Where to go this summer? This can be a tough question when you’re deciding on a vacation. Whether it’s to the beach, a national park, or somewhere in between, there are a few different factors that need to be taken into consideration before you book your trip.
Sure, you want to spend some time away from home — but you also want your vacation to be something that the entire family will enjoy. To help make this decision easier, consider the following factors: How many people are going? Cost Budget including flights and lodging Do you have kids? Will your kids have fun? Is the destination kid-friendly? Age
Tips to plan a family vacation
1. Determine your budget.
While the average vacation may cost thousands of dollars, it doesn’t have to be that expensive. There are plenty of ways to trim costs without sacrificing fun. To get started, determine how much you can afford to spend on the trip as a whole, and set that as your goal number to hit. Make sure your number accounts for everything you’ll need to make the trip go off without a hitch — from passports and travel to food and souvenirs. You don’t want to get stuck at the end of your checkbook without a plan.
2. Pick a location.
Now, within that budget, determine where a reasonable location to travel may be. If your budget is on the lower end, you could opt for somewhere within driving distance instead of a faraway destination that requires multiple airline tickets and car rentals. You may want to vacation near family or friends that will let you stay at their place for free. If you have your heart set on Tahitian beaches and can’t make it work, you can always look into other locations that will provide a similar feel for far less expense. The main thing to remember is this: in the middle of planning a great getaway, going outside of your budget may seem like a great idea, but it almost always catches up.
In contrast to the “budget-first-location-second” method, you may decide you have somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit — like a cross-country RV trip to the Grand Canyon or a cruise to Alaska. No worries; simply reverse the plan and let your destination help you guide through what it will cost. It may mean more saving to make your dream vacation happen, but it will be well worth it when you get there.
3. Establish a timeline.
While 62 percent of travelers will make their trip this summer, according to AAA, you don’t have to head out at the same time. In fact, you can save a lot of money by traveling in the off-season — not only in lodging costs but in all the other aspects of travel, too.
Consider that while beach destinations are extremely popular in the summer, the early spring or winter months see far less traffic. As a result, everything from tours to restaurants are eager to grab whatever business they can. Your goal is to be the beneficiary of that off-season mentality.
One of the best ways to make sure you’re stretching every dollar is to price shop for all aspects of your trip. Creative hotel booking is a great way to save money. Staying a block away from your ultimate destination or using Airbnb can have a major bottom-line impact. For airfare, use tricks of the trade — like buying at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays no less than six weeks out — to get the best price.
Discount sites like Groupon can offer deep discounts on activities as well. For retreats and resorts, booking farther in advance can have some impressive money-saving benefits. Not only can you get some pretty significant discounts, but in some instances, you may be able to set up payment plans as well.
4. Consider the extras.
Don’t forget the little things! If you’re going to need a passport, Real ID, copies of paperwork, or immunization forms, make sure you get them ahead of time! Many “extras” involved in travel — things like cab fare or money for tipping — probably won’t be in the front of your mind, but they add up quickly. So, take some time to think through all the little details of your trip and plan for those costs.
5. Get some help.
When all else fails — find an expert! While it may seem counter-intuitive to pay for the services of a professional, travel planners often have access to significant discounts or unknown options that they can pass on to you. Many times, the savings you gain from working with a skilled agent will outweigh the cost of their services.
6. Save, save, save.
Once you have a good idea of what your vacation is going to cost, it’s time to start putting that money aside! To come up with a manageable monthly installment plan, simply divide the amount you need to have for the trip by the number of months until you travel. Then, chip away at the overall price tag by putting regular payments into savings or a Vacation Club savings account. For example, if your trip will cost around $2,000 and you plan to take it in 6 months, plan to save about $333 per month.
7. Stick to your budget.
You’re not quite done yet! The appeal for all of us to “make memories” is real, so keep in mind that while you’re on vacation, you may get the urge to spend outside your budget. If you can avoid it (and you absolutely can), don’t give in to the urge to do something you haven’t planned for. With a little self-discipline, you can avoid going over the budget you are comfortable with. That being said, if you’re still worried you might overspend while you’re away, go ahead and create a slush fund in the planning stages to account for those unforeseen attractions.
Resort vacation with kids
The Hotel Hershey
WHERE: Hershey, Pennsylvania
The front desk greeting, “Do you prefer milk or dark chocolate?” sets the tone for a sweet stay at the iconic Hotel Hershey, a highlight of any family vacation to Hershey, Pennsylvania. In a town dedicated to its founding father of chocolate, Milton Hershey, the hotel opened in 1933 and has since undergone multiple expansions and renovations to its 276 guest rooms and suites.
Among the family-forward amenities offered at the resort, there’s great value in the hotel’s exclusive access to Hersheypark an hour before the gates open, foregoing long lines and allowing for multiple rides on park favorites. The resort’s Cocoa Clubhouse offers an immersive day of summer fun for kids 5 and up, with activities that include visits to the property’s butterfly house, swimming, and ice cream making.
WHERE: Williamsburg, Virginia
A resort built with families in mind, Kingsmill Resort sits just miles away from two of the county’s most popular theme parks (Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA) and the Historic Triangle of colonial Virginia—Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown.
