Vacation Planning Tips

The holidays are right around the corner, so you may be planning on a trip during your children’s school break. The trip could be to visit relatives or it could be a much-needed escape, but regardless of where you decide to go, some parts of the trip need to be planned ahead of time.

These include how much money you intend to spend, the travel attention span of your child(ren), how long you plan to spend on vacation, the type of trip you hope to take, the method of travel to get there and whether or not using a travel agent is necessary.

Sometimes the determining factor about where you will go is simply a financial one. You’d like to take the kids or your significant other somewhere exotic, but that just might not be in the budget. Maybe a long-weekend trip to Grandma’s in Ohio, with a one-day outing to Cedar Point or to Sea World is all you can afford. Or maybe you can pay for a bigger vacation, especially if it is tacked on to a business trip. When his oldest son was four years old and his youngest hadn’t even been born Indiana University astronomy professor Tom Steiman-Cameron was asked to present at a conference in South Africa. Since his part of the trip was already paid for, Steiman-Cameron decided it would be a great combination of business and pleasure if he splurged and took his wife and young son. In addition to attending the conference, they went on a pictorial safari and visited many cities and cultural sites. After all, the point for a vacation—no matter its price—is to have fun. So when you are planning your trip make sure to include activities where everyone (parents included) will enjoy him- or herself.

The next thing to consider after price is the attention span of your child. Can Johnny sit for hours at a time in airports, on planes, in the mini-van traveling somewhere? One former Pittsburgher and her husband (who asked to remain anonymous) recently drove from their home in Columbus, Ohio, for a week’s long vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina, with their three year old and five year old. The husband said later that he didn’t realize how trying the long drive would be with the kids. “Everyone had to go to the bathroom and wanted to eat at different times,” he said. “The next time I’d enjoy a shorter drive and possibly a shorter trip.”  But the beach vacation itself was just what their family needed.

Maybe a beach vacation is what you think your family needs, too. Or maybe you prefer cities to beaches and want to take your children to museums, art galleries and live shows. Vacation options are many and include family cruises; visits to mountains to hike or ski; tours of historical or cultural sites; and volunteer vacations, where you, for example, rebuild trails or help protect sea turtles as they lay their eggs on the beach (See for more information.)

Once you decide where you are going, you need to decide how to get there: do you drive, take a bus, a train or a plane? Sometimes the journey itself becomes the destination. For example, taking a train through the Canadian Rockies or driving through them in a personal vehicle is a much different experience than being in a jet 36,000 feet above them. Do you need to arrive at your destination quickly or can you afford the time to get there more slowly? Or, is there only one good way to arrive at the destination and still have time for a holiday? Some places in the Caribbean, for instance, you could technically travel to from Pittsburgh by plane to Miami and then by boat, but the quickest way is usually air travel the whole way to the destination.

Then once you have decided where you are going, for how long and how you will get there, you need to book your trip. Web sites such as can help you find decent airfare, hotel prices, car rentals, cruises and even whole vacation packages. Kayak mines the other travel Web sites (,,,, all of the airline-owned sites, etc.) so you don’t have to go to each site individually. For trips to more exotic locales, such as some foreign countries, contacting a travel agent who has visited the country, who specializes in trips to that place and who possibly speaks the language might be a better idea than booking everything online. Some travel agencies have negotiated deals with specific resorts that you won’t be able to get anywhere else. Or they may know which tour packages you should avoid. A good travel agent is up on the latest travel reports and news in their areas of expertise.

Even if you are staying in the States and driving somewhere, you might want to visit a travel agent at the American Automobile Association to get maps and Tour Books for the area to which you are going, to supplement your GPS unit or what you downloaded at