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Vacation Planning: The Initial Research

March 1, 2021

Vacation Planning: The Initial Research

March 1, 2021

We’ll kick off our “Vacation Planning” series with this topic, although they’ll all be intertwined at some point with Budget, Lodging and Logistics all playing a role. However, we’ll try to map this out chronologically as we would if we were planning a trip, so “Location” is a good starting point! Vacation planning is almost half the fun for us, so buckle up and join along with us…

Screen porch vacation planning over the summer… in our element 🙂

Trip Planning Research

Link to free printable below

Location, location, location…

It usually goes something like this…
While sitting at one of our kitchen tables having drinks, one of us will have remembered seeing a cool place online and say “Hey, we should go here.” There’s no magical formula but typically, the type of locations we are all drawn to all have these features:

  • Small town, not overly busy or touristy, but still has a cute downtown with a few shops and restaurant options
  • Kid-friendly options
  • Access to outdoor activities – hikes, bike trails, water activities
  • Majority of our summer trips involve some sort of water activity, like renting a pontoon boat and exploring the lake, kayaking, or river tubing
Tubing on Fontana Lake in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina

What kind of trip?

Is this an adventurous trip full of activities? Relaxing vacation with no agenda? Weekend getaway for the whole family, or just the adults?

Other things to think about are the activities you want to do. We’ve had some really cool destinations that offered specific activities that weren’t tailored to our group – like Steamboat Springs, CO had some amazing river tubing and rafting but our kids were just too little at the time.

Length of time

Historically, we’ve planned one week-long summer trip and often have a couple long weekend getaways scattered throughout the year. Vacation time at work is harder to come by in summer for some of us, so we have to choose wisely.

As for long weekends, these are planned on shorter notice since they tend to be more local and depend on work schedules. The best part about local trips away for a weekend is including other friends and their families, something that was harder this year due to the pandemic.

How far in advance?

We’ve also usually got some kind of long trip on-deck for the following year. While we were spending a week in northern Michigan a couple summers ago, we were already talking about and starting to plan a trip to Colorado to see the mountains. After Colorado, we knew we wanted to see more mountains and thought the Great Smoky’s would be the next range to visit. While on our 12-hour drive home from the Smoky’s, we brainstormed locations for our next trip and landed on Washington. Sometimes, certain husbands make accusations about planning vacations while ON vacation, but we just ignore those comments 🙂

For the long weekend trips, these tend to be more local and planned less further in advance. Summer is usually busier and more expensive, so we love taking a long weekend in the fall and winter to get away.

Time of year

A big factor in planning a vacation is the time of year. Certain trips will be more expensive and more difficult to find lodging at various times of the year. Common sense, of course, but a cozy chalet on a ski hill in a mountain town is going to be more expensive and book up faster than in summer. If you’re flexible, try looking in off-season for less crowds and better prices.

Mountain Village in Steamboat Springs – not just awesome in winter!

We saw a good example of this when we visited Steamboat Springs, Colorado in summer. The most affordable lodging we found was actually in the Steamboat Mountain Village rather than downtown, but since it was summer, it was off-season prices but still had some great options.

Lodging Options

Budget and Lodging go together with location, as we’ve ruled out towns and cities in the past due to being too expensive or not having good rental options. Sometimes, this works out as a happy accident, like our trip to Michigan. We intended to stay in Traverse City, Michigan but couldn’t find anything that would house all 8 of us, while also being affordable. A town about 45 minutes away called Charlevoix, MI had good options, so we booked there instead and absolutely fell in love with the town!

Charlevoix, Michigan

Good sources of inspiration for your next trip:

  • Instagram
  • Blogs
  • Pinterest
  • Travel Forums
  • Word of Mouth

Why we like to travel together:

It’s worked well in the past. We’ve often got similar work schedules and flexibility, along with agreements on budget, and sharing common activities and goals for vacation adventures. Our kids have grown up together so they function like cousins and travel well together. With that said, Katie and Travis have done some awesome adventure trips in the past, as well Sara and Justin doing a lot of beach bumming over the years!

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado | Summer 2019

Places we’d love to visit someday:

Oh boy. We can both be talked into just about any location, but here’s a few fun places we’d love to visit someday that neither of us have been:

California – northern California looks beautiful, along with seeing the national parks & forests like Yosemite, Redwood, Sequoias… plus Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes look awesome!
Caribbean – we live in Wisconsin, so we’ll take any island beach vacation! The out-islands of the Bahamas look pretty sweet, along with the mountains & jungles of Costa Rica and St. Lucia!
Maine – the Bar Harbor area looks so cool and different, along with Acadia National Park
Montana – a cozy cabin stuck somewhere in the mountains, with day trips into Glacier National Park (can you tell we like mountains and National Parks?)
Switzerland – do a Google image search for “Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland” and you’ll understand why this is on our list!


Want to see more of our past trips?

All our blog posts on past trips can be found in the header menu on our blog’s home page under ‘Wisconsin’ or ‘Places’. Otherwise, here’s a few posts you might enjoy for vacation inspiration:

Family Road Trip: Michigan Summer 2018

A Week in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Bryson City, North Carolina: Top 5 Things to Do With Kids

Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina

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