Summer is swiftly approaching, which for many that means summer family travels! YAY! While going on a family vacation can be a blast, sometimes planning can be a challenge, especially when you are taking the whole family like we love to do. We are so thrilled to be able to share with you our top 4 BEST WAYS TO PLAN A SUCCESSFUL TRIP to help you get the creative travel juices flowing.
But, before we begin with our 4 tips everyone planning a trip NEEDS to know, we want to start off with a little Q and A session with 3 common questions we get on family travel planning to give you a little head start. We want to give some background on how to make the most of your time, money, resources, and energy. Because hello, we feel like we moms need all the help we can get! (Are we right!?) While we know that there are different ways of travel for different people. We have found, for us, what is the best way to plan a vacation and want to share our insights with you!
How to Plan the Best Family Vacation Q and A with Our Family Passport
What is the best way to plan a vacation?
Answer: Honestly, we have found that in order to plan the BEST vacation for you and your family is to take an inventory of how you structure your everyday life and then apply those same principles to your travel planning. Ask yourself – Are you a planner? Do you have a daily checklist and a neat calendar with your week and month scheduled out? If so, then you are probably going to want to start planning further in advance and have a more detailed itinerary laid out.
If you and your family are more laissez-faire, then you would probably enjoy having your flights and hotels booked but then asking the locals for their favorite things when you get to your destination and have a more relaxed and laid back attitude to sightseeing. For complete disclosure, we are very much type A people and we are type A travelers as well, so the majority of our tips we have tested and tried fit more into that category.
How far in advance should you plan a vacation?
Again, this goes back to first asking yourself what type of person you are and how much structure you like? In our experience and for our style, planning earlier is always better for us. So that means we suggest getting your summer travel plans started now, or at the very least thinking about where you would want to go and what the budget you have to work with looks like.
Flights and hotels are usually cheaper and easier to get the further out you are. For destinations that are popular like NYC (or any other major summer destination for that matter), the earlier you start planning the better chances you have of being able to go to the Statue of Liberty. For example, if you are going to Paris in the summer, tickets to the top of the Eiffel Tower can be booked up a month or two in advance.
How do I plan a trip itinerary?
This one is super easy but has a few moving parts. Let’s start with the super basics. While there are a plethora of apps and different websites that will help you, we have found that one of the easiest ways to plan and put together a super effective trip itinerary is to start out with a stack of basic ruled pieces of paper, a folder, and a pencil.
Start jotting down your ideas, thoughts, perspective dates, things you feel like you have to do at that destination, and your budget. Then as your trip begins to come to fruition and morph, put the concrete plans into a document on the computer. We really like working with a pencil and paper at first because it helps keep everything right in front of us as we are planning and it is super visual. That way we don’t have to toggle between airline, hotel, and travel agent websites and then try to get everything down on a digital document. Just jot down the most important information and then come back to it later. Really in a way, it is kind of like we are taking old school notes on our upcoming vacation.
As you begin the actual planning part of your vacation. We suggest to always go in this order and using this planning a vacation checklist as a guideline when you are making your way through the planning process.
How to Plan a Vacation Step by Step Checklist
1- Figure out your budget. What is the maximum you can spend? What is the ideal sweet spot you would like to spend on your vacation?
2- Start looking at flights and hotels. In our experience booking flights and hotels right at the beginning is the way to go. It will help you solidify the dates, what is available and knowing where you are staying will help you when you are determining how to get to and from attractions and major sites you want to see.
*booking flights and want to score the best deals? See our post on 12 Thrifty Tips to Finding Cheap Flights.
3- Plan the things that you HAVE to do first. Using the Paris example, if going on top of the Eiffel Tower and visiting Versailles is at the top of your list, plan those things first! Fit them in on the best days to see those things and then work in other activities around them. For a detailed itinerary on Paris see What to do in Paris in 4 Days!
4- Once you have your major attractions planned, this is a good place to start looking at some day trips you might want to take. Look at different day trip providers Viator is a good starting point but we actually prefer good old Google and then researching reviews. Reach out to the provider, get the days they are available during your trip, and then go from there.
