- sidestep.com - This is a great travel aggregator that pulls in information from several different sources. I primarily use it for looking up the best/cheapest airfares. One down side is you cannot input "child" as an option when doing the search. (Many times, children get lower fares than adults.) Also, sign up for their free weekly newsletter. This is a great way to find out about specific deals.
- shermanstravel.com - I don't so much use this website, but I love getting their weekly email of the top 25 travel deals. This is also a great way to find out about specific trips and can be a starting off point for your travel planning.
Another thing to consider, is what will work best for your family. For example, we are traveling to Sweden in August - (I found a great deal!) Through my research on sidestep.com, I determined that August was a great time to travel to Stockholm (who knew?) Brad and I decided that instead of flying from our hometown in Central Illinois (which would be luxuriously convenient), we opted for flying direct from Chicago. There are two reasons for this decision; it's cheaper, but more importantly, we are taking our 4 year old twin sons with us and feel a direct flight will be easiest on them, and therefore, on us as well. We also chose an airline that caters to families, SAS. When taking an 8 - 9 hour flight with 4 year old boys, it's important to have things available to keep them happy. SAS provides a seat-back screen at every seat (even coach!), video games and child friendly meals. They also seem to have decent vegetarian options - but I'll have to report back on that after the trip!
For hotel options, I feel the best way to go is a bundled trip that includes airfare, hotel and if applicable, ground transportation. We've done this before, but for our upcoming trip to Sweden, I wanted to make sure we had a hotel that catered to families and was conveniently located. After checking Frommers.com (which is another valuable resource) and googling hotels in Stockholm, I found a great, reasonably priced hotel that was family friendly. In fact, they have a children's play area within the hotel and each child receives a surprise gift when you check in. By going directly to the hotel's website, joining their frequent guest program, and using the early saver rate, I feel I received a great price for our 9 night stay. (Again, I'll provide a full report on the room once we return.)
In summary, with a little online checking, you can find great deals that fit your needs. You don't have to have a travel agent or join a tour group. Independent travel is easy, affordable and provides a lot of options. Go plan a trip!