Jessica Bowers is the voice behind Suitcases & Sippy Cups, a travel blog chronicling the experiences of her and her family across the world.
Planning a vacation doesn’t have to be a daunting task; in fact, it can be a very rewarding process as you anticipate an enjoyable getaway with family. The key to successful trip planning is to break it down into manageable steps and know the little secrets that make travel planning easier.
The Dreaming Stage
Before you can do any planning, you have to pick a dream destination. With so many great options, this is harder than it seems, but there are plenty of resources available to make the choosing a little easier.
- Get or renew your passport. An often overlooked but important step in vacation planning is application for a passport. If your travels could take you out of the country, start the passport application process at the beginning of your planning session. Getting a passport can be a lengthy process, and a sure way to ruin any vacation planning is not having your passport in hand when you find a dream destination. Have photos made at a local drugstore or post office, and grab a brochure that explains how to get or renew a passport. This gives you a head start and allows time to mail in the renewal and gather all the identification you need to process the paperwork while you make your travel plans.
- Narrow down your travel style. Consider what kind of vacation you want to have and who will be traveling with you. Will you be flying or driving? Do you need to consider the demands of traveling with young kids or multi-generations? Will it be a long vacation or a quick trip? And then there are the fun questions, like beach or mountains, or relaxation or adventure? Get the whole family involved in the planning process by incorporating these questions into Family Game Night. Grab some slips of paper and create a game of charades where each member of the family can suggest vacation destinations, or play a game of “Would You Rather…?” to help kids decide what matters most to them in a vacation destination.
- Choose a destination. Choosing a place to travel is one of the most exciting—and daunting—parts of the travel-planning process. The internet is a great tool once a destination has been chosen, but while you’re still in the dreaming stages, brochures are a great way to get a feel for what a destination has to offer in full color. There are many websites where you can order free or inexpensive brochures and DVDs that are specific to a region of the world. For domestic travel, the visitor’s bureau of the city or state you would like to visit will have brochures and other resources they can send to help you choose the perfect spot to make travel memories.
- Research your activity options. Once you have narrowed down your destinations and your travel style, you can start planning what you’ll do when you arrive. Itineraries tailored to specific groups, like families, are still among some of the best available, and the information inside is reliably time-tested. More importantly, getting your hands on an actual book helps connect you to the places you’ll see during your visit. While you’re at it, be sure to get a map of the area. Many guidebooks come with maps, which are valuable tools for getting the lay of the land. Maps help familiarize you and your family with the destination, easing stress and helping create more safety—you walk and travel with more confidence and become less of a target. Plus, there’s no quicker way to get a feel for a space—and get excited about traveling—than to spread out a map in your living room and start putting mental pins in the destinations.
The Planning Stage
Once a dream destination is chosen, it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of how to make the dream a reality.
- Plan a budget. Your budget will determine when and how you travel, as well as what you do when you arrive, so those numbers should be nailed down before any other decisions are made. Budget decisions should take into account transportation, lodging and cost of activities and meals. You should also include incidentals, like airport parking, cost of housesitting or pet boarding, and souvenirs. Asking some questions about the details of your vacation will be the first step. Will you be driving your own car or flying? What about renting a car or taking public transportation? Will your lodging be a hotel or a campsite? How much will tickets cost for entertainment and activities? Will you eat out or buy groceries to prepare your own meals? One of the best ways to get a handle on the budget is to print a travel budget planner. Writing it all out will give you a chance to see the options and decide where to save and where to splurge. Best of all, your budget planner will serve as a handy guide to completing the rest of your planning.
- Plan your transportation. Your budget will be a big factor in choosing whether you drive or fly to your destination, but you should also consider how much time you have for vacation. Generally, the shorter your time off, the less time you should spend in transit, so flying becomes the most viable option. If your timing or destination dictates flying, be sure to consider transportation needs once you arrive. Driving to your destination? Be sure your car is in top shape, and consider the additional costs in time and money, like stopping over at a hotel for the night to break up a long drive. A drive vs. fly calculator can help make the decision easier.
- Choose a place to stay. Gone are the days when hotels and motels are the only choices. Consider the pros and cons of other options, including renting a home or cabin, camping, or a bed and breakfast. When making your choice, think about the needs of your travelers. Families tend to love the option to spread out in a home rental, and staying in a place with a kitchen can be a boon for the budget if you cook some of your own meals.
- Plan your activities. With the basics handled, the last step is to plan what you will do when you arrive at your destination. Talk with the entire family to get a feel for what activities are most important for everyone. For family-oriented trips, try to plan something active in the morning and something low key in the afternoon, and resist the urge to overplan the day. If you’re still keeping an eye on your budget, be sure to check for coupons in the brochures in hotel lobbies, or ask the concierge if they have any discounts available.
- Get excited! With all of the pieces in place, it’s time to get the whole family excited about the upcoming trip. Help the kids create travel journals to take with them on the trip, or create a travel vision board using your maps and brochures to remind you that a memorable vacation is just around the corner.