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How To Plan A Family Vacation: Tips for the 4 Basic Family Vacations

By Kit KieferFebruary 22, 2022

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

People who say, “Family vacations are stressful,” often mean, “Planning family vacations is stressful.” And it’s true – which is why we’ve gone all-out to tell you how to plan a family vacation -- specifically, the four basic family vacations.

Before you get to the specific types of vacations, make sure you review the General Tips for Planning a Vacation section below. These apply to all four of the different types of vacations listed in this post (click on the links below if you want to jump right to the specific types of vacations):

General Tips for Planning a Vacation

Planning a family vacation is a process. It might take a couple of months to get all the pieces in place, or you might be able to knock it off in an evening (but don’t bet on it).

Along the way, there are several specific areas of concern you’ll have to address, including:

Setting your budget

Family vacations cost money – sometimes a lot of money. Estimates on how much to save for a family vacation range from 5%-10% of your total annual income to $300 a month – which could be vastly different amounts.

So how do you figure out how much a family vacation will cost? Sit down with pencil and paper or open up a spreadsheet app and list out all the spending categories associated with your vacation, including:

Airfares, car rentals, and lodging

You can get information on airfares from sites like Google Flights, and lodging and car-rental prices from booking sites.

If you’re taking a road trip, determine your car’s highway mileage and then use GasBuddy to determine gas prices along your route.

Meals

See if your hotels offer breakfast, and then look at the receipts from your last restaurant meals to get a rough idea of dining-out costs.

Camping or renting a vacation home? Add 10%-15% to your last grocery bill (to allow for splurges and more expensive food at your destination) and you’re in the ballpark.

Remember to budget for snacks and treats.

Activities and attractions

If you’re doing an attraction-heavy vacation like a theme-park trip, look at the attractions’ sites for admission fees.

Miscellaneous expenses

You may have to guesstimate these. Start with the leftover money you have from your budget and divide by the number of days you’ll be traveling. If you’re left with a reasonable amount per day, you’re fine. If the number seems too low, re-examine your other spending.

Set a budget – but don’t be a stickler about money

It’s important and prudent to have a budget for your vacation that aligns with your personal finances. But vacation time is not a time to put the kibosh on something incredible that might send you slightly over budget.

Being flexible with your travel money can make your vacation much less stressful.

PRO TIP: Protect your travel investment. Including money in your budget for travel insurance from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection can also make a huge difference in the enjoyment you get from your vacation – especially if travel troubles strike.

Photo by Mika Boumeister on Unsplash

Choosing your mode of travel

Once you’ve determined how much you’re going to spend, determine how you’re going to get to where you’re going.

A big question many families face, especially with theme-park vacations, is: How far is too far to drive, and when should I fly? Unfortunately, there’s no hard-and-fast mileage limit for driving vs. flying.

When to drive

If you’re traveling with young children, test their road-worthiness with some day trips. For determining a route, use a combination of Google Maps (for the fastest route through scenery-challenged parts of the country) and a road atlas or state maps (to suggest scenic routes).

Learn More: How To Plan A Trip On Google Maps

When to fly

If you’ve flown and driven with children and they don’t do well with either, weigh the costs of flying versus the benefit of having less travel time, and consider the impact of your children’s behavior on other travelers.

When traveling with very young children, also consider what feeding and play times might look like on longer trips.

Deep Dive: When Is It Safe To Travel With A Newborn By Plane, Car, Or Train

PRO TIP: Build in some “wiggle room." It’s essential to know where you’re going to be staying. It’s nice to have a list of things to do while you’re traveling. But it’s just as important to be okay with going off-script if the moment presents itself. 

Getting everyone involved

You need to make sure everyone feels heard, seen, and valued in the planning process. Here’s how to do that, while still making sure that the process moves forward.

Define “fun”: Having every family member define what’s fun to them is an often-overlooked but vital first step in vacation planning. Everyone has their own idea of a fun activity – and everyone’s definition is valid to them.

Make it collaborative: One of the best things about planning a family vacation is getting everyone around the kitchen table talking about destinations and activities. Have the kids come to the table with their own list of places and things, and let the debate commence.

Give everyone a job: Each vacationer bears some responsibility in making this vacation successful, and when they do their share, they’re not being dragged along; they’re participating … and that changes everything. Jobs to consider are:

  • Determining where and when to dine out
  • Shopping for food
  • Cooking
  • Post-meal cleanup
  • Determining where to stay
  • Housekeeping and cleaning
  • Activities during the day
  • Activities at night
  • Directions
  • Transportation at your destination
  • Things to do on the road, including in-car activities

PRO TIP: Parents need to think about trip safety. While you want to include everyone in the process, it’s up to the parents to always circle back to safety. For each of the trips below, we’ve included safety questions you should consider.

