Ten Tips for Planning Family Summer Vacations
Summer is right around the corner and you know what that means: Summer Vacation Planning Time!
But, before you roll your eyes and groan, I want to give you a few pointers that may make your planning easier and even a little bit fun. Planning vacations is one of my favorite things to do, and I think I can help make it fun for you too with these ten easy steps to summer vacations.
1) Know your budget.
This may seem pretty self-explanatory but is really the first step in centering your family vacation. You may WANT to take the family to Paris but after looking at your budget may realize that it may not work within the budget for this year. Don’t despair -- there are many fun vacations to be had for little money. But, before you start planning, you need to know how much you can spend.
My advice: Don’t put your vacation on a credit card. You will be much happier and have less stress if you can pay for your vacation with cold hard cash.
2) How are you going to get there?
If you are planning to fly, you should be looking to buy tickets at least six weeks in advance. You should read my post on the best way to get good prices on airfare -- although as gas prices continue to increase the deals are harder and harder to find.
Gas prices are something to consider if you plan on driving. With gas pushing close to $4.00 a gallon and expected to stay around that level for the entire summer. GasBuddy.com is a cool website that will help you figure out where to buy the cheapest gas on your entire roadtrip. It is also an app for smartphones which makes it extra handy.
3) Where to stay?
Figuring out where to stay has to be the most difficult decision. I spend so much time trying to find the perfect place and sometimes it works -- sometimes it doesn’t. There are so many options of places to stay including resort hotels, condominiums, vacation rentals, cabins, camping, motels…..
My theory is that where you stay on vacation is more than just a place to sleep. It can really make or break your vacation. To find the right accommodation, you need to decide what type of vacation you want to have. For example, if you are thinking spa treatments while the kids play in the lazy river, you need a resort hotel. You won’t find that at any old chain hotel, and of course, camping would be out of the question. If you are doing a Disney World vacation, you might not be happy staying at a vacation rental thirty minutes away. Or, you just might. You might love driving and want the time away from the parks.
This summer, I am doing a backpacking trip through the Philippines. So, I am foregoing any nice resort hotels and really getting into the adventure of life in the Philippines, complete with little indoor plumbing and mosquito nets. The whole point of the trip is for that experience and I wouldn’t really want to stay in beautiful resort hotels with maid service, and fresh sheets and no bugs. (Wait! I am starting to re-think this.)
So, my point is -- before you start making hotel reservations, think about how you envision spending your days. And, then start to do research. There are lots of websites that have reviews of hotel rooms and other accommodations. Raveable.com has them listed by city and individual bloggers submit their reviews.
4) What to do?
We usually have some idea of what we plan to do on vacation but we also like to keep ourselves open for new adventures and opportunities -- as well as down time. For example, we will be spending a few weeks in Hawaii this summer and are all making a list of things we want to do but not planning a formal itinerary. We know we want to go surfing, hiking, eat at a bunch of our favorite restaurants and go sailing. We keep it open so that we don’t feel stressed about sticking to a schedule and can be open to new and exciting things that we may not have known about. We also make sure the kids get to add to the list; this is their vacation too and many times their requests are pretty doable (i.e. eat ice cream everyday!).
5) Put the kids to work!
Before our trips, we talk to the kids a lot about what we expect of them. Our kids are older (ages eight and six) and have traveled a lot, so they get excited about little things -- security lines, boarding, trains! Their excitement gets us through the part we loathe. We get them to pack their own luggage (with help of course) and carry their own backpack packed with a few travel friendly toys and books. The kids wheel luggage through the airport, and we usually (unless we are running late) allow them to guide us to our terminal. It makes the airport fun!
6) Keep it in perspective.
Lugging seven bags, two carseats, and three little ones through the check-in and security line at the airport is miserable. But just remember, it is just one tiny portion of your entire vacation -- think of it as the necessary evil -- once you get through that -- your fun can begin!
7) Travel Light.
When you travel with kids, it is really easy to want to bring everything with you. Travel is all about having adventures -- from big ones -- like trekking through the jungle, to small ones -- like surviving one week without video games or DVD players. Encourage your kids to enjoy the adventure and challenge them to the task.
8) Getting Around.
If you are flying somewhere, you are likely going to need to rent a car. Do not skimp on car rental. You will be much happier paying a few extra dollars to rent a car that is comfortable for your entire family. A lot of car rental companies will have minivans for rent but carry such low inventory they are often priced very high -- smaller SUVs and even a large sedan may be found at a lower price and will allow everyone to be more comfortable.
9) Document everything.
Digital cameras are inexpensive and handy. We usually take a few different cameras and take turns documenting the day. Looking back at the photos, we can see the places through the kid’s perspective and they can take some pretty amazing photos. We have even had our oldest blog about his summer vacation -- both as a writing exercise, a journal that he can share with other family members, and something to keep him busy during long flights and drives.
10) Make memories.
Family vacations are the perfect way to make memories for your children and these memories will be more valuable than any toy that you can buy them. This time together will stay with them forever -- long after their Nintendo DSi becomes obsolete and their American Girl dolls get eaten by the dogs. Even if they are young, I believe the urge to travel gets under their skin. Maybe they are too young to remember the particular vacation, but they get used to travel and begin to need it.
Photo Credit: littlemoresunshine.