Planning a long family or group trip can be both extremely exciting and terribly tedious. Details such as dates, how long to stay in one place, where to go, where to stay, and what to see and do, there are a large number of moving parts for those of us who love free & easy vacations and road trips. But it's always well worth it in the end!  

Here are the top 5 tips for stress-free itinerary planning.

1: Plot out your overall trip

In this post, it's assumed that you have already chosen where you're going (in terms of country or region), the duration of your trip and have a budget in mind. Using Google Sheets or Excel, list the days of your trip from start to finish. I typically create a header bar with the following columns: Date, Day of the week, Cities/locations, Drive time, Transport, Accommodation, Activities and Cost.

2. What kind of travelers are you (and the family)?

Be realistic as this is where you really start the planning.

  • Are you "chill out and stay in one place" travelers? Or do you love to move between locations every few days (that's us!)?
  • Want to know where you're going to be day by day, or are you the type to wing it? 
  • Budget or luxury?
  • Adventure seekers and road-less-traveled types? Or do you prefer the tried-and-tested?

This will determine the kinds of things you see and do, how often you move about and what kind of resources you will need, including vehicle hire, accommodation, and how far in advance you need to make activity bookings, for example.

Another thing: make sure the people traveling with you have the same kind of trip in mind! If traveling with young children, doing research to see what other families have done is helpful and then you can decide whether your brood is up to the same challenges! 

3. Research itineraries online 

Thank goodness for the internet! These days, it's easy to find suggested itineraries for many places based on the number of days and preference of activities. For example, newzealand.com the NZ official tourism site had so many options to help us when we first started planning our 4-week vacation. Once you find a good starting point, modify it based on your group's specific needs and preferences. Websites like TripAdvisor and other travel blogs are extremely useful at this point.

4. Map out your road trip

There are a few tools out there to help map out your vacation or road trip. The ones we use most are Google Maps (you get to see estimated drive times as well, which is really helpful for planning a road trip) and TravellersPoint which has a point-to-point planner that converts into a map format.

Input the drive times and proposed locations into your planning sheet so you have a bird's eye view of how the entire trip is shaping up. Be prepared to revisit this sheet and make changes as you continue to do research on places and things to see and do. 

5. Make your bookings (and check that they have flexible cancellation/change policies)

Once you have the sheet in order, start to make your bookings for flights, transport, accommodation and critical activities that require advance bookings. Ideally, these should all have flexible cancellation or date change policies, for even more stress-free planning.

Some of the great resources we use on our trips:

  • Airbnb: look out for unique homes and watch out for the type of cancellation policies each Host has indicated in their post.
  • Booking.com often publishes some of the best rates we've found and a large number of them have Free Cancellation a certain number of days prior to the date of stay
  • Airportrentals.com: An aggregation site for car rentals with free cancellations and excellent customer service. 

With these tips, stress-free itinerary planning is at your fingertips. There will be more posts to come with additional tips, but these are definitely enough to get started when planning your next big family vacation! Happy planning!

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