In the last post we had decided where we going in general and for about how long. I wanted to give that info to a travel agent and let them construct something wonderful and cheap and let me concentrate on all my petty life difficulties, job, investment management, exercising, sports, and spending money. I contacted an old friend whose wife is a part-time travel agent and while she was helpful with advice, I did not sense any desire to be our travel agent, which in hindsight I can understand. Looking at a Europe ski trip I did a couple years ago, I found the name of the local travel agent who put that together for a group of 20 people. He had done a pretty good job with hotel selections and transportation organization so I contacted him. He wanted a $100 just to talk!
I didn't understand that, so I decided to start looking for air fares and compare to on-line package deals. After using many different sites, I found that http://farecast.live.com/ was excellent. It gives you prices from several different websites including some of the biggies like Expedia and Priceline. It will also forecast (sometimes, if it feels like it) whether the prices will go up or down. There was also a feature on Priceline that made it easy to see how varying you departure dates for leaving and coming back affected prices. That helped immensely as well and made locking down our schedule to 23 days. I watched prices move lower and then about 5 months before our scheduled departure time, prices started creeping up about $20 per ticket, so I purchased at that time getting a San Francisco to London Heathrow RT ticket for $1064 each.
Now, we could start planning where to spend the time. I asked the teenage children to start researching where they wanted to go, what they wanted to do, and ideas of where to stay. I sent them links and talked with them. I "thought" they would really get into putting an itinerary together. And, I couldn't have been more wrong. After a couple months of nagging on my part and inaction on theirs, I enlisted the wife and we went to the local travel bookstore http://www.languagequest.com/. Even though their website does not seem to list travel books, they do have an extensive selection and a very knowledgeable staff who were eager to share their expertise and feedback from customers. We ended up with a Rick Steves for London, Rick Steves for Provence, Pauline Frommer for London, and Pauline Frommer for Paris. Also, walked out with a nifty %12.95 Berlitz French/English dictionary that came with an audio CD since our French consisted of my 17 year old's one year of French three years ago. Her retention seemed to consist of "wee" and "boinjer".
Now, armed, utterly confused, and overloaded with ideas, we got ready for the real fun part, though we didn't know it yet.