5 Simple Tips for a (Nearly) Perfect Family Vacation

Here's how to make planning and traveling together a lot more fun.
Father and child watching fireworks (Photo: @crystalmariesing via Twenty20)
Photo: @crystalmariesing via Twenty20

Here’s the good news: There’s no one right way to go on a family vacation. Now the bad news: There are many, many wrong ways, and decisions both small and large can ruin the harmony of a family trip and undermine all your hard work. To steer clear of the pitfalls of trip planning, follow these family vacation tips. 

Family Vacation Tips for a Trip Everyone Will Enjoy

Whether you’re headed to a theme park, a family hotel, an all-inclusive family resort, a family cruise, a road trip, or any of the most popular family vacation spots in the U.S. or around the world, these tips will make planning and traveling together a lot more fun.

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1. Plan Your Family Vacation Together

Family fun at the beach in San Diego (Photo: @guyrendon via Twenty20)
Planning a vacation together is part of the joy of family travel (Photo: @guyrendon via Twenty20)

Studies have shown that anticipation is part of what makes family travel adventures great. Share the joy with your traveling partners, even if the little ones aren’t quite old enough to help with the actual planning. It’s a good idea to search for destination and activity inspiration together. Make it an activity the whole family shares and you’ll foster a sense of collective joy that you can then carry into the trip itself. This is an especially great way to involve older children and teenagers as you plan the next family vacation.

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Doing this advance prep together also means that when you embark on your trip, your kids will be more likely to roll with the challenges of transit. After all, if they can picture the family beach vacation waiting for them on the other side of that flight delay, they’re more likely to listen to you when you tell them to take a deep breath and settle into a book to wait out a plane that’s late to board

2. Talk about Your Budget

child sitting on couch making a surprised face and holding a jar of money; teaching kids about money
It’s important to talk about spending limits on vacation (Photo: @crystalmariesing via Twenty20)

This one is hard, because it can be difficult to talk to younger kids about money. Even if you’re not comfortable talking to your children about exact dollar amounts, you can still share generalities about the kinds of things that will fit—and not fit—into your family vacation budget.

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After all, there’s nothing that wears on vacationing adults more than hearing complaints from well-meaning but financially clueless young children asking for things you can’t afford. 

3. Travel as a Team

Kids splashing in the water outside the Louvre Museum in Paris (Photo: @margokobrina via Twenty20)
Talk with your kids about what it means to travel as a family (Photo: @margokobrina via Twenty20)

If you go into a family vacation feeling like a united group, you’ll be better able to weather the natural ups and downs of family travel. Before you leave home, have a family meeting to talk about what traveling as a team means.

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This a good time to set expectations whether you’re vacationing with toddlers or older kids. Talk high level about how it means looking out for and taking care of each other. Also brainstorm some specifics, like how on a team, everyone carries their own stuff—and make sure you have good kids luggage, backpacks, and sneakers to make it easier for them to keep up their end of the bargain.

4. Know Your Family’s Speed

AARP discounts can help families save on multigenerational vacations (Photo: @poshnonnie via Twenty20)
Take everyone’s energy level and fitness into account on vacation (Photo: @poshnonnie via Twenty20)

If you’re a family that prefers the scenic route, you don’t want to be packing your days with non-stop vacation action. And if your family is happiest going a mile a minute, you don’t want to force everyone into an unnaturally slow pace that’s sure to trigger vacay FOMO. Be honest about your traveling partners’ energy level and pace, and then build your vacation around that reality rather than a sense of what you should be trying to squeeze in (or how much you should be chilling out). 

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If a few members of the family would be happiest spending a low-key evening reading a book or playing a family board game together in the hotel or vacation rental, why not let them? After all, quality family time is the whole point of family travel. 

5. Make Room for Imperfection

Kids playing together on a New England fall getaway (Photo: @hannitary via Twenty20)
Creating the perfect family vacation means embracing imperfection along the way (Photo: @hannitary via Twenty20)

It’s counterintuitive, but creating the perfect family vacation means embracing imperfection along the way. Not everything is going to go right the whole vacation. Accepting that before you leave will help everyone—younger kids, older kids, and adults—be less devastated when things go (temporarily) wrong.

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Does it cancel out all the fun if half the family is in a bad mood one day? Not if you accept that it’s a totally normal blip rather than a defining vacation moment.

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Christine Sarkis is a traveling parent and longtime travel writer and editor. The former executive editor for TripAdvisor travel magazine SmarterTravel.com, Sarkis has spent nearly two decades finding and sharing the best places to go with an audience of enthusiastic travelers. Her stories have appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her expert advice has been quoted in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her stories have been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008, and she is working on a travel memoir.

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