Name a few things in your life that you do without much planning. Grabbing lunch, walking the dog? Making a pit stop for an extra cup of coffee, buying that extra accessory you don’t really need? These all probably make the list. But what about family vacation planning? Would you jump into a trip with the family with little to no planning?
Of course you wouldn’t. (And if you would, we wish you all of the luck in the world, brave soul.)
Family vacation planning is all about making your life while traveling easier. From budgeting to booking, coordinating schedules, to finding the right activities for your children – once you’ve gotten the planning down, all that’s left to do is create incredible memories with your family! Let’s go over how (and why) family vacation planning is done.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY VACATION PLANNING
Before we dive into all of the why’s and how’s of family vacation planning, let’s clarify. When we say “family vacation planning,” we don’t simply mean “sitting down and booking your next trip, just to get it over with.”
Rather than looking at family trips as a once-yearly week-long price-comparing, website-surfing, kids-schedule-coordinating, travel booking free-for-all (no thank you!) – try to look at it in the same way you might view retiring (or even saving for college). With retirement, you’re certainly not going to save a lump sum one time so that you’re totally squared away. Nor will you wait until the very last few months before leaving your career for the golden years to decide what you might do during those golden years. And you most certainly wouldn’t leave your last day on the job with no thought put toward enjoying your future.
Why should family vacation planning be any different? Ensuring you’re able to take the trips your family desires is the name of the game. Taking steps to block out time and money needed (and each family member’s interests!) for traveling need not be daunting. You can knock it all out in small chunks. And when vacation time rolls around everything will be “All Systems Go!”
BUDGETING AND LOWER COSTS
We look at two main elements when it comes to the money part of planning ahead. First, you need to save. Second, you ought to be aware of how and when you’ll get the best deals as you’re doing your family vacation planning.
- Budgeting: Setting a (reasonable) budget for travel is your first step. Figure out how much money you can set aside each week (or month, or whatever time period works for you), and how long you’ll have to do that, in order to have the funds you need for your trip. Saving bit by bit over time will lessen the sting of holding back large chunks of cash that may be needed in your daily life.
- Be a savvy shopper: In addition to saving money for your trip, it’s important to keep your eyes peeled for deals, discounts, and vacation booking best practices. Think about it: Waiting until the last minute to book flights will have your eyes popping out of your head! Not only will booking your flights further in advance typically bring down the price, it’s helpful to know that most flights are even cheaper on certain days of the week (Tuesday for booking, and Tues/Weds/Sat for flying, for example). Same thing with rental cars! If you plan ahead and watch for specials (all companies have them from time to time), you’ll likely save a bundle compared to just scooping up whatever is available once you land in the airport at your destination.
SCHEDULES & TIMING
Family vacation planning has the added element of coordinating multiple schedules. Taking the time to look at your calendar – for this year, next year, or even the next five years! – gives you a better idea of when travel makes the most sense. Maybe your kids are in school and only have breaks during certain times of the year. Perhaps your job has you on the road 60% of the time and you must plan around that. Remember: Many excursions/tours/destinations are booked well in advance. They may not be available if you wait until the last minute to try to schedule them.
- Schedules: Pay close attention to your regular routine, and that of your family as well. If you know that summer is always jam packed full of sports, camp, summer school, work and volunteering, maybe a winter trip (think: Christmas/winter break) would be a better choice. When you’re already aware that the third quarter of each year is the busiest at work, making it hard to get away, you know you should plan around that. Putting these pieces of the scheduling puzzle together in advance takes stress out of choosing dates that work for everyone.
- Timing: Once you’ve got your availability in mind, it’s imperative to look at the availability of your desired activities at your destination. Take a look at Yellowstone, for example. There are only a few months of the year where their services aren’t ‘limited’ due to the season. Want to climb the Statue of Liberty stairs to see the view from her crown? If you’re going in the next few months but haven’t already booked that ticket, you’re out of luck – Crown Reserve tickets are already sold out through the beginning of November (even though it’s just now the beginning of August)! Researching these things in advance will help you successfully check off the boxes on your bucket list.
BE SURE TO CONSIDER DIFFERENT AGE GROUPS
Age 10 and Under
Generally speaking, the younger your kids are when beginning to travel, the better. They’ll be exposed to many different experiences and likely develop a fondness for exploring, adventure, learning, and travel in general. Waiting too long to travel with kids may result in disinterest (ie: if you don’t plant the seed early, your 16-year-old may be a little tougher to convince that seeing Machu Picchu would be life changing). Just be careful to temper the age with the trip – taking a 2-to-6-year-old somewhere rich with excursions and cultural experiences may be a bit of a waste of money. They won’t remember – or understand – quite a bit of it.
Once you move more into the school-age end of the under 10 crowd, start thinking about things that might be in line with their studies. This will make it more exciting to see these things in real life! Also, you’ll need to consider their attention span and physical abilities and safety. Some recommendations for these ages include Galapagos (for the wildlife) and Costa Rica (wildlife, educational experience, and adventure).
Tweens, Teens, and Young Adults
Family vacation planning with slightly older children can be incredibly exciting – the trip options are virtually endless! Working through these years (11-years-old to early 20s or so) brings about many changes, including:
- Increased physical ability and stamina, making more physical trips possible (hiking, biking, walking tours, water sports, etc.).
- Ability to – and interest in – learning new skills that are age appropriate. This may be things like snorkeling, diving, and rafting with the family.
- Older teens/young adults are more apt to be interested in adventurous activities that keep them engaged and entertained. Going on a safari in South Africa, for example, would be a great choice.
Once you’ve got your budget set, your interests nailed down, your plans booked for the best prices possible, and your schedules aligned, all that’s left to do is enjoy your family vacation and make memories that will last a lifetime!
What are some of your best family vacation planning tips? Share them below in the comments!