You know you need a vacation, but the hardest part is deciding where to go. Trying to fit in everyone’s idea of vacation can be nerve-wracking. We just wrapped up planning our main trips for the next 12 months. Here are some steps we go through when coming up with our destinations.
1. First, consider the time of year:
Fall is a great time to visit the northern states with their beautiful fall colors and crisp autumn air. Early fall and late summer is still a great time to go to the lakeshore. The water is still warm from summer and most of the crowds are gone with kids back in school.
Winter is a great time to enjoy snow sports like skiing, snowboarding and the like. On the other hand, if there’s snow where you live, it’s nice to hit the southern states for a break from frigid temperatures. If this is the case, take your trip no sooner than mid February or you could end up still needing jackets. Mexico and the Caribbean offer more options for travel dates while ensuring warm weather.
Spring is crowded everywhere with kids out for spring break. The most crowds seem to be at the beaches, especially with families of teens. Spring is a great time to visit the central states and coastal areas. There is a chance of getting rained out occasionally, but check weather.com for averages to make your choices. It’s also a great time to do the education-vacations visiting places the children may have learned about in school (going there may actually help increase their test scores for finals) like Washington DC or the Grand Canyon.
Summer is the best time to visit the northern states and lakeshores. Southern states can be stiflingly hot, and the beach is not always a reprieve.
You’ll also want to check the school calendar along with any events, tests, or performances that can’t be missed here at home.
Now that you’ve chosen your season, we’re on to step 2.
2. Decide the style of vacation you want.
Ask the children what they would like do in the general region you’ve chosen. Think about how you can blend everyone’s ideas together. You could do an adventure and education vacation by going to the Grand Canyon and white-water rafting, for example. Keep the expectations in check by limiting the choices, or coming up with ideas and letting them choose from your selections. You know your family and what will work best.
3. Map out your itinerary.
If there are several places in your chosen area, this is how you’ll know if you can get one home base and day trip from there, or if you’ll need a few places to stay. Do this with an actual map so you can judge distances. Try to get at least one of each child’s list on the trip, not necessarily each day. One way to do this is to give each child a day and let that child pre-choose the main events of the day. Make sure the kids understand that the itinerary is flexible and mom & dad get to veto. Also make sure that the child works with the parent to come up with the plan BEFORE the trip so there are no surprises. Another option is to have each child submit a list to the parents of things they’d like to do. The parent then can decide the itinerary from there. (if you have very young children, some requests will not be doable, so this option is best with young kids.) For example, we asked our son what things he’d like to do in San Diego. He said, the zoo and Disneyland. Very easy to accommodate. When he asked to do a dinosaur dig for velociraptors in Mongolia, I said, ‘that’s a little far for this trip’. Ultimately, the parents should decide what things get done in what order for maximum lodging efficiency.
4. Speaking of lodging, now it’s time to reserve your hotel room, campsite, or friend/family’s guest room.
The sooner you get this booked, the better. It’s rarely cheaper to wait till the last minute here, unlike with airline flights. Call your travel agent, or book online with us to enjoy our 110% Best Rate Guarantee on hotels. For campsites, check KOA.com to find a campground that suits you. You can search by location and by camping style – tent, RV, cabins, or unique properties like a caboose! KOA properties are our top pick for families because most have clean restrooms and showers on-site. Another lodging option is HomeAway.com for apartment and house rentals. They rent by the week, not by the night, but sometimes it’s fun to pretend you live there!
5. Next book your flights if you’re flying.
Also think about whether you’ll need a rental car, and if so, book that, too. I know people who rent a minivan in their hometown for a family road trip to save putting miles on their own car. We tend to fly because so far, we mostly travel too far to drive. But unless our entire trip is in an urban downtown destination like Chicago or NYC, we rent a car to get around while we’re there.
6. If any of your itinerary items need admission tickets or reservations, make these ahead of time, too.
Shop around for discounts online. It’s rarely cheaper to get them directly from the attraction, however… check their websites when comparison shopping, anyway. There are always exceptions to the rule. It’s also good to poll your friends on Facebook and Twitter to find out about sightseeing deals. Think about memberships you have that could get you discounts. For example, if you have a zoo or aquarium membership (with reciprocal admission) you may get free admission to the zoo at your destination. Check the AZA website for details. If you have AAA membership, you may get discounts on airfare, hotels or car rental, theme parks, etc.
By now you should have a good handle on planning an awesome family vacation that pleases everyone, without blowing the budget! Go see the world!!! 🙂