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With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, summer travel may be the last thing on your mind, however, December is the perfect time to begin planning your summer vacation.

“You can get the bigger discounts by planning at least six months in advance,” said April Jolly of Tolleson Dream Vacations in Spartanburg. Here is our guide to planning your own dream vacation.

The first (and most fun) step in planning any vacation is deciding where to go. We spend time as a family talking about what we are looking for in a vacation. Some of the questions we ask our family are: Do you want a relaxing beach vacation or would you prefer a busier vacation with a lot to see and do? What are some places you would like to visit, and why? Once we have narrowed our choices, we look at specific destinations. The adults make the final decision, based on budget and experience, but the kids enjoy being a part of the planning process.

Once you have determined a travel destination, you will want to make sure that all family members have a valid passport if you are traveling internationally. While you can get pay a fee to have your passport expedited, the standard time from application to delivery of a passport is 4-6 weeks.

After applying for your passport, the next thing you will want to look at is a place to stay. Many vacationers book their homes a year in advance, so the earlier you can book, the better your selection will be. Sites like VRBO and AirBNB generally offer a good selection of homes. Hotels and resorts often book quickly during the summer. For frequent business travelers, using reward points is an obvious way to save money on vacation. The sooner you can book a room using points, the more likely you are to find a room on your desired dates.

Airfare is probably the trickiest to time, but this is the part of your vacation that you may want to delay booking. Cheapair.com released a study of 1.3 billion airfares to identify the most cost effective time to book a flight. The study found that 54 days out was the optimal time to book your flight.

“Fifty-four days is a good number to start with, but it’s important to know that every trip is different,” said Jeff Klee, CEO of cheapair.com, in a release. “That is why we have our ‘Prime Booking Window, which is between 21 and 112 days before departure.”

The website can help you narrow the window further based on the specific city you plan to visit and even offers an interactive tool called When to Buy Tickets that lets you plug in your departing and arriving cities to see pricing trends. Klee cautions travelers to avoid waiting for a last minute deal.

“Fares usually go up dramatically wishing 14 days of the flight,” he said.

If you are using reward points, you will want to book as early as the airline allows. For most, that is 331 days.

Once the vacation is booked, you will want to begin planning activities. Jolly recommends allowing each child to choose the top three activities they would like to do on the trip.

“We make sure they each get to do at least two of the three things on their list,” she said. “When they are involved in the planning, it makes the trip more special for them.”

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