and the second week we would rent a car and discover the surrounding areas. We spent the next few days looking at all the travel deals we could find before finally choosing a great deal in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta Mexico.
Benefits of extending a package holiday to include independent travel
- No need to try and explore an area while using the resort as a base. When you are at the resort you can focus on what the resort has to offer and force yourself to relax and save the exploration to the second week.
- Kids can get immediate satisfaction to their build-up of excitement. Even though the resort may not end up being the highlight of the trip, staying at a resort the first week usually means the kids can hit the pool faster after leaving the plane.
- Introduces kids to the possibilities of slow paced independent travel.
- You can spend the first week deciding what to do on second week. I for one love reading guide books.
- These types of trips can be planned very quickly
Negatives of extending a package holiday to include independent travel
- This only works if you have more than 1 week for your holiday
- Some travel operators, in some areas, are not open to giving you this flexibility so you may have to call around.
- Many packages are only offered at certain times of the year so you may not be able to go to your desired location at the time you want.
- Look at hotel reviews closely to find the diamond in the rough. All hotels will have some bad reviews as people love to complain but if they get a fair share of recent positive reviews it should be fine. tripadvisor.com
- Look at all the details of the hotel to asses some hidden value. We chose a 3-star but it was affiliated with a 4-star hotel next door. We could swim in the same pool and eat in the same restaurants as the 4 star guests and our room, while older than at the other hotel, was spacious and very comfortable. We saved a lot of money compared to the people who chose the more expensive hotel.
- Do you want some escape from the resort? Find out what there is to see within a short taxi or bus ride or walking distance from your hotel. We chose a place not too far from the town of Puerto Vallarta as the town itself, and its sights interested us. We traded off babysitting duties and took solo trips into town plus a couple excursions as a whole family. Trips booked through the resort were too pricy for what you got and were not convenient for a toddler and their sleeping schedule.
This was the right choice of holiday for us at the time. We needed the time to unwind and to get comfortable with the idea of independent travel with kids. We will probably just do independent travel from the start next time, but that is because that is what we enjoy the most and we are now more comfortable with travelling with kids. I do recommend this type of trip to anyone who likes the idea of relaxing in a resort but also wants to have a more varied holiday and discover the area you are visiting. If you are able to have flexibility on dates and location there can be some excellent last minute specials to be had and often you do not pay much more for a package deal than you would for just the flights.
Part 2 in this series follows our itinerary of our holiday in Puerto Vallarta with Annika as a 2 year old. Puerto Vallarta with Kids – Exploring the town and Surrounding Area
Part 3 in this series, Cost Breakdown For Our Trip to Puerto Vallarta, looks in detail the budget of our trip.
Part 4 in this series will look at other similar destinations for this type of travel.