Location aside, the resort knows its guests well and offers a relaxing alternative from the hubbub of the parks with an expansive river pool complex that features a waterslide, sandy beach, and plenty of chaise lounges for soaking in the sun. If you’re looking for a little alone time to explore the resort’s sprawling 2,900 acres, the “Kidsmill” program welcomes kids age 5 to 12 for daylong programming that includes sports, water games, and activities on the marina beach.
Montauk Yacht Club
WHERE: Montauk, New York
A standout of luxury and service in the Hamptons, Montauk Yacht Club recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation, unveiling updated rooms, renewed restaurants, and chic lounges. A haven for families, the resort’s long list of amenities includes a private beach, three pools (one indoor and two outdoor), Har-Tru lit tennis courts, and a children’s playground.
For more active youth, the Kid’s Surf Academy and Junior Tennis Camps offer pro-taught lessons and clinics, while more casual games are struck up often on the volleyball and bocce ball courts. The resort is the ideal base for the exploring Montauk’s scenic coast with complimentary paddleboats and bikes available.
The Osthoff Resort
WHERE: Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Set on the banks of Elkhart Lake about an hour north of Milwaukee, The Osthoff Resort has been a top year-round retreat for families since its unveiling in 1995. The 245-room complex has two on-site restaurants (one casual, one a bit more upscale), the renowned Aspira Spa, and L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School, which offers cooking classes on treats ranging from sourdough bread to French macarons.
Summer at the resort is all about the lake, as a private 500-foot sandy beach is ideal for perfecting your tan before setting out on one of the resort’s canoes, kayaks, or more challenging hydro-bikes—for an additional fee.
WHERE: Sunriver, Oregon
In picturesque central Oregon, where mountains loom in the distance and fresh air is plentiful, Sunriver Resort is a family-friendly luxury destination that connects with its natural surroundings. Accommodations range from hotel rooms and suites to private cabins and vacation homes, outfitted in woodsy-chic décor with accents of Native American design.
Adirondack chairs dot a property that includes many standout amenities, namely the resort’s horse stable, four golf courses, multiple eateries, and a new pool complex featuring private cabanas, a water slide, and a zero-entry pool for the youngest of the bunch.
Vista Verde Ranch
WHERE: Clark, Colorado
An all-inclusive luxury ranch set in the depths of northern Colorado’s Routt National Forest, Vista Verde is a family favorite for its unfettered access to nature. With a capacity limited to 48 guests per night, overcrowding is never an issue at the resort’s daily activities that range from fly fishing to whitewater rafting.
The daily kids program makes the most of the ranch, with horseback riding lessons, ropes course challenges, scavenger hunts, a visit to the resort’s foals, and even the occasional trip on an antique fire truck for ice cream. In ranch tradition, all meals are enjoyed with the whole family, and formal dinners require anything but formal attire.
Waldorf Astoria Orlando
WHERE: Orlando, Florida
A luxury standout among Orlando’s many hotels that serve as a landing pad after a day spent in the parks, Waldorf Astoria Orlando is a destination unto itself. Closer to Disney than some of the park’s own hotel properties, the Waldorf Astoria exudes a classic elegance despite being built only seven years ago.
Designed with families in mind, the resort’s WA Kids Club hosts kids from ages 5 to 12 for daily activities in and around the pool, and an evening bonfire with s’mores. The resort excels at programming for the family, including lawn games, a Weird Science ice cream social, and culinary experiences for the family.
GRAND WAILEA, A WALDORF ASTORIA RESORT
WHERE: Kihei, Hawaii
The pristine oceanfront of Wailea Beach is just one of nine options for a refreshing splash at the palatial Grand Wailea Resort Hotel in Kihei, Hawaii, a mega-resort that features nine pools. From the 2,000-foot-long Wailea Canyon Activity Pool complete with water slides, waterfalls, and caves, to the adults-only scene at the Hibiscus Pool, the grounds have been scaled to provide guests of its 780-room complex with a relaxed and uncrowded getaway.
For the best family thrill on site, head to the resort’s Fishpipe, a rotating barrel ride that simulates a mile-long waterslide. Test your limits on this zany ride and see what speeds you can handle on your 90-second spin.
THE HARBORSIDE HOTEL
WHERE: Bar Harbor, Maine
With a prime spot on Bar Harbor’s scenic coastline, The Harborside Hotel furthers its appeal to families looking for a refined summer getaway with its new Kid’s Suites, which feature a “room within a room” layout, providing younger guests with a bunk bed and their own entertainment haven, complete with a TV, DVD player, and PlayStation.
Once the thrill of the TV set wears off, the resort’s Bar Harbor Kids Club is happy to entertain with adventures through the harbor for ages 5 through 12.
Wequassett Resort & Golf Club
WHERE: Harwich, Massachusetts
A Cape Cod mainstay off Pleasant Bay, portions of the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club date back to 1907. Spanning 27 acres, the resort has spared no expense in outfitting its grounds for the most active families with two pools, a waterfront with boats and water sports, two beaches, four Har-Tru tennis courts, and a golf course.
A newly reconceived children’s center includes an impressive pirate ship playground, a cutting-edge 135-inch HD screen, and the latest gaming consoles including Xbox and PlayStation. Daily programs for kids ages 2 to 12 include sailing lessons, swimming lessons, and dive-in movies. Be on the lookout for the resort’s old-fashioned ice cream truck, serving Good Humor treats that help beat the heat every afternoon.