A dad’s guide to planning the perfect summer family vacation

Here are some important tips for making your family's summer vacation memorable.

By Dave Briggs
A dad’s guide to planning the perfect summer family vacation

Photo by Arand/iStockphoto

My kids have trouble believing I grew up in the Dark Ages before anything digital, when summer vacations involved being wedged into an overstuffed boat of a car for the trip from Ontario to New Brunswick to visit my grandparents.

Beyond a Mad magazine or watching hours of trees or cows blur past, entertainment in those days involved squabbling with siblings and seeing how long it was before my father drummed his fingers on the dashboard in annoyance.

Times have changed, both in terms of options for summer vacations and the incredible array of handheld entertainment devices that, if nothing else, help cut down on screams of “Mom, he’s touching me!”

Still, today’s parents will want to pack plenty of patience, along with earphones for each child.

Here are some other important tips for making your family’s summer vacation memorable for all the right reasons:


  • Start by picking a trip in your price range everyone is likely to enjoy. Odds are your kids aren’t interested in the Tour of Dead English Poets any more than you are in spending a week at Camp Teletubbies.
  • Seeing new and exciting places is partly the goal, but don’t stray too far from your element. Indoor families aren’t likely to enjoy camping any more than a clan that loves white water rafting would like a bus tour of the great malls of Manitoba.


  • Consult relatives and friends about their successful family vacations.
  • Narrow down the options and then let your kids and partner help you plan. The more involved they are, the more invested they will be in the trip.
  • If possible, let everyone pick at least one activity they most want to do on the trip — including parents.
  • Do as much advance planning online as possible. Make a list of main activities and be sure to include a few backup plans.
  • Have an idea what to expect in terms of weather and plan accordingly.
  • Make a checklist of things to pack and try to travel on the light side to allow for purchases.


  • If you want to go to a museum or somewhere else indoors, schedule it for the last day of the trip. You can always move it up if there’s bad weather on an earlier day.
  • Talk to the locals and make sure to try a few of their suggestions for dining and attractions.


  • Bring plenty of activities to keep kids from getting bored.
  • Don’t cram in too much. Schedule some down time (swimming, avoiding all-day car rides).
  • Avoid peak travel times, if possible (holiday weekends, in particular).
  • Bring a few maps as a backup. GPS devices are not foolproof.


  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. The perfect family vacation is a lofty goal. Besides, the little mistakes and misadventures often are the cherished memories that last longest.
This article was originally published on Jun 22, 2012

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