Remember when you could decide on a Friday afternoon to pack a bag and head to the beach? A few bucks in your wallet. No place to stay. Nothing but your friends and some spontaneity. First off, those trips only work in the movies.  Usually, if you had the gas money to get you to the beach, you snacked on food you bought from the gas station, got kicked off of the beach because they don't really let you have bonfires at night while singing and drinking with your buddies and you slept in your car (with 5 other people). When your 18, your stomach can handle the nasty food you eat for cheap and your back doesn't hurt from sleeping in random places.

Let's be realistic.  We are adults, some of us faking it better than others.  A lot of us have families and vacations, whether the full fledged vaca or the mini vaca,  have become more expensive.  Gone are the days of packing up the family Woody and heading to a camp site to spend the weekend fishing, biking, hiking and cooking over an open fire.  Nope.  That just isn't good enough anymore.  Camping? Make sure you have the most expensive pop up that makes you feel like you are still at home.  Roughing it? Naw, The tent needs to be big enough for everyone to have an air mattress, a chair, maybe a couch and a place for the portable radio, television and ipad docking station. 

Don't want to rough it? Head to an amusement park or a historical site. You may find a hotel for $120.00 bucks a night add in  all 3 meals for all 4 family members and boom!  Wait! If you flew you'll need a to rent a car and make sure it is top of the line.  No you don't own it and yes it is simply to get you to the parking lot of your resort to the parking lot of the amusement park and back, but you want to make sure you look good for that 10 min drive and for those people you don't know (who really aren't looking at you anyways) $$$$$

The thing is, vacations have changed.  Vacations have changed, holidays have changed, schooling has changed, technology has changed.  Gone is the $20 Walkman (google it if you don't know what a Walkman is), now is the time of the $300.00 phone.  Stuff costs money and we love stuff.  Going places costs money and we love going places.  So how do we do it?  How can we do the things we want to do and buy the things we want to have?  WE PLAN!

This October we are heading to Disney for the Halloween season.  We have been planning this vacation since February. We are not staying on property due to my brother hooking us up with a 6 bedroom house so that is one expense that we are saving on and one less thing we have to find. We are a family of 4.  Two adults (yep, we have the kids and mortgage to prove it) and 2 kids, 8 and 5.  We knew what parks we wanted to go to and I began researching the pricing for each.  One afternoon/noght at the Magic Kingdom trick or treating, 1 day Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, and 2 days in Universal/Islands of Adventure. Dates are set.  We did purchase our Trick or Treat tickets early and all together (there are 11 of us total)  because they will sell out. The other tickets, we have been putting money aside since we decided to head back to Orlando.  

Social media (which is a blessing and a curse) has made it easy for all parties going to keep in touch.  We have formed an event on Facebook to discuss what is happening since we live in different areas of the US and Canada. Our family goes as far as planning what meals we will be having each day as well.  With a big group (or even when you have little ones) things will run smoother when you plan as much as you can.

!. Which parks on what days?  Deciding where to go and when will cut down on everyone starting at each other waiting for someone else to make a decision.  You are killing precious Disney time standing around.

2.  Use FastPasses.  Plan those too!  Disney has an amazing website/app that allows your to plan your day.  How awesome is it that you can pull up the app on your phone and see wait times?! 

3.  Snacks/Meals.  Again, if you are trying to stay on a budget, don't eat EVERYTHING in the park.  With 2 kiddies, it can get expensive.  We eat breakfast at the resort and pack a lunch and snacks for the kids.  We eat one nice meal at the park. Honestly, the kids like it better.  Less time waiting in line for food and not doing what they want to do! 

4. Water! Take your water bottles.  You can refill at fountains and most places will fill your water bottle for free.  It's healthier and cheaper than pop (soda)!

5.  Souvenir.  Ok.  We are the weird family that buys little or NOTHING at the parks.  Reality check! When are you ever going to use that giant, $40.00,  Disney misting fan again? Right? You totally could have went to the dollar store or Walmart and bought one for 1/3 of the price.  On our last trip, we bought all of our souvenirs before we even left for our trip.  We hit up our local Disney Store and purchased wild and crazy Disney themed shirts (come on, Disney is one of the only places you can dress like a kid and get away with it!) for less than $10.00 a pop. The employees at the Disney store told us that the  same shirts will run no less than $30.00 in the park.  Get all of you trinkets before you go.  Don't want the kids to know, wrap them in cute Disney themed paper and toss them in your park bag.  Mid day, pull them out as if you stepped away and just bought them for them.  If you are going to spend in the park.  Give yourself and your kids a set budget.  Each kid gets a $25.00 giftcard.

6.  Gift cards.  Disney gift cards are a great way to put money aside early on.  When you hit the grocery store for your weekly/monthly trip, add on a gift card.  Before you know it, you will have a few hundred bucks set aside for spending money. AND where we buy, you get points off of your gas! 

7.  Know the park.  You don't need to go into robot mode and try to scan the entire park map into your brain but familiarize your self with the map and parks.  Don't waste time walking in circles or missing out on a show or ride because you just couldn't find it.  

8.  Extra something to do. Yep.  Maybe a few mini coloring packets, bubbles, hand held games, madlibs, or a list of fun questions or topics, SOMETHING to help easy the pain of long lines.  You will be asked a million times in 30 minutes, "How much longer?" And be prepared for the, "I HAVE to go to the bathroom", right when you are about 7 mins away from it being your turn.  If you keep them busy in line, if makes your life and theirs much better.

9.    Make a list...or 2...or 3. WRITE STUFF DOWN!  Don't rely on your over worked brain.  Wouldn't it be better to get everything planned out so that you can enjoy your trip that much more?  Here are my list topics.

  • What to pack for trip
  • What to pack for park
  • Meals
  • Must see/must do for each park
  • Folder with all ticket/room information (along with pictures of the tickets)

10.  HAVE FUN! Disney is the happiest place on Earth! Don't fight over stupid things.  Don't get mad if your kid is afraid to ride something.  Don't freak out if you miss something that you had planned. DON't miss those little things.  What your kids face, or your mom's or significant other, when a character comes up and hugs them.  Enjoy the smiles and the laughs and being together. That's why we vacation.

The thing is, it doesn't matter if you are planning a trip to Disney or Gettysburg, a change in jobs or a buying a new car.  If you gather your information and make a plan, you can make it happen.