When you hear those words, you probably have memories of childhood family road trips, dividing the back seat with imaginary barriers, playing the license plate game, and climbing over the backseat to get into the hatchback of the station wagon (who needed seat belts before 1985?).

Many of us share these vacation experiences from our younger years. When we were young the only thing we really cared about was if the motel where we stayed at had a pool. Our parents made sure we got lots of pictures with roadside attractions, such as concrete dinosaurs and Jolly Green Giant statues. Chances are, you have some of these photos tucked away in your childhood photo albums.
Couple giving two young children piggyback rides smiling
Now, as an adult, you find yourself faced with decisions of how to plan a family vacation for your own family. Questions such as how to keep everyone entertained on the road, and how to incorporate activities that everyone will enjoy need consideration. Not to mention that you would like a little bit of time for yourself so that you don’t return home completely exhausted. With a little bit of pre-planning you can rest assured that your entire family will have a great vacation that they will remember for years to come.

Know Your Budget

Don’t set up for the sky’s the limit fun during the first part of your trip. Plan a daily budget and stick to it. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be spontaneous, but if you spend on something unplanned, cross something else off of the list that you had planned. Running out of money on vacation is not fun for anyone.

Start with the total amount that you have to spend for your trip. Then, determine how much it is going to cost to get you to your destination. There can be a big difference in numbers depending on whether you drive, fly, or take a train or bus. Be realistic and also consider the cost of fuel or car rental involved. You can’t take a family vacation without transportation, so this is definitely a priority spend. Once you have your destination cost, subtract it from your total budget. The remaining amount will be what you have to work with for the rest of your trip.

With that remaining amount, decide what your budget will be for each day. This can fluctuate severely depending on a few key decisions, so consider your priorities. First, where will you be staying? Are you staying at a fancy all inclusive resort, or with a relative for free? Second, what is the main purpose of your trip? Is it to go to an attraction? If so, be sure to factor in ticket prices. Is it to see family? Be up front with who is paying for what costs, and don’t assume you will not have to pay for anything. Finally, be sure to factor in meals, remembering that there is quite a price difference between pizza and a steak dinner.

Get Family Input

By involving all family members, including the kids, you can be sure that everyone will feel a sense of satisfaction about the family vacation and the planning process. Give each person a budgeted amount of money, then allow them to decide what activity your entire family will do within that budget. You may find that your kids can actually save you money using this method. Adults tend to think that they need to spend money in order to have fun. Your kids may just want to go to the hotel pool for an afternoon, which would be much cheaper than going to a museum where they might get bored anyway. As the adult, you can help guide these decisions, but let your kids have as much ownership in the decision as possible. Allow them to feel proud about their planning and help the other family members get excited for the activities.

Be sure to schedule some down time on your itinerary. Keep some of your days completely open so you can have some flexibility. The parts that you do plan will help ensure that everyone in your family gets what they want out of the trip. The open times ensure that you have the chance to visit the places that you stumble upon while exploring your destination.

Get Creative to Keep Costs Down

When you travel, keep in mind that the adventure is about the experience. If you have to choose between white water rafting and a luxury hotel, what is the experience that you prefer? Deciding what your priorities are will help you decide how your daily budget is going to be spent.
If you choose a hotel with features such as an indoor water park, this can keep the kids occupied while you can spend some quality time poolside with your significant other.

Usually, you can find a number of things to do that are very inexpensive or even free. Stopping by a grocery store to stock up on picnic food items to eat at the beach is much more affordable than stopping at the beach-front hamburger stand. Keeping a box of granola bars and refillable water bottles in our daypack allows you to spend your money on surfing lessons rather than a day’s worth of impulse snacks. And never underestimate the fun you can have with a simple Frisbee or football at a park. After all, a family vacation is about spending time together, not spending money.

With these ideas in mind, get started planning your next family vacation. Remember, a little bit of planning can go a long way to ensure you can fit all the adventure, sight-seeing, and relaxing you want into your trip.