So without further ado, let’s jump into the four different types of vacations!

Photo by Arthur Poulin on Unsplash

1. PLANNING FAMILY CAMPING VACATIONS

Camping vacations are great family bonding opportunities. Unfortunately, the family might be bonding over collapsed tents, downpours soaking all your clothes, fires that never quite got fired up, and midnight raccoon raids.

To guarantee your camping vacation is remembered for the right reasons, do the following:

Have a dry run

The biggest complaint many families have about camping vacations is that no one got any sleep. To get everyone comfortable with the new digs, set up the tent or have everyone spend a night in the camper. Pack favorite pillows and blankets and get ready! The sun comes up wicked early.

Cook over a fire before you leave

Make sure the designated fire-starter on your vacation starts the fire. Also check local regulations for burning and the transport of firewood. Many areas ban transport of wood between states or counties to help check the spread of damaging insects.

Keep food secured in bear-proof areas

Usually this means locking food in your car, but putting food in a cooler and stringing the cooler from a tree limb can also work. Whatever you do, do not keep food in your tent. That’s an invitation to a bear visit.

Pack dry socks in a place where you know they’ll stay dry

Wet, cold feet are often the worst feeling people experience when they camp. Keep extra socks in a dry bag off the ground, so you can take care of your feet when they need it.

Have a fully stocked first-aid kit

Make sure you have appropriate treatments for:

  • Severe cuts and scrapes
  • Blisters
  • Insect bites
  • Poison ivy
  • Allergic reactions
  • Diarrhea and other intestinal issues
  • Head and body aches
  • Fevers
  • Sunburn and other burns

Check your first-aid kit before you leave. Replace expired items, and switch out the adhesive bandages that come with most first-aid kits for something more heavy-duty and waterproof.

Camping safety questions

  • How will you make sure your kids are safe when they dive, swim, wade, boat, or play at the beach?
  • How will you make sure your kids are safe when they climb or hike?
  • How will you keep kids safe around the fire?
  • Are there concerns with wild animals?
  • Are stinging insects or poisonous snakes or plants a concern where you’re camping?
  • How well can your tent or trailer handle high winds and/or rainstorms? 

Camping vacation packing checklist

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Packaged snacks (dried fruit, granola bars, nuts, etc.)
  • Peanut butter or equivalent
  • Long-sleeved coverups or rash guards
  • Hat with a wide brim
  • Swimsuits (more than one is recommended)
  • Life jackets
  • Floaties or other inflatable water toys
  • Small, soft ball (like a tennis ball)
  • Frisbee
  • Beach towels
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Pain/fever relief
  • Aloe vera
  • First-aid kit with extra heavy-duty band-aids
  • Flipflops
  • Rain gear
  • Hiking/walking shoes
  • Extra socks (multiple pairs)
  • Sunglasses
  • Favorite pillow and/or soft toy
  • Fleece blanket(s)
  • Yoga mat(s)
  • Hand-held games
  • Family games/rainy-day activities
  • Lots of books
  • Guidebooks/maps
  • Guide to birds and wildlife
  • Matches and newspaper
  • Marshmallow sticks (and marshmallows)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Dry bag
  • Clothesline/rope
  • Pocket knife
  • Duct tape
  • Hammer, screwdriver, and Vise-Grip pliers
  • Portable chargers/power banks
  • Flashlight(s)
  • Fix-a-Flat


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Photo by Natalya Zaritskaya on Unsplash

2. PLANNING FAMILY BEACH VACATIONS

Beach vacations can mean plane rides, rental cars, and vacation properties. If you’re planning a beach vacation with your family, consider the following:

Know what your rental actually looks like

Rental listings may be selective in what they show. For a more impartial view, read independent reviews online and check out your property on Google Street View before you rent.

Understand your beach

Beaches can change year-to-year, so check out reviews and Street View to see if your beach is grassy, rocky, narrow, or not there anymore. Call the local convention and visitor’s bureau (CVB) to confirm.

Understand what kind of water is on the other side of the beach

Salt or fresh? Rocky bottom, weedy bottom, or sandy bottom? Water clear or cloudy? Is it full of fish? Sharks? Jellyfish? Crabs? Do people even swim there? Are there lifeguards on duty? Check reviews and call the CVB for the lowdown.

Beach vacation safety questions

  • How will you make sure your kids are safe when they dive, swim, wade, boat, or play at the beach?
  • Will you have designated swim hours with parental supervision?
  • How will you protect them from the sun?
  • Are there concerns with sharks, jellyfish, or other aquatic creatures?
  • Are there concerns with algae or pollution?
  • Will you have a fire on the beach? How will you keep your kids safe around the fire? 

