A family vacation is such a complicated thing to plan. There are many factors you need to take into consideration, children ages, personal preferences, budget. We just got back from our yearly big family vacation to Disneyland Paris, so I wrote down the few rules and tips that help me focus when I start planning it.
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Right from the start, the process of planning a family trip is more complex then booking a couple’s vacation. Deciding on a destination when traveling with kids of various ages, is not an easy thing. I am lucky in that sense – I have twin boys and their sister is just two years younger so they are practically in the same age group, but each child likes what he likes and us adults also need to be enjoying ourselves right?
What I find helps me the most is doing A LOT of research. I plan our trips about 10 months ahead of time (for other reasons I will go into next) but this ables me to make a decision without being pressed for time. I am a member of many FB groups that are about traveling families, I follow blogs of families who are on the road, I collect a lot of information and then I go over it until I come up with a couple of possibilities. I discuss those with my husband and if we travel with another family then we sit together and finalize the destination. In the past few years, I came up with a few rules of the thumb that guide me in the decision making:
- Accommodation is key – I look for accommodation that in itself is very child-friendly and family oriented. This way, if the kids get too tired of the daily trips we can take a “day off” and stay there and let them play and relax. last year we went to the Netherlands and stayed in a lovely holiday park. the kids were looking forward to getting back there each day and enjoy what it had to offer, this year was the same.
- Location (of accommodation) is also key – we stay at one accommodation and go on day trips, going back to the same place each day, it’s easier for the kids and for us, they are more settled that way, and we can unpack properly and not live out of a suitcase. It does mean, however, that you have to choose the location of your accommodation very carefully, I use google maps to check distances and look for a location accordingly.
- Diverse activity schedule – We planned a few long days in which we traveled further (but never over a two-hour drive away from our starting point) and a few half days with a slower pace, allowing the kids time to enjoy the amenities of where we stayed during the week and also to recharge/ For my own kids, being constantly on the go with a packed activity schedule is too much, they need some downtime.
- Budget – Setting a budget for your vacation helps a lot in focusing your choices, I would love to take my kids ton cruise around the world however it is not in my budget for now:) since we take one big vacation abroad with the kids, and shorter local vacations, I do what I can to make the most out of my budget. So far, I managed my budget in a way that allowed us to take the trips we really wanted without making compromises.
My tips for budget-friendly vacations:
- Plan ahead of time – I plan our June vacation in October – that is when most airlines announce their summer prices. The earlier you book the cheaper the airfare is. I am actually on the mailing lists of a few low-cost airlines and I get a notice when they are about to open the sale of their summer flights, I usually book on that first day and get my plane tickets for a great price. I also use Jetraider to compare flight fares for the destinations I am interested in – it is a super useful tool to use and I compared it to other price comparison engines and this one came up with better results.
- We like using low-cost airlines as long as flight time is up to 5 hours tops. We find them to be functional and if you plan the right way it is such a fantastic way to stretch your budget.
- Most low-cost airlines will allow you to take a carry on – free of charge. Each family member has one of their own so this way we don’t have to pay for luggage. The best tip I can give you for making the most out of your free carry on – especially if the airline you are using doesn’t limit carry on weight (just size) is to use space-saving compression bags like these I use those with every trip we take, and it also helps keeping everything in order.What I do spend extra money on is choosing our seats to make sure we are placed all together.
- Booking accommodations – in the past few years I noticed a sort of a shift – while a few years back it was always cheaper to book accommodations through websites like Expedia and Booking.com – I noticed lately that it’s cheaper to book directly through the hotel/accommodation website, sometimes the price is the same but you get extra benefits, so I always check that. When I’m not booking directly through the hotel, I use Booking.com, it has all types of accommodations and it’s usually easier for me to find something that is right for us a family, using it.
Book accommodations ahead of time too – many of the hotels offer an “early bird” prices. Also, we are a family of five. It’s not always easy to find family rooms, they tend to fill up fast (this year, for example, many of the Disney hotels I checked with, wanting to book a family room for June, were already fully booked in October).
- I check different type of accommodations, last year we stayed at a holiday park (this one which is great for kids under the age of 7) where we got a bungalow with a fully furnished kitchen we used for cooking our meals. This year we booked a hotel that served breakfast and we dined out for the rest of the meals. Surprisingly the bungalow with the kitchen proved to be the better option for us, though it may be a little more work, we were more relaxed and it was easier making sure the kids ate something more nutritious then Pizza and french fries. It is definitely something I take into consideration thinking ahead for next year.
These are my tips for the planning part of the trip. Next week I will write about our Disneyland Paris trip and a few tips I came up with during our time there, and for getting through the flight and travel as easily as possible.
What guides you when you are planning your family trip?