How To Plan A Family Vacation: The Ultimate Checklist

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When deciding on a vacation destination, it is important to be laser focused. In the initial planning stages, the amount of choices might be overwhelming. There’s nothing relaxing about planning a family vacation! Hopefully you’ll get some of that when on location.

Picture: Beaches Turks & Caicos offers a one-of-a-kind, all-inclusive beach vacation for the whole family.

Whether you’re planning to explore a National Park in the States, visit a theme park, go on a camping trip or spend some time on the gorgeous Caribbean beaches, we’ve got all the deets on how to plan a family vacation!

Family vacation planning checklist

Here’s what you need to know!

1. Decide where to go with your family

Picture: Looking for a family beach vacation? Look no further than Grace Bay, the world's best beach located in Turks & Caicos.

Settling on a destination for your family vacation is hard. There are so many different things to keep in mind; from the kind of experience you’re looking to have, how much you’re willing to spend, what you’d like to see, and the interests of both parents and kids.

A great place to start is by listing what everyone likes to do, and the activities you enjoy doing together. Whether this includes going on long hikes, spending time at museums and other historic places, or simply going to the beach, all this information will come in handy when deciding where to go. If your trip includes family members who do not live near you, you can involve them in the process by sending out an email survey to weigh preferences.

Create a list of places based on where you have always wanted to go and consider which attractions and activities are available in each. Give points to places with stunning nature, varied land and sea activities, spas, and dining. You’ll be able to narrow down your destination list depending on what’s available where. You’ll also be able to swipe some other places off the list depending on your budget, distance to destination, availability of flights, and other considerations.

Choose a destination that’s convenient for everyone

Say for instance, the kids are set on a winter vacation somewhere there’s snow, while parents just want to lounge and decompress somewhere sunny where they can go snorkeling from a tropical beach. This is a common dilemma many families face when deciding on a vacation destination, especially if they have older kids. Know that while everyone may not be able to get what they want; you can all meet somewhere in the middle. Pick somewhere that everyone can find something to do that they enjoy.

Plan your potential dates

Trip Calendar Planning Travel

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Time of year matters when it comes to travel, as prices, weather and crowds vary depending on the low, shoulder, and peak seasons of individual destinations. Many families choose to travel during the summer, which is peak season in some places. For countries in the Caribbean though, summer is associated with shoulder season travel – during this time you may find better prices and less crowds on the beach. Summer is also a great time to travel because the kids are out of school, and thus they won’t be missing out on anything. Spring break is another option, as is winter vacation.

Overall, if you want to save money, travel during the low season. Keep in mind this means conditions like weather may be less than optimal and there might be less going on, but there are also the benefits; like being able to secure accommodation and book tours without much hassle.

Pro tip: For parents who have no alternative other than taking kids out during the middle of the school year due to an inflexible vacation schedule, plan with your child’s teachers so they can do some extra work before setting off. Avoid scheduling trips during standardized test time, as it can be hard to reschedule these.

2. Define your budget

Budget Money Travel Trip

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Not sure where to start when planning a family vacation? Creating a budget will help you make some headway. Where this is concerned, you’ll need to decide how much you are willing to spend early on in the process, and on what. Once you’ve decided on your budget, you’ll be able to select your accommodation, activities, and other things that are important to you and your family.

Some things that you will need to budget for include:


Kids Transportation Car Rental

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Aside from thinking about and budgeting for how you and your family will get there, whether by airplane, train, or by car, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to get around once you arrive. If you’re going by plane or train, you may need a car to take you around and fuel top ups should be part of your budget. You’ll also need to include the expected cost of rentals and taxis.


Picture: At Beaches Resorts, kids get extra attention with tailor‐made fun just for them, offering age-appropriate activities for kids of all ages, from tots to teens.

Options are endless when it comes to accommodation for your family vacation, but this list is a little less broad when travelling with kids. Family travel requires picking a hotel, resort, villa, or other accommodation with proper amenities.

If you’re staying at a hotel or resort, you’ll want to look into entertainment and activities, and the cost of this. You might find a lot of the activities already to be included in the price of your stay! Beaches Resort has some great all-inclusive family resorts with waterparks in both Jamaica and Turks & Caicos. As these resorts are all-inclusive, they allow families to stick to a fixed budget. Beaches is a fun zone for kids, with everything from waterparks, to Sesame Street characters, Kids Club and activities tailored for kids of all ages. The charm of all-inclusive resorts for family vacations is that there’s something to do for the entire family, so you don’t have to worry about your spendings during your stay.

