How to Plan the Perfect Family Adventure Vacation
By Dan Austin
Fact is a week doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t ask me: “how to I plan the perfect family adventure vacation?” Seems after 20 plus years in the adventure travel business I just take it for granted that everyone just “knows”.
Over the years we have published a lot of good help and planning resources for finding the perfect adventure vacation, well this time I am going to really try and focus on how to plan a family vacation and what it takes to make it all flow so seamlessly.
As I have mentioned in the past, the first thing I always suggest is to involve everyone. This is even more important with family vacations, give the kids a voice and even some responsibilities. Make a game out of it with challenges and rewards. Maybe consider starting with a pizza party kick off (remember to surf the web and perhaps order some catalogs to have as idea generators)
Early on in the process start with keeping good notes and/or files. Consider a “questionnaire” a document that can be a baseline of Q&A as you march forward. Again, don’t forget the kids in this process. Ask questions like:
- What was your favorite family vacation in the past and why?
- If you could pick anywhere in the world (besides Disneyland) where might it be and why?
- What are you most looking forward to on vacation? Biking, hiking, rafting, horseback riding, etc..
- What is really important to you to have at hotels?
- If you could try something you have never done before what might it be?
From there start thinking about when you can best schedule your vacation around schools, sports, camp, etc. Try and pick as many dates as possible and don’t overlook early summer! That can often be a great time with fewer crowds and better weather.
Better add in some soul searching in the budget… we all know that traveling with a family of 4 can get expensive. In addition to the trip you also have airfares and more (more on that in a minute). One way to look at it is on a “per night basis” this can lead you to either a 2-3 star or 4 and 5 star. You can often use 350-450 a night for a good higher-end program. Obviously a 5 Star Luxury Safari in Africa could cost you upwards of a thousand dollars a day.
Don’t overlook another budget option, do you want one or two rooms? Often tour operators are more inclined to offer a bit bigger child discounts if your children are sharing a room. Just remember at some point in life, little Johnny no longer wants to share a bed with his little sister and vice versa.
Once you have a budget and dates, you can start thinking duration. Be sure to allow a few days on either end for delays and/or just getting adjusted back to real life.
Now go back and start looking at all the “wish lists”, look for common themes. If you see that everyone is looking forward to horseback riding, well you better start looking at destinations and trips that include that element. Another big one is often water activities: rafting, snorkeling, etc. We don’t want to send you to the desert if everyone is looking forward to swimming every day.
Same concept applies to the destinations. Are you looking for a National Park like Yellowstone or Yosemite? Or are you looking into a more far off destination like a safari in Africa or a biking tour in Europe? Try your best to narrow it down to 3 options or less.
This is where establishing the rapport with a good tour operator or two now comes into play”¦ Call them up and tell them what you are thinking, here is an example: “We are thinking of a few vacation options”¦ Yellowstone National Park, maybe a camping trip in Montana or an adventure in the Canadian Rockies. We are thinking 5 or 6 nights and we really want at least a day of horseback riding and perhaps some white water rafting. We are looking for the first two weeks of June, we would like 2 rooms and our budget is about XXX a day each.”
Right there is enough to give any good tour operator enough insight to put a few options out in front of you (to take back to the pizza bargaining table with the entire crew)
Now that you have a really good idea of where, start looking at the host city. This is the city that the trip starts, if you’re on the east coast then just know that getting to the west coast can add a day and a bit of a higher price tag for flights. Do not overlook driving, some of my best memories and that of our guests have been on the 1-2 or 3 day road trip to the destination. Just be sure to ask your tour operator if there is a place you can park your car at the beginning of the trip at no charge.
OK with all this behind you, you should be close to picking your dream vacation. Now don’t make that the end of the experience and just wait for departure day. Suggest to all that they challenge themselves to learn a bit about the destination, this just makes it all come together that much more when you arrive (and it keeps your guides on their toes).
One last suggestion (for today anyways) make sure everyone has a camera, the little point and shoot digitals have gotten so cheap its not out of the question to have one for all. There are also the disposables and/or waterproof disposables. Maybe even one of those crazy “flip” video cameras. When you get home, everyone can relive the perfect family adventure vacation as they work together to put together the perfect vacation photo album!
Key is: just get out and enjoy this great big wonderful world we live in!