Family Vacation Tips

When Should You Start Planning your Family Vacation?

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 12, 2017 9:22:13 AM / by Sally Black

Sally Black


(updated-Sept 2018)

Boring picture - Right?

Truth is, this graph illustrates at a glance how you can save a ton of aggravation and money on your next family vacation.

This is the 2018/2019 School Break Report from STR Research. It's a quick visual of when 60 million students in the US will be out of school and taking family vacations. Yes, college breaks are a little different than public school kids, but not by much.

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

This is what makes planning a family vacation so very different from planning say a honeymoon or a typical business trip.

Even if you're a homeschooler or you have little ones not yet school age, 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?'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.  This is why you'll have much better meeting the real Santa Claus & Rudolph in your back yard than trying to find a cheap, last minute deal over Christmas.

By contrast, travel dates at the bottom based line of the chart are when parents can score the best values and deals on family vacation packages. 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. It's just how the travel industry works.

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.

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.

Our mantra here at Vacationkids is..."Planning a 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. 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.

If Mom & Dad have careers only allow for last minute travel planning, 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. Instead of taking your entire family of five on a vacation, consider spending individual time with one child at a time.  In many cases, 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".

Not understanding some of these core business principles can needlessly frustrate inexperienced travelers.  They are convinced  that if they search a million different websites they will eventually stumble upon the travel deal of the century. It's just 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.

If I had great Photoshop 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, remember it!!!

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Topics: Affordable Family Vacations, Family Vacation

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.

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