7 Easy Steps For Planning A Vacation

UPDATED January 9th, 2020

Easy Steps For Planning Your Vacation

Are you wondering how to start planning for a vacation?  I enjoy planning for vacation almost as much as the vacation itself! 🚗 ✈️No matter where you’re going or your budget, here’s a helpful list of ways to plan for your next vacation. 

Are you wondering how to start planning for a vacation?  enjoy planning for vacation almost as much as the vacation itself! 🚗 ✈️No matter where you're going or your budget, here's a helpful list of ways to plan for your next vacation. #vacation #planning

This blog may contain affiliate links in which we may receive a small commission ( for which we are grateful & it  helps keep this blog running) at no additional cost to you. Please click HERE to read our full disclosure 

Budget Planning For Vacation

Naturally, budget is always a first priority topic. We like to use IHG points as much as possible for free hotel stays. If you are not yet a member of a hotel program, certainly consider it as points add up faster than you realize and can save you a lot of money.

Also becoming a member of airline reward programs can save you money. We are American Airline reward members and have been able to take several free flights. Look out for special promotions which lessen the full amount of mileage/points required for most trips.

Keep in mind the costs of gas, meals and entrance fees and other expenses.  Also,Boarding your pet(s) can be a big expense. We have discovered that most attractions generally offer online discounts to buy your tickets ahead of time. Equally important to remember is that you don’t have to take your family to Paris to have an amazing time or to make memories. Plan to go where you can afford and you will have a great time!

TIP: Several months before your vacation take an extra $5-$20 each time you go to the store. Put that money away and by the time you leave on your trip, you will have some spending money that you didn’t have to take out in a big chunk.


Where To Go On Vacation

Next is to decide where you want to go. We have a goal to visit all 50 states and that plays a part in our vacation planning. We also love National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, if we can fit one of those in on our vacation we try to do so. Have you been taking the same beach vacation every year? Is your family ready to change things up? We have a travel map that we mark everywhere we have been as a family. If it was a road trip we mark our route on our map. It’s a great way to look where you’ve been and where your next adventure could be.

If you’re struggling with where to go or can’t decide as a family, there are two books that we reference a lot! 1,000 Places To See Before You Die (United States & Canada Edition) and 50 States, 5,000 Ideas. These are two fantastic books that can stir your imagination and may help you in your vacation planning.

You can really throw caution to the wind and write locations on pieces of paper and draw out of a hat. True story, one year we just couldn’t decide where to go and we really wrote them down and drew from a hat – voila! We had our location. 

Now you have a budget and where you want to go. What now?


Research For Your Vacation Destination

I have three “go to’s” once we’ve decided on a location. First stop is TripAdvisor. This is a great resource for getting real reviews on where to stay, what to do and where to eat. As I said earlier, we prefer IHG, specifically Holiday Inn Express since they offer free breakfast. Having free breakfast really helps the budget and gets your morning off to a great start.

TripAdvisor breaks down things to do into categories, so you can sort by what your family enjoys the most. However, don’t forget to try and go outside the box of your normal family activities. Maybe now is the time your family goes zip-lining, sees an opera, or finally goes on the hike you’ve been talking about.

What is a vacation without good food?! When we plan for our vacation, we try to eat at locally-owned restaurants as much as possible. Inevitably you will have to make that one stop at a fast food restaurant, but discovering local food and meeting local restaurant owners is always a treat.

My next stop is Instagram (Follow Us). Type in the name of the city you are going and almost always there will be some great accounts that focus on delicious food in the area or fun activities. We have discovered some of our favorite restaurants this way. Also, it’s a great way to find out what festivals, specials, or events will be happening. Following these accounts in the months leading up to your vacation is such a fun way to get even more excited about your trip.

Our boys like to look through my Instagram to see if there are any places to eat or things that will be happening that we can do while we’re on vacation. Follow the National Park you will be visiting or the museum you want to go to, or the aquarium your kids are dying to see. They all have Instagram accounts and you will be in the know about special promotions.

Pinterest is an encyclopedia of information for planning a vacation and information on your destination. We have found tons of great information on Pinterest, plus it’s fun to look at. 


Yellowstone National Park Instagram
Best Food Chicago

Planning Your Vacation Route And Stops

As I’m a pencil to paper person, I enjoy writing everything out so that I have it in my handy dandy travel notebook. If you are preparing for a road trip, head to GoogleMaps. If you are heading to a city you haven’t been before, go to a map of the city to get an idea of layout before you arrive. Once at Google Maps, start entering your route. For instance, you may discover your first leg of the trip is 10 hours instead of 7. This gives you an opportunity to tweak your road trip where needed and make any adjustments.

We have been road tripping a long time now and our kids are accustomed to an occasional long leg, but when they were younger we didn’t do that. We capped our drives at 8 hours, so keep in mind your children’s ages and what they are able to handle.

It may seem old school, but write everything down. I have a travel notebook that I couldn’t live without. Additionally, I write down each day’s itinerary, stops, hotel and where we plan to eat including the addresses. This has been so helpful over the years and it’s also a great way to look back on your trip. Staying organized can really help make any vacation go more smoothly. Amazon has a great variety of travel notebooks that you can buy and that are reasonably priced.

My travel journal
This is the one I have and I love it!
From our Texas road trip
Written Itinerary From Our Texas Road Trip

Planning Snacks And Drinks For A Road Trip Vacation

Part of me thinks road trip food should look like a 9 year old packed it. However, as a parent, I know I need to pack a variety of things to keep everyone happy and healthy. Start buying non-perishables several weeks in advance and buy fresh food a day or two before you leave. For drinks, we pack a variety of choices from water, ginger ale or 7-up in case anyone starts to feel uneasy.  Now that our kids are older, I have a bag that I love to place all the snacks in and it fits nicely in the backseat. Choose a really good cooler to take on your vacation. We use a soft sided cooler because that makes it easier to fit in a vehicle. This CleverMade Cooler is a perfect size and you won’t spend a fortune.

List Of Things You Need To Do Before Leaving On Vacation

Creating a list of what you need to do before leaving on vacation is important. Particularly, you don’t want a panic moment 500 miles from home wondering if you remembered to stop the mail.

  1. Hire or have a friend housesit while you are away. This is a way to make sure your pets and your home will be taken care of.
  2. If you do not have someone to housesit, think twice before posting about your vacation on social media. Your home will be a target when the world finds out you are in Alaska and your home is unattended.
  3. You can now place your mail on hold with the USPS online. No more waiting in line!  🙂
  4. If you have any bills that are not on auto-pay, arrange to pay them before you leave.
  5. Clean your house before you leave. There is nothing fun about coming home to a house full of waiting chores.
  6. Clean out your refrigerator. Again, nothing fun about coming home to curdled milk or moldy bread.
  7. If you or anyone in your family take medication, make sure you have enough for the entire trip.
  8. If you wear contacts ( like I do) make sure to bring an extra set. I dropped one of my contacts in the sink at a hotel and thankfully I was able to pull out an extra.
  9. If you do not have someone to check on your pets, arrange to board at a reputable location. If your pet has not been boarded before, arrange for them to stay for a few hours here and there before your vacation. It will make your pet less nervous and anxious when you drop them off.
  10. Place your newspaper delivery on hold.
  11. Do not order anything that may be delivered by FedEx or UPS while you’re away.
  12. Unplug electrical items while you are away. It will save you money and lessen the risk of a fire while you’re gone.
  13. We have a Ring Doorbell and we think it is invaluable! It’s easily installed and it’s reassuring to be able to check on our home while we’re gone. If you have a Ring Doorbell, be sure you charge it before you leave for vacation.
Whew! It’s easy to forget how much there is to do before leaving on vacation. Aren’t you glad you can refer to this list and leave without a worry on your mind?!

Create A Packing List

I avoided this one for a long time. It just seemed like another task and I didn’t want to have another task. Unfortunately, I have forgotten to pack the perfect shoes for an outfit or didn’t pack enough socks for my youngest a few too many times. Now, having a packing list is essential and I highly recommend it! Look ahead at the weather for where you’re going. Also, several months ahead of time, look at what you or your family may need for your vacation. Are you going to Yellowstone or Yosemite? You may want to get binoculars and bug spray. Are you going somewhere that rains a lot? You may want to bring extra umbrellas or rain jackets.

Moreover, think about your children and will the rain jacket you bought last Fall still fit come Summer? Will the hiking boots you bought your son last year still fit his feet? Plan ahead, so you aren’t running around town the day before you leave trying to find these items.

Final Thoughts

I really do love planning for a vacation. Researching can be a lot of fun and the whole family can do it! We love talking about all of our “food finds” or discussing the cool park we “found” on the way to somewhere. You will feel so relaxed and ready to head out when it comes time to leave. Furthermore, it can build the anticipation and excitement of your vacation.

Did you find this list helpful? We would love to hear questions and comments from you.

Travel Well,


This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Justin

    I have never used Instagram to look up a place I’m considering. It’s never crossed my mind! But, it’s an excellent point. What better way to KNOW about a place? Check out the true views of an area other than using TripAdvisor.
    I’m adding this to my list. Thank you!

    1. Nicole Claesen

      Justin … Thank You for your comments! Instagram has really provided us with some great places to eat while traveling (and ‘the skinny’ on local events as well).

  2. Great tips! I don’t do much planning at all when traveling and wing it along the way. 😉

  3. Angella

    These are great tips, just in time for our Hawaii trip! While my husband is the main itinerary planner, I plan & pack all the necessities! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Lily

    Love the IHG card and the free anniversary stays I’ve gotten! Planning ahead is so important to make the most of any trip for sure. Great post!

    1. Nicole Claesen

      Hi Lily, so glad you liked it! Yes, we love the free anniversary stays and using points for additional free stays – it really helps the budget.

  5. Emma

    I am such a planner so this post speaks to me a lot. Great tips. I usually get inspiration from others and put it together with where I can get deals and use points etc. There are so many places I want to go to that I don’t need to do them in a particular order.

  6. Andi

    These are great tips! My hubby does most of the research and planning for our trips. I do some, but he is so good at it. These steps might help me do a little better!

  7. Kelsey

    I love planning for vacations, and it was so fun to read about someone else’s process for doing so!

    I also love to eat at locally owned restaurants as much as possible, and want to pack for ANY vacation with 9 year old snack food lol. And I feel like I always have to stop at In-N-Out at least once (if on the West Coast.)

    Really enjoyed reading!

    1. Nicole Claesen

      Glad to meet a fellow planner! 🙂 We have certainly snuck in a visit to In-N-Out as well!!

  8. Aireona

    I am a planner as well, and I love seeing how other people put together their trips. I really love your travel planning journal! I am a journal fanatic myself but I do alot of my travel planning digitally.

  9. Dani

    This is such a great in-depth guide! I’m terrible at planning for vacations – I never even know where to start! So this is definitely really helpful 🙂

    1. Nicole Claesen

      Thank you! So glad to hear that you found it helpful!

Leave a Reply