When it comes to planning perfect family vacations, the dream is a getaway that caters to the whims and wishes of every family member, creating lifelong memories.

Achieving that dream can feel like navigating a maze, but some of the best family vacations will be the ones where everyone gets to be involved in the planning stages and sees how their contribution becomes part of the family holiday.

These ten steps will help you plan out the perfect family holiday that helps everyone enjoy the activities while understanding the importance of working together to compromise on schedules and budgets, whether you’re after private pools in the mountains of South Carolina over spring break, or you’re wanting to be in the heart of a big city exploring historical sites or filming locations from your favorite movie.

We should note here that we travel full-time as a family, and most of the time, we’re budgeting and traveling as a family in our RV – and there’s a distinct clarification that most RVers will tell you that we’re not “on vacation.”

Planning family vacations, by land, sea, or air

Planning family vacations is fun, whether by land, sea or air!

Most RVers work, run errands, and plan travel logistics during our day, but we like to find time to unplug and take family vacations.

What’s it like traveling full-time as a family? Here’s the good, the bad, and the snuggly.

This blog post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase based on a recommendation, we may receive a commission. With 3 boys, we have to keep restocking the fridge somehow.


1. Establish a Budget For your Family Vacation

Start with the most practical step: determine how much you will spend. A well-defined budget sets the stage, ensuring your vacation dreams align with financial reality. Whether it’s a lavish international trip or a cozy staycation, knowing your budget narrows down the options, making the decision process smoother.

  • Break It Down: Once you’ve gathered all the information (for travel insurance, costs for transportation and accommodation, meals, activities, and some margin for unexpected expenses), categorize your expenses to have a clear overview of where your money is going.
  • Use a Spreadsheet or Budgeting App: Keep track of your expenses and adjust as necessary. It’s essential to be flexible and adjust your plans if you find certain aspects of your trip are costing more than anticipated, and make the most of your vacation if you happen to find a deal along the way.
  • Prioritize Spending: Focus on what’s most important to your family. If experiencing fancy restaurants is a priority, you might allocate more budget to dining out and less to tickets for activities. if educational museums are important, then budget those first, which may mean picnic lunches packed from the local grocery store.
  • Look for Savings: Always be on the lookout for deals, discounts, or cheaper alternatives that don’t compromise the quality of your vacation. We always check Groupon to see if there are activities we can get a discount on – sometimes, activities we were planning to do anyway, and other times, activities we hadn’t considered.

If this is the first (of hopefully many family vacations), try a dry run with a weekend to the in-laws or visit friends close by to help go through the process of choosing activities and planning for food while practicing compromising in order to stick to your budget.

If you’re looking for creative ideas on saving money on your travels, here’s our guide to budget-friendly family travel. and more specifically, if you’re planning a summer vacation, here are 5 ideas to save money on summer vacation.

2. Consider The Interests of The Whole Family

A family vacation means family input. Gather the troop and encourage each member to voice what they envision for this holiday: adventure, relaxation, family bonding, or cultural exploration. This collective brainstorm not only ensures the destination offers something for everyone but also builds excitement for the trip.

Step 1. Hold a Family Meeting

Invite every family member to a relaxed meeting (with snacks, of course) to discuss vacation ideas. This approach helps everyone feels heard and has a stake in the decision-making process, fostering a sense of anticipation and excitement.

We like to let our youngest answer first, then let whoever wants to chime into the discussion share some ideas. Leave phones and devices out of the conversation – you can always research other options afterward, but this is about getting some ideas together and having a conversation.

Bring up the conversation over dinner or on a long car ride for something more casual, especially if you have young kids.

Step 2. Create a “Wish List” of Family Vacation Ideas

Ask each family member to list their top three to five holiday wishes or activities they’d like to experience. If you get the “i don’t know” or the common shrug, you might ask them to come up with one idea from each of these three categories: Destinations. Attractions. General Interests.

