Don’t Forget These Critical Steps When Planning Your Next Vacation

Taking a trip with your family is a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, like most things in life it doesn’t just happen spontaneously.  It takes a lot of work to plan a great family vacation.  The good news is, it doesn’t have to be too hard and can be fun.  Our next trip is to Phoenix.  Here are five steps I used in planning this trip, which you might find helpful.

1.  What are we going to do?

When I begin planning a trip, I check out two primary sites, TripAdvisor and Yahoo Travel.  Both sites provide a list of activities with traveler comments.

Remember to take those comments with a grain of salt.  Usually for every person who loved something, there is a person who hated it.  Take some time to actually read the comments and from what is mentioned, decide what is important to you.

For example, one of the things I thought might be fun for the family in Phoenix was a place called Castles-n-Coasters.  It’s an amusement park with mini-golf, something for everyone!  The overall rating on Yahoo was four out of five stars.  Fantastic, except…when I read the reviews almost everyone said the place was dirty, the workers unhelpful, and the rides old and dated.  Um, that doesn’t constitute four out of five stars on my list, so it was immediately deleted.

Travel Tip:  Let kids help you plan activities but be sure you do some legwork first.  There’s nothing worse then letting your little one pick something only to have to tell them it’s just impossible to do.

Travel Tip:  Once you know the places you’ll go, check the web sites for any coupons or online purchase that might result in saving money.

2.  Where are we going to eat?

My next step is to use Yahoo Travel or MapQuest to place the airport, my hotel, and activities onto a map.  With these sites, I can then search restaurants close by to those attractions.  This step takes a bit more time because I like to find the actual web sites of the places and check out the menu, pricing, and overall atmosphere for kids.

Keep in mind, if your hotel offers free breakfast or if your room has a kitchen, you will want to plan in-room meals accordingly.  You’ll probably want to map out the nearest grocery store too.

Travel Tip:  If you shop at the local grocery store, sign up for the rewards card as soon as you go into the store (unless you already have it).  You can really save a bundle even when it’s only a one-time trip.

3.  How will we know what to do when?

As I’m planning what we’ll do and where we’ll eat, I’m also thinking about when we’re going to be doing it all.  Your best bet is to create an agenda or schedule of what you’re doing when.  It is really helpful to see it all together and understand if it all fits. 

For example, there were quite a few additional attractions I wanted to do in Phoenix that had to be knocked off the list because the drive time was just too much or I realized, the kids would be losing it if I pushed them to that many activities. 

After you’re done, print the schedule with maps so you have everything you’ll need.

Travel Tip:  Don’t plan so many activities you and your kids are worn out.  Giving everyone a little down time where you can just chill is sure to make those planned activities even better. 

Travel Tip:  Print maps and bring them with you even though you’re using a GPS.  You never know when “acquiring satellites” might take longer than it does for you to actually reach that split in the highway.

4.  Did you bring the band-aids?

After the activities are planned and the schedule is created, I determine what I need to pack.  It’s critical to put this step at the backend of your planning.  Why bring something if you don’t need it?  When traveling with kids, you already have so much stuff you need to bring, don’t add extra stuff that isn’t necessary.

For the Phoenix trip, we aren’t going to be doing any hiking or real sporting events, so my boys won’t need their sneakers.  They can wear their flip-flops throughout the trip…it’s casual.

Travel Tip:  Create a master packing list including everything that you’d ever take on a trip.  When it comes time to create your specific trip list, you can just delete the things not needed for that trip, print it out, and start packing! 

5.  What time is it?

Some of our trips include destinations with time changes.  Phoenix is one of these trips.  Our boys are old enough they really don’t have any problems adjusting.  Our daughter used be to fine too because she was a baby and slept so much, it was relatively easy to adjust her schedule.  However, now that she’s just about two, it’s much different. 

On our last trip to California we found this out the hard way.  She was up at four o’clock each morning.  It wasn’t pretty.

On our trip to Phoenix, my husband is combining some business travel so it’s really important he sleep until a decent hour.  Since I don’t want to get up at four am either, we are trying something new.  We are slowly adjusting our daughter’s nighttime sleep schedule a few minutes later each night.  The hope is when we get to Phoenix she’ll be ready to go to bed later and sleep later. 

It was working really well for a few nights.  She went down later and slept later.  Last night, she went to bed later but woke up earlier than her regular time!  We’re going to keep trying though.  This is an experiment.  You’ll have to tune in for the post-Phoenix story to see how it worked!

Travel Tip:  Don’t be afraid to try new things (like adjusting your toddler’s sleep schedule).  It might not work as great as you hoped but it might be the best idea ever – fingers crossed!

Finally, after completing those main steps, I’m just about ready.  My last suggestion is just to think.  You think all the time so I didn’t make it a whole new step, just a final suggestion.  Think through the whole trip, each activity, each location, etc. – is there anything you forgot to pack, to reserve, to confirm, to print? 

Also, don’t forget to think through what would normally be happening at home.  This will help you to remember to stop the paper, have the neighbor get the mail, tell your son’s coach he won’t be at baseball practice…excuse me, I’ve got a call to make!

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Forget These Critical Steps When Planning Your Next Vacation

  1. Hi Ronnie! Love the tips- especially the one about checking websites for coupons and stuff. We leave for Dublin a couple weeks and I’ve already found coupons for BOGO food and free pints of Irish stout (at places with good on-line reviews), and have also started to jot down a list of places with early bird and lunch specials. We’re traveling in a group of 9, so every little bit of savings counts!

    Also, I love the suggestion to sign up for the local grocery store rewards card. We’ll be doing a home exchange and cooking many of our meals at the house to save money- if they have such a rewards program, that will be an additional savings for us!

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