Planning a Family Vacation – A Step by Step Guide

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Whoever said “getting there is half the fun” clearly never tried to organize a family vacation!

Travelling has changed a lot for us since having kids. The fact is, we’re not as flexible and able to make last minute travel plans as we were once able.

While we appreciate the many benefits of a family vacation, we also know that planning a successful family vacation can be quite overwhelming! It requires more than just choosing a destination and packing your bags. Planning requires thought, consideration, and a touch of strategic planning to cater to the varied interests and needs of every family member.

Whether you’re planning a road trip, an international family vacation, a family staycation, a couples trip (heyyyy baecation), or even a solo adventure, when you feel like your forgetting something, it’s difficult to fully relax and enjoy the lead up to your trip.

After taking many trips as a family over the years, we’ve learned a thing or two that have helped us deal with the stress of family vacation planning.

Keep reading to find out our step by step process for planning the perfect family vacation, stress-free (well less stress).

Start Planning Early

The key to planning a successful family vacation is to start early and be organized.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people wait until the last minute to start planning their trip.

As tempting as it might be to embrace the procrastinator’s mantra of “I’ll figure it out later,” starting your family vacation planning in advance can make all the difference.

Why rush through decisions and risk limited options when you can relax and methodically lay the groundwork for your next vacation.

I don’t know about you, but if I can choose the option that promises less stress and a smoother travel experience (starting early), I would go for it with both hands.

Learn to avoid procrastination when it comes to planning your family vacation.

Family Vacation Planning Checklist

A family vacation planning checklist is a simple tool that will help you keep track of all the things you need to do ahead of your trip.

It will keep you organized and on track while planning your trip.

Planning A Family Vacation Checklist

3 – 6 months before your trip

  • Decide on WHERE and WHEN you want to travel
  • Research your destination
  • Create a travel budget
  • Start tracking airfare tickets (using tools such as Google flights, Skyscanner to scour the internet for the best prices)
  • Score the best deals on hotel accommodation using Hotwire
  • Ask for time off work (depending on your company policy, you should make sure you have the time you need before you book your trip)
  • Check what vaccinations you need, make necessary appointments to get them
  • Check your passport expiry & renew if necessary
  • Find out what travel documentation is necessary – Apply for Visa
  • Purchase advance tickets for popular attractions (especially if traveling during peak season)

1 – 3 months before your trip

  • Research things to do (Google, Pinterest, Read blog posts and destination guides)
  • Make arrangements for pets (if needed) 
  • Take out travel insurance (if you don’t have it) 
  • Refill your medications so that you don’t run out while on your trip (if needed)

Two weeks before you travel 

  • Create a travel  itinerary 
  • Create a packing list (you can use your itinerary to guide you)
  • Start shopping/ order any additional clothes or travel resources you’ll need for your trip
  • Arrange travel to the airport: book train tickets or airport parking (if needed) 
  • Book a rental car (if needed)

One week before your trip

  • Do laundry
  • Make any last-minute bookings for attractions or restaurants at your destination
  • Notify friends & family of travel plans and emergency contact numbers 
  • 48 hours before your trip
  • Call your credit card company to let them know you are traveling
  • Shop for snacks for the journey 
  • Check luggage allowance and weight limits for your airline 
  • Share your itinerary and travel details with close friends or family

The day before 

  • Check-in online & pay luggage fees
  • Print out all travel documents: boarding passes, train/coach tickets, visa, hotel & car bookings, entry to attractions
  • Set ‘out of office’ on work email
  • Take out trash and clean the house

Travel Day 

  • Pack your toiletries
  • Unplug electronics and pack
  • Make sure you have your phone
  • Double and triple check that you have everything on your packing list

A Step by Step Guide to Planning a Family Vacation

3 – 6 Months Before Your Trip

This is arguably the most important time in the entire vacation planning process. It’s also a time that most people overlook.

Step 1- Set A Budget

The very first thing to do when planning a family vacation (or any vacation for that matter) is to set a budget.

This is the amount of money that you feel comfortable spending. It doesn’t mean that you stick to it, it just means that you have something concrete to base the rest of your decisions on.

You can also start to think about how much you’d be willing to spend on flights, accommodation, activities, food etc.

Step 2- Decide When And Where You Will Go

Next, you’ll need to do it decide WHEN and WHERE you want to travel.

While this may seem like an easy task, if you don’t have a firm grasp on these two points, the rest of the planning process will be more difficult.

For instance, you may know that you want to visit Europe next year, but you can’t really do much until you pinpoint where and when you want to go.

Do you want to visit in the winter or in the summer? This will impact the types of activities you will want to do. It may also impact where you chose to stay and how you plan the trip.

Planning a trip is futile if you haven’t yet decided exactly where and when you will travel.

During this time, you can enlist some online resources such as Pinterest, Instagram, other blogs and even your own bucket list to give you an idea of where to go.

Also, make sure to involve the entire family in the decision making process. After all, this is a family vacation.

Step 3- Research Your Destination & Vicinity

Once you have a destination in mind, start to do your research. This will help you plan better and make more informed decisions about your trip.

Some things you’ll want to keep in mind while researching are:

  • What is the climate like?
  • What is the best time?
  • What is your budget?
  • What are the travel and visa requirements?
  • Are vaccinations needed? And if yes, which ones?

You need to start working through these questions early enough so that you have time to start making the necessary arrangements to get these things done.

Step 4- Book Your Flight And Accommodation

Towards the end of this timeframe, you’ll also want to start thinking about bookings.

We recommend booking your flight before you book anything else.

Once you have booked your flight, you’ll find that the vacation suddenly starts to feel more real. It goes from just an idea to something that is actually happening.

After your flight, the next thing we recommend booking is the accommodation.

