January, oh January. For some, this month means resolutions and new beginnings. For some, it means gray skies and cold, snowy days. And for some, it means basketball season and closet purging. January brings all of these things to my life, too. But, my favorite part of this month is summer vacation planning. I cannot express to you how much I love planning trips for my family. I read books and forums and reviews. I plan a flexible itinerary and scout out restaurants. Some of you may read this and gag. There are those who love a plan and those who don’t. Although I find value in spontaneity and flexibility, I also like to stay in budget and have comfortable, clean accommodations. So, I land squarely and comfortably in the planning camp.
Obviously, the first step is deciding where we will go and how long we will stay. I would love to travel abroad with the kids, but with college tuitions in our near future, that is simply not an option. So, we keep it domestic. We’ve done D.C. (loved it) and Disney (not so much) and the beach, but our favorite vacations center around the National Parks. We’ve been to some of the Southwest parks (Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce) and we’ve explored the Rockies, the Black Hills, the Badlands. Mammoth Cave, Shenandoah, and the Smokies have all been ticked off the list.
This year we are headed to California’s Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, along with several days in San Francisco. It’s going to be a longer vacation than we usually take, but this may be our last big vacation for a while. We’ve got one leaving for college in a couple years and another whose summers will soon be consumed with high school football. We are laying claim to ten days this summer. Ten days filled with just the five of us, and some very, very large trees.
Next step is transportation. I love my family, and we travel quite well together, but there is no way in hell I am driving 32 hours with them to San Francisco. Enter frequent flier miles (thanks to my husband’s work travel). We will be flying and renting a car to take us to the National Parks. This seems to be our go-to method of family travel. Fly to a nearby city and drive to split the time visiting several locations. So far, it’s worked well for us.
Next ,we focus on lodging, activities, and dining. This brings us to my dear friend Trip Advisor. I really don’t know how people managed to plan vacations before the internet. Trip Advisor is my go to resource for all things vacation. I use it to find hotels, restaurants, and activities. I use it to read forums and learn what the local experts have to say. Some people find a hotel that they are interested in, then check the reviews. I actually use the reviews on Trip Advisor to find lodging. I am amazed at how often the #1 entry is a reasonable, mom and pop type hotel. Not always, especially in big cities, but still often. We are not picky travelers. All we ask for is a clean room and enough beds for the five of us (which can be difficult to find) and a location that allows us to explore our destination. For this trip, our choices were limited in Yosemite (by budget) and in Sequoia/Kings Canyon (by options available and location), but I feel comfortable with our choices based on the reviews I’ve read. Talk to me again in June and see if I still feel the same way.
We do not require fancy dining, but we do love to try different foods and non-chain restaurants. Websites like Trip Advisor and Yelp allow me to locate some of these places ahead of time and save them on my phone so we are not wandering around aimlessly looking for good restaurants that won’t blow our entire budget. I should mention now that my son is 13 and six feet tall and apparently that means he has to eat every ten minutes.
Finally, as June approaches, I will start to form a more detailed itinerary for our trip. I try not to be rigid about it, allowing plenty of flexibility for weather and individual preferences and time spent exploring a trail. But, I do this – research hikes and museums ahead of time and plan a day-to-day itinerary – so that we are not spending an hour of our precious vacation every morning asking “What do we want to do today?” and then spending more time trying to find our way.
I have two children who want to know every last detail. They want to look at pictures and maps and they want to know what to expect. I have one child and a husband who are quite happy to leave the planning and research to me in exchange for the surprise factor.
I finished making the last of the reservations this week. Now comes the hardest part. Waiting until June.
I have no affiliation with Trip Advisor. Except that I count it as a dear friend.