Tips & Stories

How to Plan a Family Vacation Without Losing Your Mind

How to Plan a Family Vacation Without Losing Your Mind

Posted by Anthony Bartlett on 24 May 2018

Posted by Anthony Bartlett on 24 May 2018

Think about the last time your family took a vacation together. What image comes to mind? Natural wonders? Perfect sunsets? Or the frustration of trying to deal with hotels and wrangle the kids and get something—anything—to go as planned?

The family vacation is a rite of passage for many families. It’s inspired countless movies and books (National Lampoon’s Vacation, anyone?). It’s the sort of thing that can strike fear into the hearts of parents—and total boredom into the hearts of their children. But with the right preparation, it is possible for the whole family to have fun, creating wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.

A successful family getaway doesn’t happen by accident, though. It takes a sense of humor, a willingness to be flexible—and plenty of planning. And while “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” at least you can be ready when things go off the rails.

There’s no better time than today

According to new research from TSheets by QuickBooks, 65 percent of U.S. workers didn’t take all their allowed time off last year. At the same time, 43 percent of participants reported that they “often” or “always” feel stressed. We’re prepared to bet those two numbers are related.

Our advice? Take that vacation. Get away and recharge your batteries. You’ll come back to work feeling rested and ready to take on the world. And your family will appreciate seeing a happier, more relaxed you.

That doesn’t mean you need to go it alone, though. A family vacation can be one of the most enjoyable experiences of your life. But—and here’s the important part—if you’re traveling with kids, you need to have a plan. Backpacking across Asia might be an exciting adventure when it’s just you (and maybe a friend or two), but flying by the seat of your pants simply isn’t practical when you have a family.

For advice on how to get it done, we asked a few of our resident experts on vacation planning (and parenting) to share their favorite tips on how you can create an amazing trip for the entire family—right now.

1. Keep everything in one place

“The question from our kids is always ‘What are we doing tomorrow?’ I didn’t have to worry about that because I already had the research done.” Jish Mukerji

OK, you’ve decided to take that vacation. Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty of planning and booking your trip. Laying the groundwork now will eliminate a host of problems down the road. So a crucial early step is to create a vacation notebook in Evernote, where you can keep track of all the details that could make or break your trip.

Product Marketing Manager Jish Mukerji took his family on a long-awaited vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida in April 2018, and planned the whole thing in Evernote. Jish says, “With theme parks, there are a lot of articles about strategies for avoiding long wait times for attractions. All that info helps you plot your day out—what to see first, what to leave until the end of the day—so I captured it all and built a schedule for us in Evernote.”

In the months before you travel, your travel notebook will be the hub for all your vacation research. As you come across websites with lists of ‘must-see’ attractions, or advice on local customs, clip them into Evernote. Looking through a physical magazine? Snap a photo or scan an article, then save it to your notebook.

Over time, your vacation notebook will continue to expand as you include confirmations of airline flights, hotel reservations, rental cars, and more. Share the notebook with your partner so they can add their own research to yours.

When you’re finally on vacation, knowing where you need to be, and when, can relieve a great deal of the stress you and your kids may feel being far from home. Jish says, “You get so exhausted at the end of these days and the question from our kids is always ‘What are we doing tomorrow?’ I didn’t have to worry about that because I already had the research done. It helped us have a little more peace of mind.”

2. Have a Plan A (and a Plan B and Plan C)

“I planned mornings and afternoons, and then depending on whether the kids were sick or jet-lagged, we mixed and matched.” Nancy Fu Magee

Let’s be honest: traveling with small children can be challenging. Even the most well-behaved kids will generally run out of patience long before their parents. Add jet lag and sleep deprivation into the mix and you have a recipe for disaster.

No matter how well-thought-out your itinerary is, it’s important to be flexible and open to change. Perhaps you’ve planned a walk through a gorgeous local park, only to wake up in the morning to pouring rain. Instead of sitting around your hotel room waiting for the weather to clear—while your kids become increasingly restless—be ready to shift gears by having alternate activities that you can enjoy instead.

Director of Product Nancy Fu Magee traveled to Europe in 2015 with her children aged one and three, and the family had such a successful trip that they decided to tackle Hawaii the following year. The key, according to Nancy, lies in being flexible and understanding how little minds work. She says, “We tried to stay in each place at least three days so the kids would get used to ‘their’ room with ‘their’ toys and didn’t feel so overwhelmed with all the new locations.”

Even when the weather behaves, circumstances beyond your control (i.e., kids) can cause you to change plans. Nancy was prepared for that too. “I planned mornings and afternoons, and then depending on whether the kids were sick or jet-lagged, we mixed and matched.”

