Summertime is just a few weeks away, which means family vacations are likely on the brain.
The idea of planning a vacation with kids in tow can be intimidating. Sure, the actual vacation is supposed to be relaxing (or as relaxing as a vacation with kids can be!), but getting to that point can be a maze of hotel recommendations, travel blogs, flight seat selections and more.
So we chatted with travel experts about their vacation planning tips so you can get that trip booked with ease. From flight hacks to safety recommendations, here’s what they shared.
Avoid Google, at least in the beginning
Google is a helpful resource when planning a vacation, but if you’re at the beginning of your planning process, try to resist the temptation to hop on with your searches.
“If you start with Google, it’s the paradox of choice,” said Julie Danziger, director of luxury travel services at Ovation Vacations. “There’s so much out there and you just don’t even know what you’re looking for.”
Instead, Danziger suggested having a family meeting to learn how far everyone wants to go, what activities they’d like to do, their thoughts about hanging out on beaches vs. exploring local villages, and so on. Then, let Google help you arrange tours and plan other activities.
Erika Richter, communications director for the American Society of Travel Agents, offered the same advice about Google for families who might be overwhelmed about the thought of choosing a destination. She also noted that knowing when you want to go can sometimes help you put together a list.
“Certain places and activities will be more accessible at different times of the year,” she said. “So once parents know exactly when and how long they want the trip to be, the choices can be narrowed down a bit.”
Plan ahead and send important things in advance
Of course, school vacation means peak travel times. Planning ahead can help you and your family avoid higher prices, sold-out tours and the headache that comes after learning there aren’t enough seats together on a flight.
“If you have young children who are not in school and [have] flexibility with dates, it is best to travel at non-peak times. For example, the first week of January after the New Year offers lower pricing than staying over the holiday week,” said Michael Dolan, team leader and travel consultant for Liberty Travel.
Having plenty of advance notice of a trip will also allow you to send important supplies (like diapers, baby products, sunscreen, etc.) to your vacation spot before you leave. Many hotels will happily arrange for this. Plus, sending these things leaves room in your luggage for other belongings.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
“If you give the hotel information and tell them about yourselves and about your family, everything can be set up for you,” Danziger said.
As an example, she suggested asking for turndown service at a different time if you know your toddler will be sleeping.
For parents and caretakers with kids with food allergies or other challenges, most travel agents are happy to call hotels and restaurants ahead of time and make sure things go smoothly. If you’re more of an independent planner, Danziger said you’ll “have to go the extra mile.” She offered a useful tip for travelers who need to be extra careful with their dining options because of food allergies.
“Bring a notecard with you about the restrictions that are in the local language and give it to them and at least have an opportunity to have them tailor to your needs,” Danziger said.
Similarly, Richter suggested that parents of kids with sensory difficulties call hotels ahead of time to ask whether the housekeeping team incorporates any strong smells as part of the room ambience.
Come prepared, but be realistic
The majority of experts we spoke with suggested self-planners pause and resist the temptation to plan several tours or activities a day. They encouraged all families to leave some time in the day to rest. Scott Steinberg, editor-in-chief of Select Magazine, also noted that you should always factor in travel time and wait times when scheduling excursions and other fun things.
Way too in over your head to choose what to do, much less schedule activities? Steinberg has a handy hack.
“A helpful tip would be to phone ahead to concierges at four- and five-star rated hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons,” he said. “They can give you a quick rundown of top recommendations.”
Of course, the trip planning doesn’t end after the hotel and mode of transportation are booked. Richter encouraged parents traveling by flight to plan on bringing “a handful of small gifts in wrapping paper” to keep kids occupied. Another idea that’s a bit out of the ordinary? Bring blue painter’s tape to distract the kids.
“Blue painter’s tape works wonders on planes,” she said. “It’s cheap, easy, and it doesn’t ruin any surfaces!”
If you’re looking for something that keeps kids occupied and requires no extra belongings, McCabe World Travel’s Jessica Griscavage said to “make the plane ride part of the adventure” and talk to the kids about the trip while traveling. It’ll keep them busy and get them excited about the vacation.
When it comes to safety, Richter encouraged parents taking children to a theme park or similar destination to take a photo of them every morning. If the family gets separated, the photo can be helpful for park employees and officials. Taking a photo of where you park isn’t a bad idea either.
And if you’re traveling internationally, don’t forget to check everyone’s passports, not just your own.
“Remember that children’s passports expire every five years (vs. 10 years for adults), so be sure those are up to date,” Dolan said. “The expiration date on passports must be valid at least six months beyond your date of travel [for some countries].”
Remember that vacations are supposed to be fun!
Planning trips can be stressful, but the research pays off.
“It might be a little extra work on the ground before you go, but at the same time once you’re there it’ll allow you to fully enjoy and appreciate the vacation instead of having to be concerned about it when you’re there,” Danziger said.
And if you are feeling overwhelmed or spotting too many restrictions on your family’s needs at a certain destination, simply go somewhere else.
“It’s easier,” Danziger said. “When you’re ready for those big trips, you’ll take them.”