"Summer is divided into three parts—anticipation, vacation, and recuperation."–Tom Mullen

While it's not quite summer yet, many parents are already contemplating summer vacations. So here are some tips to keep in mind before summer arrives—sooner than anyone expects, no doubt.

Plan Ahead

Scheduling vs. Being Spontaneous

Deciding where and when to go on vacation is often the most difficult challenge. Sometimes spontaneous decisions work out great; however, often last minute vacation planners end up frustrated with full hotels, expensive accommodations, overbooked tours, etc. If family vacations are an annual occurrence, the best time to plan is immediately following this year's vacation when what you enjoyed and didn't enjoy is fresh in your mind.

Having a Purpose

Sit down with the family and discuss what you wish to gain from the trip. Is it time at the beach? An education in history? A cultural experience? Or just time to relax? Sometimes you need a vacation that serves a variety of purposes due to the various interests of the family members.

Getting Professional Help

Find a travel agent that has a good reputation for planning family vacations. Let her know your priorities, then ask her for suggestions. Make reservations for hotels, travel packages, airline tickets, etc, keeping in mind that some arrangements may be non-refundable or have expensive cancellation penalties.

Your chances of getting the best travel arrangements are better when done well in advance, but you need to have the freedom to alter the plans if necessary. Sit down with the family and talk through a tentative vacation schedule approximately one month prior to the trip. This gives you an opportunity to determine how many days to allow for travel, how much time you will plan for the beach, whether or not you have time to visit friends and relatives in the area, etc.

Be Flexible

Planning is important, but whenever you travel, flexibility is a must. Many things can occur that will cause you to change your plans. There will always be things that you have no control over, such as traffic, road construction, sick or tired children.

In addition, it is wise to plan extra time for all activities. If one activity doesn't take as long, you can always opt to go somewhere else or just stay in the hotel and enjoy the pool. However, if you are constantly having to be aware of the time and feel pressured to make it to the next destination, you are not truly vacationing.

Make Travel Time Entertaining

Hours spent in a vehicle with bored, tired, irritable children are not fun. Discuss landmarks (state welcome signs, historic sites, mountains, oceans, etc.) that will be passed each day. This gives everyone something to look for. In addition, pack handheld games, puzzles, coloring books, portable music players, and books to help pass the time. Sometimes, listening to a book on tape that the whole family enjoys can be entertaining.

Take Breaks

It's amazing what a little fresh air and physical exercise will do to re-energize a weary traveler—especially young children. Every two hours is recommended whether you think you need it or not. Look for rest stops that appear to be clean and safe. Sometimes, fast food restaurants that have play equipment are popular if you are traveling with little ones. If you wait until someone is desperate for a restroom facility, you can find yourself in a very unsafe and uncomfortable position. These may be experiences to laugh at later, but are not worth the anxiety.

Pack Appropriately

A travel agent or friend who has previously traveled to your vacation spot can guide you in this area. Obviously, the climate and activities influence the clothes you will bring along. However, try to follow these three general rules.

  • Pack light, especially if you have to transport your belongings a good distance.
  • Bring clothes that are comfortable for traveling.
  • Always bring along a swimsuit, robe, comfortable walking shoes, and a jacket.

Budget

One of the greatest stresses of a family vacation is spending too much money. Decide ahead of time how much money you can comfortably spend on the vacation. You may need to postpone some activities for another vacation.

Rest stops, gift shops, restaurants, and hotel lobbies can be tempting places to spend money. Set aside a certain amount of money for different categories, such as hotel, food, gas, entertainment, and miscellaneous.

It is natural for children to want to buy things that will remind them of their vacation. To help eliminate the constant question "Can we buy this?", you can give your children a certain amount of money to spend. This works well for children over five years old. In addition to taking the pressure off of you every time you pass a souvenir display, your child is learning the value of money and wise decision making.

Schedule Time to Relax

Vacations should allow time for activities such as relaxing by the pool, sleeping late, taking naps, going on walks, or curling up with a good book. This gives you an opportunity to make memories, get reacquainted with each other, gain a fresh attitude, laugh, and just have a great time.

Make Wise Food Choices

It is very easy to resort to an unhealthy diet on vacation, which can cause you to feel tired, sick, and depressed. Try to maintain good eating habits, allowing some opportunities to splurge. Pack healthy snacks and keep them handy. Snacks such as pretzels, raisins, crackers, and fruit can be put in small bags for convenient access between meals. They also come in handy if there is a long wait to be seated at a restaurant.

Fast food restaurants cater to young children and will probably be their choice for every meal. To avoid burnout, you can allow the children to select a place for lunch and the parents can select the place for dinner. Remember, if children have been cooped up in a vehicle all day, a five star restaurant, requiring their best behavior, will probably be a disaster. Again, setting a budget to spend on food will also help you make wise choices.

Deal With Health Issues

Packing Medication

If any of your family members is on medication, make sure you have the adequate supply to cover the time you will be gone. For more tips on traveling with medications, click here.

Planning for Your Care

Be sure to also bring health insurance cards and contact information for your family's doctor. Additionally, it's a good idea to find out the location of the closest hospital. Will you be traveling abroad for your next vacation? This requires even more planning. Click here to find out how to best prepare for your international trip.

Taking Care of Your Health

Having a chronic condition does not have to interfere with your sense of adventure. Follow the links below to get more travel tips:

Relax!

This is probably the most important rule for enjoying your vacation. Your sense of humor may be the most valuable item you bring along. Don't let the vacation be the time you discuss all the things that irritate you about the other family members. This is a time for you to enjoy your family, so take advantage of the relaxed schedule to talk, play, and laugh with your family.