My son did the math for me recently – our daughter is almost in high-school, which means almost college, which means almost out of the house. (This is how I spiral, it’s ok) It’s only five years away. It goes fast. So fast. Fast fast fast FAST.
Traveling is one of our favorite ways to spend time together as a family. And it can be camping within our home-state of Michigan or flying to Florida for a long weekend, driving across the country for 6 weeks in the PNW or jumping the pond to immerse ourselves in other cultures.
No matter where we go though – I have a few things I look for each and every time. We aren’t theme park people (we did Disney for our daughters 5th birthday and, I won’t say never, but probably will not ever go back. Ever.) and we love immersive travel which means Airbnb or Vbro are our favorite conduits to travel. We prefer to go to places where we can stay for a while and because of my husband’s ability to work from anywhere if needed, this is an option available to us.
When we have a destination planned, a house booked, or tickets purchased I start researching the area more in depth.
I always look for local libraries.
Libraries have amazing programming, often free, and always age appropriate. In 2011, we went to Boulder, Colorado and while my husband worked normal hours from coffee shops or our airbnb, I would keep us busy with story time at the library, events with naturalists (all from the library), organized playgroups at the library and well, you guessed it – crafts at library. In 2016 when we spent the summer in Washington I signed my kids up for events at the local library. They participated in a kid craft fair, signed up for their summer reading programs and we made weekly (sometimes more than once) trips to the library for books and movies.
I search the local chamber of commerce and event calendar.
Next, I always look at the events calendar for the places we’ll be visiting for the time we’ll be there. We’ve stumbled on some pretty fun stuff just by checking this out. While in Lynden, Washington we were in town for the local Raspberry Festival. Which was a big deal – and tons of fun.
If we’ll be in a different city for longer than 5 days I always check local art councils as well. They often have classes or camps for kids and I’ve been known to sign mine up for some music/drawing/dancing. The classes are usually 2 to 4 hours for a few days and it gives them something to do that they enjoy and I get a small break to be able to grocery shop, work, grab lunch with my husband, or just relax in the middle of the busyness of traveling with kids.
I try to find a place to stay with a kitchen.
Not always possible, depending on where we’ll be, but even hotel chains offer suites with kitchens. It’s always worth looking for us because we don’t love eating out. We love good food, and if restaurants come highly recommended, we’ll try them. But with kids, the food experience at restaurants is often above their pay-grade. They’re learning to enjoy a good dining experience but while traveling, my husband and I love discovering new places, going slow, and taking the time to enjoy our surroundings. Kids are sort of the anti-relaxer. So instead we look for great breakfast places (because first thing in the day they’re more likely to be on board with our “slow living” pace) and we leave the rest to snack plates, picnics or kid friendly options.
This is one of the reasons we love booking our stay through sites like Airbnb or Vbro. We get the immersive travel by picking a place to stay right in town, or in a neighborhood close to the action (or away from it – if that’s the goal), the hosts of the places we’ve rented are always so helpful and accommodating and we get great tips of things to do or try from them as well. And … we get a kitchen, a separate sleeping space from the kids and walls to give us a bit of anonymity when we need some “down” time. It’s also more walkable, we’ve found.
I use Pinterest, Yelp, Google Maps, Groupon, etc.
And lastly, one of the main things I do while I’m putting together a trip is consult the internet. There’s so much information, so many recommendations, and so many ideas right there. I usually start with Pinterest and search for the area + “things to do”. or + “kids” and start looking at everything that sounds fun/frugal or free/worth it.
We love hiking, local history, walking tours, book stores, farmers markets, interactive classes, water of any kind, tours, and sunset activities.
I would also take advantage of whatever the hotel, home, resort you’re staying in, has to offer. In Florida we were able to take a Chef guided tour of their bee-keeping initiative and local farming operation for free.
The same resort (which I found on priceline for a steal of a deal) had a ton of fun stuff the weekend we were there – like a donut wall!
And we were able to rent a golf cart to tool around in, which was so much fun and cheaper than the bikes we were hoping to rent 🙂
For more on this specific trip to Florida (2017) – go here.
Lastly, I look for parks.
One more thing, if we’re going to be somewhere longer than 2 nights, I usually look for parks. If we’re not staying in a hotel with a pool, I know I’ll need to get my kids outside to run off energy.
If we’re camping, then this is no problem. Usually where ever we are parked is playground enough for them with hiking trails nearby or pavement to tool around on with their bikes. But if we’re visiting a city … green space is key.
And there you have it! My tips for traveling with older kids.
We have a list of places we want to see, go, or things we want to do compiled and when the budget allows and deals arise or we’ve accumulated enough points for travel – I keep an eye out for the destinations we want to see. Usually I’m looking months in advance (or for “regular travel times” like spring break or holidays – a whole year ahead), but some of the best deals are within weeks of looking/researching them.