Family Travel Tips Part 2

It has been over a year since I shared some of my travel tips. Watching this CBC Marketplace episode about “Filthy Flights: What are the dirtiest airplane surfaces?” reaffirms my #4 Tip to use Sani-wipes

I don’t consider myself a germaphobe, but I don’t particularly want to risk getting sick before or after a family trip. In the hospital setting, we are constantly using hand sanitizers to prevent the spread of infection. I think the same should be done on airplanes.

Over the past several years, my wife and I have been directing more of our discretionary income towards family vacations now that our kids are at an age when traveling is easier and a lot more fun. These trips will be lifelong memories for them (I hope!). If not, then, at least for us then. 🙂

Our oldest son will be entering high school next year, therefore, taking our kids out of school will become less frequent than in the past. If your kids are in Kindergarten to Grade 8, then take advantage of taking them out of school to capture a better vacation deal. Trust me, they are not going to miss much at these grade levels. The week before Christmas holidays has become somewhat of a regular vacation week for us. Much cheaper and less crowded. Once Christmas holidays start, you will find prices dramatically increase – sometimes double the cost or more! The same thing applies to March Break.

Out of all the common major expenses for a typical physician family:

  • Home
  • Luxury cars
  • Private school tuition
  • Vacations

we chose to spend our money on vacations, rather than the other 3 expenses. Our kids go to public school, we drive Toyotas/Hondas and we have not been tempted to upgrade our house. As we get older, my wife and I notice we need less and less material things to make us happy.

As our net worth continues to increase, I have used a general 1% rule for vacations. 1% of net worth to be spent on vacations per year. Kind of arbitrary, but so far works for us.

NEXUS

Conversations with others about travel tips always begins with and ends with NEXUS.

Simply put, NEXUS is the BEST.

The amount of time we have saved from bypassing the security and customs lines at Pearson Airport or at the US/Canada border crossing for road trips has been invaluable. At $50 for an Adult NEXUS pass that lasts for 5 years, it is one of the best deals around. Kids are free too!

Airport Lounges

I never thought I would be one to use airport lounges.

I was completely wrong.

Unlike my kids, I don’t particular enjoy flying. Hence, I try to make it as pleasant and convenient as possible. NEXUS and airport lounges helps with this. I am sure business class seats would also make the experience more enjoyable, but I don’t want to spoil my kids that much!

Having a nice lounge to relax and eat before boarding your plane definitely beats waiting at the gate. I have found lounges especially useful on the return flight home, as there can be a large gap between the hotel/airbnb’s check-out time and your boarding time. Find a credit card that offers free Priority Pass visits, and you won’t regret it.

Credit Card Points

I would describe myself as a casual credit card hacker, kind of like my blogging. I don’t have an excel spreadsheet to keep track of churned credit cards, but I will sign up for credit cards when they have significant sign-up bonuses related to travel points.

In my case, I look for Aeroplan points or points that can be converted to Aeroplan points, such as Amex points. The other feature I look for is free access to airport lounges, whether they be for Priority Pass lounges, Maple Leaf lounges or Amex Centurion lounges. We fly a couple of times a year, therefore, I time my credit card sign-ups to coincide with our trips. Using your credit score for free flights and lounge passes is a win-win.

All of our expenses get strategically placed onto a few credit cards that maximize points or cash back. Over the past year, I have also been using the Paytm app to pay for our property taxes, utilities, and hydro bills. Paytm allows you to use your Mastercard to pay for these items without incurring a fee unlike with Plastiq.

You get to collect your credit card points and you also get to collect Paytm reward points for gift cards, such as to Tim Horton’s. Having the Paytm allows my household to essentially charge almost all of our family’s expenses onto credit cards, which means more points/cash back for us.

Medical Travel Insurance For Grandparents

As a kid, I never had the opportunity to experience a 3 generation family trip, but I have fortunately experienced it as a parent.

3 generation family trips are special, as there is a certain window of opportunity for these trips. You are at an age when you can afford it, your parents are still healthy to travel and your kids are at an age when they can travel and/or want to travel with you.

Out-of-country medical insurance can become costly for traveling grandparents. Most credit cards only offer insurance up to age 64. Some company pension plans offer insurance up to age 74. After 64 or 74, you have to pay out of pocket. Fortunately, there are a handful of Canadian credit cards that offer out-of-country medical insurance for age 65 and over.

My parents settled on the Scotiabank Passport Visa card that offers coverage for the first 10 days of a trip. This card also offers 6 Priority Pass lounge visits and 0% foreign conversion fee. Pretty decent card for traveling grandparents. Just make sure you read the fine details about the card’s insurance policy. Usually, you need to charge every vacation cost (airfare, hotel etc…) onto the credit card in order to qualify for the insurance.

Ontario Family Skiers

If you are not from Ontario and don’t ski/snowboard, then feel free to skip this.

As a kid, I was an avid skier who grew up skiing on Ontario skill hills. Skiing in Ontario is essentially 90% of the time waiting for the chairlifts and 10% of the time actually skiing.

My friends had always raved about skiing at Whistler, but I never had the chance to make the trip out West until now. I recall asking one of my friends “How long does it take it to ski down Whistler?”

“Umm….You don’t really do that until the end of the day” she replied.

“Huh?”

After going up the Blackcomb gondola for the first time, I then understood what she meant. I was completely blown away how high the elevation is.

It really is hard to imagine how large and beautiful Whistler/Blackcomb is until you have actually been there. A bit like visiting the Grand Canyon. I knew Whistler/Blackcomb would be good, but it blew away my expectations.

If I can summarise Whistler/Blackcomb in one sentence to an Ontario skier who has not been there, it would be:

One day of skiing at Whistler/Blackcomb is equal to a life-time worth of skiing in Ontario.

Keep in mind that it will be an EXPENSIVE family ski trip if you want to stay in Whistler Village, but it is definitely worth it. Purchase your tickets and book your rentals online to save a few bucks.

If possible, this would be a good time to combine a family ski trip with a medical conference in order to write off your airfare and accommodations through your medical professional corporation, which is what I did.

Happy Travels! Do you have any travel tips to share?

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Big Family Small World
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We’ve been traveling around the world full time with our four kids for nine months – This is our jam! (I was an Ontario ER doc for 13 years). But as I read your tips I realized that ours would be completely different. Just goes to show how many styles of travel there are and how many tidbits of wisdom there are to collect. Sitting at the breakfast table here in New Zealand (in the middle of a one month road trip), I polled the family: 1. Eli (7) – Pack light – easier to carry, pack, unpack, and keeps… Read more »

Dr. MB
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Dr. MB

Great advice! Have not tried any of them but have heard from many others who agree.

I only have one advice. Travel light. So.much.simpler.

Newark
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Newark

Great post! Where is your next trip?
I am intrigued by the travelling with grandparents. For people with chronic medical conditions, How much coverage is there with this credit card?