The new year is underway, and you've made a decision: there will be a family vacation this year. The question is, of course, how do you make that happen? Finding the time, finding the place, and finding the money can be overwhelming. With the planning involved broken down into five baby steps, however, your family can go from the couch to the beach (or wherever you choose) relatively painlessly. If you are reading this in January, tackling one task per month gets you completely prepared for a summer vacation!
January 2011/Baby Step #1: Commit to the idea of a vacation
Find a time in the calendar that works with work, school and other commitments. Block out that time and make it non-negotiable. Put it on every calendar you use, write notice to your child's teacher if applicable. Commit to it.
February 2011/Baby Step #2: Brainstorm for ideas and work out a budget
It's hard to say which comes first -- the location or the budget. Maybe you've been saving for a while and are ready to see what those dollars can get you. Maybe you've decided that the kids are the right age for exploring Chicago, and now it's time to guesstimate how much a week in the city will cost. Either way, pick a place and a dollar amount. Use a travel website to get an idea of hotel, airfare, and car rental prices. Or search on the web for "vacations in ________" and all sorts of options will be generated. If you need to start saving, open up a separate bank account to stash away what you'll need.
March 2011/Baby Step #3: Spend some time getting to know your destination
The internet is a wonderful thing. See the City Guides section of The Savvy Source to scope out interesting things to do in your destination. Keep your eyes open for Savvy Savings & Scholarships for your destination as well. Other websites and deal sites may also give you a feel for what you can expect when you get there.
April 2011/Baby Step #4: Plan the travel logistics
Your budget and time frame probably determines your mode of transportation. If flying, take into consideration traveling with car seats and restrictions on luggage. If driving, consider any repairs needed on your vehicle, or look into renting something suitable to your trip. If your destination has check-in/check-out times, see how those coordinate with your travel plans. If you arrive at 10:00 a.m. and check-in isn't until 4:00 p.m., find out if you can get an early check-in or use the hotel's amenities until then.
May 2011/Baby Step #5: Plan for the actual travel
You know when and where you're going, now it's time to pack for the trip and plan for the transit. A great way to start is to make a list for each person. Include how many changes of clothes they'll need (toddlers will need more than an older child), any medications they must have, favorite nighttime toy, and the shoes they'll need. Pack a bag of interesting, quiet things to do for each child (older kids can do this themselves) for the travel days. Sticker books, markers that only work on the right kind of paper, kids video games (with headphones), and few toy cars or small dolls are fun for young children.
If flying, consider packing a carry-on as an overnight bag for the family, in case your luggage doesn't arrive when you do. If driving and stopping overnight, plan out what bags need to go into the hotel ahead of time and pack your vehicle accordingly.
Above all else, be sure to bring your patience, your sense of humor and your camera. With some planning, your family vacation will be fun for everyone and generate memories you will always treasure.