How to Plan a Family Vacation That Isn't a Total Bust

Published April 20, 2021
family walking by the sea

Family vacations are something that everyone looks forward to, and because of this, there is a lot of pressure on parents to nail the family excursion and make all the magic happen. If you want to plan a killer getaway with your loved ones, here is how to plan a family vacation that doesn't become a major flop.

Set Realistic Expectations

You can plan all you want, but with families and vacations, the only thing that you can truly count on is a few things going wrong. No vacation is perfect, so make sure and set realistic expectations for your brood. Sure, the trip will look one way in your mind, but parents know that life with kids is messy. They are beautiful blessings and serious curveball masters.

Know That Kids Will Be Kids

If you have young children, hope for the best and plan for the worst. At some point, there will be tantrums, the appearance of unwanted bodily fluids (accidents and throw up almost always make an appearance on a family trip,) misplaced toys or stuffies, and meal stand-offs. Just because you are on vacation does not mean little ones will be on their best behavior.

Be Flexible

Aside from kids being...well, kids, other vacation roadblocks might pop up. The weather might not cooperate, certain attractions may be closed, and timelines and travel can get all jumbled up. It is easy to become upset and frazzled by such happenings, but try to remember that none of this is the end of the world. Even with bumps in the road, your vacation will still be filled with wonderful memories. In the months and weeks leading up to your family trip, remind yourself to keep your expectations a little lower and make mental space for sharp left turns in your vacation plans.

Become a Master List Maker

It is darn hard to keep all the family's vacation needs and wants stored up in your brain. As if parent brains are not already jam-packed! A word from the wise: make a few vacation lists. When it comes time to drag the gang out for a fun-filled week away, lists become your very best friend.

Pre-Vacation To-Do List

Before you head out on your big family trip, make sure all on the home front is squared away.

  • Arrange for your mail to be held or picked up by a neighbor.
  • Ask someone to care for your plants and animals.
  • Turn the heat or air conditioning down in the house before you leave, make sure lights and fans are off.
  • Communicate any absences with your children's teachers and coaches if you are vacationing during the school year or a sport season.

What To Bring List

When you are vacationing with your family, the list of items to bring gets really long, really fast. Start compiling this list at least a week before leaving town, adding to it each day when you think of new things to bring with you. Make sure you include essential items on your list, including:

  • Clothes, pajamas, outerwear, and various shoe wear
  • Toiletries and medications in case anyone comes down with a cold or spikes a fever
  • Activities for the kids to engage in during downtime
  • Special items that they can not live without
  • Phone and tablet chargers

Vacation Must-Do List

Do your research and make a list of the interesting things to do and places to see on your trip. Look into excursions, great-rated restaurants, shopping centers, and outdoor activities before arriving at your destination. Consider your family's needs and abilities and narrow a list of things to do down to what is truly practical for your family in the allotted vacation time that you have.

Remember that all vacation-related lists serve as skeletons and not absolutes. Use them to keep yourself organized, but be flexible if you forget something on the What to Bring list or miss out on an activity from the Vacation Must Do List.

Set a Budget and Stick to It

Family vacations span a wide range of budget options. Something like tent camping or cheap weekend getaways are inexpensive, while a week at a Disney Resort can break the bank! Make sure you pair your trip with your budget. Know roughly how much money your family can free up and choose a vacation that fits your budget.

Don't forget to leave some financial wiggle room in your vacation budget. While you do want to pay the budget attention, know that it is pretty common to go over your financial limit by a bit. Furthermore, additional and unexpected costs often pop up on trips. You may have to pay for something that you had not considered when you worked your trip budget. Set aside some money for miscellaneous happenings.

It is a great idea to begin saving for a trip long before you hit the road. Create a separate bank account where you can put a small part of your paycheck away each week for several months, so when it is vacation time, the cash is at your disposal.

happy toddler girl with sunglasses

Plan Activities Tailored to Everyone

Vacations can get complicated when everyone is at a different development level, has varying interests, or when you are vacationing with multiple families. If this is the case with your family, make sure and plan points of interest for everyone. Sit down with your family before the trip and explain that while you will do your best to make all aspects of the vacation enjoyable for everyone, there may be a thing or two that you do as a family that doesn't strike one person's fancy. Everyone on a family trip has to grin and bear a few "meh" moments, but that is life. It's a life lesson for children to suffer through moments that are not tailored to them. Look at you turning your trip into an educational experience!

Don't Stretch It out too Long

Do you know how people say that you can never have enough of a good thing? It's not true. You can have too much ice cream and make yourself sick, and you can also have too much vacation and bring the whole trip to a screeching halt. Think about your family and how much time they can truly spend together in a hotel room or away from their creature comforts of home. If you know that your children will be at each other's throats by day five or that you and your hubby drive each other crazy after an entire week together, don't go planning a month in Europe. If you have homebody children or kids who don't do well outside of their environment, plan a shorter vacation stay so that everyone stays content.

Vacation No-Nos

Vacations are wonderful moments in time, and someday, when all that you have is your memories, you will look back fondly on these family excursions. To keep those memories lovely and not terrifying, steer clear of a few vacation no-nos.

  • Don't plan fancy late-night meals for young children.
  • Don't know will be responsible for all of that unpacking and laundry upon your return.
  • Don't over-schedule kids unless you want to work a scene from The Exorcist into your getaway.
  • Don't wing certain elements. The unknown is fun, but vacations like cross-country road trips should include some thought and planning.
  • Don't promise things you can not deliver on.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

It is easy to get all caught up in the shiny details of a family vacation. They are expensive, massive undertakings, and for many families, they only come around once or twice a year. Because of this, no parent wants to get it all wrong. When it comes to family getaways, it is best to keep your eye on the prize. The whole point of a trip with your kin is to enjoy each other's company without the daily stresses of life, even if only for a week.

Don't get hung up on the details or the mishaps or the "could have-should haves." Instead, focus on what is truly important: quality time with your loved ones.

How to Plan a Family Vacation That Isn't a Total Bust