Apparently fall is in full swing. I don’t know about you but, I find myself longing for the days when my family was making lifelong memories together on vacation. Where did summer go? If your vacation didn’t live up to the hype and you are vowing to do better this year OR if you are in search of your next great family vacation, I challenge you to start daydreaming today. It’s never too early to think (and save) for your next vacation. Heading to your local beach is what childhood memories are made of, but sometimes mixing things up and thinking bigger can be risky and I promise the reward is well worth the effort. The idea may be daunting but it is manageable if you plan ahead just a bit. I promise. Here is a list of ways to plan an awesome family vacation.
Brainstorming is a great place to start and an entertaining topic of conversation for dinner that doesn’t involve the dreaded question, “How was your day?” Talk about places you’ve always wanted to go on your family vacation or experiences that your family wants to have together. Do you really like animals? Have you always wanted to be a cowboy? Or are you looking for a little culture in the city? And I love going old school. Get a globe out, spin it around. Think big and make a list. There are no bad ideas but some just may not be feasible…yet. Narrow your list down to places/experiences that are realistic. A list of 2 or 3 is fine and then it’s time to head to the next step.
Okay, I’m stating the obvious here but do a little online research to learn a little about your top locations. Get your kids involved. Go to National Geographic Kids and see if there are any videos about your chosen location. Research some of the native animals or learn about a new state. I also really love hitting the local library with the kids. My favorite books to check out are the Who Is/What Was series. It’s a fun way to read about an important person or event from your vacation locale. Here are a few for sale on Amazon if you can’t get to the library.
Doing a little research can teach you about the local culture. Traveling takes you out of your hometown, which means you are in an unfamiliar place with a different culture. It’s important to understand and appreciate similarities and differences. You don’t want to accidentally offend someone by showing them the bottom of your shoe or leave a tip at dinner if that is not customary.
Discover activities that are age appropriate for your family. Will you have to walk everywhere? Does your dream day involve getting out in nature or touring a museum all day? Have the kids pick an activity or two that they can’t wait to do and you do the same. That way, you can head off future grumblings about not wanting to do said activity with, “It was Dad’s #1 pick so let’s all find something we like about this pub.” (actual conversation on our recent trip to London)
Rent a home
I love a hotel as much as the next mom. Daily housekeeping, anyone? But there comes a time when a small hotel room just doesn’t cut it in the vacation sanity department. If you are traveling for more than a few days you may want to stretch out a bit. You will want to unpack your bags and not eat out 3 meals a day. It gets expensive! I strongly encourage you to look into renting an apartment/home for your family vacation stay. There are several sites that offer a great selection of spacious places to stay. We’ve rented through Home Away and Airbnb in the past and had wonderful experiences. They have homes for every budget and you can even book experiences through them. Between Home Away and Airbnb you can choose homes, apartments, cabins and even boats! I like to choose places with kitchens so you can make a quick breakfast in the morning or store wine for a nightcap after the kids are in bed. Also having a washer/dryer is a bonus when your kids spill something on their clothes. Every. Single. Day. And separate bedrooms mean that no one has to try and read books under the covers with flashlights while little ones sleep. Although you won’t have a hotel concierge to pepper with questions, many of the people renting out their homes are happy to help you with restaurant recommendations or questions about the area. We found that most places had local brochures and maps available. Before you book check these things:
- Check the location. If you don’t have a car, is it close to transportation? Within walking distance to major sights? Is it on a busy road – that could be noisy and/or dangerous with kids.
- Read the reviews. What have other travelers said? You have to walk up 3 flights of stairs with your luggage and 2 tired kids?
- Check the amenities. No WiFi? Could be a downer when trying to plan your day. Daily cleaning included? Score. Welcome basket with coffee and pastries. Now you’re talkin’!
- Understand your cancellation penalties. If you cancel within a certain amount of time before your stay most will charge you for some or all of your trip. You may be able to get trip insurance but, make sure you understand your vulnerability. Life happens.
Make you sure you are prepared
If you are heading out of the country, check everyone’s passport NOW so you have time to renew or apply for a new passport. Everyone in your family needs one, even babies, so start hunting around for your important paperwork and apply. It can take up to 2 months so plan accordingly. If yours is expiring soon, like within the next 6 months go ahead and renew it anyway even if it isn’t expiring until you get back. Just to be safe.
If you plan on taking several trips abroad in the next 5 years, consider applying for the Global Entry Program. It’s basically a fast-pass through customs when you return back to the US. I’ve found when I return back on US soil one of the last things I want to do is wait in line with tired/cranky kids. You can thank me later. Again, everyone in your group has to apply so start the process early.
These days you really can’t be too careful. Check in with the US Department of State to see if your travel location has any alerts or warnings. You can register your travel plans via a program called The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It’s FREE and it notifies the US Embassy in the country you are traveling to know your plans. They will send you notifications if there are any emergencies like a natural disaster, civil unrest or even a family emergency. It’s just another way to feel safer traveling with your family. And speaking of US Embassies, know where the closest one is in case you need to recover a lost passport. It happens.
Okay, now that you have picked out a family vacation spot and have prepared for the fun and memories, let’s talk about how to have a good time. I know that sounds silly, of course you are going to have fun but let’s talk about EVERYONE having fun.
Read on here In Search of the Great Family Vacation – Part 2