Note: I wrote this post for DK.com for when people start planning travel again. If you have things you would add, based on how you plan a vacation, please comment below!
Ten Things to Think About When Planning Your Next Vacation
We’ve taken our kids to 62 countries so far, and we’re always planning our next trip – or multiple trips! This is everything that goes into our trip planning, and things to think about as you’re looking ahead to your next vacation.
1. Start with Your Available Dates
If you have kids in school you’re likely limited to traveling during school holidays, but if you have flexibility at all to leave for vacations a day or two early or return a little later, it will save you money. This is especially true for things like Thanksgiving, where most people want to fly out on Saturday and come back on Sunday.
2. Look for Destination Inspiration
Once you know your dates, choose a destination based on where you want to go but also what places are perfect that time of year. Check out guidebooks as well as books like Where to Go When that are pure inspiration, and bookmark blog and social media posts over the course of the year and then go back and take a second look at the destinations that still interest you. I highly recommend following @travelbabbo for this. 🙂 We usually narrow our list to two or three options and then put it to a family vote.
3. Choose the Best Flights
Do flight searches both on airline sites (for frequent flier award availability) and on an aggregator site like Kayak and then pick the flights that work best for you. We’ve found that early morning flights are the least likely to be delayed, and we’ll opt to travel direct rather than connect, as long as the tickets aren’t A LOT more expensive, since it greatly reduces the chance that we’ll have issues getting to our destination.
4. Pick the Best Hotel
We always look for a hotel that’s in the best location for everything we want to do at our destination, since we find that we return to our room often – to drop things off, to use the bathroom and for downtime. But luxury, amenities or room setup may be more important to you. For our location-based searches, we start with DK Eyewitness maps that show hotels in relation to major sites, and then check TripAdvisor’s maps for current pricing.
5. Figure Out Transportation from the Airport to Your Hotel
I did a whole blog post on this recently. Sometimes it works to simply jump into a taxi after you get your bags, but we’ve found it can be worth a little extra money to have a car and driver waiting for us. That way we avoid scams, we have the appropriate-sized vehicle (we’re a family of five), and we can pay online so we don’t need to find an ATM for local currency immediately.
6. Learn the Language…At Least a Little!
Before we leave for an overseas vacation I want our kids to know how to say “Yes”, “No”, “Hello”, “Goodbye” and “Thank You” in the local language. Tip: everything is in the phrasebook at the back of every DK Eyewitness Guide. In the event that our kids want to go a little farther, they use apps like Rosetta Stone.
7. Book Activities
Book things like cooking classes, family-centered city and museum tours and cooking classes in advance. We typically get ideas from the Discover section at the front of DK Eyewitness Guides and then head to Google or TripAdvisor to look for specific guides or tours. The most important thing? Plan everything around your kids’ interests. If you try to take kids along on an adult vacation, no one will have fun.
8. Book Restaurant Reservations
We scan guidebooks for restaurants and make a short list, and then I see if any require reservations in advance. A lot of vacations, though, we don’t book anything ahead of time. Park-based picnics are perfect opportunities to explore local food markets and to let the kids run and play. And picnics are typically less expensive than sit-down restaurants, so you get the best of all worlds!
9. Think About Day Trips
Are there day trips you want to do that are a decent distance from your hotel? Do you need to book an excursion, or a car, or train or ferry tickets, in advance? Again DK Eyewitness guides are excellent for figuring out the best things to do in an area that match your family’s interests. Once you have a list of everything you want to do, sketch out a weekly schedule. But…
10. Don’t Over Plan!
Kids need downtime, and it isn’t possible to predict the weather or localized disruptions like strikes. Plus vacations are supposed to be relaxing. Our general rule-of-thumb is that we will only plan and book activities every other day on a trip. We plan the other days as we go, based on local recommendations (talk to the front desk people, Uber drivers and servers!) or simply what we feel like doing when we wake up.