It is hard to believe that we are leaving on our family trip to Vietnam in just a few days. It seems like just yesterday that I started planning this adventure. However, I started planning this trip in July of 2016, just after our return from Croatia. For me, I love the challenge of planning a new adventure. I am a planner and thrive on ironing out the details. However, I recognize not everyone may enjoy this process as much as I do. Therefore, I am going to share with you the steps you may want to follow if you want to plan a trip to Vietnam with your family. I am also going to share with you different websites and applications that have made planning this trip easier.
Learn Vietnamese (One Year in Advance)
Learning Vietnamese is a lot easier than you think. According to George Millo Ayancan at Fluent in Three Months, the only thing hard about learning Vietnamese is the pronunciation. In his article, 9 Reasons Vietnamese is Easier Than You Think, he will inspire you to give this language a try.
Having spent a year and a half learning Vietnamese, I completely agree with him. However, I do not think I could become fluent in Vietnamese in three months. I think that with any language, you need at least a year of practice in order to absorb and familiarize yourself with any new language. I share some of my tips on teaching yourself Vietnamese in my article Can You Teach Yourself Vietnamese?
If you are like me and work full time while raising kids and your epic vacations are separated by a year while you accrue more vacation time, learning a new language while planning a trip gives you something to look forward to. In my article How Learning a New Language Can Set Your Theme for the New Year, I give you some creative ideas on how to turn your new language into a year long adventure in fluency.
I have had a blast learning Vietnamese in 2017. I have learned so much about the Vietnamese community in San Francisco. If you would like to read more, check out What Learning Vietnamese Can Teach You about San Francisco. So while you spend your year learning Vietnamese, why not supplement your studies by learning more about the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese community in your home town and Vietnamese culture and traditions. All of these lessons can be shared with your family so when you and your kids arrive in Vietnam, you are all more educated travelers.
Buy Plane Tickets (Six Months in Advance)
I am a stalker. I stalk CheapOair like a jilted lover when I am planning a trip. I am not a CheapOair affiliate, however, I am a huge fan. No matter how many other sites I look at, I continuously get the lowest prices and the best itineraries on CheapOair.
I do have a few tricks that have served me well over the years. I always look for tickets online on Mondays. Apparently, airlines release seats on Mondays. I find the best ticket prices for international travel are offered approximately six months prior to departure. I find the prices are always lower if I book right after a major holiday. I always book flights leaving or arriving on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays.
For Vietnam, I originally wanted to go during the summer. When you have kids, usually your main travel windows are summer vacation, Christmas break and spring break. My friends at JT Nails told me I would be insane to go to Vietnam in the summer, “Nóng quá!” (Too hot!) They convinced me to go during the holiday break at Christmastime. After stalking the flights, on July 13, 2017, I found tickets flying into Hanoi in the north and out of Ho Chi Minh City in the south for only $740 on Cheapoair. Our flight leaves at midnight the day after Christmas.
Organizing Your Itinerary (TripIt)
My favorite application for the do-it-yourself travel planner is TripIt. This application allows you to store all of your travel plans in one place and is available off line. It even stalks your emails and automatically adds travel plans when it finds emails relating to travel. When CheapOair sends me my ticket confirmation, TripIt is already setting up a new trip. You can also forward your emails to TripIt and it will add the plans to the itinerary. With a complicated trip like the one I planned to Vietnam with multiple cities, domestic flights and pre-booked accommodations, TripIt is key to keeping it all organized in one location. No need to search through your confirmation emails or find a wifi cafe to access them. TripIt has your itinerary available to access everything on your phone at any time.
Powered by RoutePerfect
Book Accommodations (Six Months in Advance)
Once I have the framework of the flights in place, I book our accommodations. For Vietnam, I had the flight booked so we arrive in Hanoi and, fourteen days later, we fly out of Ho Chi Minh City. Everything in the middle is a mystery. My favorite travel tool for booking accommodations is RoutePerfect. I am an affiliate, but I am also a satisfied customer.
