Planning a family vacation can be simple, or quite complicated, depending on your approach, your prerequisites, your personality type, your family dynamics, your budget and a few other factors, including the age of your children and what you expect to get out of your vacation. What I have learned after taking numerous trips with my family is that planning a vacation (and then going on one) requires patience, compromise, flexibility and empathy.
How much planning is enough?
My personal experience has taught me that there’s a sweet spot when it comes to how much planning I need to do before I’m ready to take my family on a vacation. Your own sweet spot will depend on the factors above, and will probably include others. If you are happy with booking a package deal for an all-inclusive vacation, your experience will be quite different from mine. While I can’t discount the relaxation afforded by packing a bathing suit and a toothbrush and spending a week on a beach, I prefer a different kind of vacation – and my process is a little more involved than punching my credit card number into a website and getting on a plane, for better or for worse.
As Canadian citizens, my family enjoys the privilege of being able to travel almost anywhere, so when it comes to choosing our family vacations, the world is really our oyster! My husband, Alex, and I speak 6 languages between us, so we feel confident travelling independently in many countries. We’ve got the choice of all of America – North and South, Europe, Africa, and Oceania. My first experience planning a family vacation happened when I turned 40. I wanted to mark this milestone with a monumental family vacation – but we had some restrictions. Here were our initial parameters:
- I wanted to travel to a ‘bucket list’ location I hadn’t been to already;
- I wanted to be there for my birthday in May;
- We had a week of vacation time;
- I wanted a relatively short flight (Alex and I would be travelling with our 3 and 6 year-old boys);
- We wanted to spend less than $4,000;
- We needed a destination that would be interesting for both children and adults.
With those parameters on the table, I pulled out a map and took a look at flight times to different destinations. This was my first guideline to narrowing down our options. From Toronto, where we live, in 5 hours you can travel south to the US and to most of the Caribbean, parts of Mexico and east or west in Canada. Any further and we would be extending our flight time.
Next, I considered the time of year we were travelling. In early spring it’s still cold in most of the Northern Hemisphere, and I really wanted to enjoy some warmth for my birthday. So, my focus went south. As I scanned the map, I looked at different options and then thought about what our experience would be like with the kids in a few different scenarios:
- A jungle tour in Costa Rica
- An adventure to the Galapagos Islands
- Exploring the Grand Canyon
- Cavorting in Disney World
- Taking in the cherry blossoms and museums in Washington D.C.
The big decision
While all of the destinations on the shortlist were valid and very interesting, as I did more research into the different activities at each place, only one fit for our budget, our family situation and collectively captivated our curiosity: The Grand Canyon.
I went back over our prerequisites and found that at that stage in our lives, this was a perfect family destination to satisfy my wanderlust and enrich our lives within the parameters we had imposed. While this may seem like a lot of thought to put into deciding on a destination, this is how my husband and I approach our vacations, whether renting a cottage for a week or planning a bigger family trip and our process has worked for us so far.
The nitty gritty
Of course, once we decided where we were headed, we dug in deeper and did more research to explore our options, plan our itinerary and find lodging. Then we took on the logistics of arranging trip insurance, finding a dog-sitter, packing our bags, and waking up on time the day of our trip… And that’s when the adventure began. We had an amazing journey that we all remember fondly to this day – a once-in–a-lifetime experience that meant different things to each of us, but one that we will share as a family forever.