Vacation is the best time of the year for families, but it's second only to the holiday season in terms of the need for planning and supervision. Of course, vacation time can also be the happiest time of year for children, a time when they'll create some of their happiest memories of growing up.
Planning the vacation itself is work for the whole family, but when approached together can be a fun warm-up for the together-time spent during the vacation days. While parents should take the lead, there's still plenty of ways for children to remain active and involved.
- Set your course.
The first thing a vacation needs is a destination. Because young children sometimes don't understand the idea of limits and budgets, this is the time for parents to narrow down a list of options and then get their children's input.
- Set a date.
The deals on hotels, gasoline and even admission and reservations all depend to a great extent on the time of year you choose to go. As a rule of thumb, most summertime tourist attractions are at their busiest between the Fourth of July and Labor Day; they're at their slowest in the months of April and May.
- Set a flexible budget.
Save as much money as you can prior to the trip, but don't forget that some expenses always exceed expectations. There are plenty of ways to save while you're away, but don't be afraid to spend a little more than you thought you might. Worrying about money in a new location is not really a vacation!
- Plan ahead.
You should book your hotel, car rental, airfare, and all other reservations as far ahead in advance as you can. Many theme parks and similar vacation spots also offer cheaper rates when reservations are secured well ahead of time.
- Don't eat out for a month before the trip.
The benefits here are three-pronged. You'll save money for the trip, you'll clear out your fridge of disposable food that might go bad while you're away, and the restaurant meals you'll have on vacation will seem that much nicer.
- Start packing a week in advance.
This will save you the chaos of packing the night before. Children can start setting aside clothes they won't wear again until after vacation. Parents can take the extra time to take stock of any old socks and underwear that should be replaced prior to the trip.
- Don't forget about your pets, your mail, and your newspaper.
Make arrangements for someone to feed your pets and walk them if necessary. Likewise, arrange to have your mail held and your newspaper subscription suspended for the days you're away. This will discourage thieves who might notice when the papers or the mail pile up.
You can also put your exterior lights on a timer to increase the "lived in" look even more.
- Pack a first aid kit.
The best first aid kit will include not just emergency medical items but also jumper cables, a flashlight, road flares, bottled water, and fresh batteries. Don't leave this until the last minute, either – pack it well in advance of your departure date.
- Plan breaks and layovers for long trips.
Part of the fun of a vacation is that you don't necessarily have to rush from place to place. If you're making a long car drive, plan to stay overnight somewhere between home and your destination. The lodgings don't have to be fancy, and you don't have to stay there long. Just make sure no one's worn out from too much traveling right at the start of the trip.
- Fix one meal per day for yourselves.
It's true that part of vacation is you get to cut loose and not follow the structure of your daily lives. But fixing one "home-cooked" meal per day will help keep some nutrition in your kids' diet. It'll also save you money to spend elsewhere on the trip.