I recall a woman remembering that her mom referred to her family vacation as a ‘trip,’ pointing out that organizing and planning a trip with kids did not qualify as a ‘vacation.’ That notion makes me smile every time I plan our family vacation.
Traveling with your family can be a lot of work, but you can also take steps to minimize the stress by organizing well. In March we drove from Minnesota to Florida with four kids. Some things went well. Some could have gone better. Here are my notes for next time.
Decide what is important ahead of time.
Is saving money the biggest thing this trip? Or is relaxing more important? A little of each within reason? Identifying your goal (and getting buy in from your family) will help make the other decisions easier. For example, we chose to drive, which saved us roughly $2,000. Even though we drove 2,000 miles with four kids, we still wanted to relax (don’t laugh), so we just bought food during our road trip, rather than pack food into our already jam-packed mini-van. Similarly, we decided to mostly buy our food when out at the parks, but we cooked in the condo and we brought bottles of water into the park and drank from those to avoid paying $3 per water. It was enough of a compromise for us of effort vs money savings, at least on this trip.
Consider your destination.
Our destination was Orlando, and we wanted to go to Disney World. Disney is probably one of the more expensive destinations in Orlando, so we offset that by staying on Cocoa Beach in a reasonably priced condo,where we could go to the beach for no charge a few days of our stay. Almost any destination has has some great local attractions that cost less and are very fun. Check with your hotel, local papers, search online or check with the city/area guides for festivals and other local attractions. The best meal we had was at a tiny seaside bar down the beach from our condo and we really enjoyed fishing off the Cocoa Beach Pier.
Realize what you are up against.
Traveling with teenagers who struggle to get up before 9 am? Toddlers who tucker out before dark? Are naps necessary for everyone’s sanity? Does your family enjoy being super busy, or would they like to relax more? We tried to chill for 3 days of our stay and hit the parks for 4 days of our stay. It ended up being 1 park day too many for us, but that might have been different if we flew. We were tired and it was a lot to keep everyone moving and happy on one of the days (our kids were 5, 8, 13 and 15 at the time). You can sometimes sneak naps in during a car ride or if you bring a stroller. Try to meet the needs of your family by being realistic about what you can and cannot do in your amount of time. We also bought too much food for our condo; I would buy less next time and just risk having to make another grocery run.
Pre-plan as much as you can.
Make a list of what to pack (it is easy to forget items if you don’t write them down), review it to see if you can pare down a bit and check it when you think you are done. Visit websites for your destinations and see what the locations look like. For a park like Disney, it can be so overwhelming to just walk in. That place is crazy! It is immensely helpful to look at the map and attractions. Identify what you absolutely want to do, schedule that either early or late to avoid the crowds.
Review the weather for that time of year.
When is the warmest part of the day? the coolest? what time does it get dark? Some things are better when it warms up (water rides – later in the afternoon), other things are better done in the cool of the morning or at night, when things are lit up. Make reservations at restaurants early, especially if you are traveling during a busy season for the location. You can generally get away with later dinners or lunches on vacation, if you don’t get rolling very early or plan on a snack.
Think about how you want your house to be when you return.
Run the dishwasher, take out the trash, have things neat and clean, if possible, to make your life easier when you arrive back home with tons of laundry and unpacking to tackle.
Check-in upon arrival.
Check the local weather forecast, make adjustments where you can. See how everyone is feeling. Just try to roll with whatever life is tossing your way at that moment. I tend to have a specific idea of what I want our vacation to look like, but the best memories from those vacations are always the unplanned moments that come from just relaxing and having fun.