Lorenzo has just turned 4, he is a globetrotter and had the chance of spending pretty a lot of time in the US. His mum, Francesca, is going to tell us a piece of their extraordinary adventures. Today, she is going to share some tips and tricks to plan a low budget trip in the US.
WHY CHOOSE THE US
The US are just stunning. An extraordinary country full of interesting spots for our little globetrotters. From the huge metropolis like New York and Chicago, to Florida’s pristine beaches, to the national parks like Yellostowne or the “artificial” but ever funny parks like the ones in Orlando, L.A. or San Diego… Everyone can find his/her own favorite location or city in the US. At any age…
TRAVELLING TO THE USA WITH CHILDREN. IS THAT REALLY POSSIBLE?
I would say that it is more than possible! Lorenzo has crossed the ocean for four times (the next one has already been scheduled!), and our trips have always been more than affordable… In this post we want to give some suggestions on how we could make it possible, spending just little but getting a high quality/value vacation.
FINDING A GOOD AIRFARE
The trip is long: 7 to 9 hours when you travel from Europe to the East Cost, 10 to 12 hours when you fly to the West Coast, depending on the arrival hub, the type of aircraft (some are faster, some slower), the departure city and the number of stops.
If you want to discover a good airfare, I warmly suggest subscribing to the airlines’ newsletter. Special offers are often available, especially to the main hubs such as New York, Boston, Miami and Los Angeles. Paying the full rate for three or more persons does not help the budget, so starting with a low cost fare is really important. Myself, I could enjoy some very low rates like: Venice (Italy) to Los Angeles (New Year’s Eve 2011) for as little as 580 euro with Air France, Venice to Miami (October 2012) for as little as 550 euro with Alitalia… The best bargains can be obtained when flying to New York. A 399 euro rate is a real blast!
When a good fare is found and booked, we still need to face a long-haul flight with a small child. It is not easy, but as we have already said in this post, the mission can be possible! A tablet with some new cartoons or games (and a full battery), some new toys/surprises, some candies or favorite snack can definitely help.
RENTING A CAR
Unless your destination is a big city like New York or San Francisco (with excellent transportations), renting a car is a must to enjoy the country’s nicest spots and travel to the next location.
We usually browse the internet to find the best bargains. Costs are pretty low and, with an extra fee, it is possible to upgrade to a SUV or a mini-SUV car. Huge cars are a must in the US, so this is a very good way to start your adventure (your little ones – especially boys – will love that!).
One more tip: if you stay more than 10 days, do not rent the car seat for your little ones… Buy it! In big stores such as Walmart, Target or Toys R us, which you can find almost everywhere, car seats are available for as little as 20/30 USD. They are not only cheap, but also very functional to be carried home. Travel bags are also included since Americans do travel a lot.
BOOKING A HOTEL
A huge variety of hotels and other lodgings is available throughout the US! Lodgings with kitchenette are definitely our favorite. These kinds of hotels/aparthotels offer “suites” fully equipped with kitchen. You should not imagine the “Presidential Suite” according to what we have in Italy or Europe in general: a suite is just a bigger family room which can accommodate two adults and several children, using the queen beds (which can accommodate two medium size people themselves) and a sofa bed. So no matter how many children you have, the final bill does not change! These kinds of hotels are called “long-stay residences” since they are supposed to offer a “home away from home” to businessmen and families. A suite for a family of 4 costs 60 USD and up (according to the location and room size). Bigger rooms or connecting rooms are often available, particularly suitable for larger families or groups. International hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton, Starwood feature specific brands in this sector and they allow collecting “points” for every stay through their fidelity programs. Points can also be converted into air miles of the major airlines’ fidelity programs. Staying in a property belonging to a renowned chain guarantees perfect cleanness and additional extra benefits like swimming pool, free hot breakfast, free parking, guest laundry and gym. We have chosen to travel with Marriott and we choose Marriott low budget branded properties 99% of times (price: between 60 to 100 USD per night, tax inclusive). As a result, we are now elite members with Marriott and we have some free nights to enjoy worldwide!
Luxury restaurants are very expensive in the US. Cheaper fast foods and restaurants are available though, and they usually feature a good menu for smaller guests. Our favorite are Denny’s, Applebee’s, Chili’s, Hard Rock Cafe. If you miss Italian pasta, Italian-style options are also available, like Olive Garden. Calories are higher than our typical Mediterranean food, that is why we do prefer having our own cooking facilities and do the shopping in American mega supermarkets which are open 24/7 and offer everything, also Barilla made-in-the-USA pasta! Any restaurant in the US will offer convenient baby seats, special menu and colors package that can be brought home.
The US are a shopping paradise, period. Not only for adults, but especially from children… The USD/Euro change rate will not affect prices too much. All children’s items are less expensive that in Italy. We have already mentioned the car seat question, but we should forget apparels, clothes, diapers, bath&body products. I could enjoy shopping for my little Lorenzo for a couple of different seasons. My favorite outlets are the ones of Gap, Osh Kosh, PS by Aeropostale and Gymboree. Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger offer often interesting bargains too. Discounted polo shirts can be found for as little as 8 USD. When you visit any mall, do not forget to ask or print online the guest coupon booklet. Sometimes they charge for that 5 USD or so, but extra savings are huge! Several malls give free coupon books when checking in using Fourthsquare. Free coupon brochures are also available at any hotel’s reception.
… let’s start discovering different US States and locations which are suitable for our little travelers!!
[text and photos by Francesca Dal Mas]