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Break Out of Your Vacation Rut

Ever daydream about a trip itinerary that included hiking the ancient Mayan pyramids in Belize or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia's eastern coast? Many people aspire to take their loved ones on this type of vacation. Yet, it can be difficult to forgo an annual trip that everyone loves in favor of something with more excitement - and more unknowns.

"People love to travel because it's a way for them to share the world with their family," says Jim Bendt, president of Travel Beyond, a travel consultancy based in Wayzata, Minn. "But selecting a destination can be challenging, because it's tough to know what works for all - particularly if you have an intergenerational mix of travelers."

To ensure that everyone has a memorable, one-of-a-kind cultural experience, it's important for families to include everyone when planning for a trip.

To bring more value to the vacation, consider incorporating a historical destination or cultural experience based on what a child has studied in school.

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Develop a List of Dream Destinations

First, families should schedule a time to get together and brainstorm a laundry list of where to go on vacation. "Sit everyone down and ask, 'Where are the places that each of us would like to go?'" Bendt says. "Try to come up with at least three to five ideas, and from there you can prioritize based on the common interests that everyone shares."

For instance, if all four family members are interested in traveling to Africa or the Caribbean Islands, those destinations automatically rise to the top of the list, he says.

Narrow It Down

Families can start trip planning and trimming their list of potential destinations by having each family member communicate what he or she wants to take away from the trip, says Sandi Ferreira, director of travel services at Andrew Harper, a luxury travel club in Westmont, Ill., and publisher of the Hideaway Report, a subscription-based travel newsletter.

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Timing can also be used as a way to prioritize one destination over another. Bendt says that destinations like Australia may be disregarded for those families who don't want to invest a large amount of time into traveling back and forth. Families can also pare down their lists by removing the destinations that would be in off-season during their intended time of travel, Bendt says. For example, families may want to avoid the Caribbean during hurricane season from July to October. Or they may want to avoid Paris during August because it's a popular vacation season for the French, and many of the independent shops and restaurants are closed.

In addition to travel and hotel expenses, it's also important to consider how foreign exchange rates could impact one's travel money. For example, a Canadian family could use a free online currency calculator to compare the exchange rates in Singapore and Australia or subscribe to an email market-rate alert. If they see that $1 Canadian dollar buys $1.24 Singapore dollars or 96¢ Australian cents, traveling to Singapore may make more sense from a financial standpoint.  

Market-rate alerts can also help travelers gauge whether they'll have extra money in their budgets. For example, if the family received an alert that the exchange rate improved from $1 Canadian dollar equaling $1.24 Singapore dollars to $1 Canadian dollar equaling $1.26 Singapore dollars, then the family would have extra travel money to spend on activities such as sight seeing and visiting fancy restaurants.

Get Creative with the Itinerary

To make the trip more meaningful, families may choose to tailor activities and tours to a particular theme. To bring more value to the vacation, consider incorporating a historical destination or cultural experience based on what a child has studied in school, Bendt suggests.

"About a year ago, one of my clients planned a trip to Hawaii because her son was studying World War II," he says. "So we built a variety of tours around Pearl Harbor and the military bases there. It was a way to bring history to life."

By practicing due diligence during the trip planning phase and customizing a trip itinerary to fit each person's interests, families can turn their dream vacations into a reality.

"Travel isn't just about sun and fun," Bendt says. "Beyond building a family bond, you're also educating them about a world view, and that can bring more merit to it."

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