I have been spending lots of my free time this last week planning a big upcoming family trip. This experience has taught me a lot about how to plan an amazing trip. Our family loves to explore new places and to see and do new things, so we are often learning about new places before we ever get there.
To plan a great trip, you need to research the area where you want to go. There are so many free resources for ideas and knowledge about a specific location. Good planning will go far in helping you have a nice trip. Here are some things that I always do when planning a trip.
- Talk to your family. Is there somewhere they are dying to go? Maybe this is a graduation trip or extended family are coming. Consider ages and abilities of your family members.
- Brainstorm fun places that you might want to go. We like to do this in the car driving somewhere so the kids are listening.
- Check the checkbook. Where can you afford to go? Do not go into debt for a vacation!!! You can plan fun family trips for cheap. We did an awful lot of camping when we first got married because it was “cheap”. But we made some amazing memories. Here’s my post on planning a vacation on a budget.
- Consider how many vacation days you’ll need to take off. Some years when we do big trips we use up all the vacation days so we plan little 1-2 day get-aways on the weekend. It is so much better vacationing during the week when there are less crowds. Hotels usually cost more on the weekends as well. So when we can avoid weekends and do a Monday-Friday trip, we take it!
- You can find just about anything online. Search on Google, “Things to do in….”. There are so many travel blogs and smart ideas out there that will come up in your search. I do a quick search of these blogs. Avoid the blogs with lots of ads and pop-ups. You should find lots of helpful information for your trip.
- Google maps is great to check driving distances or to see nearby options. I like to google the location and then follow the path we will travel. Check out your driving route and your hotel or campground location. You can scroll around the map to find food options nearby and many fun things to do along the way.
- Pinterest. You can find so many helpful things on Pinterest. Search for the place or specific town near where you want to go. Then save the sites in a folder to reference later.
- Social Media. I love to see pictures of friends’ trips. Pay attention if a friend goes somewhere you’d like to go or that looks like fun. You can later search their page for that place or message them about the trip. Most friends are happy to talk about past trips and best places to visit.
- Talk to people and ask if they have been to that location. Listen to the highlights and things that were a bust. Take notes so you can remember what things to research further.
- Get books from the library. There are travel guides for every state, National Parks, and most countries. The newest ones are always the most up to date so you can start with those. Our library doesn’t have a limit so I like to order lots of books on the place we are going. Then you can skim through each to find the most helpful books. If there is a particular book that I love I might consider buying it…Like when we went to Disneyland the first time I bought Disneyland’s Hidden Mickeys after getting it at the library.
- I Keep a folder for areas we might visit someday or that we have already visited. Each folder contains maps and travel brochures we get along the way or that I find online. This has helped us especially when we return to a place we have previously been.
- Once you have a good list of things to do in an area, next ask, “Where will I stay?” A campsite, hotel, airbnb? I like to use recration.gov and reserveamerica.com for camping, Hotels.com and Expedia.com to look for hotels available in the area, airbnb.com and vrbo.com for bigger places to stay (if we have a bigger group going). There are so many options now. You can find hotels near almost every national park as well as campgrounds nearby too.
As you research the area, take notes. Right down sites that were helpful and interesting, names of places and things to do on the trip that look fun. When I research so many things and hop back and forth from sites, I often forget where I found things. Saving the info has saved so many headaches.
Start a mock calendar with the days that you’ll be gone. I literally just draw lines across a scratch paper and 6 lines down to make a week. Pencil in the things you would most like to do, and then pencil in other options. Think of this as an outline for your trip. Then add to it as you research…adding more details and things to do. I print off any maps or guides as I find them online. I put them together by day of the trip and by location. This helps keep my notes organized. Over-planning isn’t a bad thing. I like to have backup ideas for when something falls through or the weather doesn’t cooperate.
When you have a tentative plan, talk it out with your spouse and kids. Sometimes just talking out the trip activities helps me realize what to delete or where we should make adjustments.
Just like writing, I work on my draft of our plan and fine tune and tweak it for a few weeks. Then we book everything.
As it gets closer, plan your food together with your family. Plan every meal for each day…breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Check your itinerary. Where will you be during each meal. We try to only eat out one meal each day to save some money. If you are camping or hiking you’ll have to pack in each meal. Once I figure out what we are eating each day, I make a list of what to pack and a separate list of what needs to be purchased before the trip. Here is my blog post on simplifying packing.
I have found that if I am prepared, things go much smoother on our trip, we can relax and have a lot more fun! Making lists of things to do and keeping them in a folder that we take with us saves us so much stress. Many times we have been in an area where we don’t have cell service or WiFi, so those maps and notes really come in handy. I also like to have an idea of where we are going so if Siri leads us in the wrong direction (it has happened) we can catch the mistake sooner.
Do you have a trick that you do to plan for family vacations? I’d love to hear about it.
Some of my other posts you might enjoy: