07/09/2014 03:12 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2014

Tips for Planning the Perfect Family Vacation

​Family vacations always start with such good intentions.  It's going to be fun, fun, fun!  And as the vacation slowly denigrates into a stressful, exhausting blur, you declare that this is the last time you drag the whole family on vacation.  Just like you declared last year.  

It doesn't have to be this way!  Here are a few tips for keeping your family vacation calm, safe, and stress-free.

Choose your destination wisely

Let your kids have a say when deciding where to go.  No two destinations are created alike, and some are definitely more family-friendly than others.  I'm not saying you have to go to Disney World for the kids, but maybe California wine country isn't a great idea either.  If you have children in a variety of ages, make sure there is something for all of them to do.  

Pack thoughtfully

It can be tempting to try to pack your whole house into one suitcase, but don't do it.   Chances are, the just-in-case scenario you're imagine won't come up, and if it does, that's what 24-hour Walmarts are for!  Pack just 3 or 4 outfits per kid, and just do a load of laundry as needed.  It will save you a lot of aggravation later to keep it simple.  

If swimming is on the agenda, pack all the kids' swim stuff together in one bag, rather than in each suitcase.  When you arrive, you can just open the bag, hand out the suits, and pack them off to the pool or the beach while you settle in.  Do the same with any "dress" clothes you brought.  Keeping them all in one garment bag means you can hang them up all at once when you arrive, and it will be there waiting for you when it's time for the dressy event you're going to.

If you're flying, your kids carry-ons should contain a 24-hour survival kit, just in case your flight is delayed or your luggage is lost.  If you're driving, pack a back of surprise games, books, toys, and snacks to keep them entertained over the long trip.  

Have a flexible itinerary

Over-scheduling and under-scheduling are the two major evils of a family vacation.  Pack too much into one day, and you'll exhaust yourself trying to hit everything on your list, and the stops will start to blur together.  Winging it each day, on the other hand, can lead to a lot wasted time and arguments about what you should do that day.  Try to have 1 or 2 solid goals for what you want to see each day, with a back-up in case one doesn't work out or you end up with extra time at the end of the day.  Be flexible!  If one goal doesn't look do-able that day, just move on to the next one!

Stick to a routine

If you're traveling with small children, try to stick to a regular routine of meals, bedtime, and baths.  Bring their favorite toys or books, and make the environment as familiar as possible.  It's amazing the way steady, health meals and enough sleep keeps the tantrums at bay!