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Planning a Family Vacation – When Should You Begin?

This graph explains how to save a ton of aggravation and money on planning a family vacation.
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It’s a quick visual of when 60 million students in the US will be out of school and taking family vacations. It’s why you need to plan ahead when planning your next family vacation.

Let that number sink in for a moment – 60 million families with kids….all traveling the same weeks of the year.

This is why planning a family vacation is so different from planning say a honeymoon or business trip.

Even if you home school or have little ones not yet in school, knowing how all this works will help you plan your trip dates too.

The peaks here show the most expensive times of the year to take a family vacation. Thanksgiving, December holiday weeks and mid summer you can expect to pay 50-70% more for the same vacation compared to weeks in September or May.

Why is it so much more expensive to travel at these peak travel times?

It’s all about supply and demand. With 60 million families competing for the same flights, accommodations and attractions the price goes up. It’s simple economics 101. You’ll have much better odds meeting the real Santa Claus in your living room than trying to find a cheap, last minute deal over Christmas.

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By contrast, travel dates at the bottom based line of the chart are when parents can score the best values and prices. Of course, there is a HUGE debate between parents and educators alike about the values and negative impact caused by taking kids out of school to travel. This is a personal decision to be left to individual family discussions across the dinner table. For many families, an affordable vacation only happens with truancy.

Even if budget isn’t an obstacle for your family your vacation plans are still effected by availability. When you consider about 2 million people fly through U.S. airports on any given day and 60 million kids are out of school the same weeks of the year it means supply simply cannot meet demand.

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It’s not just about flights, preferred accommodations are always the first to sell out – preferred locations like ocean view rooms, connecting rooms, multi-bed sleeping arrangements for larger families. Even if price is not an issue, families traveling during peak travel times need to plan early to avoid disappointments.

As a travel agent, my mantra is...**“Planning a family vacation is just like planning a family – you need to get started 9 months in advance”

Actually cruises, resorts and hotels will allow you to make reservations 18 months to a year in advance. For families on a budget, this allows more time for vacation layaway payments. Airfare prices and schedules are usually posted about 9 months in advance and can then be added to any existing reservation. If you’re the type you doesn’t like to be rushed and needs time to make decisions then you my friend need to start a year out.

Some of you might be thinking “more is better”… I’ll plan a big vacation 3 years from now. Sorry…no can do. Nobody has a crystal ball to know pricing that far in advance and reservations systems aren’t equipped to take your deposits for travel that far into the future.

There is another important key pricing factor tied to availability….pricing increases the closer you get to departure. As less and less seats become available on a particular flight and as rooms begin to sell at a particular hotel, prices go up on any remaining inventory because that space now is in higher demand.

Once again, planning your family vacation far in advance gives the best options and prices.

But what if you MUST book last minute?

If your life only allows for last minute travel planning, then flexibility is key to affordability. You can sometimes score a deal working against seasonality. For example hiking and mountain biking at a ski resort in July. Maybe consider taking one child on vacation at a time. It’s often far cheaper to book a trip in advance and insure it with “cancel for any reason” insurance than it is to take the “let’s wait and see approach”.

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Understanding these core business principles can save inexperienced travelers needless frustration. They spend hours searching a million different websites convinced they will eventually stumble upon the travel deal of the century. It’s simply not how the business of travel works my friends. If you do find a deal that costs significantly less, please beware of potential problems. It could end up costing you more in the long run. Experienced family travel agents not only understand how the travel industry works but will be able to guide you through the many decisions necessary to create a fun memorable vacation for the entire family.

I wish I had some mad animation skills. I would have turned this chart into a flashing neon sign with the catch line “Book Early!!!” Now that you at least have that visual in your mind, please remember it!!!


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