We all hope our family vacations become a treasured source of togetherness and memories. But the reality is often far less lovely: getting an entire household out the door with every needful thing can be an overwhelming task. With some good organizational strategies, you can make planning less stressful, and vacations more meaningful!
1. Decide Your Budget
Stay-cation, state park camping, regional or national parks, domestic or international travel: where you go and what you do depends on what budget works best for your family.
Decide how you will divide your budget…set a limit for travel expenses and break out a daily amount for all activities, meals and souvenirs. Knowing your funds are spread appropriately over the entire span of the vacation provides security and freedom.
2. Grab a Notebook, or Binder, or Computer
Most important, stash all or your vacation information in one place, be it a notebook, binder, or saved on your computer. Consider organizing your files into sections,like: lodging, attractions, activities, meals, maps and packing plans.
Next, create a packing list for each member of your family,and give them ownership of preparing their suitcase and determining what other necessities they may need.
3. Get Family Input
Find out what vacation aspects are the most emotionally important to each family member. When you know that one person enjoys trying off-the-beaten-path restaurants,another likes having a bit of cash for small souvenirs, and another wants to fit in hiking or swimming, you can plan destinations and days that help your family form positive memories along the way.
Family input also helps avoid vacation ruts. If you’ve been going camping because it’s tradition, but solicit family input and find out no one actually enjoys the camping tradition, you’re primed to change paths and make a new tradition that meets your family’s needs.
If you have big dreamers in your family, guide the brainstorming session with topics like ‘Things to do while camping’, ‘Things to do in the car’, or ‘Fun stops along our route’. This cuts down on suggestions like para-sailing and surfing on your drive to a land-locked state.
4. Surf the Web
‘Google’ your proposed destinations, to learn about: local attractions, restaurants and reviews, printable maps of the area–along with driving directions, schedules, and discounts to the activities your family most enjoys.Knowing which activities are free, which have a low cost,and which are more expensive, helps you maximize the budget you set in step one. Additionally, you can order event and activity tickets before leaving home. This could save you time and the frustration of waiting in line for tickets.
Online research can also help you save money on hotel accommodations. Compare amenities, rates, room combinations, and discount options. Look for mid-week specials, area attraction passes, free meals with room reservations, and other perks that add value to your hotel spending.
With that information in hand, make a call to your favorites, and see about additional deals or available discounts. Many can be had just by politely asking. For example, one family found a seaside suite motel that looked like a great home base for exploration up and down the coastal highway. A quick call to the manager secured a much lower weekly rate on their stay. Extending that leg of the vacation plan by one day saved over $150!
Another family discovered it would be more cost-effective to rent a beach side cottage, versus taking multiple rooms in a chain motel further from the water. With self-catering and in-cottage laundry machines, the family saved an average of $120 a night, compared to the original motel plans.
On-line research and pre-planning give you a ready stock of options, and let you tailor your vacation days to suit your family’s energy. Plan for some high energy days, and some low energy days, and no matter what happens, you’ll have options. Be sure to have a few options for lousy weather,and a few very open activities (such as pick-up deli chicken and have a picnic) that can be tossed into the mix at a moment’s notice should the family’s needs change.
5. Spread Out the Work
There may be many pre-vacation tasks that can be delegated to family members. Share the load. Print out individual packing lists, a countdown to-do list, and other organizational aides to display in a central area of your home, and keep everyone motivated and working together toward your vacation.
Even small children can be given some tasks. They could choose three books or a favorite toy to take in their amusement bag, or decide which five shirts they most want to bring along. Older children might be assigned packing buddy status with a younger child.
Teen and adult members might do well with full responsibility for mapping rest stops, planning layover activities for flights, or packing nutritious snacks. If you have one or two members who enjoy photography or blogging, assign them to document your adventure, and put them in charge of creating a family photo book from the images or blog entries later. Give younger family members disposable or inexpensive digital cameras for a very unique look at the vacation from an entirely new perspective. Let everyone take ownership of some aspect of the vacation.
Taking the time to plan with all your family’s needs in mind is a commitment, but the pay-off is a great, low-stress vacation everyone will remember for years!
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