Many families share the tradition of the annual family vacation. It’s a time to get away from the mundane goings on of everyday life and create long-lasting memories with loved ones. Over the years, children grow up and start their own families- but they always have the memories from their own childhood vacations to hold dear to.
Family vacations differ from individual trips and romantic getaways because the planning is much more intricate. You’re planning for a whole group, and for varying ages. The goal is to find a common ground where everyone can enjoy themselves together.
Choosing a Destination
You can base your trip around three things: an attraction, a geographical area or people. Perhaps your family wants to visit a specific theme park, or maybe grandparents who live out of state (see: How to Plan a Family Reunion). Or maybe you all just want to experience another culture for a week.
Depending on what your focus is, you may want to involve all members of the family in the planning process. If the kids are of an age to contribute ideas for the vacation destination, sit down for a family meeting and share ideas with each other. Discuss how each destination is different, and what each person wants out of the experience. While not all desires can be met, it’s good to make sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning to prevent disappointment.
If the family is at a loss for a destination, there is always the travel agent route. Agents can map out a custom vacation to suit everyone’s needs. The only downside to this option is that using a travel agent may hinder the adventure by taking the planning out of your hands.
How to Find Family Friendly Hotels
Once you’ve pinpointed your destination, it’s time to choose a hotel to accommodate your family. Going with an economic hotel will loosen funds which you can then spend on food and frivolity. On the flipside, going with a more inclusive or resort-style hotel will give you on-site options which may be a life saver on those days where your children are burnt out and cranky. It’s always nice to have dining options available that don’t require much planning. Another family friendly option is to use a timeshare. This can be an incredibly cost effective way to travel with children—timeshares often include kitchenettes and multiple bedrooms, feeling more like a home than a hotel.
Before leaving for your fabulous family vacation, create a tentative itinerary. Sure, you may not stick to it 100% (especially if travelling with small children), but it’s still a good idea to know what sites are must-sees! Create a backup list of things to do if you end up with extra time, and include this at the bottom of your itinerary.
Assign special excursions to specific days, and always schedule in some down time for small children. They need frequent snacks and naps!
*Include open/close times, admission prices, special instructions and public transportation information (if applicable) for each item on your list.
This particular aspect of planning a vacation is often overlooked. Many people put aside a chunk of money to pay for food, tickets, etc., but it is in your best interest to prepay for as much as possible! If you start early, you can piece your entire vacation together before you even set out.
Start by asking your hotel if you can pay in advance, as this will be the priciest portion of the vacation. Some hotels only allow payment up to one week before check-in, but at least inquire about putting down a deposit.
Research the city that you will be visiting and find out which restaurants are appealing to your family. If the restaurants have websites, look into purchasing gift cards online. Buying just one gift card each payday will ensure that your meals are covered when it comes time to feed your hungry vacationers!
If you’re planning on enjoying any excursions, such as theme parks or shows, buy those tickets in advance as well. It is fairly common to find deals when purchasing ahead of time, rather than at the door.
*Purchase an Entertainment Book, which is full of local coupons. They are available online. Every major city has one, and this could save you an immense amount of money while providing you with fun ideas for the family to choose from if you don’t know the area very well. Just make sure that whatever coupon you use isn’t specifically for locals, as some places will ask to see state ID as proof of residency.
Children, especially small children, make travelling rather tricky. As parents you know your child better than anyone, but travelling can change sleep patterns and eating times. You may not always be able to anticipate when a sleepy tantrum is coming on, because you’re not in your home environment.
Be sure to pack small water bottles and a variety of snacks each time you leave your hotel. Being one step ahead of hunger will allow you to enjoy more time exploring with your youngster. These especially come in handy when stuck in a car or waiting for a dinner reservation at a crowded restaurant.
Another trick is to bring brand new, never before seen toys along! The novelty of the new toy will bring a much needed distraction at certain points of the trip. Just be sure to always have a backup toy in case the first one gets lost. That would be a disaster!
Again, make sure you schedule down time. Vacations are very stimulating to the senses—things to see, new noises, different weather, etc. Children do well with a little quiet sometimes. If you’d still like to be out and about for most of the day, consider researching locations for mid-day picnics!
Although you’ve just read about all the things to plan, the key is to be flexible when you’re with your family. Dining reservations get lost, hotels are accidentally sold-out upon arrival, and children become ill. A stressed vacation is no vacation at all. Make the best of it, no matter what comes your way!