Planning Ahead for a Family Trip – Tips and Advice

Genie Davis December 6, 2010 No Comments


As the holidays appoach, many of us are planning to visit relatives, take a vacation, or at least plan for one the next time we can afford to take it! Planning is something we love to do, often conceiving an idea for a trip, outlining the places we want to go, and then spending many shared, fun hours on the ‘net’ researching hotels, restaurants, attractions, bargains, and along the way coming up with some wonderful additions or justifiable deletions to our original itinerary.  

But planning for a trip means more than just the pleasures of Internet sightseeing and hunting for hotel bargains. It means list making, sensible packing, snack providing and some mental role playing for the journey ahead.  

We always like to start with what we call our leaving list.  This means anything we need to take with us when we’re leaving home. Whether you’re trying to get on the road before rush hour, catch a plane, or find a way to park your car at the train station, you’re going to have a lot on your mind just getting to the departure part of leaving the house. So don’t sabotage yourself; embrace your distraction – and have a check list of the things you’re going to need to just walk out the door. Suitcases, cash, credit and/or debit cards, identification – driver’s license or identification cards for non-drivers over eighteen, passports if you are traveling out of the country. Those all important snacks for road or plane, water if you’re going by private vehicle, a sweatshirt/sweater/ or jacket for the plane, the same or an easy to compact fleece blanket or two for the car if you’d prefer. Whatever it is you think you’ll need for the day ahead – list it, and read your list. Don’t try and remember it.  

Whether you're using your i-phone, a sophisticated camera with zoom lens, or a disposable digital - don't forget your camera for great photos on the fly!


Don’t forget your camera. And consider, if you’re going to be gone for awhile, using on line photo storage for your precious pictures. This means that you’ll either need access to a laptop or be using an i-phone or similar device to begin with. Another option is access to a computer at your hotel or motel’s business center or an Internet cafe, which are more common abroad than in the U.S. these days. You don’t have to make a project out of it and upload your photos daily, but every five days is a good plan. You can opt for free or paid on line storage. We’ve successfully used SkyDrive in the past, but there are a number of available resources out there.  

Sometimes, less is more – in terms of rigidity. Although we love to rent houses and condos for stays where we’re either staying put or know the exact time limits on our trip, sometimes it’s better to go with motels or hotels with liberal cancellation policies that allow you to be flexible. If you’ve found you’re kids are in love with a city or attraction and want to stay and explore more; you’ve found the perfect warm water lake, the best beach – well, then you can always cancel your next move and expand your stay – as long as you don’t have a non-refundable deposit standing in your way. By the same token, if you’re not enjoying one stop – you can cut the stay short and move on.  

Going to a different time zone? Defeat jet lag by staying on your own time zone the first day or two. And be aware that meal time is going to feel more natural on your own time zone than a new one, too – which means avoiding restaurants, particularly those in hotels, which adhere to a rigid policy of set lunch and dinner times with awkward ‘no serve’ zones between the two. We recently experienced a severe lack of breakfast items in Florida when we slept in – being on west coast time. Late running weekend brunches were just not a happening thing in the small town we were visiting. Having our own fruit and cereal on hand kept us going!  

On the go with your kids? Bring some fresh fruit as a snack.


Another tip: make another list. Unlike your leaving list, this list should outline your must-see or do travel excursions. Try to create a plan for every day of your trip. It’s not set in cement, of course, but it will help you enjoy yourself if you know a basic outline. This works even if you’re planning a visit with relatives. Things will go much smoother if, for example, you know that in the morning, there’s an excursion to park, zoo, or local attraction, followed by lunch with the family rather than just assuming ‘sometime’ during the trip you’ll fit those activities in. When you’re exploring new places, it’s vital to have a list of attractions or activities to chose from and know how to get to them. We always rough out an itinerary before we’ve begun the trip, adding to it with information from local residents, newspapers, or guidebooks that we page through as bed time reading the night before. If you’re staying at a hotel or resort with a concierge desk, be sure to supplement your own knowledge by asking for his or her input. We’ve found excellent restaurants we’d never even heard of, and learned about a museum that had actually moved its location, because of this extra stop.  

Family VacationAnd, if possible – and it usually is in this era of smart phones – check the web sites of the attractions or activities you have planned the day before you’ve scheduled a visit. Last minute changes can occur, and this way you can double check the operating hours, check for closures, and for on-line discounts, too.  

Remember, whatever trip you’re taking, whether it’s to an often-visited family location or an exotic locale, don’t forget the plan – a little list making and double checking can mean the difference between an ordinary trip and the travel adventure you and your family will be talking about for years.  

Related Trip Planning Topics:  

Advice for Air Travel with your Baby – What Gear to Bring
Four Reasons a Road Trip is Better than Flying – Vacationing with Kids
Family Road Trip Tips – Excursion Through Southern California
Tips for Air Travel with Kids on Domestic and International Flights
TSA Procedures – Preparing Children for Body Scanners & Pat Downs

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

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