Tuesday, January 10, 2012

10 Tips for Planning a Florida Trip

You'll be hearing a lot about the Sunshine State around here over the next few months, as we're heading back to Florida in early March. Since I've now planned at least a half dozen trips to this part of the country over the last 10 years or so, I thought I'd share a few tips I've learned along the way. Just in time for you Spring Breakers!


1.) Pick a general area or city in Florida to explore. There are so many regions of this state worth a visit that it can be a bit overwhelming. There are many ways to go about making this decision. For the past few years, we've focused our search on areas where we can fly direct. Or you can look at driving times from your house if you plan on road tripping. (For example, from my house to Panama City Beach, the drive takes a little over 11 hours. If we drove to Miami from here, it would be 18 hours. A pretty big difference if all you care about is sticking your feet in the sand.) Or there may be a particular attraction (cough... Disney World... cough) that you know you want to see. Regardless, picking your homebase is a good first step.

2.) Decide on lodging. I like to do this before booking flights because depending on the time of year, you may struggle to find a place to rest that suits you and your family. If you're traveling at peak times, hotels might be full. Or if, like us, you like to visit in the winter, it can sometimes be hard to find a rental property that rents by the night since there are so many monthly rentals at that time of year. I like to be sure we can find a place to stay in a particular area before I book a flight there. I can always change course or switch weekends if we come up empty in our search.

3.) Plan ahead. Because of Florida's popularity as a vacation destination, I find that it's best to make reservations and not "wing it." This includes purchasing tickets for popular attractions, booking a place to stay, renting a car, etc. If there are things you can do in advance, it's usually a good idea especially if you're visiting at peak times.

4.) Connect with the local tourism bureau. I do this whenever I'm planning a trip, but I'm usually really impressed with those in Florida. Because their economy is so tied to tourism, you'll likely find these organizations to be really professional and accommodating. You can even find great suggestions on things as simple as a favorite lunch spot. (We would have never discovered one of our favorite restaurants in Tampa, Bricks of Ybor, without Visit Tampa Bay's recommendation.)

5.) Consider renting equipment or beach supplies. Since I travel with young kids who often need specialty, bulky equipment (like a pack n play for sleeping or high chair for eating), we prefer to rent these items instead of dragging things to the airport. A trip to Florida might include renting a jogging stroller for walks on the beach or a cabana for sun protection. (If you're visiting the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater area, we had a good experience renting from Beach Family Rentals.)

6.) Check the weather. Unless you visit in the summer, when it's 99% likely to be hot, you may find Florida weather unpredictable. It can be cool at times, especially in the evening. So even though you've looked forward to hot sun for weeks, be sure to throw in some long pants and a jacket or two in your suitcase.

7.) Have some rainy day plans. It often rains down there, for at least part of the day. So be sure to research some fun things to do that don't involve parking yourself on the beach. Nearby movie theatres, museums, aquariums, etc. are good things to keep in mind.

8.) Don't forget nature. The beach is great, and no one loves spending a day there more than me. But Florida is also a place of outstanding natural habitats, some of which may be completely different than where you live. Take advantage of an opportunity to get up close and personal with these unique landscapes. (In other words, there's more to Florida than The Mouse.)

9.) Think through your beach needs when packing. If you plan to spend the bulk of your vacation at the beach, keep in mind that you may want to pack a few items you don't normally bring on a trip. The Delicious Baby blog had a great post about packing for a trip to Hawaii, many of these apply for Florida also. And a couple of unique finds on Pinterest that I plan to throw in my bag for our upcoming trip include:
  • A shower cap to keep the sand on your shoes from getting all over your bag. (Although I admit that finding some sand at the bottom of my purse a few weeks after a trip to the beach always makes me smile.)
  • I never know what to do with essentials like keys, money, etc., when we go to the beach since I know I'll want to wander a bit from our beach blanket at times. I love this idea for repurposing an empty sunscreen container. Not foolproof of course, but a lot less tempting to a potential thief.
10.) Order seafood or fish at every meal. (Oh... maybe this is just something I do when in Florida.)

This post is a part of Top 10 Tuesday at Oh Amanda.