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How to Plan a Vacation

Get ready... get set... go enjoy a well-planned vacation!

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Planning a vacation is actually quite simple, particularly if you follow these easy steps:

  1. Decide on your destination. Deciding where to go on vacation is not always an easy task. Families usually have diverse interests and preferences when it comes to vacation destinations, and each family member should have some input into the decision-making process. Whether your destination is a beach, the concrete jungle of a theme park or vast green of a golf resort, make sure there are nearby activities that each member of the family can enjoy and that the location is affordable.

  2. Decide when you are going. Determining what time of the year your family will vacation is often influenced by personal preferences, while other families have few options due to school or work schedules. Other deciding factors may include holidays, special events, crowds and the weather.

  3. Plan a budget. When I was young I never quite appreciated the planning that must have gone into our family vacations. They weren't elaborate affairs and often included visiting relatives, but my parents must have scrimped and saved all year to afford them. Whether you save all year for your vacation or pay for it with plastic and make payments throughout the year, your vacations will likely be less stressful if you decide how much you can afford to spend and stay within your budget.

    Budget decisions should take into account transportation, where you will stay, cost of activities, meals and incidentals like souvenirs, airport parking and boarding the family pet. Ask yourself questions when preparing a budget. Will you be driving your own car? Renting a car? Flying? Will you stay in a hotel? Or rent a condo or cottage or campsite? How much will tickets cost for entertainment and activities? Will you eat out or buy groceries and prepare your own meals?

    The Internet makes finding deals, coupons and specials easier these days. Look for special promotions, off-season rates and all-inclusive deals, but read the fine print. While park-and-fly and kids-eat-free programs can help stretch vacation dollars, tacked-on resort fees and using items in that well-stocked hotel refrigerator can provide a costly surprise at check-out.

  4. Plan your transportation. Today families are spending more just to get to their vacation destinations. Gasoline prices fluctuate from week to week, but the average per gallon seems to inch consistently higher year over year. Also, while you may find bargain airline fares from time to time; once you factor in the rising airline fees, you may find it cheaper to drive to your destination. Another consideration when deciding on transportation is the length of time you have for your vacation. The shorter your vacation and the farther away the locale, flying often is a better choice.

  5. Decide where you will stay. While resort hotels have grown in numbers and popularity, there are also other options for vacationing families — camping, vacation rentals and vacation ownership. Instead of reserving multiple resort rooms, a vacation rental makes sense for large families and extended families traveling together. Timeshare and vacation ownership is a long-term investment, but if you can afford the annual fees, aren't bothered by early booking requirements and some restrictions, this could be the right choice for your family. And, camping could easily be one of the most affordable vacation options. Tent camping equipment is quite inexpensive and it is possible to rent an RV, but a camping vacation isn't for everyone.

  6. Plan activities and entertainment. Unless you purchase a vacation package that includes entertainment and activities, or you stay at an all-inclusive resort that "has it all," you will want to plan at least some of your activities in advance. Many tours and character meals are fully booked well in advance and you might be surprised to learn that game of mini golf you promised the kids can empty your wallet in just a couple of hours. Research activities before you leave home. Search for coupons and other discounts both on the Internet and in local travel coupon books available at most hotels, rest stops and convenience stores.

  7. Decide what to pack. Today, packing for a vacation isn't as simple as following a printed checklist. If you are flying, baggage fees, limits on the number, size and weight of bags allowed and security limitations have made packing for a vacation difficult. You don't want to forget the essentials, like sunscreen if you are headed to the beach; but, it may be less of a hassle to buy some items once you reach your destination. If you are driving, don't forget to pack essentials such as maps, games for the kids and snacks.

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