Vacation season is quickly approaching! I dream of the days that I can get away with my loved ones and do something fun, not have to worry about my forever-messy house, my husband’s frustrating work schedule, and all of the other responsibilities that comes along with being a stay-at-home-mom. With our busy lives, vacations are a necessity for us. From the moment we book a vacation our whole house starts counting down the days.
The entire family looks forward to vacation time where we can get away and spend uninterrupted quality time together doing activities outside of our routine. Making my family happy is a great motivator for me to plan the best possible vacation.
Why do I say “I”…?
Well because my husband loves to take vacations but absolutely hates planning them. Everyone in the home relies on me to plan the coolest places to stay, all the fun activities, the meals, and even the road trip snacks. It’s all on me and I’m okay with that.
I’ve really gotten good at planning vacations over the years. With much trial and error, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks and I’m going to share them below.
Location, Location, Location
It’s a good idea to take a poll and decide where your family would like to vacation. I will preface this by mentioning that I give them options that would have entertainment for everyone. After narrowing it down, it’ll become easier to decide where to visit and when to travel.
*Tip 1: Google search areas of interest to make sure they are family friendly and map out your destination.
*Tip 2: Look for places you can stay a night or two along the way to break up a long trip. This can keep younger kids happy and add a broader experience and breadth of activities.
*Tip 3: Check the weather forecast for your vacation period in advance. You may be surprised when you arrive during the rainy season or before temperatures are optimal if you don’t plan ahead.
*Tip 4: Timing is everything. Check to see if there are any major local events that may not be family friendly or make your destination overcrowded during your stay. You may not want to go to Myrtle Beach during bike week or the Florida Keys during Spring Break with your family. Then again, maybe you do, but it’s good to know what you’re getting into.
Choose A Place to Stay
Choosing lodging can be quite intimidating, especially when you have a larger family that needs to be accommodated. There are a lot of options out there including, hotels, resorts, cabin rentals, serviced apartments, and even vacation homes.
*Tip 1: Hotels are ideal for a short stay (i.e. 2 nights), when nearby activities will keep your family out of our room.
*Tip 2: Resorts, cabins, condos, or serviced apartments that include a partial or full kitchen and more privacy are ideal for longer stays (i.e. five days or more). Kitchen areas are not only convenient but can save a lot of money even if you still eat out. Having privacy and separate areas allow down time and relaxation, making the trip more enjoyable and helps everyone get along better.
*Tip 3: Choose your amenities before searching lodging. Don’t waste your time looking at places that don’t have a pool, kitchen, hot tub, king size bed, privacy, view, etc. if you’d like to have it. Vacations are all about enjoyment so get what you want and don’t sacrifice before you even get started.
The bigger your family, the more difficult it will be to find activities that everyone will love. Whether you prefer luxury, adventure, rest, entertainment, education, or novelty, rest assured your party will have other plans.
The more they do, the more you spend. But if you save money along the way, you can add more activities without breaking the bank.
*Tip 1: Take a poll. If only one person in your party enjoys thrill-seeking adventure rides and the other members of the family aren’t interested… don’t waste the money. Find attractions the whole family can enjoy, and it’ll be worth it.
*Tip 2: Compromise. Everyone should have something they really look forward to doing, but timing is important. Keeping something big for later in the stay will provide leverage and maintain the positive vibes. Once kids have what they want, they can become selfish.
*Tip 3: Sneak in something educational and fun. Aquariums, museums, and hands-on activities are positive, stimulating, and typically appreciated when away from home.
*Tip 4: Research local attractions ahead of time. By knowing the costs of activities, you can avoid agreeing to anything that is cost prohibitive. We have found some amazing deals through Groupon, activity bundles, or by booking in advance. Perhaps a 3-day pass is the same cost as a 2-day pass – wouldn’t that be nice to know in advance?
*Tip 5: Incorporate some activities that are fun and inexpensive. Outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, sight-seeing, and other recreation (like shopping) keep everyone entertained in between the high-dollar fun.