Beach vacation packing checklist

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Packaged snacks (dried fruit, granola bars, nuts, etc.)
  • Peanut butter or equivalent
  • Long-sleeved coverups or rash guards
  • Hat with a wide brim
  • Extra socks
  • Swimsuits (more than one is recommended)
  • Life jackets
  • Floaties or other inflatable water toys
  • Small, soft ball (like a tennis ball)
  • Larger ball (like a beach ball or volleyball)
  • Frisbee
  • Sand toys (buckets and shovels)
  • Beach towels
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Pain/fever relief
  • Aloe vera
  • First-aid kit (with extra water-resistant band-aids)
  • Flipflops
  • Rain gear
  • Umbrellas
  • Pop-up cabana
  • Hiking/walking shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Favorite pillow and/or soft toy
  • Fleece blanket(s)
  • Hand-held games
  • Family games/rainy-day activities
  • Books and magazines
  • Guidebooks/maps
  • Matches and newspaper
  • Marshmallow sticks (and marshmallows)
  • Dry bag
  • Small bags for seashells, rocks, etc.
  • Clothesline/rope
  • Portable chargers/power banks
  • Flashlight(s)

Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash

3. PLANNING FAMILY ROAD TRIPS

Road trips can be relaxing or terrifying – it’s all in your approach and mindset. To help navigate the human elements of a road trip, make sure you’ve thought about the following:

Understand how long a travel day is

Does everyone know what eight hours in a car together feels like at hour 7.2? It’s ugly. Because a road-trip day can be way more taxing than a work day, here’s your rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t work that long in one stretch, don’t drive that long in one stretch.

Come to agreement on music

Set times when everyone can play their music in the car. Sure, everyone could just plug in and jam to their favorite tunes – and there are times for that – but you made it through childbirth; you can stand hearing “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” on loop for a couple of hours.

Set limits on electronics

Just as an all-scenery trip can get old, an all-electronics trip can get old. A semi-rigid schedule of an hour on electronics and a couple hours off can work well, with exceptions for really scenic scenery, or Kansas.

Allow for frequent breaks

Make this your rule: No more than two hours of driving without a break. Also, look for break spots close to playgrounds and parks, and let the kids burn off energy for 10-15 minutes. It will make the next several hours so much better.

Share the driving

All driving and no chilling makes Driver #1 cranky. Conversely, being the co-pilot on a road trip often means managing books and toys and snacks and meals, and that can get really old, too. Share the duties, share the driving.

Road trip safety questions

  • Do your kids understand “stranger danger”?
  • How will you make sure kids are safe at playgrounds?
  • How will you make sure your kids are safe when they swim in hotel pools?
  • How will you protect them from the sun?
  • Are your child seats current with the latest safety regulations? Are they size-appropriate for your child?

Road-trip packing checklist

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Packaged snacks (dried fruit, granola bars, nuts, etc.)
  • Plastic cups and tableware
  • Napkins
  • 1 gallon bags for storage and waste
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Diaper wipes (even for older kids)
  • Febreze
  • Hat with a wide brim
  • Extra socks
  • Swimsuits (more than one is recommended)
  • Floaties or other inflatable water toys
  • Soft toys for the car
  • Small, soft ball (like a tennis ball)
  • Frisbee
  • Beach towels
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Pain/fever relief
  • Aloe vera
  • First-aid kit
  • Flipflops
  • Rain gear
  • Hiking/walking shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Favorite pillow and/or soft toy
  • Fleece blanket(s)
  • Hand-held games and/or tablets
  • Coloring books/crayons
  • Family games/rainy-day activities
  • Lots of books
  • Guidebooks/maps
  • Dry bag
  • Small bags for seashells, rocks, etc.
  • Yoga mats (in case someone decides they want to sleep on the floor)
  • Portable chargers/power banks
  • Flashlight(s)
  • Jumper cables and Fix-a-Flat
  • Collapsible shovel
  • Emergency flag
  • Car shades

Photo by Chris Slupski on Unsplash

4. PLANNING FAMILY THEME-PARK VACATIONS

Theme-park vacations can sound like a passport to fun – and they can be. To guarantee fun on your theme-park vacation:

Choose your vacation dates wisely

You don’t want to go when everyone else is going because oh the humanity, yet that is the one time you can go. Here’s an idea: Let the kids learn remotely while you travel, and have them catch up on the rest when you get back. Missing a couple days of in-person learning will not be the deciding factor in determining whether they get into their dream college.

Have a plan in place

Theme parks are like medieval castles: They need to be laid siege to, according to a plan. Guidebooks are helpful but rigid; modify them to fit your family – but have a plan of how you’re going to attack the park.

Limit the hours

Theme parks can be exhausting. Especially the first day, limit time spent in the park to six to eight hours and be prepared to shut down sooner if you see signs of approaching meltdowns.

