planning

To Parents, I say : #DoYourHomework

To Parents, I say : #DoYourHomework
As parents, there's a question that we should be asking ourselves - Are we on the same page with our kids? What if they want to be something else than what we want them to be?A sponsored post, but something that will surely resonate with you, if you're a parent or planning to be one.

Let's go Positano

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“Sid, I am fed up with your procrastination! You keep putting things off and look at what's finally happened? I am going to cancel those days off that I had booked!”. With this, my wife stormed off, slamming the door shut behind her. I wanted to get up and yell at her. Tell her that I had been busy. Tell her that I always did the planning. Tell her that it was only human to forget. But I did nothing, except silently watch her storm out through the door. Deep down, I knew I was at fault, and that it was time to make amends. We had planned to take a special trip for our special 10th “relation-versary”. Though we’d only been married for five years, we’d been dating for five years prior to that, and the “relation-versary” was a special term that I’d coined to celebrate the day when she had finally said yes. Everything had gone smoothly up until this point. Even though April was a very busy month for her, my wife had managed to get a few days off. We’d budgeted for the trip and saved up for this occasion. Even my parents offered to look after our son, whilst we took some time off, to re-live our coupledom again. All I had to do was pick a destination, and plan the holiday. 

Image from Rentvillas.com

Italy had always been one of our dream destinations. Despite having spent almost seven years in London, we never had an opportunity to visit Italy. So I’d decided that Italy would be our destination. Of course with no access to unlimited funds, traversing all over Italy was not going to be an option. So after lots of online search (using Google of course; I’m a smart traveller after all), I had narrowed it down to a quaint coastal village in Italy, called Positano. There was another reason for this selection of mine. For those of you who read my posts, you might be familiar that Positano featured quite heavily in one of my novellas, and subconsciously I had fallen in love with the place. So you might even say that some part of the research was already done. And since my wife had loved the description of the place, I was sure the place would be a sure shot winner with her too. But here was the problem - caught in between a number of deadlines, I'd completely forgotten to book the holiday. It was only this morning, when she'd asked me about the plan, that I’d remembered that I hadn’t booked anything at all. I’d immediately set about looking for affordable air tickets and hotel bookings, neither of which I was able to find, since there was less than 3 weeks for  the outward travel dates that we were looking at.

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I was devastated. (Sounds shocking right? Especially since it was my fault that there were no tickets available ) But trust me, I was!

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I knew she’d been looking forward to this romantic getaway, especially since she’d been having a really tough time at work. As I desperately flicked through different tabs on the browser looking for a miracle, I noticed a video that had popped up via an advertisement. The snapshot of the video had a hand drawn airplane with a few passengers, an island, a ship, a camel and some other interesting objects . Though I had initially wanted to dismiss it as an advert for children,  something in the drawing caught my attention. And on closer observation, I discovered that the title of the video read Skyscanner - Born Honest- TV advert. Curious to know more, I clicked on the advert which had a voiceover by Ex-Doctor Who star Matt smith. Towards the end of the short, snappy advertisement,  a hand drawn button appeared and almost yelled out to me : "Lets go!”. (Check out the skyscanner TV advert on YouTube below)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lio0r5zDDFI

Having travelled quite a bit, I was surprised that I hadn't come across Skyscanner previously.  A quick but detailed search revealed that though a relatively young organisation, they had over 25 million monthly visitors. And not only did they partner with some of the top companies in the business to provide the best list of affordable flights, they also claimed to help get great hotel and car hire deals. "This must be a sign !" I thought as I entered the search details into their easy-to-navigate website. Within seconds I had hit the jackpot. So much so that I wanted to yell out “Eureka". Somehow Skyscanner had found not one, but multiple combinations of affordable tickets to Naples, which was the nearest airport to Positano. I made a note of the details and the cost and moved on to the next step, which transferred me to the website of the partner, that let me confirm the booking at the very same price that Skyscanner had shown me.

Flights

Content that the flights were sorted, I moved on to the next thing on my list - accommodation.

