Plan the Perfect Family Adventure Without Traveling Far

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Confession: I don’t have a passport. I’m getting one this year, but I’ve managed to live 35 years without stepping far outside this country, and this coming from someone whose heart skips a beat at the sound of words like adventure and globe-trotting. Yes, I know people hike up mountains with babies strapped to their backs and there’s a whole slew of jet-setting parents who navigate strollers through international terminals with ease, but let’s face it: having little ones puts a wee damper on wanderlust.

While traveling across oceans with our little family certainly isn’t outside the realm of realistic dreams, we do have some pretty good in-the-meantime plans that both quench our thirst for adventure and fit our family nicely. The bonus? We don’t have to apologize to the poor plane passenger whose seat our kid kicked for 18 hours. Win/Win.

We try to make a big summer trip every year, usually a six-state jaunt from Florida to Michigan, but some of my favorite adventures with my family are ones for which we don’t hold out 365 days waiting. The Day Trips–proper noun intended–are spontaneous adventures where the intended joys of travel (sight-seeing, daily grind upheaval, and such) are accomplished simply with the toss of a stroller in the trunk, a not-too-far-from-home destination programmed in the GPS, and a “Kids, get in the car!” It’s like YOLO! for locals. And you can do it any day, any time, no passport required.

So we do. Like that one time we explored Captiva Island for an entire day, popping in beach tchotchke shops, sampling grouper baskets from local dives and aimlessly meandering along the shore, stopping to gather shells or let the kids dodge waves.

Our Day Trip mission is simple: be together, explore where we live and uncover hidden gems–family-owned ice cream shops, parks that go under the radar, beaches with the best shells and corners of our state that seem to have been whispering our names for years–we just haven’t been listening good.

And our measure of the perfect Day Trip? Well, smiles and tired satisfied kids who fall asleep on the way home are the truest evidence of a well-lived day, but extra points are gained when one of us utters somewhere along the way, “How could we have lived here so long and not been coming here?!” 

With spring ambition brewing, my Day Trip dreaming is in full force. I’m stalking Chamber of Commerce sites of cities within a 100-mile radius, smiling at the mere thought of undiscovered state treasures and another opportunity for some good family adventure.

So, before you prematurely holler, “Kids, get in the car!” (listen, I have Uncontrolled Spontaneity Syndrome, and I’ve jumped the gun too quickly on these excursions way too many times), let me offer a few tips to help make your Day Trip the great family adventure it deserves to be.

Research Surrounding Areas
I’m all for just-go-where-the-wind-takes-you, but I’ve learned that sometimes the wind can take you out way out of your way with little reward, so some planning is key.  Take a look at your state map and do some online research for surrounding cities.  Chamber of Commerce sites often have great suggestions for local attractions, parks, nature centers, tours, etc.  Make sure you double check the hours of operation for any place you plan on visiting.

Think Outside the Box
While Chamber of Commerce sites might have great suggestions for well-known attractions, sometimes the most fun can be had with locations off the beaten path.  One of our family’s favorite pastimes is simply visiting a local airport where we’ll set up a picnic and watch planes, so keep your mind open to entertainment beyond the traditional park/zoo/museum.  Along with state parks and art/children’s museums, look into beaches, science centers, nature centers, trolley tours, local farms (apple orchards, orange groves, strawberry farms) and shopping.  Sometimes the best adventures are had in small downtown areas where coffee shops, boutiques, toy stores and used book shops hold hours of adventure.

Use Social Media
Social media connections are a great resource for discovering family entertainment and hidden location treasures. If you’re thinking about exploring a new town, send out a Facebook message or Tweet asking if anyone knows of great places to visit, eat, or shop. Sites like Living Social and Groupon also highlight local attractions and offer great deals on entertainment.

Pack the Essentials
When we’re headed out with our kids for an entire day, I pack to ensure that our day is as comfortable and fun as possible. A stroller and baby carrier are a must (think naps!). Also, using a backpack instead of a diaper bag can make exploring a little easier. I pack the usual diapers, change of clothes, bathing suits, snacks and drinks for my kids along with our camera, a quilt to sit on (great for parks or beaches), entertainment for the car and sunscreen. Depending on our location (park and/or beach), I like to bring fun extra entertainment like scooters/trikes, frisbees, balls, kites and/or beach toys.

Pretend You’re on Vacation
No matter how close to home we are, I love to pretend we’re on vacation on our Day Trips. We take pictures, we buy post cards, we try not to look at our watches (who am I kidding–our cell phone clocks), and we look around at our surroundings with gratitude and wonder. There are always new things to discover and point out to our kids, even if we’re not far from home.

So yeah, maybe we’ve never seen the Eiffel Tower or visited the great Roman Cathedrals. But we have an impressive collection of shells we’ve found in Southwest Florida, and we know all the hidden ice cream joints thirty miles up our coast.  True globe-trotters, we are. Making little memories along our way, filling the most important passport we’ve got–our log of family time. That’s the greatest adventure one could hope for.

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