This is the first post in a 5-part series focusing on vacations. The first four posts focus on family vacations, and the fifth focuses on summer vacation in general.

The importance of vacations to our physical and mental health lies with every person’s need to break the stress cycle by taking time to relax and gain perspective. Additionally, The Importance of Vacations, for Stress Relief, Productivity and Health lies in their ability to promote creativity, prevent burnout, help keep us healthy, promote overall well-being and improve job performance. Specifically for families, vacations promote bonding, provide unique teaching opportunities, and teach the value of adventure and new experiences. Just as important, if not more, vacations allow for enjoying children while they are young, an ever-fleeting time of life.

While the importance of vacations seems clear, Expedia considers the United States along with five other countries to be “vacation deprived.” Expedia also says that the top reasons for skipping vacations are money (38%), failure to plan (20%) and work being the priority (10%). Today’s post focuses on reducing the second top reason, failure to plan.

The following four tips for planning for a family vacations are ones my family uses when we vacation, which is usually two week-long trips a year as well as shorter trips (weekend or an overnight) periodically.

  1. Buy a travel book specific to your destination. Not only does this provide all the information on your destination that you need, it also saves time searching for the information on the internet. Additionally, a good travel book will highlight “must see” attractions and locations as well as “hidden” treasures. Tips in a good travel book include best time to go, money-saving tips and lists of what to bring. A travel book has proved to be an invaluable resource for my family, even beyond all of our electronics (iPod, tablet, iPhone and laptop).
  2. Involve the whole family in planning. While this proves easier as kids get older, even younger kids can be included in deciding what to do and what to bring. We often begin the planning with having a yard sale to “raise money” for the trip. This gets the kids excited and involved. We also allow them to research the destination and make lists of what they want to see and do. They also help pack their own suitcases and carry-ons and also help clean the house before we leave. Preparing for vacation is truly a family event, and making it so really takes a lot of stress and pressure off mom and dad.
  3. Make lists. Even at a very young age, kids can follow lists and usually enjoy doing so. We make lists on what needs done before leaving, what to bring, what to do when we get there as well as what to do as we travel. The lists are written down and accessible to everyone. My family really enjoys marking items off the lists. Doing so is like a count-down of sorts to when we leave.
  4. Pack minimally. We take or buy laundry detergent and do our laundry when we’re on vacation. This way, we can pack lightly and save the hassle of dealing with lots of luggage. Packing the essentials and favorites is the key.

These tips come after almost 20 years of trial and error and with the last two years of family vacations being the most restful and enjoyable. Intentionally being systematic about planning and preparing for vacations as brought me and my family to a place of not only looking forward to getting away but also to truly enjoying the time away and coming back closer as a family.

This rest of this series will also focus on how to enjoy traveling and family time while on vacation. The series will also look at how to not come back from vacation more stressed and needing another vacation and will end with how to enjoy time off with the kids in the summer.

DISCUSSION: Why is taking family vacations regularly so important? What tips do you have for planning a family vacation?