How to Choose the Perfect Vacation Spot

Choosing your family vacation destination is a big decision. Maybe the biggest decision of your summer. I am a firm believer that you can have fun anywhere, but you shouldn’t slack on picking the right spot for your family. A good destination will improve a mediocre trip. The perfect destination will elevate moods, decrease stress, and provide memories for a lifetime. Now that we know what’s at stake, let’s dig in!

What makes a destination “perfect” for your family?

Define perfect. It is 100% true that what may be a perfect fit for one family is not perfect for yours. Just because a friend went somewhere and enjoyed it does not mean you will. Begin by taking an honest look at your current situation. Do you have toddlers that still nap? Do you have adventurous teenagers? Or both? (In that case I need to send you a bottle of wine.) What's your goal for the vacation? To relax? To sightsee? To be immersed in a new culture? The answer to this question will dramatically narrow your choices for potential destinations. It’s how we weed out most of the “okay” destinations. Think through the primary goal for your family.

Is sitting on a beach with the sand on your toes the perfect day? Is going on an off-path hike to a waterfall more your style? Is hitting a row of roller coasters what does it for you?

What immediately comes to mind when you think about the primary goal of your trip? An amusement park? A beach? A ski lift? A big city? What you picture first is often a good path to explore. Even if it’s a broad of category and not a specific location.

The Most Important Question I Ask My Family

What does each member of your family enjoy? Let’s call this: Something for everyone. Ask every member of your family:

What are you looking forward to the most on our summer vacation?

This is a much better question than "Where do you want to go on vacation?" I always ask my family what each person is looking forward to above everything else and the answers have surprised me! My daughter may want to relax at a pool. My youngest may want to see a lizard. I may want to see the sights. With only the four of us, this is pretty easy to accommodate.

A trip is better when each member of our family has something special to enjoy. Maybe someone in your family loves to fish or visit amusement parks or play golf or shop at local artisan boutiques.

The answers help me know what kind of a trip our family needs right now. If 3/4 of us say, “The thing I would like to do most is relax” and “do nothing” and “sleep in,” that is painting a very different picture than answers like “I want to swim in a lake” or “go hiking for a full day” or “explore a new city.” Even if some of the answers are conflicting, I try to work in a variation of what each person wants or at least an affordable version of it. We can have a lazy day on a busy vacation. We can visit an arcade on a mountain trip. We can go kayaking even though the hotel has a pool.

Sometimes you just can’t accommodate everyone, but it’s good to know where everyone’s head is at.

What’s your budget?

Stay in your budget. Period. You should already know how much you want to spend on this trip. If not, determine that now. Then, do a quick check of flight prices on some of the potential destinations that popped in your mind earlier.

I can’t count the number of times I thought I had found the perfect vacation spot only to later realize flights were astronomical and put the vacation destination way out of my budget. It’s best to have these bubbles burst earlier rather than later. No vacation is worth the stress of going over budget or spending an uncomfortable amount. Cross off any place that is pricier than would be comfortable. If all of the destinations are road trips, then the transportation cost may not vary much.

What research can you do?

Research, research, research. Research the potential destinations. A lot. Then, do another search the next day. Not just marketing materials and hotel websites. Read blogs. Look at Google images. Watch YouTube videos. Find unbiased reviews. Find recent reviews <12 months old. Check the average weather conditions and temperatures for the timeframe you would be visiting.

One of my vacation destination research techniques is to look up potential spots on Google Earth. I think it’s a fun app to use, but it also let’s me get somewhat of a visual of what I can expect when we visit. How is the reality different than what I had imagined? Is it more secluded? Is it farther away from the water than I realized?

This is a good time to get out that list of answers about what each person is looking forward to most and see if those are easily achievable for each destination. Is everything your family wants to do at a close enough distance for you? Research other potential family activities that are nearby. Walking to dinner is very important to me because I hate driving excessively while traveling. It’s a me problem, but it’s who I am. I want to be in a vacation bubble in which we drive very little. This step lets me know if a potential destination can fulfill that for me.

This step also helps you to manage expectations. I cannot overstate how important managing expectations is. There’s no reason to have a major surprise that the hotel pool is being renovated when you get there or that the beach is actually a 2-mile walk away. Know what you’re getting into during this critical research phase.

How do you know that it’s the right vacation spot?

The right destination will have several good options for you to choose from each day. You don’t need to overplan the vacation when you select the perfect destination for your family. The right destination will "plan" itself in that it doesn't require extensive planning. I’m a fan of vacations that are well-designed not overplanned. This is hard for me because I’m a planner by nature. Try to resist the desire to plan every second and resist the opposite spectrum of not making any reservations and playing it by ear the whole time. The happy balance of well-designed but not overplanned is key.

A destination is just a place. A vacation is what your family makes it.

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