Ready to take a trip but not sure where to start? I get it. The planning stage of a trip to me is arguably the hardest part of it all! And that statement is coming from a mom who is generally traveling with three young kids, two of whom are on the autism spectrum. Taking family trips with any kids, and especially kids who can be prone to meltdowns can feel like a challenge, but I promise the more you know ahead of time, the smoother the trip will go. I tend to go a bit overboard on the planning stage sometimes, but in the end I am always happy that I put in the work ahead of time. So today I want to go through the steps I use for planning a trip, narrowing down your basics and making selections, as well as the ways to know all you can ahead of time to make sure you aren’t missing out on any of the good and avoid running into any unwanted surprises.
1. The “Where”
Maybe you already have in mind exactly where you want to go, if so, bravo because you have a big part of the decision making already out of the way, and you can move onto step two. For those of you that don’t have an exact location in mind, (say you just know you want to go to a beach), then I would suggest first filtering by mode of transportation, i.e., are you willing to fly? Once that is decided then I would start narrowing down options based on specifics you are looking for: Autism certified, kid friendly, all inclusive, with a water park, etc. Then, move on to cost. Maybe you are working with a travel agent who can help give you some quotes, if not I personally find that searching package options on sites like Expedia very helpful as you can get cost quotes for the whole package trip (flights plus hotel) without having to jump between multiple sites. You don’t need to have the exact hotel chosen just yet, but searching this may give you at least some idea of general cost moving forward for a specific destination. Once you narrow down the “Where”, then you can move onto step two.
2. The “When”
Obviously if you are hard set on dates, then this step can be swapped out for step 1, but if you are like me and tend to have at least a little flexibility then here we are. Most vacation destinations have some sort of seasonality in regard to crowd and in turn, cost. Some of these peak times are obvious (like if you are planning to go to a skiing resort), others may be less obvious, such as going to Disney which has crowd fluctuations at various times throughout the entire year. If you are locked in on only traveling when your kids are out of school, then I would be prepared that most destinations that allow kids will always be busy for that reason. If you are ok with pulling your kids out of school for a few days (maybe around some random prescheduled days off to help limit their time away), then you will hopefully be able to score a time away with some lower crowds and hopefully lower costs. Personally, for our preferred type of destinations (warm, beach, wintertime) we have always found our best deals around the first week of December.
3. The “Extras”
The amount of planning you put into this stage of the game is what will potentially set your vacation apart from someone else taking the same exact trip, but it comes at a cost and sometimes that cost is a little bit of your sanity. Some destinations are pretty basic in extras, while others have an exorbitant number of choices when it comes to the extras. I am a planner at heart. I don’t have it in me to just wing it, part of that comes from me being the mom of an autistic child, where surprises never seem to come in the form of the good kind on vacations. The destinations website is always the first place I start; looking into any additional experiences, amenities, character experiences if applicable, etc. (Extra points always to those places that highlight services or extra’s for our autistic kiddos!) Then, I browse through reviews and any specific questions I can’t find on their website through sites like trip advisor. But my newest, and most favorable go to for getting the best up to date info comes from joining specific Facebook groups for the location. If you aren’t familiar with this, most places, including specific resorts will often have “fan page groups”. These are groups help you learn more, and even ask specific questions to people who have been or often frequent the destination. A quick check through the search bar will help you find these groups and that you can request to join. You don’t have to know it all before booking a trip. Some initial basic digging should help you learn enough such as basic amenities so that you can go ahead with booking. Then a deeper dive into places like these groups can help you solidify the rest and take your vacation to the next step with extras.
I know, I know, it seems like a lot. Maybe even too much, perhaps making you start to rethink taking a trip altogether. I mean, who want to do this much WORK for a vacation?? But like I said, I am a bit overboard when it comes to these things. I think it mainly comes from the fact that the more I understand about the place, the less surprises I feel we will run into. And as I said before, surprises plus autistic child rarely makes for a good time. So, I stress, and I prepare, and I try to plan it all out ahead of time. It also comes down to the fact that vacations are not cheap, and I personally want to make sure I am getting my money’s worth at any place we visit. So, the leg work up front means that I can book the excursion before it fills up, I know where the good food is, I know what time to see the characters, I know everything I can. It’s definitely not the most relaxing way to plan a trip, but let’s be honest, what family trip with kids is ever really relaxing anyway? It’s the fun I was aiming for all along anyhow.