Screen grab from skyscanner.co.in

Since Positano is a small town, I was conscious that the number of hotels and rooms could potentially be lower in number.  After all, I hadn’t had much luck with some of the other more prominent websites. "Why should skyscanner succeed where others had failed?" I thought.  Once again, as soon as I had hit the enter button, my screen was populated with an amazing list of  hotels all fitting my search criteria. I had the options to sort them by price, distance, rating, popularity and many others factors. In a matter of minutes, I had secured a room in a 4-star hotel, with a beautiful view of the Amalfi coast. I breathed a sigh of relief. I finally had a good shot at redeeming myself.

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But my planning wasn’t over yet. One of the reasons I'd picked Postiano was for the drive along the “Strada Statale 163”, also known as the Amalfi Drive, one of the world’s most scenic routes. It was a driver's paradise and I completely intended to make full use of it. Of course, that meant we would need a car. Having been abroad for a while, I had bad experiences of missing crucial hidden clauses whilst hiring cars. But once again, Skyscanner came to the rescue. A quick search gave me a choice of amazing cars to choose from. I made a selection, entered a few details, and within minutes, I was the proud rental owner of a Skoda Fabia. Well,  at least for 5 days.

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Once all the three were confirmed, I decided to do the next set of planning. I collated all the  confirmation emails, created a spreadsheet with a quick list of items that we needed to pack and uploaded all of these online. Once these were sorted, I carefully unpacked the gift that I had intended to originally give her - an iPad mini. After setting it up, I quickly searched the App Store and downloaded a comprehensive Italy Travel guide app by Triposo Inc. After my “smart booking” miracle with Skyscanner, this app was all that I needed to complete my “smart travel” experience. The app provided, not just information about sightseeing, major attractions, weather and restaurants, but also contained a quick guide to what needed to be packed, a phrase book of useful Italian phrases and best of all, an offline map of Italy. All absolutely free. Using the app, I marked out a tentative itinerary and saved it on the iPad mini itself.

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I impatiently tap my fingers on the table looking at the clock. It’s nearing lunch time, and my wife should be home soon. As soon as I hear the door bell buzz, I rush to open it with a smile on my face. My wife greets me with a cold, stern look, one that slightly makes my insides tremble a little bit. She walks past me and puts her handbag down on the table. I continue to smile at her, which I secretly think, starts to anger her further. I look at her and say, “Guess what?” She glares at me again, and asks “What? Did you forget something else ? Maybe our anniversary date?” Though I’m slightly taken aback, I regain my cool demeanour and thrust a package into her hand. Surprised, she opens it up to reveal the new iPad mini that I got her. Quickly, she puts the “serious” mask back on, and asks “….and this is supposed to be in place of the holiday that I was counting on? Which by the way, you managed to screw up !” . “No!” I answer with a smile still plastered on my face. I power up the iPad, point to the wallpaper of Positano that adorns the lock screen and say, THIS is your real gift!” . As her face erupts into a beautiful smile, I silently thank SkyScanner for saving my skin.

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This post was written for the “Travel Smart with Skyscanner” contest in association with IndiBlogger.

To me, smart travel means being able to find good deals, even if it is at the last minute. Something that I successfully managed to do this time around, through www.skyscanner.co.in; And it wasn’t just for travel, but for accommodation and local transport too. Additionally, I also believe in harnessing the power of technology to travel smart. So having all the confirmation saved as a document that can be retrieved from anywhere in the world, and an app that can help plan my itinerary is a must.

