Remember the days when you could head out for a quick spring break trip on just a couple weeks or days notice? Those days may be gone, but that doesn’t mean the crazy college kids get to have all the fun. You can cut loose on a family spring break with a little added planning. If you’re the travel organizer in your house, here’s what experts and parents recommend.
“I know this seems obvious, but it’s a blind spot for most parents,” says Rainer Jenss, founder and president of the Family Travel Association (FTA). Family vacations should be organized no less than six months out from peak travel times like spring break, summer months, and the winter holiday season. “Most parents, for example, wait until just a few weeks out from spring break or the summer vacation season to plan and book flights, accommodations, etc.,” he says. “So is it any wonder that ‘affordability’ is the number-one complaint families have when it comes to traveling?”
Annie Lund, an Erie mom of two who works full-time as a vice president of a commercial real estate company, plans bigger family vacations six to 12 months in advance. “Then four to six months in advance, we are looking into and booking flights, lodging, and activities,” she says.
Conduct thorough research.
“Make sure you’re looking at more than just one resource,” says Carolyn Orf, owner of Tempo Travel Group in Littleton. “I am a big fan of review sites, but (they’re) not my only resource.” As a mother of two kids ages 13 and 10, she knows firsthand the importance of getting input from many sources—such as guide books, friends, and family members—so you aren’t unpleasantly surprised when you arrive at your destination.
When Niwot mom Stacy Moscow planned a year-long family sabbatical with her husband and young kids, thorough research was critical.
“Once we decide on a vacation location, I read a lot of the ‘things to do’ reviews on TripAdvisor and start making a list of the sites and activities we most want to experience at our destination,” Moscow says. “I also do a general Google search for ‘kids’ activities’ in the same location. I can almost always find blogs or articles recommending stops our kids are sure to love. We (also) try to find playgrounds anywhere we go so we can make at least one stop a day where the kids can just run around.”
For her recent trip to Europe with her teenage daughter, Lund did all of the research herself. “(I) looked at specific travel sites, like RickSteves.com and other London- or Paris-specific websites, for recommendations on where to go, what to do, and how to organize the vacation,” she says.
Trip-planning parents say they reference TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Yelp frequently. For articles, lists of providers, travel agents, and more, check out FTA’s website. FTA’s partner, Family Traveller, allows you to search by vacation type, shop travel products, and learn tips for specific vacation needs, such as traveling with children with special needs.
“Teamwork is key for my husband and me when we plan a trip,” Moscow says. “He’s great at finding travel bargains, so he usually has the job of booking our airfare and lodging. I’m good with logistics, so I typically research the location and plan our activities and itinerary.”
Don’t focus solely on lodging price.
“The lowest price isn’t always going to be the best option for families,” Orf says. Yes, everyone loves a deal. But it’s also important to consider other issues, such as proximity to the airport and tourist destinations, dietary restrictions, accommodation types, and on-site amenities.
“Sometimes parents try to pack too much into a certain time frame,” Orf says. “We have to respect that even on vacation, kids may need a break and so will you.”
Don’t feel the need to plan every second of a vacation, she says, because that only invites temper tantrums. Keep in mind that walking on the beach or digging in the sand is as important to kids as sightseeing. “Sometimes less is more,” Orf says.
Consider hiring a travel agent.
“For many parents, especially for those with more than one or two children, travel is expensive!” Jenss says. “Parents need to be careful with their money given all the expenses they have—the least of which is saving for college—so using a travel agent (can) save them time and money.” Orf says an agent can act as a point of contact in case something goes awry on vacation, from medical to transportation issues. “When my clients are traveling, my phone is next to me at all hours,” she says.
In addition, Jenss says a number of studies show that Millennials—50 percent of whom already have children—are using travel agents more than any other demographic (about 38 percent use one).
“So even though parents (moms in particular) have no problem doing lots of research to find out where they want to go and what they can do, they have no problem using a travel agent to do the booking and provide the assurances that come with having them do the work for them,” he says.
“Take your time and do the level of research that makes you comfortable with the information,” Lund says. “Then trust your gut and book it!”
