Follow these tips to plan a fun and hassle-free getaway.
Spring has arrived for much of the Southeast, a season as full of anticipation as it is allergies. Sweaters and scarves are packed away while pools are uncovered and boats are readied for warm days spent on the water. And, for many families, the ever-important summer vacation looms large. In a normal year, these types of trips can take a fair amount of planning. But as we enter the third summer of life during a pandemic, the seasonal getaway has taken on even more importance—not only are we itching to travel, but we also know we need a bit more careful planning when we do hit the road (or water, or air).
Luckily, we have some great advice for how to plan the perfect summer trip for you and your family. So whether your choice of vacation is packed full of adventure and adrenaline or better spent lounging on the sand with a cold drink and good book in hand, these tips will help you make the most of your precious time away from those endless Zoom meetings.
Choose Your Vacation Mode
The first question to ask yourself and your family is, “What do we want to get out of this vacation?” Do you want the hustle and bustle of a big city or the quiet relaxation of the countryside? Are adventure sports on the agenda or is a leisurely afternoon spent floating in the pool more the order of the day? What you want to do is almost more important than where you go—Jefferson’s Monticello or the Smithsonian National Museum of American History might be very interesting, but if the kids just want to play in the sand all day, you can rest assured no one is going to be happy.
Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Boats
Once you’ve decided generally what you hope to do on your trip, think about how you want to get there before you settle on a spot. If Mom doesn’t do well with flying, then perhaps a cross-country flight is off the table. Consider how much time you have as well—if you only have one week off, you probably don’t want to spend two of those days driving to and from your destination. If a road trip seems the best choice, think about how long you and your family realistically (and sanely) can be in the car and then create a big circle on a map encompassing everything within a two-, three-, or four-hour radius of home. If you do plan on flying, set an alert with Google Flights to track ticket prices and snag them when they seem to be at their lowest. Keep in mind that flights are often most expensive at the beginning and tail ends of the weeks when both leisure and business travelers take to the skies. Consider a Tuesday or Wednesday departure to shave some precious dollars off that fare.
On the Water
Planning a boat trip is a whole other oyster to shuck. If you already own your own boat, then you’ve likely got the planning process down pat. But if you’re hoping to rent anything from a center console for days spent fishing or a bareboat charter for the whole family, you’ll need a slightly more detailed itinerary.
The first thing to do is determine your comfort level when it comes to boating (maybe don’t jump into chartering that 54-foot Beneteau if you’ve never sailed before), and then spend a fair amount of time researching rental and charter companies. Check the reviews online, and don’t be afraid to ask questions of the company. Research what sort of licenses you’ll need, and if you’ll be doing a liveaboard vacation, consult the myriad online resources for things like provisioning lists, suggested itineraries, marina recommendations, and more.
Suffice to say, such a vacation takes a bit more work, both beforehand and during, but with the right amount of careful planning, these trips can create memories that will last your family a lifetime.
Location, Location, Location
Now it’s finally time to settle on where you want to go. You can certainly start with the destination, especially if it’s a spot your family likes to return to again and again, and work backward from there, but whichever way you attack the plan, picking the location is often the best part. Involve the whole family in the decision, if possible. Make it even more fun by having everyone write down places on scraps of paper and pulling from a hat or teach the kids a lesson in democracy by holding a vote (obviously, parents get to be the tiebreaker). Consider some important details about the destination when choosing, like average weather during the time you want to travel, cost of activities once you arrive, and availability of nearby amenities. A remote mountain cabin might be just what the doctor ordered, but it may also mean stocking up ahead of time if the closest supermarket is an hour away.
Another thing to keep in mind is the popularity of your destination. If you and your family are seeking a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, then perhaps a packed beach or crowded theme park might not be the best bet. Consider lesser-known destinations that offer the same amenities as top-tier spots—Savannah, Georgia, might be a good option over Charleston, South Carolina, or Boone, North Carolina, instead of the more popular (and more visited) nearby mountain city of Asheville. What you do when you get there is almost as important, if not more so, than the destination itself, so make sure whatever location you settle on is able to provide the right vacation vibes you’re seeking.
Take Care of the Details
The normal precautions and pre-planning you may have done for a getaway in the “before times” still apply with a few more things to note. Be sure to take care of everyday pre-trip details like notifying credit card companies that you’ll be traveling, making sure you’ve stocked up on prescription medication (and a roadside emergency/first aid kit if taking a road trip), and stopping your mail with the USPS’s easy online request tool.
However, given the uncertainty with the global pandemic, you’ll want to take some additional planning steps. As airlines struggle with staffing levels, flights are being rescheduled and canceled more than ever, especially during busy travel seasons, so anticipate any extra costs of having to rebook flights or possibly stay at your destination longer than planned.
If you purchase travel insurance (and you should), make sure that the policy covers COVID-related costs like having to cancel if you or a family member test positive, or if you need to isolate at a hotel while on vacation. Be sure to research your destination’s COVID policies, like mask mandates and vaccine requirements. Upload photos of your family’s vaccination cards to your mobile device, and if you need to test before arrival, during your trip, or before departure, make sure you have that all scheduled.
A few extra moments spent taking care of these details before you leave can save you a massive headache (and potentially hundreds if not thousands of dollars) later.
Ready, Set, Go!
By now you’ve done all the planning and the prep, and all that’s left is the anticipation. Make it fun for the whole family with a weekly reveal of tiny clues about the destination for the kids to guess where they’ll be going or a countdown calendar of the days left until vacation. If you’ve followed these tips for planning, then you’ve laid the groundwork for a relaxing, fun, and carefree holiday. We’re in the third year of a global pandemic, so don’t we all deserve a little stress-free time away? Pack those bags, hit the road (or water), and happy travels!
-by Matt Lardie