Figuring out how to plan an amazing large family vacation can be a bit of an overwhelming task. Last April, my parents celebrated their 40th Wedding Anniversary with a vow renewal ceremony on Shipwreck Beach, Kauai. Our entire family of 13 joined them for a week and we had a fantastic family vacation.
While the trip went extremely smoothly with no stress, conflict or disorganization, that was only because we had planned our large family vacation so carefully and put in many hours of preparation.
Our group was made up of 8 adults and three children, ranging from age 2 to 61. However, these tips will be helpful to help you plan an amazing large family vacation of any shape and size.
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Here are our best tips to plan an amazing large family vacation stress-free:
1. Choose Travel Destination
This seems so obvious but can be tricky! Since everyone will be spending precious time and money to make the large family vacation happen, it is important that each person is pleased with the destination. Consider cost, weather, activities for all ages of the group, and ease of travel to the location.
Our family knew that we wanted to go to a Hawaiian island, but we still researched weather extensively in the month of April on each island before we decided. The moment that we landed on Kauai we knew that we had made the right choice when planning a large family vacation.
2. Start EARLY
I can’t stress this enough. We always plan on our trips pretty far in advance, but this trip won the prize for earliest booking. Because we had 10 different work and school schedules to work around, it was necessary to choose our dates well in advance so that everyone had them saved on their calendar and not subject to flexibility. We chose our exact dates about 15 months in advance. Once we chose our dates, no one was allowed to book a schedule conflict!
After choosing the week that we would all vacation together, each family unit had the flexibility to arrive earlier or stay longer as they wished. This worked perfectly. Our family of five arrived three days earlier and stayed one day longer. My sister’s family chose to visit another Hawaiian island first and then fly to Kauai to meet us on the scheduled date.
3. Book a Family Photo Shoot ($25 off discount link below)
Do it now. Really. You will never, ever regret this! Save your cash from spending it on other souvenirs that you know you will just end up storing in the closet, and book a family photo shoot with Flytographer instead. It would be almost impossible to hand your camera to a passerby and actually get a quality large group photo with everyone looking at the camera and no heads cut out of the image. Flytographer is top notch and will provide you with gorgeous images from almost any country in the world that will be your most treasured souvenirs ever- I promise! This link will provide you with $25 off of your first Flytographer photo shoot.
Photo Credit: Olga in Paris with Flytographer
4. Rent a House on Airbnb
Only you know your family best. There are those that will have more fun if they each have their own hotel rooms, because there is such a thing as too much together time. 🙂 However, my family knew that we wanted to stay together in our accommodation, but we weren’t sure that it would be possible. We were open to renting one house or two units close by in the same complex.
By very carefully reviewing all listings on Airbnb, we found the perfect two-story condo with five bedrooms. When price comparing all options, this particular unit was priced far below the other options and we saved several hundred dollars by booking our rental 15 months in advance before anyone else could snatch it up. We booked it even before we booked our flights! The rental had a decent refund policy and we could change the dates if they ended up not working with our flights so we took the risk.
Bonus, if this is you or your spouse/travel partner’s first time using Airbnb, you can use my referral link to save $40 off of your first booking!
Staying in a home instead of a hotel gave us more flexibility to play games at night together, cook some of our meals instead of finding restaurant space for a large group three times a day, and also covered the basic needs for small children such as laundry facilities and separate bedrooms for early bed times.
5. Clear Financial Expectations
With several family units, comes several family budgets. Clearly communicating the financial commitments required with each group booking is imperative to smoothly planning a large family vacation or any large group trip for that matter. Nothing will ruin your trip faster than resentment due to incorrect money expectations.
In our family, each party booked their own flights, and were responsible for their portion of the lodging at the time of booking. We did not book anything that any single family could not afford nor did one party book with a promise from another to “pay you later.” We also agreed that once something was booked, each family’s contribution was non-refundable.
We strove to keep costs low on common expenses and allowed individuals to splurge if they wished in other areas. We chose mid-week travel dates (booked our condo from Wednesday-Wednesday) in anticipation of those being the cheapest plane fares which ended up being accurate. We also booked the lowest price accommodation that fit our needs (beds for 13, extremely clean, nice décor, kid-friendly, and centrally located) and it was lovely.
6. Research, Research, Research
I took the role of head planner in our family, but each family also took responsibility for researching what might most appeal to them. Pinterest, Google, and especially Trip Advisor Forums became my best friend as I complied a list of sights & activities that might be the best choices for our group. I compiled a list based on geographical location and sent it out to the family so that they could respond with their top choices.
7. Make an Itinerary-But Be Flexible
After I had researched our options and everyone had chimed in with preferences, I drafted (and redrafted, and redrafted…) an itinerary by grouping all chosen activities together by region.
Some might say that an itinerary isn’t needed in a place like Hawaii. And typically, I might agree! But a family of thirteen with all age groups covered will have the smoothest trip if expectations have been established beforehand, necessary large group reservations have been made, favorite activities have been noted and therefore not missed, and parents can go to bed each night prepared for the next day (bags packed for early mornings, breakfast prepped, clothing laundered, everyone knows when to be ready to leave, etc).
I took in mind the following as part of my “plan an amazing large family vacation itinerary” game plan:
- Alternate busy days with relaxing days
- Group activities with other activities in that region to reduce travel time
- Plan time apart as individual families or splitting couples & families with young children
- Take into account everyone’s preferences
- Allow plenty of down time especially with small children
- Be flexible
8. Have Separate Transportation
If rental cars will be your mode of transportation, it may be tempting to share cars with other family members to save on cash. I would highly recommend looking for another way to save your budget. Each family will have different needs, unique times of day for a toddler meltdown and much needed nap, and you will want the flexibility to do separate activities during part of your vacation. There were times that we needed to stop by the grocery store or go for a drive so that our kids could rest and should my parents have been riding with us and wishing to go back to the house to shower for dinner, it would have caused me stress to inconvenience them.
9. Be Flexible!
I’ve already said it once, but I’ll say it again. Even after all that planning, things will still go awry. Just commit to communicating with one another, treasuring your time together, and creating amazing memories that you will always remember.
10. Share your Photos
Be it Google Photos, Dropbox or some other photo sharing option, don’t forget to share your photos with one another right when you return. You can make a photo book as I do each year for my parents, or just reminisce about how your trip “was the best idea ever” and start dreaming of the next one.
Did I miss anything that you can suggest? I hope that the planning of your own amazing large family vacation will go extremely smoothly with our tips! I hope it is the trip of a lifetime!
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