We have been on the go this year, taking several trips by plane and car, and a few friends have asked me to share my method for planning trips with kids. Our favorite trips involve lots of hiking and outdoor exploring, but we hit up tourist traps too! Instead of retyping the same email over and over, I’m rounding up all my favorite resources and tips for how to plan a family vacation without missing anything amazing.
Back in college, my (then boyfriend) husband and I would regularly plan road trips during breaks and when we graduated, our gift to ourselves was a 3 week long expedition to Peru. I spent hours poring over guide books, reading online itinieraries, and poking around in travel forums. We came home, got adult jobs, and starting talking about planning our next trip… and then we got pregnant. Time flew and we got pregnant again. We took a few trips here and there with the kids, but now at 3 & 5 they are excited and ready to roll!
My process for a week long trip is extensive, if I’m being honest. I don’t plan things down to the minute, by any means, but I do want to make sure I am not missing anything amazing that we ought to see while we’re in the area.
7 easy steps to plan a family vacation
- Decide on a location. I usually start with whatever time frame we are looking at to travel in, and first look at where cheap flights are available. That narrows it down to a few places, I then search what the weather is like there or “best times to visit XYZ”. Book transport!
- Decide on a loose itinerary. I search “5 days in XYZ”, look up travel agency’s itineraries for that destination, search “must see in XYZ with kids”, read other blogger’s posts about their visits, and ask in travel-related Facebook groups for tips. This maps out where we will stay each night, if we are driving to nearby cities. Start a Google doc with ideas and a loose day by day schedule of where we will be each day, and each night. Write down the rough itinerary.
- Decide on lodging. If it is just 1 night, I usually go for a hotel. More than 1 night, I usually go for an Airbnb (read why they are better for families over hotels, here!). Book lodging.
- Decide on itinerary priorities. I try to aim for one priority each day, whether it is a certain trail to hike, a museum to see, etc. I map those all out, and research each spot to make sure they aren’t closed on certain days, or have special events on certain days.Polish the itinerary.
- Add in itinerary maybes. I put notes under each day for other options that are nearby, if we have time, and back-up/indoor ideas if the weather turns nasty. If we are driving between places, I look up cool places on the route that might be worth stopping for. I also like to look up what is close by wherever we are sleeping each night, if there are restaurants within walking distance, or parks nearby that we could stop at before bedtime. Add in itinerary extras.
- Ask for input & look for discounts. At this point, I’ve done lots of research and am ready for advice; I share my plan in travel related Facebook groups and ask for opinions! Each time, I’ve had great feedback, whether it was a local cafe we had to see or that the trail mileage we were planning would be more strenuous than I’d guessed. I also search the local tourism bureaus for any local coupons or online for Groupons that match up with the plans we’ve made!
- Sit back and count down the days! At this point, I start making notes about things not to forget to pack, plan out snacks or toys for the transit days, and leave calendar reminders to download audiobooks and double check on all our gear about a week out.
One of my favorite things after planning is to check out books about the area – if you’re planning a national park trip, check out this list of national parks books for kids! If you’re looking at planning a first trip to Walt Disney World check out that post with all my best WDW tips.
If you need a reminder, pin this post about how to plan a family vacation with this link and image: