There’s no doubt about it.  Family vacation planning can be stressful.  However, the TravelingMom motto is “We’ve Been There” for a reason.  Multidimensional TravelingMom has learned several tips along the way when planning a vacation, and she’s sharing her travel advice, with the help of her fellow TravelingMoms.  Here are vacation planning tips on what you MUST book in advance!

Making sure your passport is up-to-date is essential when planning a vacation. Photo by Candid TravelingMom, Patty Holliday.

Making sure your passport is up-to-date is essential when planning a vacation. Photo by Patty Holliday/ Candid TravelingMom.

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Family Vacation Planning: What You MUST Do in Advance

1. Obtain or Renew Passports
2. Research the Destination
3. Purchase Travel Insurance
4. Purchase Airfare
5. Book Hotels
6. Reserve a Rental Car (with Child Car Seats)
7. Book Tours and Buy Theme Park Tickets
8. Arrange for Pet Boarding
9. Make Reservations for Restaurants
10. Buy Theater Tickets

Are you planning a family vacation and trying to decide what you MUST do in advance?  If your answer is “yes,” then you’ve come to the right place!  My fellow TravelingMoms and I are sharing our travel advice that we’ve learned throughout the years.  You’ll save time, money, and aggravation if you follow our vacation planning tips about what you MUST do in advance when family vacation planning.

1. Obtain or Renew Passports

If you’re traveling internationally, and you don’t have a passport, you’ll need to give yourself plenty of time to get a passport.  The application process can be a bit overwhelming, so I recommend scheduling an appointment with a Passport Office.  Most Passport Offices will even take photos of you for your passport.

For those who do have a passport, you’ll want to check the expiration date.  Keep in mind that most countries require passports to be valid 6 months from the date of your travel.  I ran into a bit of a pickle for our last trip.  My passport was going to expire within the 6-month mark, so I ended up expediting my passport renewal to ensure that I’d receive it in time.

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The good news?  For adults, passports are valid for 10 years.  For children, though, passports are only valid for 5 years.  You’ll definitely want to give you and your family sufficient time to either apply for a passport or renew a passport.

2. Research the Destination

It’s very important to conduct research regarding your destination.  World TravelingMom Sarah Ricks is a big proponent of learning about her travel destination:  “When I can, I dig into history and biography. All enriches the experience of being there and helps us understand what we are experiencing.”

3. Purchase Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is extremely important when planning a vacation, especially when traveling with children.  It’s worth it alone for the peace of mind.  It’s great if you don’t have to use it, but you never know what might happen before vacation.

For example, my son broke a finger the week before we were scheduled to leave for a vacation.  Because his arm required a cast, we modified our vacation plans.  Luckily, we were using hotel points and driving to our destination, so it didn’t significantly impact our plans.  But, if we were flying somewhere, then it could have become a major issue, especially if we didn’t have travel insurance.

If you’re planning a trip and considering travel insurance, TravelingMom recommends Allianz.

4. Purchase Airfare

As soon as you know where you want to go, you should start looking into airfare.  If you’re flexible with your schedule, even better.  If possible, I try to book my vacations around the airfare.  This is more difficult to do, though, if your children are school-aged.  Also, the longer you wait to book airfare, the more expensive the airfare.

5. Book Hotels

You’d be surprised how often this one gets overlooked.  According to Long Weekend TravelingMom, Kendra Pierson, ” There have been times when I was traveling a lot for work and family travel that I forgot to book a room for one night of our trip. It usually happens when I’m just spending one night someplace and that one night has slipped through my plans on between the other nights. But I have stood at a check-in counter assured that I have a reservation and nope…no number. I had to share a room with a coworker once because of it.  Along those lines, book a guaranteed place that you can cancel. I know one of those trips I was waiting for the price to go down. It never did but I had to pay $500 at a Ritz Carlton as opposed to $250 at Hyatt if I had booked when I first looked. I was waiting for a better rate.”

Travel Hack TravelingMom, Dia Adams, also has great advice:  “Make sure if you’re doing a road trip, you book before midnight eastern time.  After then you can’t book online as the websites think you are booking a room for yesterday.”

If you’re looking for hotels to book at a discount, one of the websites that TravelingMom recommends is TripAdvisor.

6. Reserve a Rental Car (with Child Car Seats)

Keep your baby happy and safe with these car seat safety tips! Photo Credit: Road Warrior TMOM Nasreen Stump

Keep your baby happy and safe with these car seat safety tips! Photo Credit: Nasreen Stump / Road Warrior TMOM

Do you plan on renting a car during your vacation?  If so, once you’ve booked your vacation, it’s time to start shopping around with respect to different car rental agencies.

If you’re not taking your child’s car seat with you, then you’ll want to make sure the rental agency has car seats available.  Some car rental agencies have a limited supply of child car seats on hand.  Also, keep in mind that you may not be familiar with the car rental agency’s car seat.  This could be stressful if you’re in a time crunch.

My family and I experienced this situation firsthand during a family vacation to Hawaii.  My husband and I decided that we didn’t want to lug our son’s car seat so we decided to rent one through the car rental agency.  It was not a familiar car seat and took a while to get installed.  And the car rental agency employees will not help you in installing the car seat for liability reasons.

7. Book Tours and Buy Theme Park Tickets

My family and I always book our tours and purchase our theme park tickets in advance.  There’s nothing more disappointing than arriving at your destination, only to find out that the tour you want to take is already full.  You can save disappointment by booking ahead of time.

Go With the Flow TravelingMom, Jill Robbins, agrees:  “We’ve shown up in a town with a room reservation and a wish list and no real agenda (which is really how I like to roll.) I’ve been disappointed a few times when places I wanted to go were closed or it was too late to sign up for something. If there’s something you have your heart set on, make sure you secure your spot (or know the hours) in advance.”

Nature TravelingMom, Jacquie Fisher, also recommends booking excursions like a luau or a snorkeling day trip for Hawaii visits.  She also recommends booking a photographer in advance if you’re planning to take family photos while on vacation.

If you’re planning to visit a theme park, Traveling Mom recommends Undercover Tourist for discounted tickets.

You'll want to purchase theme park tickets in advance to save time and money. Photo by Gulf Coast TravelingMom, Caroline Knowles.

You’ll want to purchase theme park tickets in advance to save time and money. Photo by Caroline Knowles  Gulf Coast TravelingMom

8. Arrange for Pet Boarding

If you have pets, you’ll want to make arrangements for your pets.  There are several options available, from asking a family member or friend to check in on your pets, to hiring a house sitter/pet sitter or boarding your animals.  Holidays are a busy time in general, so you’ll definitely want to book far in advance if you are traveling during the holiday season.  You’ll also want to make sure that your pets are up to date with their vaccinations.  If you’re looking for a house sitter or pet sitter, then you might want to consider Rover.com.

Something you'll need to book in advance? Boarding for your pet(s) if your pet isn't traveling with you. Photo by Multidimensional TravelingMom, Kristi Mehes.

Something you’ll need to book in advance? Boarding for your pet(s) if your pet isn’t traveling with you. Photo by Kristi Mehes /Multidimensional TravelingMom

9. Make Reservations for Restaurants

If you want to dine at a particular restaurant, make reservations beforehand, especially if you and your family are visiting Disney World.

Suburban TravelingMom, Jamie Bartosch, has wise words:  “The first time we went, I foolishly thought we’d just ‘play it by ear’ when we got there, because I didn’t know where we’d be or what time we’d feel like eating. Big mistake. Every restaurant we wanted to go to was always booked. We ended up eating a lot of cafeteria pizza and fries that trip. Ugh. Even if you just make one restaurant reservation a day, make it! And do it as early as possible.”

10. Buy Theater Tickets

One of the things to book in advance when planning a vacation? Theatre tickets!

One of the things to book in advance when planning a vacation? Theatre tickets! Photo by Kristi Mehes / Multidimensional TravelingMom

Indulgent TravelingMom, Andrea Traynor, agrees that theatre tickets should be purchased in advance especially if there’s a show you absolutely MUST see.  “Lest you need to get them through StubHub on arrival and pay three times the face value.”

Here's what you MUST do in advance when family vacation planning! Photo by Multidimensional TravelingMom, Kristi Mehes.#FamilyVacation #FamilyVacationPlanning #VacationPlanningTips #FamilyTravel

Here’s what you MUST do in advance when family vacation planning! Photo by Kristi Mehes /Multidimensional TravelingMom. #FamilyVacation #FamilyVacationPlanning #VacationPlanningTips #FamilyTravel