Food & drinks

Food is an important consideration for any vacation, but even more so when you’re travelling with children. This is where research matters – it is best to stay at a hotel or resort with lots of good food options that fit neatly into your budget. Again, many parents find it worthwhile to stay at an all-inclusive family resort which takes away the burden of trying not to overspend on food.

Keep in mind that when planning your vacation, even if you’re staying at an all-inclusive property you may want to factor in a night or two of dining outside the resort. If you won’t be staying at an all-inclusive, go for a hotel or even a villa or bed and breakfast with a kitchen, which can help keep costs down.

Excursions & entertainment

Excursions can be costly, so the budget conscious will need to plan this aspect carefully. With that said, there are lots of options to keep kids busy while on vacation. Parents can opt to take their kids to amusement parks or on adventure tours. Depending on where you go shows, concerts, and museums are other options. Plan carefully and ensure you take into account the cost of tickets or bookings for everyone who will be included. Make sure the drive to the local attractions is not too long.


Ocho Rios Jamaica Souvenirs

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Souvenirs are important memories to your family vacation, and it’s useful to create a budget for this as well. A tried-and-tested approach is saving change in a jar ahead of your trip to be used for souvenir shopping. When the money runs out, so does your souvenir splurging. Kids can also save up to get unique items they like that may only be found in your vacation destination - like unique seashells. When it’s time to go home, you can ship items that are too bulky (like art) straight to your residence, so you can travel light.

3. Start saving up for travel if needed

Saving Money Travel Trip

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Saving is an important aspect of travel and can influence the kind of vacation you eventually end up having. The longer you save before going, and the more money that goes into your savings fund, the more things you’ll be able to do while away. Be realistic in how much you can save per week (or month); this can be done individually, or in a special family vacation account. The great thing about saving is that the sooner you get serious about it, the sooner you’re able to meet your goal!

Insider tip: Beaches Resorts makes family vacation planning super convenient with their layaway program that enables guests to pay for their booking over time. Once you set foot on the resort, no extra expenses are needed. Airport transfers, the water park, Kids Club, magic shows, drinks, high-quality food at up to 21 restaurants per resort, ice cream, cotton candy, mac and cheese - it’s all included, always unlimited. Parents can even drink unlimited cocktails mixed with premium liquors at the swim-up bar!

4. Purchase the tickets to your destination

Buying Travel Tickets Trip

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It is highly recommended when traveling with children to look for direct flights, as opposed to making sure you fly with your favorite airline. Flights with long layovers are not ideal although sometimes this is unavoidable. The younger your children, the less patience they may have with this. Parents with babies (under the age of 2) may want to avoid lengthy layovers altogether. If there is no other option, do some research to find out whether the terminal at the airport is baby-friendly, and whether there are nursing rooms. Some terminals have toddler-friendly play spaces which can help pass the time with your child.

Find out also if there are changing tables on the plane that are practical, and whether bulkhead seats are available. While you may not find this information on official websites of the airline or airport, calling directly should help get you the details you need.

5. Book the right place to stay

Picture: Beaches Negril captures the essence of a laid-back paradise along with the elegance of a luxury resort.

Accommodation is a big consideration when travelling with kids. Wherever you decide to stay, you’ll want to ensure that it’s comfortable, safe and ideally located near some local attractions you’re interested in seeing. If you plan on staying at a hotel or resort, find out if they have kids’ menus, games rooms, kids’ clubs, kiddie pools, comfortable cribs, and bathtubs.

Pro tip: Read reviews from reputable sites before booking your vacation. Consider things like how far your resort is from things you’d like to do, and whether you’ll need a rental. Some families prefer options with 24-hour room service, or a kitchen to make their own meals.

6. Make safety and health a priority

The safety and wellbeing of their children is always at the forefront of any parent’s mind. Vacation time is not excluded. Things like whether you can find an English-speaking doctor if you need one and the quality of hospitals available at your destination are common considerations. Healthwise, it’s also important to ensure your children have all the necessary vaccinations before heading off to foreign destinations. This can be sorted out with a quick trip to their pediatrician. Overall, travel protection plans are recommended for family and other types of travel. These can help safeguard families against the unexpected, including cancellation fees, trip interruption, medical expenses, and expenses related to baggage loss or delay.

Insider tip: Beaches Resorts offers travel protection and have a registered nurse available on-property in case something happens. Her services are complimentary.

7. Inform the staff you’ll encounter on your trip

Kids Allergies Inhalers

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During the booking process, offer the staff as much information as you can about the needs of your family, so that the staff can accommodate. This accounts for both the staff of the accommodation as the staff of your flight. Make sure to mention food allergies and special needs of the children. If you forget to mention important details during booking, you can do so once you arrive. Parents with kids with sensory difficulties can also inform their accommodation about this. Be specific about what your child can and cannot tolerate, like strong smelling cleaning products.

