FareCompare 4×4: Travel Tips for a Quick Family Vacation

Diana Rowe writes Traveling in Heels and DianaRowe.com, and contributes to multiple sites including Traveling Mom (as Traveling Grandmom).

We chatted with Diana (via email) and asked her for some tips on how to plan a quick family getaway.

1.Where-to-Go

What are some of the best destinations for a short family vacation?

City Vacations
I think the most overlooked destinations, especially for a short vacation, are in the family’s own backyard. When was the last time you visited your city zoo, amusement park, or any number of kid-friendly activities? You can skip the stress of flying, save money and still have the best trip ever.

I live in Denver, and in less than an hour, I can visit the Denver Zoo, Elitch Gardens (amusement park), got to a Colorado Rockies baseball game, or drive 90 minutes south to Colorado Springs and hike the Garden of the Gods, visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. I’ll explore the city’s web site for tips. For example: www.VisitDenver.com and www.visitcos.com.

For those that don’t live in a big city, look outside your town limits to my other favorite city vacations: Boise, ID; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; San Antonio, Dallas & Houston, TX; Atlanta, GA; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Daytona Beach, FL; Charleston, SC; Virginia Beach, VA; and Boston, MA.

National Park Vacations (www.nps.gov)
Choose from hiking, biking, fishing, animal sightings, camping, and road trips, when your quick getaway includes a park. Pick a park, any park from Yellowstone to Rocky Mountain to Grand Canyon National Parks, and your family will enjoy a trip of a lifetime.

Amusement Parks
Amusement parks come in all shapes and sizes and provide all-age entertainment. Choose from the wildly entertaining world of Disney, Universal, Six Flags, or local stops like Elitch Gardens (Denver), Cedar Point (Ohio); Hershey (PA). You can purchase 1-day or multi-day passes and even incorporate other local activities outside the parks.

Dude Ranches
Dude ranches offer all-inclusive vacation packages that bundle a full week of activities, such as trail rides, swimming, fishing and hayrides with fabulous food and comfortable lodging for one low price. Often dude ranch packages can be more affordable than a six-day theme park vacation. Many ranches also offer “Kids Stay Free” and even “Grandparents Stay Free” weeks; so if you plan your trip right, you can save even more. Some dude ranches (such as King Mountain Ranch in Colorado) are offering shorter getaways, rather than the typical 7-day.

2. What-to-Bring

Any tips for packing light? What are the essentials and what gets left behind?
Ah, the million dollar question, even tougher when you’re packing for a family. My best packing tip is to REPACK. First lay out what you THINK you will wear, and then go over your itinerary, matching each outfit choice with each activity, but only ONE outfit per day. Try to mix and match. If you’re traveling to the beach, a pair of flip-flops will probably suffice. Same for the kids. You really can carry on if you pre-plan.

3. How-to-Shop

Any travel tools/apps that make planning a quick vacation easier?
I always compare travel deals on various websites. I’m also subscriber to several travel deal newsletters. Besides great deals, these websites have amazing planning tools – so many that you can lose track of time when digging in for more information and tips.

4. When-to-Fly

What’s the best time for family travel (to avoid crowds, hassle, etc.)?
Avoid major holidays and school breaks. Instead, travel the week before or after a holiday. If that’s not possible, travel weekdays versus weekends, i.e. Mondays through Thursdays. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but you’ll also save money on airfare and hotel rates.

Follow Diana on Twitter @dianarowe.

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Published: June 8, 2010