It's still chilly outside but you're already thinking about summer, especially a vacation with the family. It's second-nature nowadays for most people to book flights, ferries and Sherpa guides online at the last minute but a successful summer break still depends on some basic planning.

Here are a few tips to make sure your summer vacation is worth the long winter wait:

Start early. Decide what you want to do, how much you can spend and when you can go.

Involve the kids. "I've always found as a traveling dad that the more and the earlier I got the kids involved in the trip, the more they got out of it whether it's Disneyland or Dubrovnic." So says Don George, global travel editor for Lonely Planet Publications, a guide book publisher.

Book your first night. Even if you're a free-spirited backpacker, after a long plane ride to Bangkok or New Delhi you're in no condition to find a hotel when you're tired and being mobbed with offers at the airport, says George. When the jetlag has worn off, you can decide to stay put or move on to other lodging.

Make special plans for a foreign trip. Apply for visas and passports well in advance. Buy rail passes, international student IDs and international driver's licenses at home, you may not be able to get them overseas. Check on vaccination requirements with a consulate, tourism bureau, a nearby travel medicine clinic or your doctor.

Avoid road trip mistakes. The classic American summer break is as simple as piling the kids into the car and setting off. It's still pretty uncomplicated, but popular family spots like Disney World and national parks can fill up quickly so consider booking ahead and service the car fully before leaving.

Don't wait for last-minute deals. Unless you're really flexible don't bet the big vacation on them. Cruises often offer bargains when they have rooms to fill but package tours and charter outfits usually do not.

Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.