Brittany and I procrastinate. A lot. But, trust me, no matter if you procrastinate as much as we do, you can still plan a killer vacation by following a simple process!
The first step is to lock down dates & book airfare. Not gunna lie, it seems like planning family vacations is the hardest with everyone’s schedules. My advice is to never underestimate the time it’ll take to agree on travel dates LOL. When booking airfare, (my sister’s favorite tool is the Hopper app; mine is Skyscanner) we aim for the cheapest non-stop flights. (Side note: there aren’t any non-stop flights going from SFBA to Alaska, so I determined flights by departure and arrival times that were best suitable. Which also sucked, my options were limited, I had a three hour layover in Sea-Tac and landed at 2 am in Alaska).
Second, accommodations can be secured. Most of what we wanted to do and see was in downtown Anchorage so we looked closest to city’s center (side note: I originally wanted to stay in a B&B for a home-y, family experience, but most were booked up since it was the week of 4th of July. So, I expanded my search to hotels, and eventually reserved a vacation rental through TripAdvisor, although Airbnb seems to be most popular these days. I also use Homeaway, which is most similar to Airbnb, sometimes the cost is cheaper).
After these steps are complete, the actual planning can begin! We start by mapping out an itinerary. This important when you’re traveling with people who have different interests. Any tool can be used to jot thoughts down, but my sister and I use Google Sheets for easy access and sharing between the two of us, before sending it to the ‘rents. We included a number of activities and suggested days when each would work best. Some activities on the spreadsheet are bound to get kicked off and replaced by cooler things (we didn’t make it to a baseball game, dry dog sled, or various other tours).
Note: Traveling with family can be interesting (to say the least). I personally believe that an itinerary with gaps between long activities is best. This allows down-time to rest (and get some personal-fucken-space) for a brief period before you tackle the next endeavor! Admit it, travel is exhausting – even when it’s supposed to be vacation. Sit back, relax, and take a damn chill pill.
The actives we decided on did not disappoint!
Anchorage has a number of street markets on the weekends. Sunday morning we went to the market downtown and shopped around. There were loads of vendors selling what street faires do: dip seasoning packets, souvenir socks, parkas, backpacks, knife sets, kids toys, jewels and gems, canvas paintings, engarlened prints. I bought locally sourced Chaga mushroom, which is a “superfood,” high in antioxidants and a host of other vitamins and minerals. Fireweed is a popular type of flower in Alaska, I sipped fireweed lemonade and shared a salmon quesadilla with the fam. That afternoon we went to the Anchorage Museum. Brittany was most excited for the Smithsonian floor, which had loads of amazing artifacts from different Inuit tribes across the state. By the time dinner rolled around, we were on a tram, being pulled up the face of a mountaintop, to the Alyeska Seven Glaciers Restaurant. Almost as breathtaking as the view, is the delicious baked alyeska dessert, which they set on fire at your table.
Monday we woke early to get on a train to Whittier. They ask that you arrive an hour early at the train station, which was a fraction of the size of the one back home, with a small cafe and a good-sized souvenir shop. The train ride was 2.5 hours north, toward Prince William Sound, where we boarded a ship, for lunch and sightseeing. Yes, salmon chowder, with a side glimpse of orcas swimming on our left. We saw sea otters floating around the sound and floated beside glaciers to watch them capsize up close. Yet, I gotta say, my favorite part was watching the chef pull glacier ice out of the water with a giant fishing net. They took the chunk of glacier to the bar, broke it up, and served cocktails; I ordered a marg with ancient ice. When the train dropped us off back in Anchorage, we went to a downtown bar, Bernie’s Bungalow, for beer, pizza, tuna poke, and nachos.
Tuesday I made breakfast for the family in honor of my father’s birthday. We took a seaplane over glaciers and across tundra and plains. This, by far, was my most favorite activity, because I’ve never felt so small flying over mountains. I never felt so isolated, so in-the-middle-of-nowhere, so insignificant on a planet that is so extraordinary. Experiences like that, where you’re in a small jet plane that seats four, plus the pilot, landing on a freezing cold lake of melted glacial water, murky with glacial silt, to have a picnic miles from anything remotely close to civilization, that change your perspective of the world, really blow your mind. (Side note: if you’re prone to motion sickness, do not eat before / during the seaplane ride. I yakked as soon as we landed back in Anchorage). That afternoon, Brittany and I hiked O’Malley Peak, which I wrote a post on. The ‘rents went shopping while we were on the side of a mountain, and we all reconvened for supper at a nice Italian restaurant.
Wednesday was 4th of July and Anchorage hosts a parade in celebration every year. Two blocks into the parade, I found an information booth to ask where the alcohol booths were, to find out this truly was a family event and alcohol was not being sold on in the perimeter. Which was fine. I settled for a chocolate berry milkshake. After the parade ended, we took a bus tour around the town, stopping at significant places, and did the same on a guided walking tour. Later that night Brittany and I went back to Bernie’s Bungalow, which you can read more about here.
Thursday we packed up, said goodbye to our vacation rental, drove downtown to hit up a few souvenir shops on our way out, and headed for the airport…
jFaull’s Simple Steps to Planning Family Vacations:
1) Begin planning as soon as you can (even if that means procrastinating anyways)
2) Lock down travel dates everyone agrees upon
3) Book airfare based on your preferences (i.e. price, departure/arrival times, etc.)
4) Secure accommodations (i.e. hotel, hostel, B&B, vacation rentals etc.)
5) Discuss activity options
6) Discuss cuisine options
7) Finalize an iteriteray
8) Pack chill pills
9) Leave bar crawling for the last night
10) Have fun!