Specific family vacation destinations could be something like:

  • Visiting San Diego
  • Renting a place on Hilton Head Island with private beach access
  • London, Paris, or Rome
  • Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
  • Glacier Point
  • Jackson Hole
  • New England
  • Great Smoky Mountains
  • Yosemite Valley
  • National Parks
  • A filming location from a favorite movie
  • Visiting Canada (although, that’s a broad option, here are some of our favorite family-friendly Canadian destinations)
  • Stunning beaches of the South Dakota Gulf Shores (If this is an answer, you now have an opportunity for a geography lesson!)

Attractions could look something like:

  • Visiting Stonehenge
  • Wisconsin Dells (The water park capital of the world)
  • National Mall in Washington
  • White sandy beaches
  • Natural Beauty
  • Roller Coasters

General interests could be:

  • Hiking trails (Could be California, New Mexico, or South Carolina)
  • Swimming (could be in a swimming pool in family-friendly hotels, in water parks on the way, or on the outer banks)
  • Particular foods they’d like to try
  • Historic sites
  • Horseback riding
  • Boat tour
  • Beach Time
  • Shopping

These answers will give you a broader view of everyone’s interests. Depending on how “general” the general interest ideas are, you can often check off something from almost everyone’s list there. With our family, we treat it as a puzzle.

“Hmm. Where can we go hiking, experience new food, and visit water parks?”

Our oldest likes to try new food or food specific to the area we’re visiting and is fascinated with roller coasters, so he loves to visit theme parks.

Our middle son likes planning, so he learns about the area and figures out what to do in the area ahead of time.

Our youngest likes to do something physical, like play at a playground, check out a skate park, and do a variety of outdoor activities. He also likes to craft and build things, so finding a museum, science center, or library with a crafting section is a win in the family vacation category.

Dream big and have fun coming up with “What if?” ideas.

Step 3. Identify Common Themes to start planning your family vacation

Examine the wish lists for overlapping interests or activities that could cater to multiple preferences. For instance, one family member’s desire for a beach holiday might complement another’s interest in water sports, combining relaxation and activity into a single destination.

Step 4. Research Family-Friendly Destinations

Based on the identified interests, research destinations are known for their appeal to families and ability to offer something for all ages. Look for places with a good mix of family-friendly activities from adventure parks and beaches to museums and cultural experiences.

You might consider taking a road trip and piecing together your own vacation with multiple stops, flying to an all-inclusive resort where you’ll be stationary for your vacation, or taking a cruise where you’ll visit multiple destinations and your young kids can have time in the kids’ club while the adults can have a relaxed dinner.

If you’ve got a broad destination in mind like “Europe” here’s how we decided where to visit during our 7-month family trip to Europe.

Step 5. Consider Everyone’s Needs

Acknowledge the practical side of travel preferences, including any special requirements (like dietary restrictions, accessibility needs, or baby-friendly accommodations). A destination might tick all the boxes in terms of interests but fall short of these essentials.

Step 6. Plan Education and Exposure throughout your family vacation

Each family member might not know what they’re interested in because they haven’t been exposed to it yet. Suggest destinations or activities outside their current interests that might offer a new and exciting experience, providing education and exposure to something different.

We know our kids would cringe at the idea that we’d spend our family vacation on “homeschooling activities” every day, so we mix in education activities or opportunities to experience new cultures with the fun they like to have.

Visiting the Police Museum in Glasgow, Scotland

Visiting the Police Museum in Glasgow, Scotland

We might have them listen to a few songs of a style of music we don’t typically listen to at a random concert in the park, or spend one day at a museum and the next at an arcade. We like to ask questions throughout even the “fun” days like “if you have 7000 points, and that bouncy ball costs 5000 points, how many points do you have left to spend on candy at the arcade?” (and the answer is always more candy than they need).

As an example, we spent quite a few days during our family trip to Glasgow visiting museums and balanced that out with bowling, eating out, and just relaxing.

Step 7. Plan Together

Once you’ve narrowed the options, involve the family in planning activities and outings. Assigning each person a day to choose or plan the activities or the restaurant you’ll visit for dinner helps ensure that everyone gets a turn deciding what the family does, providing variety and balanced enjoyment.