8. Plan excursions and activities

Just as it is important to book your trip in advance, so too it is necessary to schedule your activities and excursions as early as possible. Doing so will ensure that things flow smoothly once you get to your destination. This should be a priority especially during the peak season, to avoid being unable to do certain things as a result of tours being sold out.

Things to book in advance include tours, theater tickets, and theme park tickets. Get your kids involved in this process by getting their input on what they’d like to do once at the destination. This can save you from spending on things they really aren’t interested in. Factor in how many excursions you want to book, keeping in mind some of the things that may already be available for free at your hotel or resort.

9. Make sure all passports are up to date

Passport Travel

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Generally, travelers are required to have at least 6 months remaining on their passports before expiry when traveling overseas. This means your passport should be valid at least 6 months beyond your departure date. Additionally, and even more important, every member of your family including kids (no matter their age) will need a passport for international travel by air.

If your child does not have a passport, apply for one well ahead of your trip as processing takes time. If your child is under 16, you’ll need to apply at a local passport agency in person, and your child is also required to make an appearance. When applying, bring along all necessary supporting documentation to speed up the process. Also inquire about getting your passports expedited. If you need to get a new passport, you can find the DS-11 Application Form, here.

Pro tip: Even if you’re feeling confident about passports check anyway for expiry dates before booking your trip. Children’s passports expire every five years. While you’re at it, check your own passport to make sure it’s up to date. Bring differentiating passport covers so you always know which passport belongs to who.

10. Prepare your kids for the flight

Kids Mom Airport Stroller

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If you will be flying to your destination, it’s worthwhile spending some time getting older kids mentally prepared for the experience. This is useful particularly if it is their first time travelling, or if they haven’t travelled in a while. Tell them what the airport experience will be like, and how they’re required to behave. Go through the details like the necessity of removing shoes and jackets as they clear security.

Print or download copies of your boarding passes from home; this can cut time spent on lines. Let the kids know to expect crowds and speak to them about the importance of staying close to you to avoid getting lost. Be sure they’re aware that they need to play their games or listen to music with their headphones on, or with the sound muted, especially once they’ve boarded the aircraft. Teach them how to put their devices on airplane mode.

A good strategy for parents is using a backpack as a carry-on – this helps keep your hands free for grabbing wandering children, or anything else that may come up. Strollers can be used and checked in at the gate. There are similar rules for car seats.

If you’re travelling with a baby, keep in mind that TSA’s 3oz limitation on liquids, gels and aerosols in your carry-on does not include breast milk, baby food or formula. Pack as much as your baby will need.

11. Start packing

Kids Paking Travel

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Packing for any vacation can be a mammoth task. That is, if you don’t plan properly or try to gain as much insight as possible ahead of your adventure to foreign shores. Packing for a family vacation, you’ll have to take many things to keep in mind. What the children think they need, what they actually need, and the things you yourself absolutely can’t afford to leave behind.

No parent wants to arrive at a foreign destination to find that their kid has forgotten a favorite toy, a snack they simply can’t live without, or worse – they don’t have enough clothing to tide over the week they’re there. To avoid any of these scenarios, it’s important to make packing a joint process with kids who are old enough to help. Even with kids who think they’ve got it covered; parents can do a once over to ensure they’re really all set before you all leave the house.

In addition to passports, tickets and other travel documents, phones, chargers, pens (for immigration forms!), and local currency, some essential items for family travel might include baby necessities such as daily use and comfort items, entertainment to take kids smoothly through wait times, extra clothes, sunscreen and hats, water shoes (if going to a place where there’s a pool or beach), first aid items, wipes (they come in handy for everyone!) and reservation information.

Some parents find it worthwhile to include a change of clothes in their kids’ carry-ons just in case luggage gets lost or misplaced. This can help ensure all bases are covered, and that you have a smooth vacation experience.

All in all, packing enough is important, but it is also important not to go overboard to avoid overweight charges, especially if you plan to do some shopping at your destination. When you plan properly, packing can be a stress-free process that everyone can enjoy.

12. Breathe and enjoy your vacation

Flexibility is important for a stress-free vacation experience. Even if there are a lot of different things you want to do with the kids, like going to a theme park, a zoo, or just exploring downtown, try not to schedule more than two activities a day. Factor in how long it will take to get to each place and wait times in between.

