Sorry this is so late Sweet Shoppers – I had an emergency at work today which threw a wrench in the whole day!!! It’s Juli here today with 5 Tips on planning a super fun summer vacation for your family. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE going on vacation. My husband and I spend hours planning trips for our family and for just the two of us. We want our time away to fit in our budget, be fun and relaxing and be something that we always remember. Over the years I’ve learned a few tips (mostly great websites) that make planning a vacation, any time of year, easier.
1. Figure Out What Kind of Vacationers You Are
For our honeymoon my husband booked us a all-inclusive resort in Jamaica. This sounded like such a great idea…time on the beach, all the food and drinks we wanted, daily arts and crafts, snorkeling, etc. Sounds nice, huh. Well it was only we realized half way through the week that neither one of us really likes the beach or laying out. We aren’t sit in the sun and relax kind of people. We like to explore, learn, move around and just hanging out in one place for a whole week is so not our thing. Lesson learned – think about what you enjoy doing and what the other people in your family enjoy doing before even starting your vacation planning adventure.
We make a list of what each person likes to do the best and then when we consider locations we keep those things in mind. Also we like to mix it up a bit. One of our most successful vacations with our kids was when we visited Washington, DC; Shenandoah National Park; and Philadelphia. We did a few days in DC at an in town hotel – museums, riding the Metro, the Zoo, lots of walking and more museums. Then we rented a car and drove out to Shenandoah National Park where we stayed in a lodge (with no TV). We saw 44 deer, snow, played in the leaves, hiked, earned Jr. Ranger badges and explored caverns. Then we drove to Philly to visit my sister-in-law (free housing for a few days). We walked in the park, did the Liberty Bell, road a troll, watched a movie, carved pumpkins and had Philly cheese steaks. This was 4 years ago and my kids are still talking about it. Why? Because everyone got to do a little of what they like to do best .
Kaboose has this neat little survey that you can go through to determine what kind of vacation might be best for your family.
2. Find Kid Friendly Things To Do
My husband and I always struggle with what part of the country or what country to visit. What will be appealing for the kids versus the things we know that we will like to do? How in the heck to entertain a teenage girl without totally boring her to tears or driving yourself insane? This is where good research comes in. Right now we are trying to decide between visiting Seattle/Vancouver area or Boston/Montreal. In order to see what each area offers for entertainment/education I often use Family Fun’s Vacation site to find out what is available in each city. I love how you can click on an age group and they give you a suggested itinerary of places to visits over a 3 day period. I also love that when you click on an activity you get more details like – don’t bring your camera, no photos allowed, whether or not there is food offered, approximate ticket prices. It’s a great way to start the planning! Tripadvisor is also great website for researching things to do in an area. They have forums where you can ask questions to locals and those that have traveled to the area and get great advice!
Go online and visit the website for the city that you will be traveling to. You can usually order a booklet or information that they will ship to your home for free. This will provide you with attraction info, coupons, and good general info about where you will be vacationing. To build excitement in older children share these resources with your kids and let them tell you what things sound fun for them.
Visit your library to find books on the destinations where you things you might be going. When researching Alaska last summer we brought home stacks of books to read before we decided where we actually wanted to go. You can’t beat free info! However, if you feel the need to take a travel book with you try taking an e-book or your e-reader. We used my Nook last year and downloaded PDF version of Alaska guide books and animal guide books to make our luggage a little lighter. When we needed to figure out where we could find internet in a tiny little town I whipped out my Nook, looked in the guidebook and was able to find a coffee shop that had internet and amazing coffee. We also used the Nook to store driving maps from Mapquest which we “printed” as PDFs and then stored on my memory card in the Nook. It made things so much easier to have all the directions we needed right on hand because our cell phone coverage was awful once we got out of the big city!
3. Talk To Those That Have Been There and Done That
Building on #2, use online forums to talk to other parents and travelers about the destination where you are going. You can find forums for every kind of vacation you are going to take. Even in the SSD forums people will ask for ideas and advice. I’m sure the mom forums out there are the same! These are also great places to get general travel advice, ideas on what to pack, places not to be missed and even good places to eat. Some of my favorite travel related forums are:
Disney Forum – All Ears
Cruises – Cruise Critics – lots of info not just on cruising but also on destinations where cruise ships dock.
Travel Forums – Tripadvisor Forums – Great place to ask questions and to read about other people’s adventures
4. Save Money While Having Fun
Let’s face it, going on vacation is a luxury these days. Not everyone has the money to spend to be able to take their family on vacation. Here’s a few things we do to help defer the cost of going on vacation.
Use reward credit cards. We have one main hotel credit card that earns points and one airline card that earns rewards that we use to purchase just about everything. Instead of using cash to pay for our Y membership, groceries, after school care, and some of our utility bills we use our travel reward cards. I always set aside the cash in our checking account to pay off the balance in full on these cards. We are also careful to make there is no annual fee for the first year and only use the card during the first year. A lot of the reward cards give you enough points for 1-2 nights or 1 flight by using it only a few times.
Another trick we use is that we apply for card separately so I have my own card (and my own free points) on Southwest and hubby has his own card/account (and his own free points) on Southwest too. This is giving us enough points for the 4 of us to fly round trip this summer if we plan carefully. Also the hotel card we share has the option of using points plus cash to stay in hotels. So we stay in 3-5 star hotels for $45 a night plus points – it’s a great deal!
Using Entertainment Books. Especially for summer travel, purchasing and Entertainment Book for the city you will be visiting can save you a bundle. The books are usually on sale this time of year because the new books come out in the Fall leaving a short window to the use the coupons. There are almost always coupons for local tourist attractions and family friendly restaurants in these books. We’ve use Entertainment Book coupons to go on discounted boat tours in Seattle, attend a baseball for next to nothing in Vancouver, eat at cute little neighborhood restaurants in countless cities (and usually at half the price), and lots of other things. When we are done with our trip we always try to find a family that is just arriving to the city for vacation to hand the book off too. We never use all the coupons, but always get our money’s worth.
Use Groupon and Social Living – Sign up to get Groupon’s and Social Living offers for the areas you will be visiting. You never know what you might find a discount for. Last summer we found a special for 2 nights in a 1 bedroom suite in Whistler that included a free bike rental, lift tickets and gondola ride. We probably would not have sprung for the lift ticket or gondola ride if we wouldn’t have gotten it free as part of the package.
5. Organize Before You Go
After doing all this research about where to go and what there is to do and where I can save a few bucks, my head is swimming with all the info. I usually create a binder with top loading sheet protectors. I type up our general itinerary and then for each location and/or day I slide the info I need in the sheet protectors. So if we are going to the city for the first few days I’ll put everything about the city in the first few page protectors then in the next few I’ll put the info (reservation confirmation, maps, etc) in to the next few. At the end of each day I add in any brochures, ticket stubs, maps, etc that we collect along the way and put them in the sheet protector to use in my scrapbook/Project Life for when I get back home. Once home I store these binder’s in my office/craft room so that if I need to look back and see where we went or we have friends that want to visit…I have info I can share.
Here’s a picture of the binder I made last summer. Hubby and I went on a 2 week trip to Vancouver/Whistler, 7 day Alaskan cruise and then stayed in Anchorage/Kenai Peninsula. Now that we are looking at taking the kids to Vancouver I’m super happy to have all my maps and info I collected last year to review for what we might like to share with the kids this summer.
I hope this gave you some good resources and ideas for vacation planning. I’d love to hear about your adventures and get a glimpse of your packing list.