5- Add in the other attractions/experiences that are on your list around the major headliners.
6- Leave free time throughout your trip to visit some potential suggestions you will receive while you are at your destination. We like to try to follow a 2 day on, one-half day off kind of a rule. Meaning, build in at least a half day of rest and free time every two days. Leaving some free time will allow you to go back to places you want to see, see something you might not think about before your trip, rest, and really just help so that there isn’t massive burnout.
4 Best Ways to Plan a Successful Family Vacation
Hurray! Now we are ready to dive right into our 4 Best Ways to Plan A Successful Trip! The best things about these tips are that they can work whether you are trying to figure out how to plan an international trip or are taking a weekend camping vacation just a few hours away.
Keep in mind that these family travel planning tips are all subjective. This is what we have found works for us and how we like to organize our travels. But, how you plan a trip effectively might look a little different. Take what works for you and morph it into your own planning style. The more you plan, the more you will learn how you like to travel and what is the most efficient and fun way for you and your crew!
Tip 1: Know Your Family and/or Your Group
Take into account the ages and interests of the people in your group. How do they like to vacation? Is their idea of a perfect vacation sitting on the beach for the whole week under an umbrella with a drink in hand? Are they active, history buffs or nature lovers? Knowing this important information, and then planning the itinerary accordingly aids immensely in having a successful trip. If you are not sure what everyone in your family might like, ask them! Often, we try to take a quick poll of everyone’s “must-dos” for any destination before the real planning begins. What the teenager will say might be different from what you expect and will be able to help give you some insight into what different activities and experiences you should include. It also helps to get your family involved. It increases the anticipation and will help everyone better prepare.
Tip 2: Have a Schedule
Remember how we said above that you will probably plan a trip like you plan your everyday life at home? If you like structure, at all, it is our best guess that having a schedule will really help you maximize your vacation and in the end, will take out a lot of stress. Have an idea of what your days will look like on vacation. Even plan downtime. Know the opening and closing times of the places you want to visit. Have an idea of where you want to eat. Get tickets ahead of time. A word of caution, things don’t always go according to plan. However, a little preparation before you travel can save precious vacation time, money, and frustration.
Tip 3: Don’t expect too much from children when traveling. Be mindful of what their needs and expectations are.
Most adults can have great fun participating in children’s activities but children really struggle to have fun and stay engaged in some adult activities. If you have young children in your group, try to keep it friendly; bag the reservations at fancy restaurants, keep art museum visits to a short time limit, try to build in downtime where children can run around and be kids. This can make a huge difference. Kids can be wonderful to travel with! If you accept that kids at times will be kids, and allow for some child-friendly activities, you might be surprised with how well your little ones will do!
Tip 4: S.P.A.C.E. Give everyone some space!
This is THE NUMBER ONE suggestion for successful family travel and the key to helping everyone get along. Everyone needs their space (especially teenagers). Try to make sure accommodations are adequate and be mindful if someone’s nerves are wearing thin and give them space. Ideally, accommodations should be large enough for everyone to have space and get a good night of rest. Everyone needs a place to retreat when we become annoyed/tired because that WILL happen while traveling. A time-out from each other can be a good thing.
Of course, in the end, follow your intuition and experiment with what works for your family. Plan the perfect trip and then get out there and HAVE FUN!!!
Our Family Passport!
Let’s be friends and come say hi to us on any of our platforms to get more travel tips and tricks, itineraries and free downloadable and destination-specific coloring pages for kids!!
About Our Family Passport
Shani, Kam, and Sav are a mother-daughter trio who are best friends, travel buddies and live in Salt Lake City Utah. They founded Our Family Passport in 2017 and focus on showing other families how experiences with your loved ones can make your life better, happier, and can enrich your relationships. You can find them on their family travel blog www.ourfamilypassport.com, or their Pinterest and Instagram account at @ourfamilypassport.
Check out some of our other vacation posts on the blog.