Five tips for planning a family vacation that's remembered for the right reasons.

Share story

Family vacations should be about creating a lifetime of memories, spending time with your loved ones and, most important, having fun. More often than not, however, they end up being just the opposite, according to Kay Merrill, a family travel specialist and the owner of Are We There Yet? Family Adventures, a travel consultancy in Larkspur, Calif.

Here, she shares her tips for making sure that your family getaway is as picture perfect as you imagine it to be.

Involve everyone in planning, even younger children

Your 2-year-old may not be able to have much to say in planning the itinerary, but Merrill says that children who are 5 or older should definitely help out.

“Most any place you go will have activities and sights that will appeal to both you and them,” she says, “and once you’ve decided where you’re going, it’s important to spend the time to figure out what you will actually do there.”

During the initial planning, she suggests getting a map and some books relevant to your destination and leaving them out in your home where they are easily visible such as in the kitchen.

“Encourage your children to look at them and have them come up with some things that they want to do on the trip,” she says.

She adds that parents should incorporate their own interests to make sure the trip is fun for them too.

Set the mood in advance

If Cuba is on the agenda, for example, cook a Cuban meal or play mambo music, which is integral to the country’s culture. Travel movies and YouTube videos can also build interest before you go.

Build in downtime daily

In an attempt to see and do everything your destination offers, you may be tempted to plan an itinerary that has your family going all day long, but Merrill warns against overscheduling.

“If you try to pack in too much, everyone in the family, especially kids, will get cranky and whiny,” she says.

Balance out a morning of sightseeing or other activities with a few hours to chill in the afternoon.

Merrill says that post-lunch is a great time to relax — you and your brood can unwind by the hotel pool or by reading books.

Take a diversion from the same-old

For the family vacations she plans, Merrill says that she likes to include an activity that is different from the trip’s theme. If it’s a beach getaway to Nevis in the Caribbean, she would include a visit to the island’s farms to meet farmers and sample their produce.

“Often, this diversion ends up being the most memorable part of the trip,” she says.

Book creative tours and excursions

“Sticking to the standard tours,” she says, is “boring, so I encourage families to get creative and have a better trip by finding the excursions that most visitors don’t do.”

Your hotel concierge, local tour companies or a travel adviser can help find these off-the-beaten-path activities.