As for Skyscanner, there are a couple of things that make it probably one of the best online travel comparison sites I’ve used. And trust me, I’ve used plenty.

a. The app uses the widest range of airlines and online travel agents that I've ever seen. No wonder, they get the best deals. b. It is extremely user friendly and very transparent. No hidden charges and absolutely free to use c. Seamless transfer to the partner’s site and the cost is exactly as shown with no surprises jumping out at you  d. Sky Scanner's best time to book tool : A very useful tool which shows you when you need to book to get the best deals. Quite handy for the smart traveller who is also an advance planner. Check out this cool tool here or download the brochure here e. The Price alert tool : You can subscribe to their pretty amazing price alert tool  which lets you know via email, every time the price of the flight you track, changes. Completely free and if you decide that it’s not for you, you can unsubscribe at any time. No questions asked. Check it out here f: The Skyscanner Airmail - This is their weekly email newsletter which brings you the best of everything in travel - deals, tips, inspiration, advice, quite literally, everything. And it's in an amazing format too. Click here to check it out

So what are you waiting for? Check out skyscanner now, and get the best deal for your next dream holiday. Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 12.59.28 am

Then & Now - Travel planning Parent style

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Most people who know us will agree when I say “We love travel!” Unfortunately, as is the case with every couple in a serious relationship and not oodles of cash at their disposal, most of our travels and visits to famous “world tourist spots” were far and few, and we ended up doing a lot of off-beat holidays. And that’s where we discovered the real beauty of Ma Nature. Right then, before everyone starts to wonder why my writing suddenly resembles a travel blog, or if I’ve gone a bit cuckoo in the head, let me make my intentions clear. I was merely reminiscing about how “exciting” things like holidays and vacations were, prior to having a 3rd little member (or 4th, or 5th) join your “holiday-planning”. So to put it simply, I was merely thinking about how planning a vacation or a holiday are miles apart depending on whether its just the two of you as a couple, or on if you have your lovely offspring(s) join you. So let me tell you a story….

Back Then – circa 2005

Going back to the time when we first started dating (was it still called dating then?), we were shuttling between different cities in India and the United Kingdom. So as you can imagine, we’ve had a fair bit of travel, both alone and together, since we were both based at different locations. Most of our holidays (or maybe I should say, “spur of the moment” breaks) were quirky, fun, free-style, come-what-may discoveries executed with a “let’s see how it goes” attitude. Let me make one point clear – neither of us are true adventurers in the complete sense of the word; we’re merely people who like to see new places, eat new food, be with each other a lot (yes, I know, sounds lame to some) and explore “some” unknowns.

And the planning involved back then was actually a piece of cake. We’d just fix a place or a location and Google some Wikipedia/Trip Advisor entries; not even bother reading most reviews, wouldn’t care about booking hotels, and absolutely wouldn’t fix an itinerary. And food – my wife’s a vegetarian (yep, they still exist! Just kidding, I love vegetarians…they leave more meat for us…ok, I digress. Let’s get back now); However instead of seeing that as a potential …let’s say…difficult life choice…(I’d get shot in the foot if I said disadvantage, but you know what I mean), we’d both try and embrace the local specialty…almost always. And luckily, most places we’ve been to, they’ve been happy to oblige and make a vegetarian equivalent where possible. So food was always an adventure in itself for us. This beautiful “let’s do something new and exciting for the holiday this time” phase for us as a couple lasted exactly until August 2011. That’s when we discovered Little Ri had “swum” his way into our lives.

The NOW

Since Little Ri was born in London, we did make a few trips down to India and one to Dubai to see family, friends et all. However I wouldn’t term them as vacations or holidays. They were more like, ok some of you are going to hate and judge me for this, say visiting a religious place (Atheists and other non-believers of the spiritual power from above – I love you guys (and girls), but I needed a strong social example). You kind of know what to expect and who you’ll see and meet, but it is often a social compulsion that is usually succinctly dressed up in the lines “You’ve GOT to do it!” Once again, I digress (I’ve got to stop doing that – bad Sid!). So as previously mentioned, since Little Ri entered our lives, we haven’t taken much in terms of a vacation. That is until now. I’m happy to inform all of you, that right now, in the middle of our holiday, at 1am in the morning, I’m sat up fine-tuning this post for you amazing readers (Reckon that explains a lot more about my lack of orderliness and time management than the vacation). Nevertheless, the point that I’m trying to drive home is “We finally managed to take a holiday, with our toddler – a real family holiday”.

