After becoming a father for the first time a few weeks ago, you look back over your childhood and think how to take the hard-earned lessons from your parents and pass them on to the next generation.
That's why -- one of these days -- I'll be letting my daughter plan our family vacation.
Some background is in order.
When I was growing up, I begged my parents constantly to take vacations. Disney World. The Rockies. New York. China. Australia. The moon. We grew up in Arkansas, so all of these places seem infinitely more glamorous and exciting than our quaint house on a sleepy lake.
In fact, the more I learned about the world in school, the more places I wanted to go. This became quite a vicious, but exciting, cycle.
Imagine my surprise when, after nagging my parents again about where we could go, my dad responded, "Great. You plan it." Lesson One: Careful what you ask for, because you might just get it.
Bear in mind, this was in the Yellow Pages and Rand McNally Road Atlas age of travel planning. Long before the days of metasearch, and certainly before the days of Travelzoo.
My dad handed me that atlas, the phone book, a calculator and some scratch paper. What I'd learn next would shape my life forever.
The Orlo and Mary Stitt method of travel planning may not be for everyone, but it may end up saving you some work, teaching your kids valuable lessons and causing them to end up leading a life of rich experience and adventure. Oh, and maybe my daughter will end up working in the business, too!
Here's what I learned:
Research: Trip planning can become another type of useful homework for kids. In some ways, each element of a vacation resembles a different subject in school.
Transportation is like math: How many miles do we need to travel? Is the fastest way also an affordable one for several people? What time will we need to leave and arrive?
Finding somewhere to stay is like science, weighing the benefits of varying properties then determining if it will result in a great stay for many.
And picking out what to see and do on vacation is like art: there are so many journeys to take, which way should we go that will make a fun and well-rounded trip?
Geography: What better way to get a sense of how expansive the world is than when poring over the hundreds of thousands of miles of U.S. highways in an atlas or finding out that a flight from Fayetteville to Sydney can take up to 23 hours and typically requires two stops before even leaving the States. And what if one of those stops is in the opposite direction? It's these little details that add to up a larger understanding -- and makes sure you ace pop quizzes in history class.
Economics: You can't have it all. Life is all about tradeoffs and finding alternatives. Allowance doesn't grow on trees and neither do vacation funds. One of the biggest takeaways in working on a trip budget is a reminder of just how expensive some unseen costs are, like travel insurance and gas money.
And for more tangible things, look at how many alternatives there are. Yes, a nonstop flight is ideal, but it also comes with a bigger price tag. What is it worth? Should I fly nonstop if it means one less day at Disney? Or, do you take the time to drive four hours to Kansas City for a slightly cheaper flight? Think these pros and cons are tough to weigh now? Try being eight.
Let's be honest, Mickey's a great friend to see, but he's also an expensive one to have.
Communication and diplomacy: Want to get your kid out of his or her shell? Have him start calling up and shopping flights on 20 different itineraries from 10 different airlines. I think I even still have the TWA 800 number (1-800-221-2000) seared into my mind after what would become countless phone calls to airlines, checking prices and schedules.
And, I'll never forget completing my first solo negotiation in a Matamoros, Mexico, market for a set of must-have longhorns. Starting price? $45. Buying price? $16. Learning that I should have bought the longhorns at the end of the day, so I didn't have to carry them around all day? Priceless.
Michael Stitt is a Senior Vice President at Travelzoo, based in Chicago. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.