Make sure there’s room in between these activities to relax, and potentially even return to the hotel for a breather, or to change. Parents will know best how many activities are suitable per day for their kids, depending on their ages. If your kids get cranky, don’t force them into activities. Find the balance between relaxation and fun.

Pro tip: If you plan on travelling to a destination where it’s summer, try not to have the kids out too long in the hottest hours. Keep an eye out for potential sunburn and apply lots and lots of sunscreen.

Bonus tips to make the most out of your family vacation

1. Take the time to enjoy making memories with your family

Soak in every minute of your vacation and find ways to get your kids to do so as well. Some parents recommend creating a memento package, which can be a ‘treasure chest’ filled with things you kids want to remember about your trip, including ticket stubs, coins, seashells and foreign candy wrappers, or even just a little jar of sand or dirt from a beach they loved.

Anything goes in this territory, and you don’t even need to put this together right away. You can collect the items and wait until you get back home where you can all look back at the good times together.

Pro tip: Collecting memorable things during your vacation is also a great way to encourage your kids to start their own collection. Shells, stones, postcards, stickers and other cool items are all good options to start off with.

2. Do at least one really memorable thing together

There’s nothing quite like the bond between parents and their children, and that is something to be appreciated and celebrated. Kids grow quickly, and it is important to cherish every moment. Make time to do special things together that you will all forever keep close to your heart. That’s what family vacations are all about, and that’s the reason many families choose to splurge on that one epic trip that gives everyone something to look back on with joy for years to come. Do something you’ve always dreamed about, from renting out a luxury catamaran for a day, going on a food tour, exploring a drive-in volcano or majestic waterfall in the Caribbean, or even diving with sharks. Simplify it all by spending some time appreciating historic sites or trying out different restaurants. Whatever your desire, reach out and do it, as experiences are priceless!

3. Make plans for varied group activities

Picture: Beaches Resorts partnered up with Sesame Street® making it the only Caribbean resort where kids can play every day with the lovable, colorful, and friendly cast of characters.

As much as the emphasis is on family for family vacations, it’s okay to do some stuff that doesn’t involve all of you. If you have multiple kids, let your older kids enjoy an activity they’re interested in while everyone else kicks back and does something casual that they also enjoy. Mom and dad can even split up with the kids, in groups according to their ages, to do separate things. Mom may also choose to go shopping with the girls, while dad takes the boys to enjoy a surfing lesson. This can happen on a set day, in or out of the resort. Let your various interests guide you; you can also seek assistance from the resort staff on finding things to do outside the resort if needed.

4. Find time to spend with just your spouse

Couple time can get placed on the back burner during a family vacation, but it’s important not to let that happen for parents who don’t usually get time away together. Some resorts offer nanny services if you want to plan a night out. If there’s other adults travelling in your group with kids, you can also take turns watching them. Try your best though to aim for booking a hotel or resort with a Kids Camp and certified babysitters.

Insider tip: Beaches Resorts makes it easy to keep kids occupied with a Kids Camp right on property. Whether you stay at their all-inclusive resort in Turks & Caicos or at one of the Beaches all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica, your kids will be able to spend some time in the Kids Camp where they’ll be supervised by certified nannies and kept busy with age-appropriate activities. Depending on your child’s age they can be enrolled into the Infant Program (0-2), Toddler Program (3-4), Navigators Program (5-7), Adventurers Program (8-10), Tweens Program (11-14), and the Teens Program (15-17). All these options promise good times for your kids, who’ll be able to return home with not just new experiences, but amazing new friendships. More information about the Kids Camps at Beaches.

5. Come home a day early

Mom Unpacking Travel Suitcase

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The more time spent in a dream destination the better – just make sure you get home in time for everyone to have enough time to transition back into ‘normal life’. One or two days is usually enough for most people to get back to regular business of work, school, or summer camp. This also gives you enough time to catch up on sleep that you might have missed while on vacation!

Now you’re all set… woosah!

Picture: Beaches Negril’s Pirates Island, an 18,000 square foot waterpark along the ocean’s edge.

As you prepare to take off for your next family getaway, remember that while vacations are meant for families to experience new things together, there are also hidden lasting benefits. You may find that you’re feeling better than you ever have, after a couple days in a new and peaceful environment, which is good for your mind, body, and soul. A healthier and more peaceful you, means you’ll be able to be more present for your kids once you all get back to reality!

Kylie Morrow

About Kylie Morrow

Writing for 13 years, Kylie discovered that experiences tell the best stories. As a Caribbean mother who wrote for newspapers, magazines, and blogs, she believes inspiration is even found in our kids!