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6 Simple Tips for Planning a Fun Family Vacation

I'm not that mom who gets everything right, but I know planning keeps our family retreats from running off the rails.


How to Plan a Family Vacation

Do you remember the first time you organized a family getaway? I look back and smile at how well I managed to make the easy things hard. If I'd known then how to plan a family vacation step by step, I could have saved us time, money, and our collective sanity.

6 Simple Steps to a Great Escape

I'm not that mom who gets everything right, but I know planning keeps our family retreats from running off the rails. Experience is still one of the best teachers, and I've had my share. After years of traveling with my family, I've come up with these six simple steps for planning a great family vacation.

1. Know Where You Want to Go

You want a beach vacation. Your husband wants a fishing trip, and the kids want a theme-park getaway. It's time for a family meeting. At our house, we daydream out loud about where we want to go all year. We finally learned that it takes a consensus to make the trip fun for everybody.

Have a family sit-down, and let everyone nominate their chosen vacation spot. Listen to the pros, talk about the cons, and make a decision together. Your final destination choice should be an all-inclusive-family decision.

2. Explore Before You Get There

Avoid the sense of being strangers wandering in a strange land. When you're not a native, you need to know more than how to find the main attractions. This one dawned on us after our first trip, and it still applies to everything from eating out to getting the car fixed.

Use online reviews and maps to discover local favorites. Check out options for dining, shopping, and general services close to where you're staying. Consider fun things to do like going kayaking! You don't have to worry about tourist traps and being overcharged when you know where to go.

3. Get Real With the Budget

On our first family getaway, we thought we could trust ourselves to be frugal. As it turned out, the problem wasn't a matter of trust. It was a matter of unrealistic expectations. Everything costs more when you're out of town.

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Crunch the numbers. Be honest with yourself. Figure out what you can spend on transportation, lodging, meals, and entertainment. If the math doesn't work, keep making adjustments until you have a plan that fits your budget. We add 15 percent to our final total just in case.

4. Look Into Renting a Ride

Why would we want to rent a car for vacation when ours was in perfect condition? That question was finally answered by a trunk that wouldn't hold all our luggage. As the kids got older, they took up more space too. Today, we usually plan on renting getaway transportation, and it's worth every extra penny.

When friends ask why we don't fly, we casually compare the cost of a week-long SUV rental with five airline tickets. I think we've convinced more than a few neighbors. Granted, my road trip strategy works best on vacations that don't stretch from coast to coast.

5. Consider Leasing a House

Why would anyone want to crowd into expensive hotel rooms when they can lease affordable living space? My family still thinks this is one of my best ideas. Several years back, we planned on visiting Santa Cruz, CA, and found a great vacation rental company. That week we spent in a beach-side home was unforgettable.

The kids enjoyed their own space, I loved the peace and quiet, and we actually saved money on dining out. I cooked casual meals in the full kitchen, my husband grilled his catch of the day outback, and we finished most evenings relaxing around the fire pit. The rental was our very own vacation home away from home for an entire week.

6. Have an Arrival Plan

Once you work out the details of traveling, imagine what you want to do when you finally arrive. We realized we were getting tired of being tired and still trying to make the most of our first day. Even short trips can wear you out, and kids need recovery time too.

If you're arriving late, plan a light meal and a quick turn-in. If you have the whole day ahead of you, relax. This is your well-planned downtime, so savor it by taking it easy and settling in. Based on my experience, it's one of the sanest ways to start a truly great family vacation.

Stay Flexible and Confident

If you're planning your first family getaway, let me share one more tip: stay flexible. When the kids put their feet down about something, try to see it from their angle. If that perfect rental cottage doesn't fit the budget, look at one a little farther down the beach.

Be willing to balance what you want with what you need. It's a family vacation, so enjoy looking forward to what's ahead. When you know you've gotten started with a wonderfully sane plan, you can head out the door with confidence.

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