I used RoutePerfect for the first time to book our trip to Croatia. You can check out our Croatian itinerary at Our Perfect Croatian Vacation Planned with the Help of RoutePerfect. Before I found RoutePerfect, I used to book accommodations through VRBO. I had to keep track of all the different bookings and carry extra money in various currencies for the required deposits or final down payments. Once, when we were in Costa Rica, I had $200 that I needed to pay for the next rental house stolen right out of the hotel safe. With RoutePerfect, everything is paid for in advance. All you need to carry is your pre-paid vouchers. If one of those is stolen, I just print out a new one from my email.
I use RoutePerfect to book our stay in Vietnam. Using the Manual Mode, I can add and subtract destinations at my leisure. I can adjust how many nights we stay in each location. I can swap out hotels, upgrade rooms, read travel reviews and see the locations for each hotel. I make sure that we are Halong Bay for New Year’s Day, in Hoi An for the Full Moon Festival and Ho Chi Minh City for my birthday. Once I am satisfied with all the selections, I book the entire trip. Through RoutePerfect, I am able to book a fourteen day vacation for a family of four for as little as $30 per person per day.
Domestic Travel (Four to Five Months in Advance)
Once our accommodations are booked, I return to CheapOAir to book the domestic travel. It is easy to book a multi-leg trip from Hanoi to Hoi An to Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City.
The one snag I run into is getting from Hanoi to Cat Ba, a large island on the southeast edge of Ha Long Bay. We want to spend two nights on this island so that we will have easy access to the beauty of Ha Long Bay. Then I find Good Morning Cat Ba, a company specializing in getting tourist to and from Cat Ba Island. I was able to book a transfer to the island from our hotel and a transfer from Cat Ba Island to Hanoi Airport. They provided me with a voucher once I sent them the payment via PayPal..
Both Vietnam and Cambodia require a visa for Americans. Although I am told we can get them at the airport, the number one piece of advice that I am given from those who have traveled to these countries is “get your visa in advance.” Now I will also share a tip I learned the hard way, if you are going to add Cambodia to your itinerary, add it one the end or the beginning. I decided that we would spend four days in Siem Reap in Cambodia exploring the temples of Angor Wat. I thought it would be more logical to follow a directional path and go to Siem Reap after Hoi An and before Ho Chi Minh City. However, I learned that since we are leaving Vietnam and re-entering Vietnam, this side trip to Cambodia would require me to get a multi-entry Visa for Vietnam. Unfortunately, a multi-entry Vietnam visa is almost twice as expensive as a single entry visa.
I go to the Vietnamese Consulate in San Francisco thinking it would be a cool experience to get a visa in person. Turns out the consulate is a small office in a nondescript building on Van Ness Avenue. After a short wait, I provide the woman at the window with our passports, photos, payment and a return envelope. A few days later, I receive our passports with the visas affixed inside them. Although there are on-line services that offer Vietnamese E-Visas, the website for the Vietnam Consulate warns against fraudulent websites. Whatever you decide, I would contact your local Vietnamese Consulate to assure that the visa you obtain is legit.
The visas for Cambodia were very easy to get online. You can follow a link to their online E-Visa application on the official website for the Cambodia Consulate. The only mistake I made was applying too early. The nice thing about applying online is that you do not need to send them your actual passport. You can upload photos of your passport and photos to the online application. Once the visa is complete, they email you a color copy of your visa. You just need to print out two copies and you are ready to go. I sent in my application three months in advance. They sent me an email that they only process visas two months in advance. One month later, they send me my visas without the need for me to re-apply or remind them.
Here is a breakdown of the costs for each step. Another benefit of planning your vacation a year in advance is that you have a whole year to pay it off. For approximately $580 a month, you can pay off the whole trip before you go.
- International Plane Tickets – $740 X 4 = $2,960
- Accommodations – $30 per person X 4 for 14 days = $1,680
- Domestic Plane Tickets – $123 per person X 4 X 3 flights = $1,476
- Cat Ba Transfer – $19 each way per person X 4 = $153
- Vietnamese Visas – $135 per person X 4 = $540
- Cambodian Visas – $36 per person X 4 = $144
- Total – $1,738 per person X 4 = $6,953
I hope you find this guide helpful. Be sure to follow our adventures in Vietnam as I travel with the family and put my newly learned Vietnamese to the test.
Life is an adventure, not a destination. With a little planning, a little saving and a little imagination, you can make your dreams of adventure come true.