As my children are getting and bigger and busier, I am starting to feel that ticking of the clock. When they were little I remember just wanting a few minutes by myself. Once I locked myself in the bathroom trying to get a moment of peace. They knocked. I told them Mommy was just taking a few minutes. Then fat little fingers started showing up under the door. The concept of mommy taking a few minutes alone was foreign. A few minutes later, they slid a note under the door. “Are you coming back?” Spelled in kid spelling of course.
Now, I’m competing for their time and attention! And for our family, quality time is what keeps us in sync. We love vacations and take them whenever we can. (Check out my post on tips for traveling as a family.) But, I can’t really wait until the kids have a week off of school to connect with everyone.
And there lies the need for day trips! You get to see new parts of your state or region. You get fun new experiences. It truly allows you to experience and explore and it’s friendly for your budget!
If you’ve ever tried to plan a day trip with little ones and teenagers, you know the dangers. No one ever wants to go to the same place. In fact the teenagers rarely want to go at all. What is fun for the little’s isn’t fun for the olders. What the olders want to do, the littles can’t. There’s car fights, car sickness, and it can be a recipe for disaster!
Fortunately we’ve been working on perfecting the science of day trips. So here you have it, my guide for Day trips: Exploration on a budget.
- Plan them consistently. Because we are so busy during the weeks, Saturday can easily turn into a work day. There is always a million things that need to be done. We do spend one Saturday a month working as a family for the full day. We spend two Saturdays a month doing regular chores. And we take one Saturday and plan a family fun day. It works because everyone is relieved not to be working, and because they’ve been planning for it. It’s expected and they have the whole month to come to terms with the fact that we are going. When we get out of the habit we get more grumpiness.
- Let everyone choose a location. This one is big! We let each person in the family choose how they want to spend the family fun day. Sometimes they do pick places that are outside the budget (6 flags gets suggested for every single month) so we remind them of our parameters and then let them look up places online. It takes the pressure off me having to plan everything. People support what they help to create. And it helps that when I choose to go apple picking in the fall, they can’t groan too much because it is just my turn.
- Choose wisely with family passes. We have a large-ish family. Small for the Duggars, large if you have 1 or 2. So sometimes a family pass only ends up being a few dollars more than the ticket price. Some family passes end up being a bargain, and some not so much. State parks passes seem to be good because they get us access to so many different locations. So many day trip possibilities! If you buy a pass, make sure you use it. This year we went to Biltmore Estate in the fall. We bought a pass because we knew we couldn’t see everything in a day. It was close enough to our home to do on a day trip. And we could think of at least 2 other times we would go back. We also milk our passes for all they are worth! If we get a pass, we’re going to border on regulars!
- Pack picnics. My kids love picnics. It started when they were small and we were poor. We would pack up our regular old food and take it out to the backyard. All of the sudden a boring lunch became an exciting picnic! We let the kids pack their lunches. They kind of have a free for all with whatever food is in the house. On our last day trip we ended up with marshmallows and twizzlers as our car treats.
- Don’t force the car bonding, but encourage it. We let our kids bring tablets or phones for the car trip. But we also have discussions. We joke, we laugh, we sing loudly to the radio. And when it gets to be too much for someone they can pull out the tablet. It keeps more peace in the car, and we still have fun on together on the drive. Nothing ruins the day trip faster than a bunch of grumps fighting in the car (parents included).
- Take your kids out for ice cream. Even if it’s just a simple ice cream sandwich from the gas station on your way home, it makes them happy and they remember it. (If your kids are lactose intolerant, or you just really hate sugar, feel free to replace this one!)
You might think we spend time together because we love being with each other. I suspect it’s actually the other way around. I think the real reason we love being together as a family is because of the time we spend together. Day trips are a fantastic way to get in that quality time, on any budget.