I always recommend booking in advance, so you get it out of the way. Many hotels allow you to cancel your reservation without any penalties, so if your plans change you’re not out of pocket.

If you’re traveling during peak season or to a popular destination, then booking in advance is even more important as accommodation gets booked up very quickly.

Once you have your flights and accommodation booked, you can start to look into booking popular attractions. This is especially important if you are traveling to a popular destination, or traveling during peak season.

Pro Tip: Involve everyone in the planning process

When families are planning a trip, usually one person ends up taking on most of the work. The planning, booking, making the itinerary, packing, reservations, need I go on?

Not only can this be stressful, but it’s also not very fair.

As much as possible, you should include everyone in the planning process. This will ensure that everyone has a say in what activities you do and where you go. It’s also a great way to get the kids excited about the trip!

1-3 Months Before Your Trip

Step 5- Start To Create An Itinerary For Your Trip

Now that you’ve booked the big things, it’s time to really spend time researching and fleshing out an itinerary for your trip.

This is when you’ll likely spend a lot of time online looking for things to do.

During this time, Pinterest, blogs, and sites such as TripAdvisor will become your best friend.

You may even decide to enlist the help of some of your friends who have previously traveled to your desired destination.

Pro Tip: Build Some Flexibility Into Your Trip

While it’s important to have a solid plan for your family vacation, it’s also important to build in some flexibility. Things will come up and things will go wrong – that’s just part of travel! By building in some extra time and planning for the unexpected, you can make sure that your trip is as stress-free as possible.

Step 6: Focus On The Logistics

The ‘1-3 month before your trip’ time frame is really exciting- and rightly so. Just don’t forget to take care of the ‘not-so-fun’ things too.

Some of the things you should be thinking about 1-3 months before your travel date:

  • Organizing who will look after your pets (if you have pets).
  • Refilling medications so that you don’t run out while your away
  • Deciding on travel insurance

Make sure you have a good travel insurance policy in place. This is something that many people overlook, but it’s so important just in case something goes wrong.

2 Weeks Before Your Trip

Step 7- Finalize The Itinerary For Your Trip+ Start Packing

As the days draw closer to your trip, it’s time to start working on the finer details. This is the time that you should draw up the itinerary and start preparing to pack.

As you go through your itinerary, you’ll start to get a sense of what you need to pack. Make a packing list and start shopping for items you may need to buy.

Packing is always a difficult task, but if you start preparing for it early enough it doesn’t have to be. That’s why I like to start 2 weeks before the trip to create the packing list for the entire family.

Pro Tip: Create A Packing List

You have probably gathered by now that we love to use checklists when preparing for our trips. Having a checklist when packing is absolutely crucial. This is one of the most important steps in planning a stress-free family vacation.

Packing can be a nightmare if you don’t have a list to help you keep track of everything you need.

When creating your packing list, we recommend that you start with the essentials and then add in any other items you might need.

You’ll need to consider the weather when creating your packing checklist and modify accordingly.

Step 8- Book Transportation and Activities

During this time frame (2 weeks before your trip), you should also start booking things such as your ride to the airport, car rental as well as any other bookings you’ll need for the trip.

One Week Before Your Trip

Step 9- Make Last Minute Reservations

You’re almost there! Just a few more days to go till you set off on your vacation.

Spend this time making any last-minute reservations. I like to also share my travel plans with at least one close friend or family member. That way if something happens, someone will know where I am and can get in touch with me.

Now is also a good time to do your laundry so that you have clean clothes to pack.

48 Hours Before Your Trip

Step 10- Last Minute Travel Prep

Just a few days to go! This is a great time to shop for snacks and finish up your packing. I also recommend that you double check your luggage allowance and weigh limits so that your not scrambling to remove things from your luggage the night before you travel.

You can also use this time to call your credit card company to let them know you are traveling. This is important as it will help to prevent your card from being blocked while you’re away.

Finally, share your final itinerary with your close friends and family.

The Day Before Your Trip

Step 11- Check In To Your Flight

Approximately 24 hours before your flight is scheduled to depart, you’ll get an email with your flight itinerary. Use this opportunity to check in online. This saves you so much time when you get to the airport- Especially when you are traveling in a big group.

You’ll also save on baggage fees as many airlines offer reduced pricing for baggage when you pay online.

Now is also the time to print out all travel documents including boarding passes, train/coach tickets, visa, hotel & car bookings, entry to attractions. Even though we always have the electronic copy, I find that having the physical copy comes in handy- especially when your phone dies or there’s no wifi signal.

Before you log off your computer, you may want to send an out of office email.

At the end of the day, clean the house and take out the trash. Nobody likes coming home to a messy house.

Now you relax, put your feet up and enjoy a good nights rest ahead of your trip.

Pro Tip: Don’t Skip On Your Rest

This is an often overlooked point. Travelling with your family is fun, but it can also be stressful.

Even though you may have planned the most relaxing itinerary, I can almost guarantee you that travel day is going to be anything but relaxing.

All that packing, lugging around heavy suitcases and getting everyone out the door on time is going to take its toll .

Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before you travel. This way you’ll be well rested and prepared for anything the day throws at you.

Also make sure the whole family is well rested so that everyone to be in good spirits for the trip ahead.

The Day Of Your Trip

Yay, it’s finally here! The day of your trip.

If you followed the steps outlined above, you should be pretty much set for your trip. Last minute things to do on travel day include packing toiletries and electronics.

Before you leave the house, make sure to grab your phone and go through your travel planning checklist one more time, making sure that you have done everything you planned to do.

Now that you know how to plan the perfect family vacation, what are you waiting for? Start planning your dream trip today!

Do you have any tips for planning a family vacation? Share them with us in the comments below!

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