If this trip proves to be a success (it’s going to take a few days to get the final verdict, but initial poll results look promising), then all that handwork would have paid off. “What…. hardwork? But it’s a vacation!” I hear you think. On the contrary, taking a holiday, vacation or even a short trip with a toddler, involves a lot of planning and yes, RESEARCH. If you’ve been lucky enough to have already taken a holiday with your young one(s), you’d know exactly what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, your turn will be here soon.

Designing, planning and executing a “family holiday” is filled with hours of man/woman-work. Gone are those days of “free-birding”, where you could literally take off to a new destination, and enjoy yourself come what-may. In my case, they’ve been replaced by the below mentioned thoughts/ questions/ dilemmas. Kindly note, there is no exhaustive list of questions or checklists. The below ones are just samples and snippets about the four major activities a usual holiday would entail –travel, clothing, accommodation and food

Travel:

Thoughts back then

Let’s train/bus/car it if we can. It’s going to be an adventure; book the cheapest flight available – who needs those frills, bells and whistles anyway; why waste money on an organized sight seeing tour – we can do the whole thing cheaper if we walk!

Thoughts now

What flight do I book – are they infant/kid friendly? Do they have baby/kids meals? Do they have in-flight entertainment? Let’s do an organized tour – do they take kids? Will the kids/baby like the mode of travel? Can the kids adjust to the long travel time?

Clothing

Thoughts back then

That’s it, 2 pairs of jeans, couple of t-shirts, a few undergarments – I’m good! Who cares about the weather – rain, snow or sunshine, I’ll just wear the same things

Thoughts now

How many diapers do I take? How many tops for the little one? How many nightdresses for the baby? What will the weather be? Should I pack an extra pair of shoes?

Accommodation:

Thoughts back then

Let’s crash at that bed & breakfast – it’s only a few bucks; Booking a room – oh come on, we’ll just stay with friends; Let’s camp; We’ll just sleep in the car; So what if we’ve got to drive/walk to those tourist spots – it’s only $10 a night for the place, and they have bunk beds.

Thoughts now:

Is the hotel kids-friendly? Do they have a nice swimming pool/play area for kids? Are they non-smoking? Do we have to travel a lot from the hotel/accommodation to the “kid-friendly” tourist spots? Do they provide a baby cot? Do they have lifts? Do they have an on-call doctor? (I could go on and on with this one)

Food:

Thoughts back then

I’m going to try this one, that description sounds great; I should definitely try some street food; who needs reservations – let’s walk in;

Thoughts now

Do they have baby/kids meals? Is the restaurant baby-friendly? Do the eateries have a baby chair? (Ok that’s not food, but it sure fits in); That street food looks nice, but maybe I should stick to something I know – after all, if one of us falls ill, the other will have to look after both the baby and the ill-fated one;

Once again, these are just a few points that I’ve noted down from my latest experience. To even try and put down a comprehensive list is a sin that I shall not attempt. And as you’ve probably noticed, the key phrase that you’re likely to frequently encounter when you have planned/will plan a family holiday with your little one(s) is “kid/baby-friendly”. That phrase, to simply put, is capable of turning you from a laid-back, casual, let’s-not-stress-over-too-much-planning kind of person into a meticulous, detail-oriented, have-planned-for-any-eventuality kind of person, who to be honest, is sometimes too tired from all this planning and thinking, to actually enjoy it fully.

So in a nutshell, yes, just like every other aspect of your life, even your holidays and the amount of planning that goes into that to make it successful, will change with the presence of your little one. And I admit, often planning a “family holiday”, can be considerably tiring enough to make you wonder if it is worth it. And sometimes, you might just want to do it, so that you can take a break, and a “family vacation” might be the only way to convince your better half. Whatever your reasons might be to put in the effort of planning for kid-friendly (see, there’s that phrase again) holiday, the twinkling in your little one’s eye and the smile on your partner’s face, will be enough reward and motivation to make you keep doing it again…. and again…and again.

NB: This post was originally written for Parentous, the parenting community. You can read the original here : Parentous