Some of the best family memories come from family vacations, when everyone put aside the routine tasks and “got away from it all.” And although some of us will feel nostalgic when we recall all-night packing sessions and mad scrambles to get a hotel room when the destination town was booked solid for a motorcycle rally, the stress caused by these incidents at the time may well make us think that some planning ahead would have been a better idea.

Before You Go

From a scheduling standpoint, the most important thing to do when you're planning a family vacation is to make sure that everyone's calendar is clear so that everyone can go on the vacation. You'll want to plan far enough in advance that everyone actually has a block of open days on the planner, but you don't want to plan so far in advance that lots of unforeseen conflicts are likely to arise. If a few adjustments and compromises need to be made to individuals' schedules, the sooner you can make them, the better. After you've settled on the dates, you should immediately block them off on your family's planner so no one will make the mistake of scheduling something else for the same time.

Deciding What Vacation You'll Take

The next step is to make some key decisions about the nature of your vacation so that you know what else you need to prepare and schedule.

Some people like to plan a vacation almost as much as they like to go on one. Other people find the planning a chore and prefer to have someone else do it for them. Early in your preparations, you'll need to decide if you want to

  • Work through a travel agent

  • Book everything yourself via the Internet

  • Do it yourself by telephone

Your choice will impact your schedule because travel agents are available only certain hours, the Internet is open 24 hours a day, and the times you can phone depend on the time zone of your destination.

Then you need to decide what kind of vacation you would like to take. Different families prefer different types of accommodations:

  • Camping

  • Being house guests of family or friends

  • Renting a condominium

  • Staying at a hotel, motel, inn, or bed & breakfast

  • Cruising on a ship

Your preference will factor into when you'll need to make the arrangements and what you'll need to take with you.


If you need to have any maintenance work done on your car before your trip, then make sure you have it done at least a week in advance of your departure. That way, if the mechanic doesn't get something put back just right, you'll have time to discover the problem and get it fixed before you have the whole family in the car and are on the road.

There are also different styles of vacations:

  • Tours in which all of your transportation, accommodations, meals, and sightseeing are predetermined

  • Highly planned vacations for which you've decided where you'll stay and what you'll do every day

  • Loosely planned vacations for which you've booked your accommodations for each night but haven't decided how you'll spend your time each day

  • Free-form vacations for which you have a general idea of where you're headed, but exactly where you'll end up and what you'll do on any given day isn't arranged

  • Vacations on which you plan to do a lot of sightseeing

  • Vacations on which you plan primarily to recreate and relax

The style you select for each trip you're planning will make a difference in the amount of preparation you need to do before your travels and the amount of time you'll need to structure during your travels.

Scheduling Vacation Preparations

After you've settled on the nature of your getaway, you'll want to begin scheduling the preparations into your family's planner. Planning a vacation should really be a project that involves the entire family, so you'll notice that this is one of the rare instances in which several family meetings will be a good idea. You'll also notice that you should plan ahead for the first couple of days after your vacation  so that you can settle back into your routine without having to strain your brain.


Explain to everyone in the family that you shouldn't discuss when you'll be away anywhere that people you don't know and trust may hear you. Especially keep this point in mind in circumstances such as when you're asking the post office to hold your mail; perhaps making the request by phone, rather than in person, would be a good idea. You don't want to ruin your vacation by returning to a burglarized house.


If you don't plan your packing properly, you can end up being frustrated at two extremes: Either you'll not know what to take and, in a last-minute frenzy, pack way too much, or you'll forget something and then have to do without it or spend your precious vacation time and money shopping for it.

Developing a thorough packing list for each family member will eliminate these problems. Having a master list saved on your computer will keep you from having to reinvent the wheel each time someone in your family travels. Start by listing every possible thing you might want to take on every possible type of vacation (and business trip, too). You should list some items—such as clothing, toiletries, and reading material—separately for each person. You can list other items that are more communal—such as maps, snacks, and first aid supplies—just once.

While You're There

Whether you've chosen a highly structured itinerary or a more free-form adventure, scheduling your family's time while you're actually on vacation should be much easier than scheduling it when you're at home. One reason is that your regular maintenance items are not in play. Also, because you'll be away from many of the things that normally distract you, you'll have fewer options and can focus more on the activities at hand. No matter what type of vacation you're on, you're bound to be able to enjoy a less-structured schedule.

Keep in mind the following two key elements for a good time:

  • Make sure to include something for everyone. Especially if you have children in a wide age range or with very different interests, be careful to assure that no one feels her preferences are being ignored. Sometimes it's even fun to split up during the day and get together and recount the day's adventures over dinner.

  • Make sure that everyone has enough rest and sleep.  Being tired can lead to crabbiness and accidents, either of which can quickly ruin a vacation.


If you haven't booked overnight accommodations in advance, make sure you leave time in your daily schedules for securing a place to stay.

Then have fun!

Upon Your Return

If you take the time to properly end and wrap up your vacation, you'll enjoy the rejuvenating benefits of the experience into the future. To do that, you may want to consider resisting the urge to squeeze every last minute out of your vacation; instead, you may want to return home a day earlier than you have to go back to work—or at least a few hours before bedtime.

You should also make sure before you leave on vacation that your calendar for the day after your return is free from meetings, other obligations, and deadlines. (It goes without saying that if you've been managing your schedule properly, you won't have been doing any work while on your vacation!) 

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