By Cammie Jones

While juggling day-to-day activities, it is often difficult to know what you are cooking for dinner much less know how to plan a weekend or week long family vacation. Where do you start? How do you plan the perfect vacation when you are barely getting through the day? Here are a few tips to get the ball rolling and remember, there are no “perfect vacations” so just roll with it (no pun intended), keep it real and you will successfully plan and execute an epic adventure for you and your family.

1. Pick Your Destination

Are you planning a road trip or something more exotic? Will you travel by plane, train or automobile? Decide what area of the country or world you are aiming for and go from there. Everything else stems from this initial decision. Needless to say, you don’t have to make this complicated.  A week at the beach or lake can make as many wonderful memories as a trip to an exotic locale.

2. Set a Budget

Setting a budget goes hand in hand with picking a destination since your budget may help in determining the location of your vacation. If price is not a concern then go for the cruise or plane ride overseas. However, if you do have a set amount of earmarked money for a vacation in mind, use this budgetary amount to make all your decisions. By googling your destination choices, you can see how much airfare may cost as well as hotels or condos in that area. Don’t forget to take into account activities, eating out, grocery shopping for food and other necessary items to survive the week. This can add up quickly so make sure that you take the extras into account besides just getting there and having a place to lay your head.

3. Determine the Dates/Time Duration

This may be the hardest part of the entire planning session. Since we are calling this the Busy Mom’s Guide to Summer Family Vacation Planning, I think we can assume that your family is BUSY. Trying to carve out a few days or more to get away may be a challenge with your kid’s sports, camps, work schedules, etc. For a super committed family, it is never too early to get out your calendar, have a family meeting and decide on dates.

If this is not the case and your summer is wide open, the sky is the limit. Search for the best rates, find the cheapest time to fly, rent a place or book hotel rooms and then plan around those dates.

4. Search Airfares

This will not apply to a road trip but once you decide on place, dates and location then start investigating flight prices. I have used everything from Travelocity to Fare Compare to going directly through the airline’s website. Do your homework to make sure you get the best deals. Use frequent flyer miles and companion fares if they are offered to you. Get creative with flights to and from different airports to see what works best for you and your family. Flying from your hometown airport is worth the extra dough if you have young kids or are under a tight time schedule. Flying out of a larger hub may save you a lot of money but remember you may have to do a little driving to get that lower fare and pay for long term parking as well. Weigh your options and decide what works best for you.

5. Find Accommodations

Booking a hotel room, condo or house is always fun, but it is a time consuming pursuit. Use an online booking service such as www.booking.com or www.homeaway.com to find the perfect place for you to settle for a few days. Make sure to read the comments and look at the map to ensure you are picking the most convenient place that fits your family’s needs. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and give the company a call to learn a little more.

6. Book Planned Activities

Although vacations are meant to be leisurely, it is a good idea to look into a couple of planned activities to break up those relaxing days. Depending on your children’s ages and where you are heading, find some family oriented ventures that you think you would enjoy. For example, if you are heading to the mountains then find a family friendly hike or campfire dinner. If you are beach bound then look into parasailing or going on a sunset cruise.  Knowing what your family likes to do will help you to choose activities that everyone will enjoy.

7. Take Care of the Homestead

Before you head out of town, there are some housekeeping issues to deal with before you go.  Decide if you are going to have someone come to your house to feed and take care of pets and plants. Do you want to stop the mail or have a neighbor grab it for you? Make sure you turn in your requested time off to your boss if you work outside the home. Those are all those little details that need to be checked off the list so that you can enjoy your time away and not worry about what is going on at home.

8. Have Fun

Remember the reason you are doing all this leg work is to get away with your family and take it easy. The purpose is to have fun so don’t sweat the small stuff or try to stay too much on schedule. Go with an open mind and let your family enjoy each other and make memories that will last forever.

9. One More Tip to Make Vacation Planning a Cinch – HIRE A TRAVEL AGENT!

If planning a vacation is not your thing or you truly do not have time to figure out all the details, hire someone who will be willing and able to do all the planning for you. A reputable travel agent is usually well versed in all the travel “ins and outs” and is more than happy to help. A travel agent will find the best deals for you and help you decide where to stay, what activities are worthwhile to do and more. Also, it’s free. If planning a vacation for your family gives you a slight headache or creates heart palpitations, never fear, there is a way out!

Some of my favorite childhood memories are riding in the wood paneled station wagon 15 hours to visit my mom’s family in Wisconsin. Getting there is half the fun and time spent with family is priceless.  You don’t have to break the bank or travel far to make your own epic family vacation — just hit the road and enjoy the scenery!

This article appears in the May/June 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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