In order to ensure an easy stress-free vacation, it is essential to plan ahead. Therefore, I suggest you do exactly the opposite of what I do:
1) Vacillate on both the leaving and returning dates, thus making it impossible to book any travel arrangements.
2) Finally make a decision on dates, then call to arrange boarding for the dogs, only to find that other people like to travel during the holiday season as well. This has the side effect of changing the travel dates slightly because there is no room at the inn.
3) Armed with these new dates and four days advance notice, contact your pet sitter to arrange for care for the cats and birds. Or try to. Leave a message on the new answering machine with no outgoing message (hmm...). A day later dig around in your backpack until you find the other card with her home number and call that only to learn that the line has been disconnected. Search the online obituary archives to find out if she died or just moved away to avoid you.
4) Start calling random pet sitters to see if anyone can take care of the herd.
5) Fantasize about a vacation at home.
6) Eventually get a call back from one person who agrees to take care of the animals.
7) The night before you are supposed to leave, remember that you never actually reserved a room at the hotel.
8) Give up on cleaning the house and go to bed.
Anyhow, Merry Christmas and all that crap.