Family vacations go down in history. They’re the bread and butter of every family’s repertoire of laugh-so-hard-you’re-crying stories. They’re the photos that get transferred to canvas and mounted above the fireplace in the living room. They’re the stories of mishaps or epicly amazing days that get talked about at every birthday and holiday celebration. They’re lasting memories of bonding experiences. Sometimes the vacation-bonding memories might be that time we sat on the side of the road with two flat tires. Other times they’ll be of the best gelato we’ve ever eaten. The best family vacation is totally possible with kids of any age, given any budget, and any time frame. It just takes a little inspiration, planning, and following these 9 tips to pull off the best family vacation.
1. Book the right flight
Some smart travel/life-advice coaches say “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Apparently they’ve never traveled with a teething infant, a perpetually grumpy 8-year-old, or a teenager who is mad at your for not letting the girlfriend/boyfriend of two weeks to come on vacation with the family. Unless you’re on the road-trip of a lifetime, the journey is not the pinnacle of this vacation, and we should get that travel part over as quickly as possible.
Do some research to find the best flight(s). Of course, direct flights are the best but if they’re not available decide which layover works best with your family. You could plan for a long layover and add a fun destination to the trip as either a day trip or even an overnight. Keep an open mind about flight options and how your itinerary could be changed to make getting to the destination as easy and enjoyable as possible.
2. Pack light (and do laundry)
Excess baggage is a sure way to make any family vacation more stressful and difficult to navigate. Especially if the journey from the airport to the hotel is anything more than airport to accommodations. Pack for four days, and plan to wash and then re-wear outfits. Pack everyone shoes that can be worn with any outfit, always be thinking multi-use. On vacation, the only people who will know you’re re-wearing an outfit are those you’re traveling with. No one else will have any idea you wore those pants with that top two days ago. Once you’re totally packed, look through it one more time and try to lighten the load.
3. Get the kids excited and knowledgeable about the destination
Telling a five year old you’re going to Rome probably means nothing to them. They don’t have any frame of reference about what awaits them in Rome – the architecture, museums, gelato and pizza slices the size of their heads. Plan some fun activities to help them understand what they’ll be up to and it will help them get excited. Get some books from the library about some of their favorite characters traveling, go eat at a fun Italian restaurant in your town, or watch a travel show about the destination. Getting the kids, especially the little ones, excited about what’s in store will make the preparations and journey there much smoother.
4. Go for a multi-activity destination
Variety is the spice of life. Especially when on a family vacation with kids of varying ages. Go for a destination with a large selection of activities, sights, and foods the kids (and adults) will be interested in. Look for locations that have a mix of outdoor activities, a large variety of places to eat, easy transportation between attractions, a fun and walkable downtown hub.
Alternatively, you could go with an all-inclusive resort. A large resort will have enough activities, entertainment, and dining to keep everyone happy. Most also arrange excursions off-property if your family is interested. Cruises also offer that same variety but add in the value of exploring different locations with each port.
Keep in mind what keeps your family members happy. Often times, the highlight of a family vacation for kids is the amazing waterslide at the hotel, or that breakfast buffet with chocolate chip pancakes.
5. Choose comfortable accommodation where you can spread out
As much as we tell ourselves that while on vacation, we’re going to be so busy we don’t need much room in a hotel room, that doesn’t always turn into the truth. Every great vacation needs some relaxation time to feel refreshed and ready for more adventuring. When traveling as a family, try for larger accommodations like a condo or an apartment where you can all spread out in multiple rooms.
6. Cater to the kids age/interests
Kids have all sorts of crazy interests. Some are fads and some are long-lasting, but almost all are worth exploring a bit more. Vacation is a great time to feel out some of those passions. Space enthusiasts will need to visit the Kennedy Space Center, or a kid who loves aquatic life might love an intro to scuba diving in Hawaii. A child interested in cooking might have the highlight of the vacation by taking a local cooking class.
Including aspects of every family member’s interests into the vacation is a great way to ensure everyone leaves with unforgettable experiences.
Something especially cool for US families is the “Every Kid in a Park Pass.” Beginning each year on September 1, every child in the 4th grade is eligible for a free pass granting admission into national lands and waters. Free entrance applies to the 4th grader’s family, as well. This pass is the perfect catalyst for that road trip or family camping trip you’ve been thinking of planning.
7. Go slow
Travelers of every age know one truth: pack too much into one day and it all turns into a lethargic trudge, never totally enjoying anything because the tired brain just needs to lay down. Especially with young kids, plan to go slow. One or two daily activities or locations is probably enough to fill the whole day. If you have two busy days, maybe the third day could include some relaxing pool, spa, or resort time so everyone can catch their breath. Vacation is supposed to be relaxing and fun after all, not a marathon (unless running marathons on vacations is your thing).
8. Do a test run
Pack everything up and set out on a vacation test run. Head to a local hotel, Grandma’s house, or even a backyard camping adventure for the night. What did you forget? Is someone missing socks? Does someone have blisters from new shoes?
This is a great time to take note of what’s missing or what isn’t gonna work for the big vacation. Clothing choices, medicines, first aid equipment, or that someone’s suitcase is missing a wheel – all of these follies will become apparent in the test run. And this all makes the real deal go that much smoother.
Just don’t forget the passports for the real deal. You probably didn’t need those for the backyard campout.
9. Expect the plan to fail, and be happy with plan B
Even solo travelers have to expect something eventually will go awry and the entire plan will come crashing down. Add more humans and their needs and desires to the mix and surely, the plan is going to fail. Maybe multiple times. But the best family vacation rolls with that failure and makes something out of it. Bus didn’t show up? Maybe this is the perfect day for racing down waterslides all day, or a pajama party with a fun movie. Sometimes the best days are completely unplanned and the result of a plan not working out in the slightest.
Planning a family vacation?
Let us know and we’ll help with all the planning from the destination to the flight and accommodations! Leave the nitty gritty to us and enjoy your fully planned and stress-free vacation! Let’s get planning!