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1. Set your budget and work backward – 

To start planning your best family vacation, be sure to come up with a budget. We call this reverse engineering. Establishing a budget will help you determine the length of your trip, where you can travel to, and what type of accommodations or activities you would like to participate in. Calculating how much money you need for each leg of the journey ahead of time will help keep unnecessary expenses in check while ensuring that you have enough funds available for an enjoyable trip. 

Consider where you want to go when allocating portions of your budget. For example, suppose you are planning to spend a week relaxing in a beautiful beach destination and want to stay at an all-inclusive property. In that case, you should allocate most of the budget towards the hotel and airfare, with about 10-15% reserved for tours, activities or unique experiences. On the flip side, if you are planning a trip to Europe and want to spend a week exploring Italy and a week in France, you should budget for the flight upfront and then divide the rest of your budget equally between Italy and France. Plan to allocate about 40% towards accommodations and the rest towards transfers, rail tickets, tours, activities, guides and special experiences. Allow yourself the flexibility to move funds from one country to another depending on what activities you decide to do in each destination.

Make sure also to consider unexpected costs like ATM fees, laundry or food that your initial budget may not cover. Finally, always plan to buy travel insurance to protect your health and ensure the trip’s cost is protected. 

It’s important to remember that everyone’s idea of a perfect vacation differs; some people prefer to allocate more of their budget towards luxury accommodations, while others value having experienced and professional drivers and guides. Talk to your travel advisor about what is important to you and your family on each trip. 

2. Make sure all passports and travel documents are up to date 

This is a crucial step in planning your best family vacation that should not be overlooked. Before you even begin the planning process, ensure that all of your family’s passports have at least six months of validity before they expire. Otherwise, you may run into delays or denials at border control. Additionally, look up the visa requirements for each country you plan to visit and apply for them in advance, you don’t want to be stressing close to departure. 

Certain destinations recommend vaccinations against local diseases, while others mandate them. Research the immunizations you and your family need, and make sure to get up to date with all your vaccines before traveling. Talk to your primary care physicians and make sure that you take any necessary precautions or medications along with you. 

3. Figure out your dates – but be flexible and a little sneaky 

As most parents will woefully admit, our lives are often dictated by the moods, schedules, and, yes, even whims of the tiny human beings in our lives. When planning family vacations, one of the first considerations for most parents is their children’s school schedule. Airlines, hotels, and tour companies are all too aware of this fact and price their services accordingly. Supply and demand are, after all, the mainstays of business. 

Of course, with any planned trip, it is always best to avoid peak-season travel. But if you must travel during school holidays, research destinations that are in shoulder season or even off-season to save thousands of dollars and avoid peak season crowds. 

This may involve switching your mindset. For example, Mexico and the Caribbean are popular destinations over winter break, and prices surge as much of the country is battling snow storms and grey days. 

However, it is just as enjoyable but much more affordable and quiet during the summer. The reverse is true for Europe, which is busy and expensive during its peak summer season but much more affordable over the winter holidays. In addition, a winter adventure to Europe offers magical Christmas markets, winter wonderlands, world-class skiing, snow-covered peaks, and all the museums and attractions you’ve been dreaming of with a fraction of the crowds. The traveling international with as family myths are far from true, international vacations make for great family trips. 

4. Choose a destination that offers a variety of experiences 

If you’re traveling to a destination where the main activity is beach time, a few cold or rainy days can really put a damper on your plans. Instead, find destinations that offer a variety of activities. For example, while Costa Rica is a fantastic beach destination, it also provides ample opportunities for hiking, jungle treks, zip lining, canyoning, and rafting. These activities are less affected by the weather.  

Many European cities offer an incredible variety of museums, cultural attractions, shows and interactive experiences that families can enjoy in any season. At the same time, they offer access to beautiful outdoor park areas, beaches, lakes, and mountains. Paris, London and Barcelona are some of our top choices for a city break family vacation with easy access to nearby outdoor recreation areas. 

Planning Your Best Family Vacation

5. Contact a travel specialist for assistance –

If you’re having trouble sorting through travel options or finding affordable packages, you may want to consult a professional to plan your best family vacation. It’s easy to get overwhelmed doing all the research and planning yourself. After all, can you really trust the reviews, and how do you know which FB group post to believe when they all seem to say different things? Using a professional to curate your itinerary can save you dozens of hours and ensure your travel goals are achieved. 

A good travel agent can help ensure that you’re getting the best value and that your vacation is tailored to your family’s interests, abilities, budget and style of travel. They can also help identify potential problem areas with certain destinations or activities. If possible, look for travel agencies specializing in family travel —they may have access to unique experiences and services you don’t even know exist.

How do you find the best travel agent? Begin by asking friends and family for recommendations — a personal referral is often the best place to start. Make sure you explain your needs and expectations clearly so the travel agent can give you the best advice possible. Be prepared with all relevant information, such as dates of travel, preferred destinations, and any special activities or services requested. You should also have a budget in mind before starting the planning process. Most agencies work with various suppliers who cater to different travel styles, from budget to ultra-luxury. Understanding your budget and travel needs will help them choose the best options for you. 