Set meeting places and times

If the older kids want to split from the uncool parents and annoying siblings, make sure they have phones and set times and places to meet. Keep in contact with them frequently and ask for location updates. This also applies if mom goes one way with one kid and dad goes another way with the other.

Be super-sensitive about people’s likes and dislikes

Theme parks seem to amplify everyone’s likes and dislikes. If one wants to ride around in spinning teacups all day and the other thinks that spinning teacups are like the lamest thing ever, be sensitive to both sides and work to find consensus. The end result will be worth it.

Theme-park safety checklist

  • What are your rules for riding on rides?
  • How will you keep track of your kids?
  • Do your kids understand “stranger danger”?
  • Do your kids know what to do if they get lost or separated from you?

Theme-park vacation packing checklist

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Packaged snacks (dried fruit, granola bars, nuts, fruit snacks, etc.)
  • Sandwich bags (for packaging snacks, wipes, and, well, sandwiches)
  • Plastic cups and tableware
  • Napkins
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Diaper wipes (even for older kids)
  • Cheap kids’ watches
  • Hat with a wide brim
  • Extra socks
  • Swimsuits (more than one is recommended)
  • Floaties or other inflatable water toys
  • Beach towels
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Pain/fever relief
  • Aloe vera
  • First-aid kit
  • Flipflops
  • Rain gear
  • Umbrella(s)
  • Hiking/walking shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Favorite pillow and/or soft toy
  • Fleece blanket(s)
  • Hand-held games
  • Family games/rainy-day activities
  • Books
  • Guidebooks/maps
  • Disposable film camera(s)
  • Dry bag
  • Extra bags for laundry, souvenirs, etc.
  • Whistle
  • AirTags (to help track younger kids)
  • Portable clothesline
  • Detergent powder
  • Portable chargers/power banks

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

BONUS: The Stuff Everyone Forgets To Pack

Enough Socks: Warm, dry socks feel amazing all the time: when your feet are wet and cold, but also after coming in from a cold swim, or after schlepping around a theme park all day. Choose socks that offer softness, loft, and durability. Natural fibers like alpaca feel great against the skin.

Light Fleece Blanket(s): A light fleece blanket tucked into a backpack can serve myriad purposes:

  • A naptime coverup in an air-conditioned car
  • A makeshift pillow on an airplane
  • Something warm to wrap up in when cool winds sweep the beach
  • A one-person blanket fort
  • A reminder of home to an uncertain child

More Than One Portable Charger: Traveling with multiple power banks is a far better idea than traveling with one. Everyone has electronics, for one thing, and your bank needs a backup, for another. Spring for the maximum combination of power and charging ports, and carry extra cables.

A Spare Dongle Thingy: If you have an iPhone of a certain model, you know what we’re talking about. And of course it’s going to get lost. Carry a spare or two.

A Big Hat: Is wearing a big, floppy hat going to make you a stylemeister? Absolutely not. Will it protect you from the sun, shed the rain, discourage insects, and serve as a makeshift bucket? Yes, and then some. Can it also do that for the kid who forgot to pack one? Absolutely.

Small Loofah Or Shower Scrubbie: Pack a mini-shower scrubbie in a plastic sandwich bag, and shower time when you travel will be a lot more pleasant.

Aloe Vera: Aloe vera is many parents’ secret weapon. It can make bug bites and rashes feel better, it’s great on sunburn, it feels wonderful on tired feet at the end of a long day, and it’s a good moisturizer. Pack a little bottle in your backpack or carry-on and a larger bottle in your suitcase.

Match the Right Family Travel Insurance to Your Vacation

Awesome family vacations need to be insured, to protect your investment and to provide peace of mind when things go wrong.

It’s important to match the plan to the trip. Road trips don’t need flight protection but need protection for lodging arrangements, medical emergencies, and event tickets and admissions. Theme-park and beach vacations may need protection for flights and vacation rentals.

Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection has plans to cover every type of family vacation – and each plan can cover multiple family members under the same policy.

Road trips were made for ExactCare® Lite, with its coverage for medical emergencies, lodgings, and luggage.

Camping vacations and adventure trips can benefit from AdrenalineCare™, which has expanded medical coverage and coverage for equipment delay.

Vacation rentals and theme-park vacations can be protected by ExactCare®, which was designed to accommodate parents and kids.

Covering your family vacation can be surprisingly affordable. Get a quote and see for yourself.



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Kit Kiefer
Kit Kiefer

Kit Kiefer is a former travel writer for The New York Times and has more than 30 years of freelance experience writing about domestic and international travel. He blogs and produces content for Winbound, a content marketing firm.

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Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection (BHTP) is a registered trademark and a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company (BHSI), a leader in specialized casualty and liability insurance.  The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable.  BHTP disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information.  The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.

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