Summertime…school’s out, the sun is shining, the air is warm and the itch to go to the beach is real and relentless.
Planning and executing a “successful” vacation anywhere can be daunting but it is possible. The key here is the planning part. So, I’m doing a new summer series that shows you how to do family (with young children) vacations affordably, entertainingly and so organized that you won’t be able to help but have fun along the way.
Today I’m gonna lay out our vacation preparation template.
First and foremost, you need the cash for the vacation. There’s nothing worse than having a vacation that leaves your bank account empty when you return from the vacation. After all, the point of the vacation is to relax, right? There’s no sense in getting all twisted up from insufficient funds notices or maxed out credit cards. That will not do.
What we do every pay period is budget and automatically transfer $50 to our vacation savings account. If the vacation is going to be big, we’ll up that amount accordingly. So as the vacation fund is quietly growing in the background, we know we’ll have a solid funding source come vacation time.
Next comes the planning…and this begins well before vacation time starts. We have three kids and usually travel by car. So we plan. Queue the vacation notebook.
We plan for the kids’ car activity bags and consider the mess. Are the markers washable? Do the crayons melt in the hot car? Are endless goldfish crumbs worth it? Water bottles are better than juice boxes, spill-wise. Will sharing be a problem? If so, get enough for each kid and write their names on everything. Think about slouching, sleeping kids…does their unconscious slouching make for a dangerous situation seat-belt wise? Get neck pillows. Get your brain working like this and start jotting down ideas in your vacation notebook.
Food. We plan for a seven day vacation and depending on where we go, we know there’s a few restaurants we’ll want to hit while we are there. We always try to stay in a house/ condo rather than a hotel because…well, three kids. I am not spending my vacation in the same room with 3 small children. We all need our space, but more on this later. Back to the food. We plan out meals…breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Nothing fancy, no need for Top Chef here. Hotdogs and beans are fine. But write out menus in that vacation notebook…maybe get the kids involved, too. From this, you now have a grocery list…vacation notebook.
Activities. Once you get there, you’ll undoubtedly want to go do things. There’s only so long you can enjoy the location without needing to be entertained. Scope out tourism sites, Google “cheap things to do with kids in _______” and look in the comments section. That’s where the real gold is! The article may be helpful, but nothing beats other parents’ comments on what did and didn’t work for them, what they found, etc.
Look for unusual things, look for rainy day things, look for trails, parks, playgrounds, fishing holes, bowling alley locations, museums, historical landmarks…you get the idea. These are usually less expensive options to amusement parks and the like, plus these places are more likely to be fun for the whole family instead of just the kids. Another list for the vacation notebook.
As you are assembling these lists, you’ll start to see how they tie together. Some of your activities need a picnic lunch, some will go into the dinner hour, so your options for food become a bank of choices you can assign to each activity you plan for the day. Remember the more prep and forethought you put into the trip, the less likely you will be to spend money last-minute.
We tell our kids that vacation is really for Momma and Daddy to rest. We still plan for the kids, but we try to remember to allot ourselves time and opportunities to relax and have a good time otherwise vacation is basically the same crap in a different toilet, if I can be so elegant.
Over the next bit, I’ll spell out the components of our vacations, budget, and give an example success story or two so you can see how we pull off a vacation for 5 very economically, while having a great time together as a family.
Update: Check out Part 2 here!!
In the meantime, I would love to hear of your favorite places to vacation. Where do you keep going back to?
Don’t forget to follow our blog so you don’t miss the next installment of our summer vacation series…”Life’s a beach…vacations that don’t kill me”!