January 28th is National Plan for Vacation Day. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to drop work and head over to the nearest travel agency to book flights. No, it’s more of a bump- a gentle reminder to start checking out those travel Pinterest boards and making decisions on where to go for spring break and the summer. Planning a fun and affordable family vacation is easier (and less pricey) than leaving it ’til the last minute. Here are some handy tips and tricks to help you plan a vacation the whole family will love.
Best Way to Decide Where You Will Take Your Family on Vacation
Ask them. Get your entire family involved in your family vacation planning process by asking them where they would like to go. Of course, chances are you will end up with some answers that won’t fit your budget- especially if it’s tight, like “Paris”, or maybe even a snarky teen one that only Elon Musk could fulfill: “Mars”. But that’s okay, because their answers are just starting points.
You can open up the conversation with “we want to plan a fun family vacation this year- where do you think we should go? What kind of things would you like to do?”
Use questions like would you rather go to the mountains or beach and what kinds of things would you like to do on our family vacation. Keep in mind, at this point you are merely the data collector for all of the family members. Use meal times or car rides together to glean this information.
How to Narrow Down your Family Vacation Choices
Now take all those likes and pool them together. Keep in mind that with multiple kids and adults, not everyone will get control of the full time.
Necessities you need to take in consideration:
- Your vacation budget
- The length of time you have for vacation
- How far (distance) you wish to travel
- What mode of travel you are taking
With your data gathered and the necessary considerations of time and budgets in place, a picture will begin to form to suit your needs and now you can focus on wants/desires.
Use these handy questions to map out your family vacation desires.
- Does a multi-stop road trip appeal or a one-stop vacay?
- Does city explorations with easy access to food & shopping sound like heaven or hell to you?
- Does the thought of hiking to waterfalls and picnic lunches make you sigh with satisfaction or conjure up terrifying images of bugs, bears and blisters?
- Is your idea of fun a VR gaming competition or jumping over waves on a sandy beach?
If you want to stay in a popular National Park (think Grand Canyon), take a busy tour or a popular cruise this summer, you probably have waited too late. These places tend to get booked a year in advance. The good news is, you can start planning and budgeting those trips now- for next year!
The Pros and Cons of a Family Road Trip
We’ve had many multi-stop family road trips with three kids of various little ages in tow. The truth is, with multiple kids, travel is a challenge, no matter what type of vacation you take.
The good thing about a road trip is every day is a new adventure. And it’s not just the location- if you stay in hotels, each hotel is different. Setting up camp in a new site. Different is good. It holds boredom at bay- if even for a little while. For a child that doesn’t like change or has sensory challenges, the daily changes can become upsetting. It’s always good to pack a ‘bag of fun’ for your kids. This bag might hold favorite stuffed animals/cuddly toys, a familiar cozy blanket, some small toys/crayons/coloring pages. If you think about adding snacks, keep them separate. Our girls scoffed all our snacks in the back seat during a drive through Georgia- a mom lesson learned!! Keep an eye on your snacks 😉
We took our first full-week road trip when the kids were 3, 5 & 7. It was an eye-opener! A zig-zag from Florida through Georgia to Chattanooga, through North Carolina and back to Georgia and back again to Tennessee. On our way back to Florida, we stopped off for a cool cave tour at The Lost Sea Caverns in Sweetwater, Tennessee. It was a whirlwind adventure- so much fun packed into 7 days. We ate lots of picnic lunches and BBQ from roadside stands, ran out of clean clothes early on, spent over our budget and were very exhausted -whew! But that did not deter us from future family road trips.
Pros of Family Road Trips
- Different places, new adventures
- You get to see/do a lot more in one vacation
- Never a dull moment.
Cons of Family Road Trips
- It is exhausting
- Too much driving/time in car makes for cranky little ones (and drivers!)
- It can become expensive if you don’t do your travel research ahead of time
The Pros & Cons of a One-Stop Family Vacation
When someone says one-stop vacay, you may think of an all inclusive resort- or Walmart. Yeah, that’s marketing for you 😉 But here a one-stop refers to one location or place- meaning you’ve book 4, 5, 7 or more nights in the same hotel/campground. It means that you may actually put your clothes into those dresser drawers and made your vacay room home. It also means you only have one location to research – and that makes it way easier!
