Tips for planning an extended family holiday

I absolutely love planning travel holidays. I love researching the destinations, looking at different types of accommodation and comparing the best ways to travel. For me, a true holiday adventure is moving around and exploring lots of different places rather than staying too long in one place. Our kids have become pretty adept at this type of travel, and I love watching their excitement every time we arrive at a new location.

I’ve just finished planning our next family holiday, and it’s fair to say I am a little excited to be hitting the road again! We’re off to Mexico and the US for some family fun in five weeks! We’ll spend about six weeks on the road with our three kids, 9, 7, and 4. Our two eldest will both have their holidays on the road, so we’ve got the extra fun of preparing a fun activity for their birthday and ensuring we can either take gifts with us or make sure we can access shops that have the presents they want.

Thankfully, because we’ll be in America for both their birthdays, the current plan involves Disneyland and Miami! So you can imagine they’re pretty chuffed!

Here are my top 7 trips if you’re thinking about planning a trip for longer than a month with kids:

1. Create a detailed itinerary

I am obsessed with spreadsheets when planning travel! I’ve always loved a spreadsheet to plan my trip, but I find it hugely helpful when on the move with kids. First, I input all the travel dates and where we’ll be on each date. I also inserted links to the accommodation and added a column for costs to figure out a rough budget for the trip. I also do a quick search (usually on Rome to Rio) of how we will physically get from place to place so I can plan for long travel days. Lastly, I pop in links to fun things to do in certain areas, so I save everything in one file for the trip.

2. Pre-book your accommodation

If you’ve got more than two kids, I find it essential to book accommodation before you arrive if you want to make sure everyone has a bed (without being spread across multiple rooms). Particularly if you’re travelling to countries or cities that don’t have a lot of family accommodation. For example, there have been times we’ve struggled to find accommodation when visiting different places in South Korea, as there are limited options for larger families. Most apartments are only one or two bedrooms (without significantly breaking the budget!).

If we’re staying in a hotel rather than an apartment, we consider getting two rooms rather than one family room, as it can be just too hard work to get everyone to sleep. It’s okay for a night or two here or there, but we definitely need our own space for more extended stays!

3. Build in some flexibility

While I pre-book all our accommodation, I make sure everything I book offers free cancellation (until a few days prior). This helps ensure that if there are any issues or we fall in love with a place, we can extend our stay and adjust our dates accordingly. Unless it’s one of the first stops on our trip, I try to avoid booking anything I can’t cancel.

4. Book tours

I used to hate organised tours! I much preferred navigating to far-flung places using local transport and really soaking up the experience of sitting with locals rather than in an air-conditioned tourist bus. But post-kids me is far more practical (and a little more into my creature comforts). Tours are an excellent option for families, but it pays to do your research about which tours accommodate children.

We’ve been on tours where we’re the only family on a bus full of other tourists, but thankfully we’ve encountered no issues as our kids are generally better behaved when they’re out exploring than stuck indoors. Still, it’s always nice to see another family when you get on a 12-hour tour, knowing your kids won’t be the only ones being loud and asking for food non-stop!

5. Schedule rest days

Rest days are an absolute essential with kids. Pre-kids me would be horrified with my itinerary for Mexico! I’ve scheduled plenty of rest days instead of squeezing in as much as possible. In my experience, building in days where we can literally do nothing is essential to help manage constantly moving around with the kids. It helps balance out the long days of tours and sightseeing and means they’re refreshed when we’re out and about. Sometimes the rest days can also allow you to discover things you wouldn’t have ever experienced, like a fantastic little cafe or park near where you’re staying.

6. Organise land travel a few days out

While we always book flights in advance, for bus or train travel, I wait until arriving at a new location to purchase tickets. This can be a little risky during peak periods but provides a little flexibility if we need to adjust our travel plans.

When we travelled through Chile and Argentina, I’d purchased the next stop’s tickets on arrival at a new location. So, for example, when we got off the bus in Bariloche, I organised our tickets for El Bolson for four days later. This meant I didn’t have to make an extra trip back to the bus station or wait around when we wanted to leave because I didn’t know when the bus was due.

7. Share the details with your kids

Showing the kids where we’re heading really helps build their excitement levels and gets them asking questions about the place, the culture, and the people. For example, we’ve recently been watching food shows on Netflix about Mexico, and the kids are losing their minds about the desserts! My eldest has also continued to learn Spanish after we left Peru, so we’ve told her she’s our designated tour guide, and her lovely tutor has tailored her lessons for travelling. Getting them immersed in the planning can pay off mid-travel, keeping them focused on the fun things they’ll get to experience and help distract them from travel sickness, tiredness, or just generally being over long trips.

Moving around with kids and being on the road for an extended period can be hard work, and I know there’ll be days when I’m ready to come home, but it’s a fantastic experience for you and the kids in the long run. So it’s well worth the planning effort!!