How to Plan a Perfect Family Vacation: Your Essential Guide
by Dana Meltzer Zepeda
Planning the perfect family vacation isn’t just a great way to make lasting memories. It’s also a welcome respite from the daily pressures of work, school and household chores. Not only will your entire brood get to spend more quality time together, but a family vacation will also allow everyone — whether they’re 4 or 40 — to get some well-deserved R&R.
According to a 2015 study conducted by the Family Holiday Association, 49 percent of 2,000 people polled reported that they still vividly remember their childhood vacations. A quarter of the respondents reported that these happy memories helped get them through tough times well into adulthood.
So why not pack your bags, book a flight and rack up some frequent flier miles with your crew today? All that’s standing between you and the perfect family vacation are a few minor — if not important — details.
- What to Consider When Planning a Family Vacation
- Types of Family Vacations
- Tips for Saving Money on Your Family Vacation
What to Consider When Planning a Family Vacation
Where do you want to go?
There’s no denying that planning a blissful getaway to please everyone in your family can sometimes feel like an impossible feat. With so many family vacation spots to choose from, even the most organized parent can become easily overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options. That’s why we suggest taking your entire family’s likes and dislikes into account before you even start researching destinations. Some things to think about include:
- Are you outdoorsy types?
- Do your kids love to swim in the ocean?
- Does your whole brood prefer the hustle and bustle of a big city?
What is your budget?
Once you’ve answered these important questions, it’s time to set a realistic budget with your partner or spouse. First, decide whether this trip will be a steal or a splurge. Then start comparison shopping for hotels, flights and excursions, accordingly. The last thing you want is to worry about is going into debt while you’re trying to relax on a white sand beach.
When are you going?
If you still have young children, don’t hesitate to take advantage of your flexibility by booking during the “off” season either. Sought-after destinations like Hawaii, the Caribbean and Mexico tend to be less crowded and far less expensive while school is still in session. Switching your dates from June to October could literally save you thousands of dollars on family vacation packages!
How will you get there?
Also take into account how your whole household likes to travel. If your oldest child has a fear of flying, it’s probably best to steer clear of far-flung locales. Or consider taking a cruise ship or even Amtrak to your dream destination, especially if you have a Thomas the Train-obsessed toddler at home.
Regardless of how you’re traveling, don’t forget to plan ahead. If you’re leaving the country, be sure to check everyone’s passports well in advance. If they aren’t up to date — or you need new ones — allow yourself ample time to take passport photos, visit your local federal agency or submit the paperwork by mail. Although you can take passport photos at your local post office or federal agency, clubs like AAA and Costco offer the same service for a nominal fee without the hassle of long lines or wait times. Be sure to check them out to help shorten your growing “to-do” list before you travel. Or, if you’re already in a bind, get your new passport up-to-date in a hurry by paying extra for a same-day appointment or using an expedited passport service company like RushMyPassport.com.
Types of Family Vacations
By now you know that your list of vacation possibilites are seemingly endless. But eventually, you’ll have to narrow down your options. Here are a few of our editors’ favorite ideas for affordable, fun-filled family vacations:
If you’ve ever watched the movie National Lampoon’s Family Vacation, you probably already know a lot can go wrong on a family road trip. But there is a lot that can go right too! Hitting the road with your loved ones is more about the journey than it is the actual destination. You’ll be surprised to discover what you find out about your children. Whether it’s opening up about their days at school, a new best friend or what they really want to be when they grow up, you’ll probably learn more about your kids in the car — away from distractions like cell phones and video games — than you ever would during the mad dash between homework, sports practice and dinner at home.
There are plenty of benefits to booking an all-inclusive resort. The biggest, though, is the peace of mind you’ll have knowing exactly how much money you’re spending on the your trip ahead of time. Not only will this enable you to relax and unwind, but it will also help your entire family stay within your budget. All-inclusive resorts include, well, everything from your hotel room to your meals to resort activities in one upfront price. So you can actually order a piña colada, have a steak or sign up for sailing lessons without worrying about every nickel and dime you’re spending. And, if you ask us, that’s priceless!
Family Vacation Package
If an all-inclusive resort sounds enticing, but you don’t want to commit to staying in one place for all of your meals and activities, you may want to consider booking a family vacation package instead. A family vacation package doesn’t include all of your meals or activities, but it can save you a bundle by booking your flight, hotel and rental car together. Travel agencies frequently offer pre-planned family vacation packages, as do AAA, Costco and airlines like Hawaiian and Southwest. But you can also find significant savings online using travel sites like Expedia and TripAdvisor to build your own family vacation package with a wide range of flights, hotels and cars from a variety of vendors.
There are plenty of reasons why Disney is nicknamed “The Happiest Place on Earth.” So it’s no surprise that booking a Disney vacation is the equivalent of telling your kids that they’ve won Willy Wonka’s last Golden Ticket. Whether you decide to book a family vacation package at Disneyland or Disney World or take a week-long Disney cruise, the Mouse House is one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the world. From rides to characters to live-action shows, there’s something to please everyone. Not only do the parks cater to special needs families with ride shares, Disability Access Service fast passes and allergy-friendly food options, but Disney cruises also provide fun for the whole family with Broadway-caliber shows, Disney-themed kids clubs and character autograph sessions.
Tips for Saving Money on Your Family Vacation
Still worried about the cost of your perfect family vacation? Saving money can be a cinch if you set yourself up for success early on. With a little planning, you can easily save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. To start:
- Give each kid a small backpack or suitcase so they can bring their own carry-on to the airport. Stuff them full of kid-friendly snacks like Goldfish crackers, Pirate’s Booty or even Sunbutter-and-jelly sandwiches to avoid splurging on pricey meals while you’re in the air.
- Use their carry-ons to store a change of clothes (blowout anyone?), headphones, iPads and toys to keep them entertained mid-flight. Don’t forget to throw in extra diapers, wipes and a blanket to free up your own carry-on luggage for bigger items too. This will help save money on checked bags and enable your kids to start learning to be responsible for their own belongings early on.
- Take advantage of Internet search engines. Yes, you could use a travel agent to do all of your bidding for you, but there’s something to be said for customizing your own dream vacation with the click of a button. Here’s our short list of the best websites out there for budget-savvy travelers:
- Expedia is probably the best-known travel site online. This Internet giant offers everything from the best airfares on domestic and international flights to vacation rentals to cruises to cars to activities to hotels.
- TripAdvisor has a reputation for providing in-depth, user-friendly reviews, which can come in handy when you’re deciding which hotel or restaurant to book from 3,000 miles away. You can book all of your travel needs — comparing prices on several search engines — there too.
- AirFare Watchdog allows you to set airfare alerts, search flights and compare travel credit cards. You can also get money-saving tips from the website’s insider blog as well as find last-minute travel deals, all with the click of a button.
- Hotels.com is to hotels what AirFare Watchdog is to airlines. Imagine one-stop shopping for the best-priced lodging all over the world, from a five-star luxury resort in Italy to a family-friendly vacation rental in Vegas. Check out their customer rewards program, which help you earn free hotel nights for future travel.