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By Jandi Farnsworth /

When planning a family vacation there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into it. OK, maybe that is a bit dramatic, but you get my drift. It’s not an easy task, especially if you don’t know where to start.

Fortunately, there are various ways to go about planning an international trip. To name a few, we have the independent route—where you are doing all the foot-work. Then, we have the option of a trusted tour operator, such as ALA, whom takes care of most details and leaves you with minimal planning. And, finally, there is the option of a travel agent.  Both the tour operators and travel agencies can offer an array of prearranged packages. They range from minimal to extensive family vacation packages—depending on what you want to do.

Okay, so let’s say we are booking an independent, DIY, European family vacation—that way we cover all the bases of an overseas excursion from the most challenging angle. First order of business is to pick a destination. This should be one of the most enjoyable parts of designing your vacation. If you have already chosen a place, great! If not, there are fun ways you can include the whole gang in the process of elimination. One of my favorite ways of getting the troops on board is to make a list of pros and cons of your top 5 destinations. This allows everyone to be involved in the decision making debate and gives insight on what your family wants to experience together. You may be surprised at what they would be on board with. Also, this is a vacation, so plan to have downtime!

Once you’ve narrowed down your options to one locale, it’s time to start seriously planning. The first thing to zero in on is budgeting. I recommend planning at least 6-12 months in advance if you have a tighter budget. The best way of going about this is setting a daily limit—what can you afford each day? If you have to, become a frugal Freddy or Franny! By that I mean eliminate the unnecessary. Too many inexperienced travelers over indulge in needless costs, like; a brand spanking new wardrobe or excessive wining and dining. Be sure to ask yourself each time, “Do I really need this?” If you don’t, walk away. By doing so, you are creating extra cash flow while on your trip. This is a good thing. You never know when something unexpected may occur and the last thing you want to do is be in a money bind overseas.

If your budget is more flexible but you are strapped for time—consider a reputable travel agent or advisor. A great thing about working with them, is they often have an “in” and can coordinate last minute bookings. But, I do recommend doing a bit of research to find a good fit for your traveling desires. You surely don’t want an adventure tour when you are looking for a wellness retreat.

Keep in mind, this is supposed to be fun—so keep it fun! If you feel as if you are stressing about the small things, assign your children or significant other duties to help out. Teens are great when it comes to this kind of stuff. Not only does it teach them responsibility, it also opens up lines of communication with them and takes a load off your back. Remember, teamwork makes the dream work!

So, where are we now? Well, you have decided on a destination, a budget and a tentatively planned itinerary—whether on your own or with a travel agent. Now it is time to book flights and hotels. I strongly suggest frequenting websites for changes in rates or destination deals on both. Often times you can find great packaged deals all in one stop. A great place to look is a site like Kayak.com, which allows you to compare all the competitor sites in one place. But, don’t be afraid to steer away from familiar hotels—you could stumble upon something with much more culture!

An extremely well-traveled individual once told me that the best deals they ever found on flights were posted on early Tuesday and Wednesday mornings— this may or may not be true, especially with flight costs these days.  However, you can try it out for yourself and see if their advice proves to be accurate!  Who knows, you might just snag a killer deal! Just remember, the closer you are to your departure date, the more expensive flights will be.

Now that we have everything lined out, do NOT forget the most vital component of international travel: passports. You don’t want to be at the airport with tears streaming down your face because you regrettably forgot it! I strongly advise you to apply for your passport well in advance. The application regulations have changed, unfortunately, making the process more complex for first timers. You are now required to appear in person to fill out the passport application (which can no longer be accepted via mail). Infants and children must be with their legal guardian when applying, as well.

Alright, you’re almost ready to saddle up and go! But before you do, I want to mention just a few extra pointers. Which are: be sure to carry more than one copy of your passport, credit cards and photo IDs at all times, acquire your destination’s currency at your local bank, pack appropriate attire, and fill any medications/prescriptions essential to your health. If you don’t plan to have an international phone, there are Starbucks and McDonalds with wifi hotspots everywhere! And finally, it never hurts to learn key phrases such as; hello, my name is, how much, where is ____? I suggest making a list of everything essential to you and your family when you travel. Above all, enjoy your family vacation!

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