Bring on the sunshine! It’s the season of summer family vacations and we’re adding flavor to ours by embarking on our longest trip yet. As I’m knee-deep in sorting out the itinerary, I thought I’d share my best family vacation planning tips for staying organized, finding flight deals, packing, and staying healthy on the road so that maybe you could add some flavor to your summer with travel, too.

1. Start Planning Early

Travel is on the rise, and I’ve personally found that waiting to book until the last minute only results in higher pricing, especially for flights and hotels during peak seasons like summer.

2. Get Everyone on Board with the Destination

I find that if there is someone in our family who isn’t keen on where we’re going, things can get a bit difficult. Make sure the itinerary includes something each person wants to do or make concessions accordingly.

We’ve made some concessions on our trips over the years. We stayed a bit out of the way in Crete because the resort we chose has a number of water sports and a cool pool for my daughter who at the time was not that keen on Greek history (yet).

3. Find the Best Flights

Be sure to clear your browser each time you search for flights. The airlines are sneaky like that, and it’s not unheard of for prices to go up based on search habits to panic you into booking. It happened to me just a few weeks ago, to the tune of about $100 per person.

In planning our European adventure, I found that Google Flights could pick up budget carriers that travel sites like Expedia could not. It’s a handy tool for searching routes and comparing prices.

Hurry up and apply for Global Entry to skip airport queues. Also, plan a decent layover to avoid missing a connecting flight. Airlines are scheduling layovers quite tightly these days and it’s been a little stressful when flights depart later than planned.

4. Chart Your Itinerary and Print Back-Ups

With seven sets of flights, six hotels, and four countries, staying organized is totally key and admittedly challenging on a recent trip of ours.

I first go old-school by sketching everything out by the day on a piece of paper so that I can draw arrows and make chicken-scratch notes and other changes before inputting a final itinerary into a Google calendar as I book it. (Yes, there are travel apps for this, but frankly, they’ve never worked for me.)

I really like the TripIt app. You can forward confirmations to it and it will automatically organize your trip by day. You’ll need to give it a once over and make some small corrections but it’s handy for staying organized and storing confirmation numbers.

As someone guilty of running down phone batteries, I always keep printed copies of airline tickets and other reservations just in case I can’t access them digitally. It is also wise to securely scan and upload a copy of passports or other IDs to a cloud for easy access anywhere in the world in case of loss.

5. Plan to Stay Healthy and Hydrated

I pack everyone’s usual daily vitamins and some healthy snacks, like granola bars, for each journey. I also make sure we stay hydrated in summer heat, which is also key for beating jet lag. We pack electrolytes and drink them on long flights (and afterward).

Sleep is critical to overall happiness and for keeping our immune systems in check during travel but can be difficult in hotel rooms. I always pack an eye mask to block out unexpected light (great also for adjusting to jet lag) and earplugs just in case.

Carry hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes to quickly wipe down airplane armrests and things you might touch for long periods of time. Getting sick on vacation can ruin it (here’s how to stay healthy on vacation). I also pack pain relievers and fever reducers that are age-appropriate for all of us, just in case.

6. Make Lists and Use Packing Cubes

It’s a bummer to forget something important. I used to be a constant leaver of toiletries at home and in hotel room showers. Making a list of essentials that I actually keep in my makeup bag to tick off each time I depart somewhere has prevented me from forgetting expensive face soap and razors in showers more than once.

I’m also a recent convert to packing cubes, especially when bouncing from place to place. People use them to organize outfits by day, but I find it helpful to pack t-shirts in one, leggings in another, etc. to help keep my suitcase organized.

7. Find Packable Toys and Travel Games for the Kids

Headed to the beach? These days, packable sand and water toys can include collapsible buckets, small Waboba balls (they bounce on water… highly recommend for exercise), inflatable pool toys and much more.

I really do need to make a list of best travel games for kids to share, but my 9-year-old currently loves traveling with Mad Libs, Spot It! cards, Bananagrams and other compact games that are great for road trips and hotel rooms.

See also: Best Travel Games for Kids

8. Let (Some) Things Slide

It’s tough to keep some rules that are non-negotiable at home in force while on the road especially when kids are in tow. I let my daughter use digital devices for longer than usual while on planes and road trips. There might be a bit more dessert ordered and later bedtimes.

Flexibility goes a long way when people are out of their normal routines. Take a deep breath, have a refreshing sip, and let (some) things slide.

The second floor viewing deck on the Eiffel Tower via access from Le Jules Verne restaurant

Here’s an example of one of the larger trips we needed to organize:

  • Madrid: We’ll stay in the fabulous Ritz Madrid, recover from jet lag and eat a gazillion tapas for a few nights.
  • Crete: My husband the history buff is keen to visit Knossos and we’ll stay at beachfront Blue Palace Resort and Spa.
  • Athens: We’ll eat, drink, take a day trip to Delphi, see the Acropolis and more over nearly a week based at Hotel Grande Bretagne.
  • Venice: Here, we meet up with friends and stay in a restored palace.
  • Antibes: We tour the area with friends who live there.
  • Paris: Time split between Mandarin Oriental, Paris and Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris.

After that, it’s road-tripping to Los Angeles and enjoying the San Diego sunshine. If you decide to add flavor to your summer with a San Diego vacation, I can help you with that.

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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  1. Sounds like it’s going to be so much fun in such amazing cities! Can’t wait to read about your trips!

  2. Great tips!! Letting the kids regular schedule slide a bit is a definite must!! Heck, what’s vacation if we don’t all slide a bit. I really need to try those packing cubes you speak of. I have read so many great reviews about them. Sounds like you have a fantastic summer trip planned. I’ll definitely be following along on Instagram.

  3. After spending three entire summers on the road consecutively we know you are in for a treat – we travel in both the southern and northern hemisphere to extend summer. Enjoy your summer trips. Although we prefer to take budgeted longer vacations over five months of more by becoming financially interdependent some of the luxury locations you mention and tips you give are indispensable in all modes of travel. Your kids are going to find their travel experiences really rewarding too, as I’m sure you know from past trips. Imagine the great adventures you can get up to in Crete with kids – wow. When are you coming Down Under to see us?