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Plan The Perfect Trip In 8 Steps (With Free Vacation Planning Spreadsheet)

Trying to plan the perfect trip can be fun, but also stressful. There’s a LOT to keep track of for any family trip planning, and I quickly learned that a vacation planning spreadsheet kept things simple and organized. (I know, spreadsheets, ugh!)

First, I want to share the 8 simple steps I use for my family trip planning so that YOU can plan the BEST vacation ever, plus snag my FREE (and super amazing) Google Sheets travel planner to make planning super easy! If you don't love the 'vacation planning spreadsheet' idea, no worries- these steps can be used no matter how you choose to plan your perfect trip! 😅

Plan The Perfect Trip In 8 Steps With This Free Vacation Planning Spreadsheet | Lathrops Gone AWOL Family Travel Blog

Step #1 To Plan The Perfect Trip:

Decide where and when to go on your next vacation.

This is by far the funnest and easiest step of planning for any family vacation.

You probably already have an idea of where you want to go, but BEFORE you get too deep into the vacation planning process, it can be SUPER helpful to make sure that you're going at a good time.

Some seasons are more expensive to travel, especially spring break and summer.

I go into more detail about this in my post about our Family Travel Budget, so I don't want to repeat too much here, but definitely make sure you check with sites like,, and Google Flights, to find a good combination of prices for transportation and accommodations. This will really help you when doing your family trip planning and budgeting.

For example this summer I've been trying to plan a European family vacation, so I've been balancing stays at both AirBnBs and hotel rooms to save money (and gain much needed space!) while traveling.

Side note: I try to use for hotel stays whenever possible because they have great customer service and have always been easy to work with whenever we've had a problem with our stay. I have found their customer service to be better than Booking or AirBnb, plus their free night rewards program is awesome when you're trying to plan family travel on a budget!

To save money while trip planning, I found that I could adjust our trip dates by just a few days and get lower prices! 😎 Always check the calendar for vacation planning that targets the most affordable dates.

Once you know WHERE and WHEN you want to go, we can start locking in our reservations!

Step #2 For The Perfect Family Trip Planning:

Book the travel accommodations (i.e. how you're getting there).

Kids Watching Airplanes At Airport | Plan The Perfect Trip In 8 Steps With This Free Vacation Planning Spreadsheet | Lathrops Gone AWOL Family Travel Blog

The next step of planning the perfect trip is reserve your travel tickets.

If you are planning on driving your car (woohoo- family road trip!) then you can budget for gas (and gas station snacks) costs.

If you are going to be traveling by plane, train, bus or some other transportation method that requires tickets, it is best to buy those as soon as possible.

Since there are often only a certain number of planes/busses/etc going to a specific destination, and each has limited tickets available, time is more critical here.

You definitely don't want to wait too long and get stuck without a way to get to your dream vacation destination.

Also, travel is something that DOES tend to get more expensive as the trip dates get closer.

Family Road Trip Tip: Whenever traveling by car, it's helpful to get an idea of your gasoline/fuel costs ahead of time so you can budget and prepare accordingly. (Snag our free Super Simple Vacation Planner- there's gas calculator resources inside!)

Another thing to keep in mind is the rise of gas costs. If you're planning a summer vacation, don't forget that gas usually costs more in the summer.

When I planned our family's European road trip this past summer, I added about 25% to my gas budget, that way I wasn't stressed about rising gas costs. (And we actually had extra money left in the budget at the end of the trip.)

So as one of my bonus family travel hacks- adding that extra 25% to your travel budget can go a LONG way to relieve pressure on your overall vacation budget.

Don't forget to plan for activities during travel as well. This is something that lots of us forget about when first planning our family trips, and then we get stuck with bored kiddos asking us 5,000 times how much longer it will be.

Make sure to take a few minutes to plan a few little activities to keep kids busy during your travel time. You can also check out our '5 Must Have Travel Essentials For Toddlers' post for some great travel activity ideas!

Now that you've booked your travel tickets, the next step is to actually lock in your accommodation reservations.

Have you tried our FREE Super Simple Vacation Planner | Lathrops Gone AWOL Family Travel Blog

Step #3 For Planning The Perfect Trip:

Book the sleeping accommodations (i.e. where you are staying).

The next time-sensitive part of family trip planning is to figure out where you're going to be staying on your vacation.

You probably discovered a few good options while you were checking your travel dates (in step 1), but if you haven't already reserved a place to stay for your family trip, this is the perfect time!

I always suggest looking at a few different sites to see a good variety of what's available in your price range.

Sites like,, and usually have a pretty wide selection of places to stay- and good customer service should anything go wrong with your stay or the actual room/flat.

Family Trip Planning Tip: We only book places with free cancellation, because I like to keep checking prices up until the cancellation date! There's been many times I find a nicer hotel or flat available for cheaper as the dates get closer! (Often someone has cancelled a booking and I get to snag that new opening!)

If you are wanting to plan a European vacation, AirBnB and Booking seem to have the most variety internationally (but is catching up!).

When we were vacationing in the United States, VRBO and were my favorites in terms of variety, pricing, and customer service.

Once you have your hotel or AirBnB booked, things get a little bit more fun!

Grab a cup of coffee, channel your inner personal travel planner vibes, and let's get started planning activities and meals! (Yay!)

Step #4 For Epic Family Vacation Planning:

Start planning your trip activities (+ use the free vacation planner spreadsheet to keep things organized!)

Kids exploring the cork trees in Lisbon | Plan The Perfect Trip Vacation Planning Spreadsheet Post | Lathrops Gone AWOL Family Travel Blog
Kids exploring the cork trees in Lisbon (for free!)

This is probably the FAVORITE part for any personal trip planner, and it's definitely MY fave!

I could spend hours upon hours looking at the fun things to do in pretty much any destination! 😜

But, if you're like me, you might be prone to adding in too many activities! (They just all look so awesome!)

When trying to plan the perfect trip, you want to find a good balance of activities.

This is especially true for family vacation planners, as we usually have little legs that get tired quickly coming along!