How to Plan a Family Vacation You'll Never Forget

Updated August 6, 2021
Family in car road tripping

Planning a family trip is no small feat. There are so many aspects to consider to ensure that the trip goes off without a hitch. Know how to travel with ease, what to pack, and how to make those ever-important memories that will last your gang a lifetime.

Plan Where to Go on Your Family Vacation

The first thing you and your family need to settle on is where you will be vacationing. Do you want to head to the mountains? The beach? Somewhere totally new, or a favorite family destination that you return to annually? Choosing a vacation destination can be overwhelming; but knowing what to look for in a vacation spot can make the selection process easier.

Vacation Planning Checklist

Choose a Place With Meaning

Meaningful places are great for making connections and memories. Pick a locale that has meaning to your family. If you love to hike, then consider vacationing in a place with prime hiking trails. If your gang can't stay out of the water, vacation somewhere that the sand meets the surf. You can also visit a spot with generational or historical significance. Take a trip to the land of your ancestors, or visit a lake in the woods where you used to stay when you were young.

When Is the Best Time of Year to Go?

When you narrow down your vacation spots, think about what time of year you plan on traveling. Which part of the year works best for you regarding your work-life? What time of year will be best for the kids? Are you okay with them missing school and sports commitments? Think about how long you plan to be gone, and decide if the length of your trip is a feasible one, or if it needs to be pared down. Some destination hot spots are less crowded during the year or have less than ideal weather in certain seasons. Take these factors into account when booking your getaway.

Father and daughter playing in waves on beach

What Will Your Budget Be?

Vacations range in price largely depending on the place you stay, how you get there, how many people travel with you, and what you choose to do on your holiday. The average American spends approximately $2,000 on vacation. Families, especially big ones, can expect that number to grow exponentially. Decide what funds you can realistically free up for your trip. Remember, you have to return to real life after the vacation is over, and real life requires money! Don't blow your life savings on the trip of a lifetime.

Budget Considerations

When thinking about budget, you'll want to consider the following big-ticket items that will cost a pretty penny:

  • Travel fare - Airfare, train, bus, rental car, gas, Uber, or taxi fare during vacation
  • Lodging
  • Food - Three meals per day, plus snacks and drinks won't come cheap, especially when you are feeding the family on-the-go.

Consider Those Add-Ons

Once you budget out the bigger, most costly expenses that go along with a vacation, you'll need to consider all of those add-ons that will drive your budget up.

  • Fees for checked bags
  • Wi-Fi expenses
  • Parking at the airport or otherwise
  • Tipping
  • Passport fees, if entering another country
  • Travel insurance
  • Fees to enter parks or areas of entertainment
  • Souvenirs

How to Save Your Pennies

So vacation with the family isn't going to be cheap, and most people need to start saving for their family excursion months before they leave. In the time before your family trip, cut back on your expenses and free up funds.

  • Reduce your takeout expenses - Bye bye Starbucks, McDonald's, and Grub Hub
  • Cut down on personal expenses like manicures, trips to the hair salon, and frivolous shopping (don't even pass by the local Target)
  • Make small change work for you - Single dollar bills and change should all go into some sort of bank. You will be surprised at how much money you can squirrel away.
  • Cut the kids' expenses back - Paper sack lunches instead of school lunches, days at the local pool don't have to include fries and ice cream

Tips for Saving a Buck on Your Trip

Once you are on vacation, know how to keep the budget from exploding. There are tons of tips and tricks for reducing spending while having the time of your life.

  • Book a place with a kitchen and reduce the cost of eating out.
  • Use public transportation rather than renting a pricey car.
  • Choose to travel during the off-season.
  • Bring along a water bottle for each family member and refill it as needed (bottled water for the whole family is going to add up).
  • Check out the surrounding areas for fun, free family events.
  • If booking a hotel, be sure that it includes free breakfast.

Need Tickets? Better Get Them Early

If you and your family are traveling by plane or train, you'll want to purchase your tickets early on. Flying a large family from one place to another will be a major expense, and it's crucial to book the best deal possible. You will also want to book early enough to avoid the dreaded separated seat conundrum. If you have young kids, the last thing you'll want is to have some seats together and other seats far away.

Purchasing Travel Tickets

According to a study by, the best day to book those airfare tickets, is 76 days in advance of your vacation. Regarding international travel, the airfare prices vary greatly, depending on the destination. Start monitoring flight prices well before your departure date, and when a deal strikes, book the tickets.

