Kids & Parenting

How to make a family travel plan

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A plan can make family travel dreams come true
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A family travel plan will ensure that everyone has more fun on vacation

Forget the horror stories of family vacations gone mad. Forget the tales of people driving across the country in 4 days with 6 kids, check-list of must-see stops in hand. Forget the Chevy Chase movies and the nightmare of a closed Wally World.   

Family vacations can be some of the best times in your life. All it takes is some research, some listening and a good family travel plan.Oh, and some serious editing on that must-see stop list. Actually, if it's done right, the plan covers all of that. 

To make it easier, I've broken the family travel planning process down into just a few steps.  

1) Set the budget

There is nothing worse than getting everyone all excited about a trip, only to find that it's too expensive for the family budget.  

Starting with the money lets you pick trips that are do-able instead of just dream-able. 

2) Listen to your family.

Family vacations shouldn't be decided by one person. And forget the idea "They'll have a good time when they get there." With very few exceptions, people do not enjoy trips where they had no say in choosing or planning.  

3) Remember fun

A word of advice. Forget the "educational" trip. Sure, it's great to work in a couple of museums or historic sites along the way, but a trip that's designated as educational misses the point of a vacation. Fun. 

4) Do the research

Once you have everyone's ideas, narrow it down to three or four and then start researching the locations. Get everyone who's old enough to use the Internet to get involved in the process. For each location, check out: 

  • Costs.  Some items to include might be: hotels, travel, food, admissions, tickets, fees, tips, passports, fuel, car rental, insurance, clothing or equipment needed for the destination (like coats for a ski trip), pet boarding, lessons.    
  • Travel time.  A one week vacation won't work well if it takes two days to get there and two days back. Make sure the travel time works with your vacation schedule 
  • Destination schedules.  Ah, shades of Wally World! But it is important to make sure your destination (and any important stops along the way) are open and working when you plan to arrive. Museums, restaurants, and even amusement parks can have odd closings, so check and double check before you make your plans.
  • Accommodations.  Traveling with a "we'll see when we get there" vibe is fun for spring break, but when you have an overtired toddler or a snarky teen in the backseat it's no time for trying to find a vacancy. Sure it's less spontaneous, but booking ahead makes your day less stressful for everyone.  
  • Other things to do. Even the best laid plans can get messed up, so it's a good idea to research alternative things to do in case of a sudden downpour or some other unexpected glitch in your plans.  
  • Special needs.  If someone in your family needs access to a hospital, make sure there's one in the area you'll be traveling. If people are vegetarians or keep Kosher or Halal, make sure food is available. If you're traveling with pets, make sure they're allowed in the area, or that there is a local kennel you can use.      

5) Make a choice

Get final input from everyone using the research, then choose a location.   

6) Start booking

Once you decide, start making airline, hotel or cruise reservations as soon as possible. Check online for discount admissions or early-bird specials and book those. 

7) Keep it together. Create a place to store all the things you gather for your trip. A pretty box, a practical file folder or whatever works for you.

8) Create a schedule.

Using a calendar, note all deadlines between now and your vacation time. Booking dates, cancellation dates, and other dates should be noted. Post it in a place everyone can see.  Not only will it keep you on track, it will help build excitement as the days pass. 

9) Write your plan.

It's great to say you want to see this thing or that, but writing it down makes it real. Create a rough outline for your vacation days, then list other things people want to see or do as alternates. Make a couple of copies and post it around the house, or use an online tool like Cozi Family Calendar to keep everyone in the loop. Avoid booking every minute or even every day of your vacation. That will leave space to see and do the fun things you discover once you arrive. 

10. Make a packing list for each person. Save time and avoid last minute shopping trips by creating a packing list for each person in the family. Pull out suitcases and make sure your have enough and that they're all in working condition. If not, buy new luggage well in advance of the trip to allow people time to plan how to pack and what will work on their lists. 

Making the plan keeps everyone in the loop, lets people see what's involved in the trip, and keep anticipation building. And it's never too soon to start. So get going on getting ready for your next family trip now.  

See you at Wally World!

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