So once you’ve settled on your dream destination, the timeframe that works with your schedule, and all the activities and experiences that have piqued your curiosity and matched your interests, it’s time to add some reality to your trip goals and start preparing for departure. This means it’s time to start factoring in budget, finalizing dates, and booking tickets, reservations, and appointments.
Passports, TSA Precheck, Global Entry & CLEAR. First steps you should take to prepare for your trip are the ones that require the most time. If you need a passport for your vacation, get passport photos taken and fill out the application for new passport, renew, or replace at the U.S. Department of State website. If you require an in-person appointment, book it as soon as possible at your nearest qualifying acceptance facility which you can search here. Start the process as soon as possible since regular processing times can take 8-11 weeks or pay $60 to expedite to process within 5-7 weeks. Also, if you were planning to apply for TSA Precheck, Global Entry, or CLEAR to speed up and streamline the airport security screening process, you should do that well in advance of your travels to ensure you don’t have to pay additional fees to expedite your applications since that money could be better spent on your trip!
Vaccines, Mandates, & Other Entry Requirements. You should also check the COVID testing, mask mandates, and COVID and other vaccination travel requirements for your destination, even if you’re traveling within the United States, COVID rules can vary from state to state. Sherpa is a great resource for up to date information. Any travel advisories for countries abroad can also be found here. If you have lengthy travel plans, you want to make sure a visa isn’t required for the country or countries you are visiting. You can also find helpful resources and information here.
Airline Tickets. Now that you’ve narrowed down a time frame, you can book airline tickets. For the most part, booking early with flexible dates gives you the most seating, time, and pricing options. As soon as you can, book your airplane tickets. Once you have one of the most costly and important parts of your trip confirmed, you can start finalizing the rest of your plans and adjust your budget for other expenses.
Reservations. As part of early preparations, you should prioritize the activities you would like to do on your vacation, then look up the official websites of any monuments, national parks, museums, exhibitions, restaurants, or events to see if they are open during your stay at your destination, have limited hours, or require a reservation. This will help with managing your vacation time, and you avoid disappointment after traveling so far and not being able to enjoy something you’ve been anticipating or planning your trip around. Just as an example of how a little research and planning can save you some disappointment or inconvenience, on my first trip to New York City, I was very much looking forward to seeing the view from the top of the Statue of Liberty but learned upon arriving at Ellis Island that no one was able to go up due to construction but, of course, seeing the Statue of Liberty from any angle was amazing so it was still worth the trip!
Accommodation. Booking a place to stay is a priority and a large expense for any trip. It is also key to enjoying your travels as a family to find clean, safe, and affordable accommodations with enough space to be comfortable. And just like airplane tickets, usually the earlier you book, the more options you have for date availability and may save some money on lower room rates or fees. When booking early, make sure to read the cancellation policy in case you need to reschedule or cancel your vacation plans. When traveling with small children, ask if baby or child-friendly amenities are available such as cribs, high chairs, or games.
Transportation. If you’re going to do any significant traveling around while you’re away from home, you may have to book transportation outside of round-trip airplane tickets. Do some research about the most efficient way to get from point A to point B. Preferred modes of transportation will vary by location, size of your group, and distance you need to travel. If you’re traveling within Europe or in a large city with an expansive public transit system like London or New York City, a train may make the most sense for getting around, on the other hand, for a camping trip with your family on a long weekend, you may need to budget for gas for the car. In India you may need a taxi, or in Australia it may be more convenient to book a flight to see Uluru. You decide what works for your family, budget, and schedule. Also be sure to budget for any travel insurance you may need to protect yourself and family while traveling.
Get Excited! Once you’ve booked and paid for the major expenses and activities on your to do list, you should use the time before your trip learning about your destination and anticipating all the fun you can have on the way. Before my vacations, I love watching movies or documentaries about my vacation destination or reading travel and history books to find out more about what I will see or do and the story behind it. Another way to start learning as a family in anticipation of your travels would be to cook some of the cuisine local to your travel destination that you and your children may enjoy or haven’t tried. You could also start learning any new languages you may encounter while traveling. There’s many language apps and software such as Duolingo and Rosetta Stone that everyone in the family would enjoy. Doing some or all of these things before your trip will help you start your adventure and promote learning before you even leave the house and enjoy your family travel experience to the fullest!
Here’s a couple of downloads to use as a start for budgeting for your travels. There’s a PDF to fill in your estimated costs:
or a spreadsheet version if you prefer: