Let's start right off by defining what this article is not. This is not an article for seasoned travelers. If you already know what you're doing and have no worries when it comes to travel, you do not need this article. This is also not an article for people who have no desire to travel. Some people are homebodies, and that's totally cool. If you are content at home with all your creature comforts, this article is not aimed at you. And this is not an article for those who love to travel but are simply limited by budget or time constraints.
However, if you are a beginner traveler, and you want to travel but feel overwhelmed when you even start thinking about maybe trying to plan a family vacation, this is for you. You are not alone. Others feel the same worry and even dread when it comes to planning and executing a family trip. But this post is full of tips to help you set yourself up for vacation success.
Read on for tips on overcoming travel-related fears.
A small amount of anxiety is completely normal when you're about to travel. Even seasoned travelers like us think about things like, "Did I remember to lock the doors before we left?" or "I really hope I didn't forget anything," or "What if we miss our connecting flight?"
But anxiety should not be the predominant feeling when beginning your family vacation. Instead, excitement and anticipation should be the driving forces at the start of your trip.
Fear #1: Fear of the Unknown
Tip #1: Start with something close.
You don't have to fly halfway around the world to encounter cultures and cuisines that are different from your own. Pick a city within the U.S. that you can get a direct flight to, or choose a charming small town that you can drive to within one to two days. From Houston, we have driven to Big Bend/Terlingua, Fredericksburg, Dallas, San Antonio/New Braunfels, Austin/Wimberley, New Orleans, Lafayette, Biloxi, and several small Texas towns outside Houston. For Far & Wide's list of best small towns in each state of the U.S., click here.
Tip #2: Start with something easy.
All-inclusive options are in abundant supply and they make planning and taking a trip ridiculously easy. All-inclusive options include:
1. Cruises - I have taken only a couple of cruises (one on Carnival and one on Royal Caribbean), but we have plans to take Emmett on a Disney cruise when he is old enough to appreciate it. If you are hesitant to travel and fear planning a huge vacation, a cruise certainly makes things easy. All you have to do is pack your bags and show up at the port. Your checked bags will be delivered to your room. Meals will be provided, your room will be cleaned daily, and you'll have a plethora of activities from which to choose.
2. All-Inclusive Resorts - The U.S. has very few truly all-inclusive resorts, but you can easily fly to a Mexican beach town and find a fabulous assortment of all-inclusive resorts. Most will have an option for airport pick up and drop off. Again, you'll have daily housekeeping, all your meals, and tons of activities. Some resorts are adults-only; some are geared more towards families with kids. Whatever your preference, you're sure to find something to meet your needs and make your planning simple.
Obviously Mexico is not the only country with all-inclusive resorts. For more information on the best all-inclusive resorts around the world, check out this article by Travel and Leisure. Or head over to my friend Kirsten's blog Kids Are a Trip and read about her favorite all-inclusive resorts in beautiful Costa Rica.
3. Group Tours - Several years ago, we did a group tour in China. The Chinese government subsidizes much of the costs for the tour company in exchange for the tour company bringing the tour group to a number of government-operated businesses, such as a tea plantation and production facility and a silk factory. It was such a great deal that we couldn't pass it up. We met some amazing people on our tour - some of whom we are still friends with - and we learned things about the country and culture that we may never have learned while traveling on our own.
With a little research, you'll find tour companies in every part of the globe. This option does take a bit more planning and deal-hunting, but not much. Once you arrive, your accommodations, most meals, and many activities are planned for you.
Tip #3: Start with something familiar.
If you are ready for a bigger trip overseas but worry about too much culture shock, start with a country that will offer some similarities to what you're used to. Choose another English-speaking country like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, or Australia. Or choose a country based on its cuisine. If you know you love French food, go to France. If pizza is your jam, consider spending some time in Italy.
Fear #2: Safety
Tip #4: Explore ways to circumvent your biggest safety fears.
If your concern is air safety, check this out. The International Air Transport Association keeps statistics for all airline crashes. Statistically, air travel is far safer than travel by motor vehicle, and air travel appears to be getting safer each year! But if you still have a severe fear of flying, refer back to Tip #1 and start with something close. If you think you are ready for a flight, start with a short one, wear comfortable clothes and shoes, take a security item (blanket, pillow, etc.) that you can hold onto, pack some healthy snacks to munch on, drink plenty of water, and don't be afraid to chat with your neighbor about anything other than your fear of flying. I am not a physician, but personally, before I had a child who needed constant supervision, I took a little Benadryl as soon as I got on the plane for a longer flight so that I could get some rest. And if you have motion sickness, don't forget to pack whatever you need to take for that.
If your safety fears involve car accidents, blow-outs, or anything else car-related, you have options! Either take a flight, or make sure your vehicle is properly serviced and ready for a long journey. Consider joining AAA or see what options your credit card has for roadside assistance. The day before you get on the road check your oil, put air in your tires, and check your windshield wipers and wiper fluid. Practice defensive driving, wear your seatbelt, and take your time. Especially on road trips, the journey is a large part of the fun. Play road trip games! I love this list by Jeremy Sudibyo on Indie Campers. Make frequent stops to see the sites, stretch your legs, and give the car a rest. Fill up your gas tank around half- or quarter-tank so you know you won't run out.
If your safety concerns involve fear of kidnappings and muggings, refer to Tip #2 and start with an all-inclusive resort, where you won't have to leave the safety of the resort, or choose a country with very low crime statistics. Switzerland and Denmark have low crime rates and are easy to travel, with comprehensive public transportation systems and mid to high rates of English speakers.
Fear #3: Missing out
Tip #5: You don't have to do everything.
You do not need to do everything in order to have a great time. In fact, depending on how much time you have, you probably won't see everything a city has to offer during one vacation. You will enjoy your time more if you take your time and really see the sites you are most interested in. Make a list of the top sites you want to see and schedule them based on location and distance from one another. If you have time for more, see more, but don't try to cram so much into a day that you feel rushed and can't appreciate the places you've been. And remember that you are not obligated to see a site just because it is popular with other people. If it does not appeal to you, you are fully permitted to skip it.
Fear #4: Crowds
Tip #6: Don't travel during peak season.
My friend Allison says, "Crowds and I do not go well together." Honestly, I feel that. I do not enjoy feeling like a sardine in a can, and Marvin hates waiting in lines. Fortunately, by traveling during off peak times, you can at least somewhat avoid the crowds.
France brings the highest number of tourists each year, with Paris alone bringing 30 million visitors each year. Even in 2021, when tourism had dropped drastically since pre-COVID, Paris still saw roughly 4 million people between June and August. Paris is definitely busiest during the summer months. If you really want to bypass the masses, visit during the winter. But if you don't want to miss out on nice weather, consider going during the spring or fall. April, May, September, and October are considered "shoulder season" - not as crowded as summer, but not as quiet as winter.
The fallout of this plan is that you won't visit Washington, D.C., during cherry blossom season when the Capital is at its prettiest, and you won't drive through New England during the fall to see the vibrant leaves. But the upshot is that you will maximize your vacation time by avoiding lines and, more importantly, you will keep your sanity.
Fear #5: Not Knowing Where to Start or How to Plan
Tip #7: Ask the experts.
If you are just baffled as to where to even start, and you have no idea how to plan a trip, don't be afraid to get help. Travel agents are still around and can help you find a good deal and plan your vacation. The Pinterest community is also full of some fabulous (and some not-so-fabulous) travel bloggers who happily offer free tips on where to go, what to do, where to eat, where to stay, and what to avoid. Most bloggers are really good about answering questions if you can't find the information you're looking for. And of course, guide books have been around for years, though they are not always up-to-date, especially in this post-COVID era. Or ask a trusted traveler friend to help you plan your trip! Your friends and family know you best and will know what activities will appeal to you most.
If you want to plan the trip yourself, here are a few things that will make it easier:
- narrow down your options for countries/cities you would like to visit
- if you plan to fly, start with Google Flights to get an idea of which airport is cheapest to fly into, what days are best to travel, and what the price range will be
- once you determine where you want to go and what days, start by doing a basic search of "things to do in" that particular city (I suggest using both Google and Pinterest for this search)
- jot down the places that appeal to you
- use Google Maps to find where each site is in relation to the others
If you are a mega-planner like me, you can plan the whole vacation, basing each day around the things you want to see in each area of the city. Or you can just get a general idea of what area you want to be in each day and go where you feel led once you get there. Either way, leave room for exploration and discovery and remember that things don't always go as planned (and that's okay!) and you don't have to see everything to have a great time.
If you are traveling with kids who take naps, remember to factor in time to go back to your hotel or B&B for naps. Some kids can sleep on-the-go in their strollers, and we have tried that, but we have found that we enjoy our afternoons and evenings better if Emmett gets an actual nap in his bed (and honestly, Mommy and Daddy often need a rest too!).
Fear #6: Things not going as planned
Tip #8: Go with the flow and make lasting memories.
This tip is definitely much easier said than done, especially for a Type A personality like me. But my best travel stories have come from my plans being completely derailed, like the time my first flight from Cleveland to LAX was late and I missed my connection in LAX and ended up spending one night in LA and a few nights in Seoul before continuing on to Chengdu, or the time a tree had fallen across the road, causing us to arrive at the campground after hours and walk to the proprietor's personal on-site home and knock on his door late at night so he could unlock the gate and let us in.
Unexpected setbacks while traveling can cause anxiety and frustration (and sometimes money), but they can also cause memorable, even pleasant, experiences. Had it not been for my missed connection in LA, I would never have eaten kimchi while sitting on the floor of a little mom-and-pop eatery in Seoul.
While traveling, things will absolutely not always go as planned. And that's okay. Take a breath, ask for help if you need it, enjoy the quality time with your family, and be prepared to laugh about all of it later as you re-tell the story to your friends.
Huge "thank you" to Allison for helping me with this article! Thank you for answering my questions and opening up about your own travel concerns.
I hope this has been helpful for those who want to travel but have real concerns. If I haven't addressed your particular concern, or if you have additional questions, email me! I'm happy to help!
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