NEW YORK (Learnvest) -- From the moment you get on an airplane — where you’ve had to pay extra just for the ability to sit next to your kid — to the time you plunk down $5 for a tour guide app you download when you arrive, it seems the travel industry gets better every day at nickel-and-diming you.
Everyone from hotels to airlines to consumer product and food companies have “the most clever way!” to keep your kid safe, well-rested, well-fed, entertained and germ-free while you’re on vacation — for a small price.
While keeping kids entertained, safe and, ahem, tame, while traveling sounds great to us, spending money on every gizmo and gadget to do so doesn’t.
For our part, we are a family that loves to travel, and as the founder and editor of FamiliesGo!, a travel planning website for busy parents, I’ve found that some gizmos, gadgets and services are actually worth the price, either because we use them over and over again, or because they offer a level of convenience that really makes a difference in our stress levels.
Below are six items I think are worth shelling out for, as well as the specific situations when each comes in handy.
1. VIP Airport Services
What It Is: In a nutshell, VIP airport service is a way for families to get some first-class conveniences without having to shell out for a hefty first-class fare. This special, one-on-one airport service might look a tad different depending on who provides it, but some of the most valuable services include curbside luggage haul, short check-in and security lines, and access to a lounge area. All invaluable when traveling with tired or irritable kids.
Cost: Will vary depending on who provides the service (airlines, airports and private companies all have their own rendition of it). American Airlines’ five-star service starts at $250 for two adults and a child, on top of your economy ticket. To find a provider, check with the airline you’re flying, or the individual airport, to see if they offer the service. You can also ask around for any private companies your friends and colleagues may have used, or do a Google search for private options.
When It’s Worth It: The extra help and short lines are invaluable when you know you’ll be pressed for time (i.e. you have a tight connection), when you’re flying solo with wiggly kids who have the tendency to run around or when you have grandparents along who could use some extra assistance.
2. City Tourism Passes
What It Is: These ticket booklets let you buy admission to several of a city’s key museums, activities and attractions at once, at a discounted price. CityPASS’s New York City pass, for example, included admission to six or eight major attractions including the Empire State Building and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $89 per adult (kids passes, which are offered separately, are usually less to reflect lower admission prices). Purchased à la carte, these tickets would cost $166 total. Coupons for local shops, restaurants or public transportation might be thrown in, too.
Cost: It varies by city and package. CityPASS offers its packages in 11 locations (like Boston, Chicago and San Francisco) for prices ranging from $49 to $89. Their $279 Southern California pass also includes several theme parks. Check with the tourism bureau of the city you’re visiting, or their official web page, for other city pass options. (We talked more about ways to save on family travel here, including how some simple internet searches can save you big on kids’ entertainment options.)
When It’s Worth It: If you know you want to see or do at least half the items in the pack (which are available for preview on the site), you can save a bundle and have an action-packed vacation.