Planning a vacation for the whole family doesn’t have to be hectic — as long as you take your time and plan ahead.
Corinne McDermott, a family travel expert of Have Baby Will Travel, says planning a trip depends on how old your children are.
And while last-minute deals sound tempting — and super cheap compared to inflated holidays prices — it’s not always ideal for a large family or kids, McDermott adds.
“Unless you have all your ducks in a row and passports are up to date, you shouldn’t jump on a last-minute deal.”
Packing for the trip
When you’re packing for a family vacation, McDermott suggests to make a list and check it twice and then check it one more time. Create your list of must-haves before the trip (you can even search packing lists on multiple travel blogs) or find one that caters to the type of trip you’re going on.
For children, clothing is also important, she adds, and while hot destinations require digging up your children’s summer clothes, there isn’t a guarantee they still fit.
Shop ahead for things like sunscreen or bug spray (depending on where you are going), and make sure retailers still have them in stock.
Packing extra clothes is crucial, she adds, because for the most part, children will go through essentials like socks, shirts and bottoms multiple times a day.
And if you plan on celebrating Christmas at the hotel or resort, consider how you want to pack gift-wrap and presents.
Booking and planning
According to G Adventures, a great way for children to get involved is by adding them to the brainstorming process.
“Give your kids travel magazines and ask them to show you what kinds of images appeal to them. Allow your child to envision the perfect vacation,” the site notes.
Or narrow down a few choices and let your kids pick the final destination. “Include one possible ‘highlight’ experience for each destination to help them focus on what they could do there.”
Once you have booked the vacation and figured out some of the things you want to do as a family, don’t over-schedule your week.
“Leave yourself some flexibility to make up for cranky days or bad nights,” McDermott says. “If your kids are small and still napping, plan around the napping.”
She adds resorts often have activity packages for families, but McDermott recommends renting a driver or booking something when you arrive.
Finding an inexpensive trip is not always possible during this time of the year, but McDermott says there are ways you can save. Last-minute deals are usually cheaper (if you have everything else organized beforehand) and sometimes, destinations offer discounts to entice travellers.
She adds that currently, some places in Florida are offering 20 per cent off their booking prices to balance out the exchange rate of Canadian and U.S. dollars.
And if budget continues to be an issue, stay local, she says.
Below, McDermott shares some of her top family vacation picks.
The Caribbean In the aftermath of a tragic hurricane season, McDermott says some destinations are still up and running. The New York Times notes for many islands, tourism is an important economic driver.
McDermott recommends heading to Cuba. The resorts are family-friendly and so are the people, she adds. Resorts offer everything from playgrounds to live entertainment to water parks.
Florida The weather can be sometimes unpredictable, but Florida has a ton of activities for both adults and children. In Orlando, you can plan a visit to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Seaworld or Legoland, as well as holiday classics like the Nutcracker play.
New York City It’s magical, but quite expensive, McDermott adds. If you find a way to save on accommodation and airfare (some Canadian cities allow you to make the drive), the Big Apple can be worth it. Activities during the holiday season include skating in Central Park to posing in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Stay Local Sometimes the best winter getaway is right in your own backyard, McDermott adds. Rent a cottage for a weekend, try a winter resort or even book a fancy hotel suite in the city for a weekend.