If you’ve never planned a vacation before, it can be a bit intimidating to know where to begin. Even if you’ve planned a trip before, you might have forgotten some things to look at ahead of time. Wherever you are in your travel planning experience, these tips will help you learn how to start planning a family vacation.
Although our guide is based around a family vacation, these tips will work for other types of trips as well.
To learn how we planned a vacation for two people, check out our post: How to Plan Your Vacation on a Budget
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How to Start Planning a Family Vacation: Where Do I Even Begin?
The first thing you should do when planning a family vacation is to choose a location.
Choosing a location for your family to visit can be a bit trickier than planning a trip for one or two people. When you have a family, it means that there are a lot more opinions about where you should go. This is especially true if you have older kids or more than two adults going.
The more open you are about where you should go, the more opportunities you will have to save money and find interesting places that you’ve never been.
Tips on Choosing a Vacation Spot
You should definitely do some research before choosing a vacation spot. Although you could just pick anywhere, there are some things you should consider before choosing your location.
Do you want to stay near a beach?
Beaches that are busier with more attractions usually cost more for rentals and book up faster.
Try a quieter, less busy beach for cheaper rentals and more availability. You can drive to the attractions and then go back to peace and quiet.
Do you want to visit a big city?
If you are going to a busy city, factor in the cost of transportation (subway, bus, taxis, etc.). When traveling with a bigger family, the cost of transportation can really be a big expense, so don’t ignore it.
If you will be driving a car, include parking availability and cost into your decision. It can get expensive. Some cities have very limited parking, so it can be tough to drive around to different attractions.
What’s the weather like?
Research what the weather is likely to be at the time of year you plan to visit. This is especially true if you’re not used to a certain kind of weather.
If you can’t stand the heat, don’t go anywhere south between May and September.
Take into consideration all the members of your family that will be accompanying you on the trip. Will one of your family members be miserable the whole trip if you visit somewhere cold? This is something that can really be a downer on a vacation, so plan accordingly.
Can you afford the flights?
If you’re planning to fly, you need to consider what the cost of flights will be in the months you’re considering flying.
Many places vary in price by month. Also, if you are able to travel in the off-season, you can save a lot of money on flights and accommodations.
Do you need to worry about construction?
If you are planning to drive somewhere by car, look ahead to see what kind of construction there is (if any). You may want to plan a different route or choose another place to visit.
Will there be lots of traffic?
When choosing a place to stay, look at traffic in the area.
One year, we didn’t bother to see what kind of traffic was in the area we visited. We stayed 20 miles from most of the attractions, and we thought it would be an easy 20 minute drive. That was not the case at all. It took us 2 hours every time we had to drive somewhere!
Where should you go?
While planning a vacation this year, I went state by state of places I hadn’t been. I wrote down what some of the most popular things to do were and decided from there.
Also, think about the people you will be with for vacation. Do they have any limitations on walking, climbing, etc.?
Tips on Choosing Transportation
For some locations, you have to either fly or take a long boat ride in order to get there. But what about the places that aren’t separated by water? Should you spend the money to fly or take the longer route by train or car?
Before you decide, here are some things to consider:
If you are driving, besides seeing where construction zones will be, there are other items to factor into your decision.
- Gas prices
- Parking availability
- Rental car stipulations
- Vacation days
How much will you need to spend on gas money? Gas prices are typically higher in the summer. Also, some cities and states have a lot higher gas prices than you might be expecting.
Will there be ample, affordable parking where you are going? Some cities have very little parking and it is first come, first serve.
If you are driving a rental car, does it have stipulations about where it can be driven? For example, some car rental companies don’t allow you to drive your car on dirt roads. This could be a big issue if you are wanting to do some outdoor activities that require you to drive off road a little.
How many days are you planning to take off from work? One of the biggest drawbacks for driving is that it takes a lot longer to get to your destination. This won’t be a big deal if you’re not traveling far. For places farther away, driving time can easily take up a couple days of your vacation.
Renting a Car
You can rent a car directly through a car rental agency or through a service like Expedia.
The best deal I ever got on a rental car was through AAA. They booked it for me, and I saved 40% off the rates of the car rental place.
Learn more about AAA here.
If you decide to fly, make sure you count taxes, baggage fees, and other fees when looking at prices.
Some airlines charge for carry-ons while others don’t. If an airline charges for carry-ons, don’t immediately discount it. We have chosen to pay for carry-ons in the past because it was still cheaper than choosing an airline that had free carry-ons.
Some of the cheapest airlines in the US are Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant, and Jet Blue. You can go directly to these airlines’ websites to see where they fly. Booking directly through airlines’ websites can sometimes be the cheapest option.
Looking at Flights
Google Flights is a great tool to use even if you don’t know where you want to go. You can type in the airport you are flying out of and leave the destination airport blank. It will give you a variety of places you can go and the flight costs.
You can set the price range, too, so that it only shows flights in your price range. It will also compare different dates in the same month to show cheaper flights.
Taking a Train
If you choose not to fly, you still have the option of taking a train. Riding on a train can be a nice alternative because it’s a little bit faster than driving, and you don’t have to make stops for gas, bathroom breaks, or food breaks. A train ride is also nice because no one has to stay awake the whole trip driving. You can sleep on the train and move around when you feel restless.
Using a Travel Service
There are many services that can help you save money by bundling airfare, hotel, and a car. Some of these include Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline, and Booking.com. There are others, but these are the only ones I’ve tried.
Be aware that these services only have limited amounts of hotels and if they are sold out, the hotel may still have rooms available from the hotel’s website.
Tips for Choosing Housing
If you aren’t using a service like Expedia to find places to stay, there are other options.
If you want to stay in a hotel, you can see what hotels are near the place you are going and check their rates.
Another option is to look at realities in the area. Many of them have vacation rentals on their sites if it is an area where people like to visit.
It is important that you reserve your housing in advance because a lot of places fill up quickly depending on the time of year you are visiting.
If you need a car for some things but will also be walking, try staying in a close hotel (or rental) that has designated parking.
Tips for Picking Things to Do
When planning what you will do, consider letting each person in your group choose an activity or attraction. If more than one person has a car, maybe you could split up in groups if there are things some want to do but not others.
Read reviews for attractions around the area you’re visiting. Search for free things to do to make the most of your vacation.
If you’re planning on visiting some more expensive tourist attractions, see if there are any days of the week where you can get in for free or for a discounted price.
Also, consider saving money on attractions by finding a good bundle. One company that does this is CityPASS. They offer bundles of tickets for popular tourist attractions in quite a few big cities. You get discounted tickets to places you were already planning on visiting.
If you want to read more about CityPASS, check out our review here.
Do you still have questions about how to start planning a family vacation?
Comment your questions down below!