Preparing for the Trip
Packing for Vacation
So, you tell everyone to pack their suitcases and they pack 2 pairs of pants, 1 shirt, no underwear, and a sock. Sound about right? In some homes… like mine… the husband’s and children’s suitcases must be double checked.
*Tip 1: Bring extra clothes, especially if the temperatures vary from daytime to night (such as a beach or mountain area). A light jacket and some jeans can often do the trick.
*Tip 2: If you are bringing an infant or toddler, pack extra diapers and wipes. They will get used and are usually cheaper at home than away.
*Tip 3: If your kids have special toys (i.e. stuffed animals, etc.) limit how many they bring. The more you bring, the more you must keep track of. Also, if you have a long ride, you may begin to feel claustrophobic. If their beloved bunny gets lost along the way, it can become the main focal point. Not good! Been there, done that, and no thank you!
*Tip 4: Pack with safety in mind. If you have an accident or slam on your breaks, any extra suitcases packed behind your seats will become dangerous projectiles if they are packed too high or not secured.
This is a big one for me. As a stay at home mom, I feel like I’m cooking meals all the time. It used to be my least favorite part of the vacation because it felt like I wasn’t on vacation at all. It doesn’t have to feel like that or break the bank, and I can tell you how.
*Tip 1: Bring food with you. Some of the essentials are much cheaper at home or may not be available at your destination. Not only do we save money for additional activities, but it is also more convenient. No one wants to spend a lot of time grocery shopping while on vacation.
*Tip 2: Even if you eat out most meals, having a kitchen area on an extended stay can save tons on breakfast, drinks, snacks, and maybe even a lunch or dinner in.
*Tip 3: Share the kitchen. If you typically do all the cooking, let your spouse step up while on vacation. This can ensure everyone has some downtime and spreads out the responsibilities.
*Tip 4: Budget for eating out. We love trying new places when away and we find it helpful to plan to eat out certain nights in advance. Then when we indulge, we are not thinking about our budget… just enjoying the moment!
Preparing for the Car Ride
The car ride on the way to our destination is the most stressful for me. I can guarantee 1 hour down the road at least one of my children are claiming they’re going to waste away because it’s been sooo long since they’ve eaten. I’m sure some of you can relate.
*Tip 1: Pack snacks… lots and lots of snacks. Pack nutritious snacks, cracker snacks, and fun snacks.
*Tip 2: Divide snacks into individual snack-size bags and each child will get one of each throughout the day. The avoided messes, fighting, and stops for food when a snack would do the trick is worth the extra trouble.
*Tip 3: Leave early enough and eat a light breakfast on the ride. By lunchtime, you can grab a bite, use the restroom, stretch your legs, and recharge before everyone gets stir crazy.
*Tip 4: Pack a cooler with ice, water, and a couple of fun drinks for the kids. Avoiding too many sugary drinks will cut down on consumption, restlessness, and bathroom breaks.
*Tip 5: Don’t bring food and drinks that will stain. Avoid berries, jellies, dark-colored drinks like juice or cola, or anything sticky.
*Tip 6: Keep the hostiles entertained. Movies, music, video games, mad libs, etc. Do whatever it takes to keep the peace. Oh, don’t forget extra USB chargers and batteries. Your sanity will thank me later!
A Little Extra Fun
We all love to shop! Not only is it fun, but most times we have access to a better selection and better deals when away.
*Tip 1: Research the shopping in advance. There are lots of discount stores in tourist destinations. For example, we have found discount Nike outlets that save us 80% on some much-needed new kicks. We always bring a suitcase with non-perishable food, but pack it full of souvenirs, décor, clothing, etc. for the ride home.
*Tip 2: Tourist areas often have coupon booklets for local stores to get you in their doors. Don’t miss out on these deals if you are already buying fudge, beachwear, or whatever makes you smile.
So now you’ve planned the perfect trip. You’ve accounted for the amenities, location, activities, meals, travel, and everyone’s different interests. No matter how great your plans are, the most important thing to remember is that it’s up to you to have a good time. If something goes wrong, smile. If it rains, enjoy it. This is your vacation that you’ve worked all year for, so make it amazing!