We recently had a 5-day vacation in one location. There was minimal driving and lots of downtime. The boys got an out-of-state fishing license and tried their hand at trout fishing while us girls went exploring in the woods. We skipped stones in the rivers, hiked to waterfalls, played pool, watched sunsets and returned to our room at a state park lodge. The area we chose in offered lots to do. It was relaxing, but by our last day, we were ready for somewhere new.
Pros of a One-Stop Stay
- There’s no rushing
- It’s relaxing
- You get to ‘know’ the area
Cons of a One-Stop Stay
- Boredom can set in if there’s not a lot to do
- If you don’t like the hotel/campground, you’re stuck
Vacation Planning Resources for You:
- Check out these handy Packing Travel Hacks for Parents to make your vacation bag packing easier
- And also the tips & tricks ways to keep your vacation affordable in Best Ways to Save Money on Family Vacations
Location-Location! Choosing the Best Family Vacation Destination
Hopefully you’ve decided on your one-stop or road-trip, based on your family likes and habits and now comes the fun part… finding the right destination! There are so many places to from which to choose- from the sugar sand beaches of Destin to the metropolitan excitement of Atlanta, the outdoor adventures of the Smoky Mountains to the tasty cuisine of the lowlands in Charleston.
When choosing your destination, keep an eye out for things to do that meet your family ‘likes’ list and also your necessities criteria.
- Here are our top 10 recommendations for family-friendly destinations in the Southeastern US.
We also can suggest the best of family friendly Florida vacations on our new sister-site Florida for Families
Just when you thought you left your research days behind…the truth is, the more you research your intended destination (s), the better you can plan and make it fun and affordable.
TripAdvisor is a good place to research a destination, but it’s not the only one.
Use your social media. Check out the pictures on Instagram– use a #hashtag in front of your desired destination in the search bar to find neat places to see and things to do in that area. Like #denver or #atlanta .
Peruse travel boards on Pinterest for links to cool destinations.
Talk to your friends. Friends and family are fountains of untapped travel information. Little did we know that North Georgia was a favorite destination for a big group of our friends, and they were happy to recommend their favorite restaurants and fun stops.
Do a Google search using Google Maps. This is this mom’s top research choice- I’ll pull up Google Maps for the area we will be traveling to and zoom in to look for parks and places of interests and things to do. If you click on the names, the reviews will pop up on the left of the screen. You can even see photos and visit the place websites if they have one. This is handy for finding out what eateries are in the area as well.
If you are flying to your destination, Google Flights is another useful tool. It shows all the flights available- and prices. You can see which days are cheaper for your desired flights and even track prices of flights and get alerted when the prices drop.
How to Keep Your Family Vacation Fun & Affordable
With all good intentions, sometimes parents forget that it’s those little moments that make your family time fun and memorable- and it’s those little moments that can keep your family vacation affordable too. You may have splashed out on a cool whitewater rafting adventure for the family vacation, but if your kids love water, stop at a creek and skip stones or stack rocks- free fun for everyone.
Maybe you want to have a zip-line adventure- use another day to pull off onto a roadside trail head and take a hike, or swing into a state park (they’re affordable!) and see what adventures awaits. A day splashing in the ocean or lake is cheaper than a family of 4 at a water-park. Keep fun & simple.
Look for coupons and discounts in flyers for places you plan on visiting, and if you are military or have AAA, always ask about discounts.
Check out other money-saving tips for your family vacation.
Don’t Set All Your Plans in Stone
Be flexible in during your actual vacation. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the plan. When you have kids, you have to allow for melt-downs, unexpected nap times, illnesses and other issues.
We made the mistake of climbing the stairs at Chimney Rock (North Carolina) instead of taking the elevator- with three young kids- which wore them out and put a swift end to our day. Another time we ended up in a hotel that was not so nice and made a quick escape elsewhere.
And then there are those times when you see a place that makes you go- hey, let’s stop there! Like when we overheard a lady in a store giving directions to a local swimming hole and we found the coolest waterfall. Then only this past year we made an unplanned stop at Tallulah Falls, just because we saw a sign.
So, you’ve budgeted, planned a destination choice based on family input and the necessities. Now use your common sense, go with your gut instincts and always carry a bucketful of humor and patience and plan to make your next trip the best vacation ever!
Have any destinations in the Southeast US you’d like to learn more about? Or perhaps a family-friendly place you’d love to recommend? Drop a line in the comment box below!
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