Here are some tips to make your next family trip both stress-free and enjoyable.
"For families, planning a vacation is exactly like planning a family. You need to start 9 months in advance," says Sally Black, president and founder of family travel agency Vacationkids.com. Do so and you'll get the best pick of airline seats, hotels and available room categories.
Determine What Your Family Needs
"There is no such thing as the 'best' family resort," says Black. Which resort is best for your family depends on the age of your kids and the interests of every member of the family. Start your planning by jotting down your family's needs and desires.
Strike a Balance
Once you know what your family needs, search for a vacation spot that has a little of something for everyone. "A lot of time parents think they have to sacrifice their 2 weeks vacation a year and give totally to the kids," says Black. Not so. Plenty of resorts offer amenities for big kids as well as little ones.
Look for Destinations With Many Options
As fabulous as the giant slide might be, your kids might get bored going to the same pool every day. And Mom and Dad might get sick of eating the same fare every night. Consider destinations that offer a variety of options for everyone in the group, says Linda Perry, founder of Peacheadfamilies.com, an L.A.-based parenting site.
Take Advantage of Off-Peak Times
If you have preschool-aged children, traveling while older kids are in school can yield lower prices and less crowded vacation destinations. "You can save upward of 50 percent or more," says Black. Avoid peak family travel times: Memorial Day to Labor Day, Christmas and spring break.
Recognize That All Offerings Are Not Equal
When faced with 2 options that appear attractive but vary in price, many parents are perplexed. Why does 1 cost so much more? There may be a reason; do your homework to determine exactly what you're getting, especially with all-inclusive deals. How qualified are the child-care providers? Is the kids' club just a room with a supervisor and a few board games, or is it more elaborate? Does 1 resort's food options vastly outweigh the others? Talk to an expert or people who've been there.
Consider Your Child-Care Needs
"Most places have child-care during the day, but then you have to hire in the evening," says Perry. Some offer child care and even kids camp activities in the evening, which makes it easier for parents to enjoy some alone time, too.