I'm not certain if it's the snow covered yard or the bitterly cold winds that seem to pierce my face when I step outside - but something has me craving a vacation getaway. When I glance at the calendar, there are still weeks upon weeks that separate me from summer and our travel plans. Yet in a blink of an eye, we'll be wrapping up school and summer will be here before we know it! So, it's time to start planning the travel details: finding our destination, booking a hotel online, budgeting the cost and reviewing area attractions.
Though it can seem as if I'm thwarting the point of a fun-filled and relaxing time by pouring over the details - I've found that if I don't, we not only spend more money but we also spend more time trying to decide what to do than actually enjoying our destination. Here are a few things I keep in mind when planning our family vacations.
Try to be flexible
Be flexible on the length of your vacation, destination, hotel, dining and attractions. I've found that our trips are most enjoyable when we travel to a destination that the entire family can enjoy, we make an effort to find attractions that fit the various interest of each family member and find restaurants that satisfy everyone's taste buds.
Set a budget
If you set a travel budget during the planning stage - I believe that you're less likely to overspend or feel you're missing out on adventures while on vacation. If your finances allow, go ahead and be flexible with your budgeting. Whatever the budget, it is possible to have a fun and stress-free trip.
Remember to take everything into account when planning the budget. Think of: transportation, lodging, attracting, shopping, dining, and entertainment. The best part of planning your family vacation and budgeting ahead of time - is that you'll give yourself time to find creative ways to save money for the trip.
Choose a destination
Now that you've set a budget - you can decide what destination fits your budget. The cost of transportation will be a large factor. Driving a long distance will have high fuel costs and flying can be expensive as well - even before you factor in car rental once you land. However, if you drive - you can pack a lot of food to bring if you have the space. We've currently only vacationed in areas that are very family-friendly.
You'll need to decide what is important to you in a destination. Are you wanting to lounge on the beach, spend a few days hiking and fishing or spend time in a metropolis? Once you know that - you're choices will be quickly narrowed.
Keep in mind the cost to get to your destination and the general cost of staying there (including lodging and dining). Remember to research your destination before you book your stay. Find out what time of year is best to visit and what events may be happening in the area that you'd like to attend or avoid.
Knowing where you'd like to go now makes it possible to choose a place to stay. Though I want to find a hotel or resort that is affordable - I'm always, always nervous about this stage of planning. Though you may not spend a lot of time at your hotel - your lodging choice can weigh heavily on how much you enjoy your vacation. I spend a lot of time researching all options. When you first begin searching online for a hotel - it's likely that the most expensive options will be at the top of the results. I suggest scrolling down a bit and browsing through all of the hotels. You are very likely to find a place that fits your needs and budget. You may also want to consider, motels, camping sites, bed and breakfasts and short-term rentals. Or perhaps you know someone who owns a condo in that area and is willing to rent it to you during your stay.
Attraction deals and discounts
Before I purchase tickets to local attractions - I try to find any deals or discounts available. Sometime, the hotel or resort you're staying at have special arrangements for discounts at local attractions. Be sure to ask this when booking your stay. Local travel guides and attraction passes are good ways to help save space in your budget. The large the destination, the more likely you are to find an attraction pass. Check out the visitor's bureaus for added savings, discounts and information.
The time of year that you visit can also change pricing on attractions and deals. Going during an off-season may result in lower lodging rates and attraction ticket prices.
Find Free or Cheap Local Activities.
My favorite activity is a free one! When we visit the Smoky Mountains - we love taking advantage of the national park. It's free and it is beautiful! If we stay near the beach - going to the beach is also free unless you need to pay for parking. We often try to find a hotel right on the beach to save ourselves time.
Some museums may offer free days, there may be local festivals happening that you can attend and there are always lower cost activities such as put-put.