For Jish, having a plan with flexibility built in was a game changer. “Our itinerary evolved in the middle of the trip when we saw weather conditions change. We just said ‘OK, let’s move our indoor day to this bad weather day.’”

3. Get the whole family involved

Nancy Fu Magee’s visual calendar

“If your kids are helping you cook a meal, they’ll eat it.” Jish Mukerji

There are a lot of moving parts to planning a great vacation, but that doesn’t mean your younger family members can’t be involved in their own way.

While he was preparing for their trip, Jish made sure that his 10-year-old twin daughters had a chance to review the itinerary and suggest possible destinations. “If your kids are old enough to have some participation—whether it’s editing a note or voting on an activity—then they’ll enjoy the day more,” he says. “It’s almost like they’re sharing this great thing with you that they found.”

Even if your kids are too young to take an active role, you can still make them a part of the action—instead of thinking of them as ‘luggage that eats.’ Nancy says, “Each day when it was time to decide what to do, I showed the kids these notes I made about each district, with pictures and not just words, so we could discuss what they were excited about doing that day.”

Before taking her family to Hawaii, Nancy created a visual itinerary for her then-four-year-old daughter, using a picture to represent each day. “She wanted to know what we were doing on which days but she couldn’t read yet. So we made this visual calendar together so she could get excited about the trip. This is one of my favorite memories of ‘Things I Did With My Daughter.’”

Although Jish had final approval over the specifics, he was carefully to make sure his kids had some ‘skin in the game.’ “Even if I’d already chosen the hotel, I’d show them a picture and say ‘What do you think of this place? OK, I’ll book that,’” he says. “If your kids are helping you cook a meal, they’ll eat it.”

4. Make the most of templates

“Your vacation shouldn’t just be about the kids. Find something that you’ll enjoy doing too.” SiNing Chan

Once you’ve researched your destination and decided what you want to see and do, the next step is creating a detailed itinerary. This is where you begin to put the pieces in place and see what is actually possible in the time you have available. Just like at home, aim for a mix of activities and down time when planning a vacation with the kids. Too many activities and they’ll become exhausted and cranky; too few and they’ll be bored and… well, cranky. The perfect balance is much easier to achieve, though, when you can see each day laid out clearly in front of you.

When it comes time to make your itinerary, templates in Evernote are your best friend. Instead of reinventing the wheel, templates come ready-made for you to fill with information.

We teamed up with Barbara Fuller from Simplify Days to create a few vacation-themed templates to help you on your way:

To use them, simply click “Save to Evernote,” then replace the provided information with your own. You can easily add links to local websites or other notes in your vacation notebook. Save important details like flight numbers and hotel addresses right there in your itinerary so you know exactly where to find them.

One thing to consider: If you’re still in the ‘dreaming’ stage of planning, using our Travel Inspiration Template as a guide, don’t focus solely on what the kids will enjoy. After all, this is your vacation too. As Senior Instructional Designer SiNing Chan says, “Your vacation shouldn’t just be about the kids. Find something that you’ll enjoy doing too.” Perhaps that means alternating a day at a theme park with a day at a museum. Either way, the perfect vacation plan has a mix of activities that will appeal to everyone.

5. Remember everything

SiNing says “If you’re anything like me, you think a vacation is never long enough. But I’ve learned to cope with this by developing some ways to combat the post-holiday blues.”

Her favorite piece of advice? Use Evernote to create a digital scrapbook of your trip.

Create a note in Evernote for each stop on your vacation, and fill it with pictures of the location, together with any souvenirs, like ticket stubs, brochures, etc. In each note, record audio of your kids describing what they’re seeing, and their reactions to it. Those delightful childish voices will bring a smile to your face when you listen back to them in the years to come.

SiNing also suggests arming your kids with a cheap digital camera and letting them take their own pictures. Then you can add them to your notes for another unique perspective on your vacation. Sure, you’ll probably get a lot of shots of the ground, or a finger over the lens, but you will also be amazed and surprised by what your budding shutterbugs consider photo worthy.

Finally, when you return home, set aside an evening for a fun family “slideshow.” Cook up a batch of popcorn and make use of Evernote’s Presentation Mode to look back on all the pictures from your vacation. Discuss your individual memories of the trip, and each person’s favorite moments.

Organizing a vacation for the whole family takes effort. But don’t let that scare you off the idea. With proper planning, and the right attitude, you can create an experience that you and your kids will remember fondly, and that you’ll still be talking about for years to come.

And for the final word on the subject, here’s Nancy: “I love traveling with kids! 😛People should be less afraid of it.”

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