Once you’ve identified a few potential travel agents, do the following. 

  • Research their reputations. Check online reviews to get insights from other customers and determine if they offer the type of service that meets your needs. 
  • Find out if the agency is part of consortia such as Virtuoso, which enables the agency to provide special amenities and VIP services and pass them on to the clients. Usually, this is found on their website, but you can also contact the company and ask questions directly. 
  • Schedule an appointment. Most reputable travel agencies offer complimentary discovery calls to get to know you and see whether you are the right fit for each other. Beware of any agency promising you things like “cheapest prices”, “best deals,” or other platitudes that seem too good to be true. 
  • Make sure whatever agency you choose is licensed and insured. 
  • Find out the fee structure. Does the agency charge service fees, and if so, what do those fees inlcude? 

When you’re ready to book your trip, it’s important to provide agents with as much information about your preferences as possible. Include details such as your desired accommodations, transportation preferences, preferred airlines or routes, activities that appeal to you, dietary restrictions if applicable, special events you may want to attend, and other important information. 

Finally, don’t forget to ask questions before and after they start planning your best family vacation. Your agent should be able to answer all of your queries promptly and provide additional information if necessary. If there are certain restrictions or limitations that may influence your trip-planning process, make sure to discuss them with your agent as well.

Planning Your Best Family Vacation

6. Invest in quality attire and outdoor gear –

If you’re planning a winter wonderland adventure but live in a warm climate, consider appropriate attire and plan ahead. You don’t want to arrive at a beautiful ski destination only to find out the kids are freezing and miserable because they don’t have good gloves or warm enough coats. Make sure you invest in good boots and other quality apparel to keep the whole family warm and dry. Quality items are usually more expensive, but they last longer and can often be used on future trips. Check out local second-hand stores for kid’s attire, as they may only use it a few times before growing out of it. Also, if you’re going to be doing a lot of outdoor activities, such as skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing, you want to ensure your gear is up-to-date and in good condition. 

If you are unsure about the type of gear, you may need ask the locals for advice. The hotel concierge and local tour companies or activity providers have years of experience and can give you a general idea of the type of weather you are likely to encounter. If you are planning an outdoor adventure trip, ask your travel advisor whether the ground companies provide or rent equipment such as hiking poles, rain gear, snow pants, etc., so that you do not end up purchasing or packing items you do not need. 

7. Think outside the box –

Dream of visiting France’s beautiful historic cities and famous beaches? So are millions of other travelers who drive up costs and crowds. If you are flexible with your schedule, plan the trip during shoulder season or consider a trip to Portugal or Northern Spain instead. With a bit of research and creative thinking, you can enjoy the same type of cultural experience at much lower prices. 

If you live on the east coast and want to experience an incredible tropical adventure beach holiday and Maui is out of your budget or too far to fly, how about a trip to the Azores? The islands are only a 5-hour direct flight from major east coast cities such as Newark and Boston and offer adventure, relaxation and natural beauty for a much lower price point. 

Planning Your Best Family Vacation

8. Pack light 

Unless you plan on staying in one spot during your entire vacation, it’s important to pack light. Remind everyone in the family to bring only the essentials and avoid packing any other items you don’t absolutely need or can buy at your destination. This way, you won’t be weighed down during your travels. While airlines allow parents to check essential items like car seats and boosters without added fees, remember that these items are often available to rent from most car rental agencies and transfer companies as long as you let them know in advance. 

If you’re traveling to a destination within the US, purchasing items and having them shipped to your hotel or villa can save considerable space and lower the cost of checked luggage. Many online retailers offer complimentary shipping to US destinations so you can easily purchase items before you leave and have them waiting for you when you arrive. If you are renting a villa with an onsite concierge, send them a list of items your family enjoys eating and drinking ahead of time and have your fridge pre-stocked with all your favorite comfort foods. 

9. Get insurance 

It is always a good idea to get travel insurance before embarking on a vacation. This is a vital step in planning your best family vacation. You never know when something might go wrong, such as having to cancel your trip or something important getting lost in transit. Travel insurance can help protect you from any unexpected costs that might occur during your vacation and give you peace of mind.

Planning Your Best Family Vacation

10. Have fun – 

Remember to have a good time on your vacation, and don’t sweat the small stuff! Enjoy all the activities the area offers, take in the sights, try new things and make sure you have some much-needed rest and relaxation. Spend quality time with your loved ones, create memories that will last a lifetime, and come back home feeling refreshed and recharged! Good luck in planning your best family vacation!

Be sure to take a look at our Top 10 Best International Family Vacations for 2023.

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Boutique Travel Advisors is a full-service, luxury travel agency. We specialize in creating bespoke itineraries for discerning clients around the world. Please visit our website or call 480-787-1477 to speak with a dedicated travel expert. 

Are you planning an international or domestic trip? Check out our other articles to help you come prepared!

We highly recommend the purchase of travel insurance to protect your financial investment and health while traveling internationally. To purchase a policy with our preferred travel insurance company Arch RoamRight  click here.

 If you would like assistance purchasing a travel insurance policy, please get in touch with a BTA advisor.