Choose a Destination(s) and Determine the Length of Your Trip.
The very first thing you will have to do is choose where you are going, for how long and if you are going to more than one place. Decisions such as an adult-only trip or an entire family trip will also factor into your location choice.
Draw Up A Budget
I know, I know. No one likes to budget, but it has to be done when vacationing. Figure out your budget first and then it’s time to make the other decisions outlined below. Always have an allowance of “emergency only” money tucked away somewhere that isn’t included in your budget. You’d be surprised what can pop up even on the most precisely planned vacations.
How Are You Going To Get There?
We are a multi-location vacation type of family, so when it comes down to our mode of transportation, we always drive. Disneyland, San Francisco, you name it, we’ve driven there. Not only do we save on airfare for a family of 4 and the price of a car rental, we also are able to visit more than one location and maximize our vacation time. Figure out how you are getting to your vacation spot.
It’s time to hit the internet. Once you have decided where you are vacationing, it’s time to organize. Hit up local websites for each area – all large cities will have their own website outlining local attractions and features – and read up on what to do, what the weather is like and the local culture.
Sites like Travelocity and Expedia will have user-generated reviews that are invaluable for the traveler who’s planning, these reviews are un-biased and will reveal information that you won’t find anywhere else, good and bad!
Plan Your Itinerary:
I plan out trips by the day, activity by activity and sometimes even city by city. When we hit the Los Angeles area for example, I plan which days are Disneyland, which days are shopping and which are the beach. This way you can make sure that you are hitting up each activity and not missing any while you are there. As fun as it is to go and discover everything, make sure you have days off between activities to relax and rejuvenate. Those days are also invaluable for those vacation surprises that always pop up, such as a broken-down vehicle, sick kids and more.
When you plan an itinerary there are a few musts:
1) Pick your lodging.
2) What are your “Must-See’s”? Let each family member choose something that they want to do more than anything else.
3) Figure out which local attractions you are going to visit based on everyone’s choices and input and assign a date to each.
4) Where are you going to eat? As a mother of a picky eater, I hit up food rating websites such as Urban Spoon and check out the menus before we even arrive.
5) Buy all attractions passes beforehand; it always saves time and money.
Go On the Cheap: Thank goodness for websites that offer hotel deals and more! I use Expedia to plan almost every vacation we take and not only to actually book hotels. Did you know that most times if you call the hotel directly and tell them that Expedia (or another reputable site) is listing a certain price for their hotel room that they will match OR beat it? The world has suddenly become your hotel room oyster!
Discount companies such as AMA almost always have a better deal on attractions tickets and the price for a membership for a year can be the same or even less than what you are going to save on tickets. Price it out to see if a membership is worth it.
Check out coupon books to see if there are any deals you can take advantage of. We have also found that some restaurants such as IHop have Kids Eat Free Days, which saves you a lot of money!
Make a Checklist of Items to Bring
Start the master checklist now and you’ll be a very happy vacationer when it comes time to relax. Always include basics such as medications, toiletries clothes and more, but think outside the box as well. Does your child have a favorite stuffy that they can’t sleep without? Don’t assume that you will remember it, put it on the list! Extra contacts in case you lose yours in the pool? (I learned this the hard way). Think of what you use every day that can’t be replaced easily and put it on the list. Search the internet for large lists that are targeted to each type of vacation, such as hot weather destinations or amusement parks, adding the items off each that pertain to your location.
Flexibility is Key
Just when you think you have planned the perfect trip, it comes time to execute it in real life. What you have worked out on paper didn’t take into account weather, road closures, amusement park closures or cancelled flights. Be flexible, don’t stress and go with the flow. This is why you tucked away your emergency cash and allowed free days between activities. Remember, it’s about relaxing together and enjoying time as a family and not having the “perfect vacation”. It’s all about what you make it!