Plan a fun family vacation to escape winter weather

Planning an affordable family vacation may be easier than you think!

Winter has only just begun and much of the U.S. is already being slammed by powerful snowstorms and frigid temperatures. If your military spouse has leave coming up, this could be a great time to start planning ahead for a family vacation to break up the cold monotony of winter.

Planning a vacation for a whole family takes a little more work than just jetting off as a couple, but with a few tips and tricks it can be an easy task! Read on for how to plan the perfect family trip within your budget:

1. Crunch the numbers
Before you start anything, you need to decide how much you can afford to spend. Maybe you already have a rainy day fund set aside that you're ready to dip into, or perhaps you want to start finding ways to save now so you'll be ready by February. Either way, be realistic about what you can spare and what you can reasonably accumulate before you want to leave. It won't do you any good to plan out the perfect trip, only to realize you won't be able to get the funds together to actually go. Decide if it's most cost effective to fly or drive to your destination, or if you should look for a resort, vacation rental or a hotel. 

Tip: Vacation costs are more than just the fees to book transportation and lodging. Even once you've budgeted for the essentials, start saving up for all the extras that are sure to come up – you'll want to have the spend for special meals out at can't-miss restaurants, souvenirs and spontaneous activities that strike your fancy while you're gone. Start putting aside extra money from each paycheck before your trip that you can use as a discretionary travel fund. 

"You'll save money when you bundle fights, car rentals and hotels."

2. Look for the right vacation package
Once you have your budget and an idea of how you want to travel, you can start the fun part – shopping around for your ideal family vacation. The best way to do this is often to book a vacation package. You'll save money when you bundle fights, car rentals and hotels all together. Many companies also offer discounts to service members, so be sure to seek out all the deals you can to get the most for your money. You can also try sites like Groupon or Kayak for savings on vacation packages. 

If you're looking to travel internationally, be sure you look up all the documentation you'll need or important rules for tourists to know. If members of your family don't have passports yet, be sure you book a trip far enough away that you have time to order some. Standard processing can take up to six weeks, unless you want to pay extra for expedited service. 

You also want to be sure that the destination you choose is appropriate for all the ages in your family. Your toddler may love Disney characters, but remember that there are weight and height restrictions on many of the rides at Disney World. If you have an older child who wants to go on Space Mountain, your family won't be able to share the day doing the same things together.

Tip: Include the whole family in planning your destination, reported the New York Times. If you can narrow it down to a few reasonable options, ask the kids which one they like most. It will help them feel more exciting and engaged if they're getting a say. 

3. Book your trip – and your insurance 
Once you have your trip all planned out, your spouse will need to get leave approved for the trip. Once you have official confirmation on the dates, your budget is in order and you know where you want to go, start booking your trip! Make sure you have all of your logistics covered:

  • Where exactly are you going?
  • How are you getting there?
  • If flying, do you need a rental car? 
  • If you aren't getting a rental, do you need a shuttle from the airport to your hotel?
  • If your flights are offering layovers, are they giving you enough time to get on your next plane?
  • Do you need a ride back to the airport for when you leave? If you do, is your ride coming early enough for you to make your flight?

You also want to be very aware of the cancelation policies for each piece of your trip that you book – say one of the kids gets sick, or your spouse gets leave revoked. You don't want to be out all of your well-saved money with no trip to show for it. Look for packages that allow cancelations, or purchase supplemental cancelation insurance just in case. Some airlines or hotel chains will wave cancelation fees for changes in military service, so call and ask before you finalize anything. Vacation planning can have a of uncertainty as it is, but you know all too well that being a military family adds a whole new level of unpredictability. 

Tip: Book excursions in advance, but don't cram your day with premade plans. You may get deals on fun tour activities if you reserve them while you book your trip, but you want to leave plenty of room for downtime and spontaneity when you get there. Pick a package deal or two that you simply can't miss, but leave the rest of your tip for impromptu sight seeing or a day to relax in the sun. 

4. Plan ahead for all your packing
Even if your trip is weeks away, start thinking now about everything you'll need to bring. The best way to ensure nothing gets forgotten is to make checklists and start early. You'll also need time to buy any supplies you don't have on hand, and that's not something you want to realize the night before your flight. 

"Make checklists and start early."

You also want to pack not just for your destination, but for your travel as well. Bring coloring books, a tablet with earphones and other quiet activities that can keep your kids entertained on a long flight. Keep some gum on hand for popping ears and store some snacks in your carry on to avoid buying pricey in-fight foods. 

Tip: Think of each day that you'll be on vacation and what you'll need for them – enough clothes for each person for each day, toothbrushes, stuffed animals the kids can't sleep without, phone charges, the list goes on. Write out everything you need and triple-check it when you go to pack. Thinking about it day by day will make it less likely that you forget something than if you try to consider the whole week at once.

5. Prepare your kids for the trip
Whether this is your first family vacation or your kids are traveling pros, it's important to prep them for the trip in advance, according to Explain what they should expect from airport security, talk to them about plane etiquette and tell them what to expect at your destination. Traveling is hectic and it can be overwhelming for your kiddos if they don't understand what's going on around them. 

Tip: Dress your family for airport security ease – shoes that slip on and off, no big coats, no belts. Double-check that your carry-ons don't have any forbidden items before you get in the security line so you can get through it easier.

A family vacation is a great way to beat the winter blues and make lasting memories. All you need is a little planning ahead to make sure your trip goes smoothly!