Ten Tips for Planning A Great Family Vacation

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Stressed about planning your next family vacation? Relax - the Family Travel Network is here to help. Here are ten family travel tips to help make your next family vacation the best ever.

1. Get together. Sit down with the kids before your vacation and let them know where you're going and what to expect on your trip. Talk to the kids about flights and what they might encounter (security check-ins, waiting to board the plane, ear pressure during take-offs and landings, etc.) so they won't get scared and will know what to do. Ditto for long car trips. In addition, this is a good time to talk about any expectations and rules you might have for your trip (such as “you can’t use your cell phone on the cruise ship – it’s too expensive”). It's also a good time to surface any concerns the kids might have (especially with teens, such as "I'm going to go crazy if I have to spend a whole week at the beach with my parents") and consider possible solutions (such as allowing your teen to bring a friend).

2. Make it special. Let every member of the family choose one thing that they'd like to do on your family vacation. This will allow everyone to feel more involved and will get the vacation off to a great start. If you have a tight budget, explain that at the outset and set a dollar figure for how much things can cost. Let the kids do some research on the Internet to find things they'd like to do.

3. Be prepared. Make a list of items that your family will need to bring on your trip. These include travel documents, travel insurance information, and a first aid kit, that includes headache, pain, allergy, cold/cough, and stomach medicines, Band-Aids and anti-bacterial cream. Include the phone numbers of your doctor, dentist, and medical insurance company. Check passport and visa requirements several months in advance to make sure you’re all set. In addition, if your children are bringing a friend along, bring along a notarized letter from their parents authorizing travel and medical treatment if necessary. If you’re flying, visit the airline’s website or check out Seat Guru (www.seatguru.com) to get the best seats for your family.

4. Keep up the excitement. Travel plans are often made far in advance of the trip, but out of sight doesn't have to mean out of mind. Pick up some travel brochures and a guidebook and share them with your kids. Look for books that are set in your vacation destination and read them together. The Internet contains a variety of websites with pictures of your destination and information on activities.

5. Expect the unexpected. Take a few additional items in your carry-on luggage along with medicines and travel documents, such as a change of clothes and bathing suit in case luggage is lost and plenty of travel games and snacks for the trip. Also bring along baby wipes and zip lock bags in case of accidents. Think ahead and plan for occurrences such air travel cancellations and delays, illness, and bad weather. Consider purchasing travel insurance to protect your vacation investment.

6. Pack a great attitude. Attitude is everything when going on a family vacation. If unforeseen events happen, stay flexible and positive. Relax and go with the flow. Your children will learn important life lessons from watching you and you’ll have a much better time on your trip.

7. Leave at the right time. If your child has a nap schedule, take that into consideration when making your travel plans. If you're traveling by plane, make sure to leave extra time for connections. If you’re traveling by car, travel early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid traffic congestion and let the kids nap. The trip will be much smoother and you’ll save gas money as well.

8. Set a comfortable pace: Keep in mind each family member’s individual preferences for waking hours, activity schedules, dress, dining options, nightlife, and needs for sleep and plan accordingly. Respect your differences and be willing to bend the rules a bit if necessary. Letting your teen sleep in for an hour might make all the difference in having a great time on your family vacation.

9. Allow for private time: Family vacations do not necessitate spending every waking hour together. Everyone needs a break sometimes, especially teens and young adults. Be honest with yourselves about your needs for time alone and build it into your trip. Resorts with programs and activities for your kids’ age groups are often a good option.

10. Leave the expectations at home: Family vacations are one of most anticipated events of the year, so it's easy for parents to get all misty-eyed envisioning the great memories and intimate bonding moments that will be created on their trip. If we're being honest, however, we know that family vacations never go exactly as planned. There may be bumpy moments, relationship issues may surface, travel snafus happen, the weather might not cooperate, and the kids might have a meltdown or two. It's okay. Just take the experience as it comes, don’t dwell and go with the flow. Sometimes those vacations where things don’t go as planned make the best vacation memories of all.

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