As a child, vacations are magical — each trip is an adventure. The airplane is thrilling. The hotel room is exciting. As an adult, things look a little different. And every parent knows there’s a lot of work that goes into planning the perfect family getaway. Right now, many families are making plans to pack up the kids and escape the coming March monotony for a fun family adventure. Whether you’re seeking a sunny beach, a ski trip or just a visit with relatives, follow these steps to ensure your vacation is well organized. That way, you can start enjoying yourself the minute you walk out of the door.
1. CHOOSE A DESTINATION. Deciding on a vacation destination can be lots of fun, but it can also be overwhelming. To help narrow down your focus, consider budget, type of travel, family accommodations and activities when choosing a location. Get the whole family involved in the decision-making process and, if your children are older, ask them to help research options. They can’t argue with a destination they helped pick and the Internet is loaded with travel reviews and tips from the pros to help your family make a final decision. Travel expert Pauline Frommer — http://www.frommers.com/pauline/ — is always a great source of information.
2. BOOK TRAVEL AND ACCOMMODATIONS. When booking accommodations, check hotel reviews and recommendations online. There are lots of sites like TripAdvisor ( http://www.tripadvisor.com ) that feature expert reviews as well as information and photos submitted by travelers just like you who rate hotels based on family-friendliness, cleanliness, location and more. If you’re flying, be sure to compare the airline’s website with any of the aggregator sites like Kayak ( http://www.kayak.com/ ) or Priceline ( h http://www.priceline.com/ ) — sometimes they run specials for midweek travel on less popular routes. There are several sites that can advise you whether fares are rising, holding steady or dropping, so you don’t end up waiting until the last minute to book.
3. BUILD YOUR ITINERARY. Once you’ve booked travel and shelter, it’s time to start building your itinerary because when you’re traveling with the whole family, there are a lot of details to keep track of. Start early and keep things organized. Springpad — http://springpad.com/ — is a great tool to help you save all the information you need in one place — from reservations and confirmation numbers to restaurants and attractions. And it’s easy to share with the whole family so everyone can not only access the details at any time from their mobile phones, tablets or laptops, they can add their own ideas, too.
4. PACK STRATEGICALLY. There’s nothing worse than getting to your vacation destination and realizing you’ve forgotten something crucial. And while you can always pick up basics in most locations, leaving behind medications and other important supplies can really grind the fun to a halt. Use a checklist to keep track of what you (and the rest of the family) needs to pack. If you’re flying, encourage everyone to pack their essentials in a carry-on sized bag. It’s a great way to ensure everyone has what they need in transit and you avoid the surprise of getting to your final destination without an entire bag of stuff. Also, don’t forget to read about the latest TSA rules at http://www.tsa.gov/ to see what you can and cannot bring onboard — before you leave home.
Andrew Mellen is a professional organizer, frequent contributor and expert source to The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; Martha Stewart Living; Ladies’ Home Journal; Family Circle; GQ; HGTV; and NPR. He’s the best-selling author of “Unstuff Your Life!”