It’s no secret: kids can add a little something extra to any situation — and traveling with kids is no exception. But when you know how to plan a family vacation, you set yourself up for the perfect balance of parent-friendly sanity and kid-friendly fun.
From figuring out where you’re headed to bringing down costs, here’s everything you need to consider before starting your next (extremely well-planned) family vacation.
When creating a list of your best family vacation destinations, it’s all about what you and your family love to do together. Because when you’re traveling with kids, the memories you create are what matter most.
For families with animal lovers, the best zoos in the country could bring you to surprise spots like Omaha, NE or bustling cities like San Diego, CA. For a beach-loving brood, you could consider Myrtle Beach, SC on the East Coast, Port Angeles, WA on the West Coast, and Panama City Beach, FL on the Gulf Coast. And if you’re raising mini adventurers, your ideal vacation might be waiting at one of the top national parks across the U.S.
To zero in on exactly where you’ll make those memories, start with your travel method. Shorter and less complicated travel is usually better for children, so look for destinations with direct flights or an easy train ride, or consider a roadtrip within a few hours of your home.
When exploring the possibilities, try to remember what your favorite fun things to do on family vacation were as a kid. Did you want to bring your pet along for the ride, feel like you were in another country, or get away from the crowds in a small town? Talk to friends and family for recommendations, too — they may even tell you to visit them!
When family travel plans include a hunt for the perfect vacation rental, you’re on your way to a home-away-from-home experience. With better privacy and more space, you can enjoy meals together, stream top movies and TV shows on complimentary WiFi, and maybe even cannonball into a pool you don’t have to clean yourself.
That’s why our expert team recommends searching for family vacation rentals that have some or all of the following:
These are also some of the most popular amenities among guest reviews, and can make a family trip go smoothly, help save money, and set you up for lifelong memories.
When you’re ready to plan a family vacation, always consider the big-ticket items like your travel method and accommodations. But meals, activities, shopping, and emergencies need to be factored into your budget, too.
The good news: activity and food discounts are some of the most common and available options for cutting travel costs. Look for meal coupons, special kid prices, group activity passes, and off-season discounts.
It’s also best to research when your destination is least expensive for visitors. For example, the best cheap vacations in the U.S. are often dependent on when you’re going. This means you may have to decide whether you’d prefer to see a free music festival in the park during the summer, or book less expensive accommodation prices in the winter.
Fully-furnished vacation rentals can offer tons of cost-saving benefits, too, including cutting down on dining out and providing washers and dryers. If your kids are prone to spilling (who isn’t?), complimentary laundry can be a massive help when pinching pennies.
Plus, sharing a home with a group of friends or other family members can help you split family vacation rental costs while also upping the fun factor. Remember that game room? Picture everyone going head-to-head during an epic air hockey tournament, or battling it out on their favorite board games. The best part is it’s all included in the price of your private home.
School schedules play a big role when you’re traveling with kids, and most families make getaways during breaks. These time frames can be more competitive, and travel rates may rise the closer you get to check-in. So when you’re figuring out how to plan a family vacation, deciding when to book is a key piece of the puzzle.
In general, it’s important to book travel and accommodations ahead of the game so you have as many options as possible — and get the best fit for your family. But how far in advance you book should look different depending on which school break you’re turning into a vacation.
For example, if you want to snag a beach vacation rental for spring break, you could be looking when thousands of other spring breakers are too. With fewer days available for your escape, consider booking earlier than you might for a summer vacation — when months-long “school’s out!” energy gives you more wiggle room to choose the home you’ll stay in.
If you want a snowy cabin rental over the winter holidays, you may want to book even further out to make sure you can reserve a great place to stay at a lower rate.
And don’t forget, most major sites give have cancellation policies available for review during the booking process. Read these closely so you know what you can do — and when refunds are possible — if your plans or schedules change.
Knowing exactly how to plan a family vacation doesn’t have to require next-level wizardry. After all, the best place to travel with kids is wherever you can all have extraordinary experiences together. But, having an unforgettable kid-friendly trip can be a lot easier when staying in a vacation rental that works for everyone.
And hey, we get that sometimes choosing just one place to go is tough. So daydream away — and maybe plan more than one trip this year! — with these top places to travel in every season, family road trips with wow-worthy views, and pet-friendly places so your pooch can come along.