Step 8. Discuss the Compromises you’ll make for your Family Vacation Plans

It might not be possible to satisfy everyone’s wishes entirely – actually, in any size family, it probably won’t be an option to both have beach days and hikes in the mountains, or you may not have the budget in mind to visit every theme park in Orlando for 7 days in a row, so emphasize the importance of compromise.

Highlight the value of experiencing new things and assure them there will be something for everyone to look forward to.

As your younger kids get older, start to discuss the budget as a factor in deciding your compromise – Our budget is $X, so we could do five days at this theme park but make our meals at home, or we could do two days at that theme park and enjoy restaurants the whole week, or two days at parks, three days eating out, and a shopping trip.

Riding a roller coaster as a family

Our boys will compromise on nearly anything in exchange for riding a roller coaster one more time!

Step 9. Build in Free Time

Ensure your itinerary has free time for spontaneous activities or exploration. This flexibility allows family members to split into smaller groups to pursue interests that might not appeal to the whole family or simply relax.

Don’t fill every day with sunrise hikes and late-night evening plans. One morning might be a sunrise hike, and another evening may have a late evening activity, but plan some time just to relax – after all, this is an opportunity to vacation as a family and unwind from your usual day-to-day.

You might also realize that something takes longer than you planned. For instance, a trip from your hotel in Orlando to Disney World may be only 7 miles, but that could be a 45-minute drive in winter traffic, or a restaurant you want to visit has a 45-minute wait at dinner time.

If you’ve got your trip scheduled to the minute and haven’t accommodated for that, there might be some unnecessary stress. Having some scheduled time to relax gives you the option to fill that window with an activity if you’re up for it.

Step 10. Evaluate Post-Trip

After your family vacation (or in our case, we like to do this for conversation in the airport or on the drive on the way home), discuss what everyone liked most and least about the trip as a family. This evaluation can be invaluable for planning future vacations, and help you get an idea for which destinations and activities might cater to everyone’s tastes and interests for future trips.

As your kids get older, they’ll be able to articulate what they enjoyed or what they might like to try next time, so knowing this conversation is coming will help them start to prepare their feedback.

3. Timing is Key when it comes to Family Travel

Aligning schedules can be tricky, especially with school-aged children and parents’ work commitments. Opt for travel times that coincide with school holidays and school breaks and consider the destination’s climate to decide on the best season for your visit.

Balancing good weather with off-peak travel times can offer a more enjoyable and budget-friendly holiday, but summer vacation at an already-hot destination (like a Mexico getaway to Cancun or Los Cabos) or Christmas vacation in the Canadian Rockies to experience some amazing hiking trails you saw on Instagram might not end up as magical as you first imagined.

4. Research Destinations For Family Vacations

Armed with your budget, interests, and ideal timing, dive into destination research. Look for places that offer activities and attractions catering to your family’s interests and collective wishlist. Websites, travel blogs, and family-focused travel guides are excellent resources. Remember to check recent reviews for up-to-date insights.

5. Accommodation Matters

Decide on the type of accommodation that best suits your family. Resorts designed for family fun, vacation rentals with homey comforts, or camping for an outdoor adventure? Consider the location’s proximity to attractions, available facilities free attractions, and accommodation options to ensure comfort and convenience for everyone.

We’ve seen friends make the mistake of booking a fancy resort to find out the kids would rather hang out at the cool resort pool than go to the parks they’ve paid for, or get a good deal on a place that is “just out of town” to find out that the 90-minute drive each way with traffic puts a damper on getting to the activities you’re hoping to experience.

Flagstaff might sound like a great place to get a hotel to visit the Grand Canyon (and it is the closest major city to the National Park), but after a full day of hiking, consider if you’ll want to drive 90 minutes to get to your hotel. You might be better to pay the difference and stay closer or in the National Park itself at Grand Canyon Village.