Do You Need Tickets for Other Activities?

You'll be sure to book your return flight tickets, but don't forget about tickets you might need while you are on vacation. If you plan on taking the family to theme parks, adventure outings, or other excursions where tickets will be required, book those in advance of your trip as well.

Traveling With Kids

Traveling with kids is a daunting task, especially if you have a big brood or very young children. Get tips on traveling with kids, and keep the gang busy while en route to your destination. Download movies, pack snacks, stock up on coloring books, word searches, and games that will occupy some of their time.

Planning the Perfect Home Away from Home

It's important that your family stays in a place where they are comfortable and can relax. Spend a considerable amount of time choosing your hotel, campground, or rental home, making sure that it will work for your family. Create a list of must-haves for lodging, and pick a place that checks all or most of those boxes. In choosing lodging accommodations, consider:

  • If there are hidden costs for having more people in the room per night (especially important for large families)
  • Does the accommodation have sleeping space for everyone?
  • Is it centrally located (which will cut down on travel costs while on vacation).
  • Is it located in a safe part of town? (Know which areas are considered safest for families).
  • Check the cancellation policy
  • Is it suitable for young children and babies? (Good to know if booking a rental home with staircases, porch decks, etc.).
happy family entering their accomodation

Consider Activities for Everyone

Family vacations are supposed to be fun for everyone, so when planning out daily activities, make sure that there is something in the mix for all to enjoy. Consider each one of your family members and their unique needs, preferences, and likes.

  • Choose a few restaurants where your kids will enjoy eating.
  • Have each kid tell you one thing they want to do, or one place they want to go, and try to visit those spots.
  • Make time for mom and dad. Many hotels offer babysitting services at an additional cost.

Packing for Your Adventure

Packing a family up for a big trip is a major undertaking. When packing your suitcases, pay attention to the forecast. Even if you are traveling somewhere warm, the nights might be cooler. You'll want to include clothes in your bags that will work for all temps. If you are staying at a rental space with in-house laundry, don't pack clothes and pajamas for every single day. Pack items that you want to wash and re-wear. Style outfits that can be mixed and matched.

Bring Along the Essentials

Over-packing for the family is going to be a burden on you before the trip and afterward. Coming home exhausted from a week of fun with the fam, to bags and bags of items that need cleaning and storing away is the pits. Learn to pack only what you need. Remember, if you have young children, babies specifically, your essential item list will be longer and more extensive. That said, many hotels will provide you with cots, pack and plays, and high chairs to use on vacation. A simple vacation essential list will vary depending on your destination. A week of outback camping will include different items (and more items) than a week in the tropics at an all-inclusive resort. One key thought is to know what your hotel or rental house provides. If they have towels, bedding, toiletries, and a hair dryer waiting for you, don't pack these things.

Items You Can Leave Behind

You really don't have to take along everything you can think of, and neither do the kids. You want the gang to enjoy the experience of vacation and the time of togetherness. They don't need to bring along their gaming systems or bags of toys to entertain them while on a family getaway.

packing suitcases for holiday with children

Leave Room in Your Suitcase

Your family will undoubtedly come home with lots of extra tokens from the trip. If you stuff all the suitcases to the brim, where will the new treasures go? Remember, anything you buy on vacation has to get home with you, one way or another. Leave extra room in a suitcase or two for items you purchase while away.

Ensuring All Is Well on the Home Front

Vacation is a time for everyone to unwind and relax as they leave their worries behind. To fully do this, you have to make sure all is well on the home front.

  • Make arrangements for all of your pets.
  • Ask a neighbor to water your plants and get your mail.
  • If you are leaving for an extended period, have your mail halted or forwarded to you.
  • Check with your local police department, and ask if they would pop around your home and make sure all looks well while you are gone.
  • Communicate with teachers and coaches, so everyone knows that the kids are away on a family holiday.
  • Turn lights off and adjust the heat or air conditioning settings accordingly.
  • Unplug household items like lamps and coffee makers before you depart.

A Perfect Family Vacation Starts Long Before Departure Day

If you aim for a perfect family vacation, start planning for it long before you leave your home. The key to an amazing, stress-free vacation often lies in the planning and the details. Do much of the work on the front end, and you and your family will definitely reap the benefits of your careful consideration once you are on vacation!

How to Plan a Family Vacation You'll Never Forget