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Countdown to Vacation: Travel Planning With Kids

Chances are you already have your airplane tickets and your hotel booked for your next vacation, but what about everything else?
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Chances are you already have your airplane tickets and your hotel booked for your next vacation, but what about everything else?

What are you going to do when you get there?

I have heard it said that vacations are one third anticipation of the trip, one third the actual travel experience and one third the memories and stories you tell after you get home. If this is true, my kids sometimes miss out on one third of our journey because I forget to bring them in on the planning that helps them look forward to our vacation together.

So here is my Planning Countdown for our family. Try it out and see if it stretches the amount of enjoyment you and your family get from your vacation!


Photo by Whitney Loibner

200 days: Book tickets and accommodation. Start your countdown! Use a chalkboard or a whiteboard so you can put a daily reminder on your wall for everyone to see.

150 days: Check out library books on your destination, both adult travel books and kids' books with lots of pictures. Start a Pinterest board for your next destination and let your kids pin their favorite images to it.

125 days: It's almost time to return those library books! Let everyone help make a list of all you hope to do on your vacation and maybe choose your favorite guidebook to order for your trip, or just be sure to make plenty of notes. Take pictures of maps and top ten lists in guidebooks to have on your phone for later.

100 days: Narrow down that list. Let everyone choose one non-negotiable and try to work those into the final itinerary. If you're going to a new country, get a phrasebook or a language app and learn to say "Hello," "Please" and "Thank you" for your destination.

75 days: Make your itinerary. Be sure to leave room for spontaneity along the way. I usually try to pack in too many activities in a day, but I am always willing to cut something out along the way if I feel like everyone is melting down and we need an afternoon back in our rooms or a long picnic in a park. Make a simple version of your itinerary (one main highlight per day) and hang it by your countdown. Write "Surprise!" on one of the days if you want to keep an activity a secret!

60 days: Watch a movie or make food that is specific to your destination! How fun is it to watch Mary Poppins and point out that you'll be on the steps of St Paul's yourself in just a couple of months? Or to try to make macaroons before you go and eat the real thing in Paris?


Photo by Whitney Loibner

45 days: Get a real (not just virtual) map of where you are going. Spread it out on the floor and show with your fingers where you are going to fly/drive/walk. "Look kids, here's where our apartment rental is and here's the café where we will buy croissants in the mornings!"

30 days: Gather your trip treats and activities! I have a sack in my closet where I stash things in the weeks before a trip that I want to save for the vacation. When my kids were little, I would put a new toy, new markers and crayons or sticker books in this sack. These days I fill it with new issues of magazines, new books and treats that we don't eat every day.

15 days: Start packing! At this point you still have time to order new sandals for the child that has outgrown theirs since last summer, or even a new suitcase when you pull out your luggage and remember that the zippers broke on your last flight home. We let our kids pack their car bags (or airplane bags), but then I check them as well. Will you have one special night out? Let the kids choose the "fancy outfit" they want to wear that night.

5 days: Tell everyone to charge all those electronics! Do you need a new book downloaded on a Kindle or a new movie on the iPad? Do that now and then zip up all the gadgets until you leave. A little screen break before a trip seems to leverage their effectiveness for your long travel days.

On the final days, the excitement really builds on its own. And if you are like me, no matter how much preparing you have done, you feel like you will not ever be completely ready. That's OK! You might forget something or have an unexpected bump along the way, but sometimes that is the beauty of traveling! Those stories about how you got lost in Paris will be what make up the last third of your summer vacation, the retelling of the memories of your journey for the many years to come!


Photo by Whitney Loibner

Our family is headed to London and Paris this summer since we are living abroad in Scotland. We are staying in apartments with Go with Oh, and we can not wait! You can follow along on our travels on Instagram!

Do you have a favorite way you prepare your family to go somewhere new? Tell me on Twitter!

P.S. These fun travel photos of our family are from a stylized traveling photo shoot we did with our photographer, Whitney Loibner.