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 that can ruin the harmony of a family trip and undermine all your hard work.
To steer clear of the pitfalls of family vacation planning, follow these tips. They’re simple to implement, and make planning and traveling a lot more fun.
1. Plan Together
Studies have shown that anticipation is part of what makes vacations great. Share the joy with your traveling partners, even if they’re not quite old enough to help with the actual planning. 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.
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 beach 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
This one is hard, because it can be difficult to talk to kids about money. Even if you’re not comfortable talking to your kids about exact dollar amounts, you can still share generalities about the kinds of things that will fit—and not fit—into your budget. After all, there’s nothing that wears on vacationing adults more than hearing complaints from well-meaning but financially clueless kids asking for things you can’t afford.
3. Travel as a Team
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 travel. Before you leave home, have a family meeting to talk about what traveling as a team means. Talk high level about how it means looking out for and taking care of each other. And also brainstorm some specifics, like how on a team, everyone carries their own stuff.
4. Know Your Family’s Speed
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). If a few members of the family would be happiest spending a low-key evening at the hotel reading a book or playing a family board game together, why not let them?
5. Make Room for Imperfection
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—kids and adults—be less devastated when things go (temporarily) wrong. 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.