Do you have a goal to travel more?
Is there a dream destination you want to check off your list?
Do you want to make memories with your family on a special vacation?
For me, the answer is always yes, yes, and yes!
My family travels often and we have learned that it pays to start planning our trips early. Spontaneous trips are fun – and YES, you can plan a great vacation and find deals at the last minute – but it's not usually the best strategy for a big family vacation.
With work schedules, school schedules, extra-curricular activities, a limited budget, and all the other things that my family has going on, I can't leave our big vacations to chance! I want the BEST destination for the BEST price – not just whatever is still available – so that my family can relax and make happy memories together.
But how far in advance do you need to plan???
Here are my tips for how far in advance to plan your trip, plus specific tips for booking airfare, lodging, and cruises in advance.
How far in advance should I plan a vacation?
For big and important trips, start planning 6-12 months in advance. This will give you time to find the best price on airfare, lodging, and activities. It's also plenty of time to save money for the trip, get/renew passports, learn about the language and culture, and research your destination.
For shorter, less-expensive trips, planning 1-3 months in advance might be plenty.
I typically book airfare first and plan my trip around the least expensive dates. The cost of airfare changes all the time and it's impossible to predict the best time to buy. It's smart to start your search 6-12 months in advance and buy at least 2-3 months in advance.
You probably won't find the best deal a year in advance. But when you start searching that early, you learn what a typical fare to your destination looks like and you'll know a good price when you see it.
We booked our flights from Denver to Paris, France five months in advance for $500 each. We booked our flights from Salt Lake City to Tokyo, Japan seven months in advance for $750 each.
Great airfare deals are not rare, but they don't last long. You need to be in the right place at the right time to get them. Or, it helps to use a service like Going that sends airfare deals to you. Starting your search early is the best way to be there for those deals when they happen.
Sometimes it's smart to book hotels or vacation rentals 12-18 months in advance. These types of lodging often sell out a year or more in advance:
- National park lodges
- Beach houses
- Large multi-family rentals
- Affordable hotels with great locations (like across the street from Disneyland)
When you want to stay in the best place, in the best location, for the best price, it pays to plan way ahead. The best places always sell out early. There are usually good alternatives, but they are often farther away or they cost more.
When you book a hotel or vacation rental many months in advance, read the cancellation policy carefully. If you must cancel before a certain date to get a full refund, add that date to your calendar.
Planning a cruise is different from planning most other trips. I recommend booking your cruise 6-18 months in advance. When you book early, you usually get the best selection for the best price.
The nice thing about a cruise is that much of the planning is done for you. Your itinerary, lodging, food, and activities are all included. From there, you have lots of time to book airfare and research your ship, ports, and excursion options.
I'm usually a DIY travel planner, but I still book my cruises through a travel agent. It usually doesn't cost more to use a travel agent than to book online, and it's helpful to have a professional cruise expert on my side.
I book my cruises through Get Away Today Vacations. They'll be happy to help you with a free cruise quote anytime. Tell them that Allison at Tips for Family Trips sent you!
Related: Tips for Your First Cruise
Start in January
Most of our travel for the year is on the calendar in January. Here's why.
- We know most of our kids' school breaks, summer camp dates, and other commitments by then.
- We book multi-family lodging for family reunions 6-12 months in advance.
- Black Friday is a great time to find travel deals for the coming year.
- December-January is a good time to shop for international airfares for summer.
Just because it's on the calendar doesn't mean that it's fully booked and planned. Start with airfare and lodging and then gradually plan activities, ground transportation, and food from there.
Tips for Summer Trips
Here are a few tips for booking summer trips 6+ months in advance – before you know when camps and other activities are scheduled.
- January is a good time to shop for international flights and family reunion destinations for summer. You don't want to wait any longer to book the best multi-family lodging and venues.
- We often book big trips for early June because camps, reunions, and other activities are not usually scheduled right after the school year ends.
- We often book family reunions for the week of July 4 because camps and other activities are not usually scheduled that week.
- Many people travel the week of July 4. Book early for the best availability and pricing. Expect crowds at popular destinations.
- Mid to late August (right before school starts) can also be a good time to avoid camps, crowds, and peak summer prices – especially if your school starts later than most.
Planning well in advance is a reliable way to get the best deals at the best destinations. It's how we travel as often as we do and take our dream trips as a family.
If you don't yet have travel plans for summer, start shopping now! It's fine if you don't have a destination in mind. Just follow the deals. 🙂
We plan most of our trips 6+ months in advance because we want the best availability for the best destinations at the best price.
I hope that our experience helps your family plan a great trip.