If National Parks are on your list, you’ll want to research the specific things you would like to experience in that National Park before booking a hotel. Yellowstone, for instance, is 87 miles from the North entrance to the South entrance, so it might be better to pay the extra for a hotel in the middle of the park than be 87 miles from specific hiking trails you want to see.

If you’re going to make a combination trip of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, then it would be helpful to realize that Grand Teton is to the south and choose your hotel (or a combination of hotels) accordingly – maybe a few nights in Yellowstone, then a few nights in Jackson Hole.

Deciding ahead of time what the goal of your next family vacation is will help determine the type of accommodation.

We recently stayed in a friend’s guest room to visit a city we wanted to see. It was great to catch up (that was the goal of the trip) even though we were an hour bus ride both ways to see the city, and we only went into the city for one day, so ‘mission accomplished.’

If our goal had been to spend as much time as possible in the city, then an hour on the bus each way would have meant we didn’t really accomplish our goal.

6. Consider the Journey

The journey is as important for family vacation memories as the family vacation destination. Families traveling with young children or seniors might opt for direct flights or shorter travel routes if possible and consider the accessibility and ease of transportation upon arrival. Minimizing travel fatigue sets a positive tone for the destination.

When we travel, we like to intentionally take layovers that will allow us to see a new city – we call them “bonus” cities that we get to see on a layover from A to B (here’s how we find bonus cities via extended layovers). Traveling back from London, England (where we were petsitting) to Toronto, Canada, we stopped over in New York City for two nights. NY wasn’t part of our travel plans initially, but instead of a 2-hour layover, we could choose a 2-night layover and visit New York at Christmas.

In other cases, if you’re traveling in your RV, for instance, then the journey might actually be the purpose of the vacation – stopping at restaurants along the route, visiting multiple tourist sites, crashing in a variety of guest rooms with friends and family for the whole week, or creating a goal of “visiting as many new states as possible” during your vacation.

7. Plan Activities but Embrace Spontaneity For Affordable Family Vacations

While it’s great to have a plan, the most memorable moments often stem from spontaneous adventures. Draft a flexible itinerary that includes must-visit sites and activities, with ample free time for unexpected discoveries or simply soaking in the leisurely pace of holiday life.

8. Prepare for the Unexpected

Travel insurance is non-negotiable. It’s crucial to have a safety net for medical emergencies. You might consider the factors of lost luggage and trip delays or cancellations in choosing additional insurance. Additionally, familiarize yourself with medical facilities in the destination and pack a basic first-aid kit for minor mishaps.

If you have certain credit cards that offer travel benefits, take the time to call the credit card and give them the specifics of your trip to understand fully what will or won’t be covered. You don’t want to find out afterward that an incorrect assumption will be a financial burden.

Find out your specifics, like if only a certain number of passengers are covered besides the cardholder or what your trip interruption insurance will cover if you booked the hotel with your card but the flights with points.

9. Packing Smart

Packing is an art, especially for family vacations. This is not just a business trip where I can grab my laptop bag, the clothes I need, and a coffee to go.

the best luggage for our framily trip to Europe with kids

We found the best luggage for our family vacation to Europe

Create a checklist to ensure nothing essential is forgotten, from travel documents to favorite toys. Encourage older children to pack their bags, supervised by an adult, to instill responsibility and excitement about the trip. Nothing creates anticipation like reviewing your plan for what you’ll be doing and packing accordingly.

If you’re looking for the best luggage for kids to take on a plane, here’s our rundown!

10. Capture the Moments

Last but certainly not least, make sure to document your travels. Whether through photos, videos, or journal entries, capturing these moments allows your family to relive this special time for years. Encourage each family member to take photos or keep a journal so you can see and share everyone’s perspective of your holiday, and remember the friends and family you shared it with.

Choosing the perfect family holiday doesn’t have to be daunting. By following these ten steps, you can ensure your trip is pleasurable and memorable, filled with joyous experiences that your family will cherish forever. Here’s to your next adventure—may it be one of your best family vacations!

Here are some of our favorite family vacation destinations (and what our boys thought of the visit)

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