It’s the middle of winter. Not all of you are as lucky to live in California, where the weather is a cool 70 degrees today. For those of you living in areas where it’s 37 degrees outside, it sounds like the perfect time to start planning your family’s summer vacation, right?
Whether you’re waiting to see exactly how big your tax refund from Uncle Sam will be or you’re the type of person who leaves vacation planning to the very last second – like my friend who decided last week that she and her family are going on a three-week safari in South Africa later this month – it’s never too early to start working out the details for your next family vacation. After all, the average vacation costs roughly $1600, according to Money Magazine; that comes out to more than three percent of the average American family’s household income.
This is a personal finance site, so of course budgeting for your family vacation – getting the most fun out of the least amount of money – is the top priority. It’s also the number one reason why you need to start vacation planning early. If you wait until the last minute, you may lose the opportunity to take advantage of the biggest and best deals out there. I’ll probably have Lauren write about her vacation planning saga soon, you’ll learn that timing is everything!
There are so many factors to consider – and the web can be a fantastic trip advisor, providing you with an untold amount of inside information for just about every destination out there. Here are my top five favorite sites to enhance your family vacation:
- One of the most critical aspects of vacation planning is the weather. A trip to the beach sounds great, but a trip to the beach during hurricane season? Not so much. That’s where Weather Trends 360 comes in. Founded by a former Air Force officer, the site uses historical data to predict the weather just about anywhere on the globe a full year in advance. Want to make sure there’s actually snow on the ground for your family’s late-March ski trip to the mountains? Check this site first.
- There’s nothing worse than arriving at your destination, only to discover that every other person on the planet has the same vacation itinerary as you. Want to have the Grand Canyon to yourself? Dream of being the only person on the beach along Florida’s Gold Coast? CheapTickets includes an off-season trip advisor on its website. This way, you can be sure you’ll avoid the crowds while you score a slow-season discount to boot.
- Travel like a local. The Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory makes it easy for you, providing the contact information for convention and visitors’ bureaus across the globe with just a few clicks of the mouse. Whether you’re traveling to Tuscany or Tuscon, the folks who staff these offices can guide you towards points of interest and special events you may have otherwise missed.
- I’ve made the mistake of flying to my vacation destination without booking a rental car. This is a no-no. I don’t care how awesome your resort is or how pedestrian-friendly your destination – if you stay in any one location long enough, you’re going to get the urge to get out and explore. But who wants to allot $500 for a rental? One of my top travel rules: never pay full price! Head to Rental Car Momma instead. This site has discount coupons for all of the major rental companies, including Enterprise, Hertz and Avis.
- Don’t forget to plan for your gas expenses! This is true whether you’re renting a car or driving your own. AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator lets you map out your route, then gives you an estimate of how much gas you’ll use – and pay for – to get there depending not only on local gas prices but also on the fuel efficiency of your specific vehicle.
What are your go-to websites for family vacation planning?