The number of traveling families using vacation-rental sites like Airbnb and HomeAway (VRBO) is on the rise, says Jenss. In fact, according to a 2017 U.S. Family Travel Survey, almost 40 percent have tried them, and 16 percent of families said they use them often to find lodging. Here are a few lesser-known sites:
- Home Exchange: A site used by 10 percent of study respondents, this site allows two parties to exchange homestays for an agreed-upon period of time.
- TrustedHousesitters: Join to become a house/petsitter anywhere in the world.
- Vacatia: Allows customers to book resort residences, offering the comforts of a home with the services of a hotel.
A Not-So-Common Place
Travel and Leisure magazine named a region of South Korea as one of the 50 best places to travel in 2018, as well as many other destinations that wouldn’t always be the first to come to mind. Denver mom Amy Partain experienced South Korea with her family last fall, and found a wide variety of kid-friendly experiences. She says the best and most affordable time to travel there is spring break or fall break. With the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February, families’ interest in the country may be piqued. According to Partain, the country is easy to navigate by public transportation, and all signs are printed in English and Korean.
Here are some of Partain’s favorites, approved by her 12-year-old son, Ian.
- Dynamic Maze Museum in Seoul. Located in the popular tourist shopping area of Insadong, the maze involves teamwork to get through obstacles, such as rope tunnels and roller walls.
- Alive Museum in Seoul. This museum is in the same building with the Dynamic Maze Museum but requires a separate ticket. Paintings are in 3D, so when you enter into the picture it looks like you’re a part of it.
- Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon. The fortress was built in the 1700s when the king tried to move the seat of Korean government from Seoul to Suwon. The fortress consists of a wall around what was the city with ancient looking gates. There are several hands-on experiences here, including archery and ringing the huge bell.
- Thanks Nature Café. Cat and dog cafés are popular in Seoul, but this is a sheep café. Two sheep, named Honey and Sugar, live just outside. Paying customers can go in and visit with the sheep. It mainly serves desserts including the popular Korean dessert “bingsu”—shaved ice with toppings.
- Jebudo Island. This beach, about an hour drive from Seoul, is famous for its tides. Two times per day the tides go out, allowing access to the island. When the tide is out, all of the rock crevices become tide pools where you can see shrimp, crabs, and mudskippers.
Tips for a Denver-Area Staycation
Find new adventures in your own backyard.
- Relive childhood fun. If you’ve been lucky enough to grow up along the Front Range, you probably recall visits as a kid to area highlights like the State Capitol, Red Rocks Amphitheater, or Casa Bonita. If you’ve yet to take your own children to these memorable spots, spring break is the perfect excuse.
- Buy a guide book. If you’re racking your brain for staycation ideas, why not buy a guide book like you would in any new-to-you area? A hiking book like Best Hikes with Kids Colorado by Maureen Keilty (Mountaineers Books, 2012) is a good start for exploring new sites. Or learn fun facts and get ideas in the Denver area in The Kid’s Guide to Denver, Boulder & Colorado’s Ski Country by Eileen Ogintz (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).
- Act like a tourist. Do as the tourists do: Take a tour! Check out Denver Free Walking Tours, opting for free or custom excursions. Or explore the wealth of local adventures at Aspire Tours, from a Denver City Overview to the Foothills or Rocky Mountain National Park tours. Chances are good you’ll learn something new about Colorado!
- Check local resources. Sites including Visit Denver and the Colorado Tourism Office are filled with ideas and itineraries for Denver and throughout the state.
Colorado Destination Ideas
- In the city: For an experience in the heart of downtown Denver, stay at The Westin Denver Downtown, where the family package includes discounts on a second room, and kids under 12 eat free (with adult purchase). Enjoy in-room games, as well as a local activity guide and travel journal. Call 866-716-8101 and ask for the rate plan FAMPKG25.
- In the mountains: Families love Snow Mountain Ranch (YMCA of the Rockies) for its affordability and wealth of year-round activities—many of them free. Offering a Spring Festival at the property’s Nordic Center the weekend of March 23-25, guests can enjoy snowshoeing, fat biking, and Nordic skiing, in addition to crafts and other indoor activities. 888-613-9622
- On the road: Adventurous families wanting to explore the outdoors can find it via Grand Junction-based Tracks & Trails, which plans RV adventures throughout the West. Offering itineraries from Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to Grand Teton or Big Sur to Canada, the company plans every aspect of the trip, from the RV rental to campsite reservations and activities.