By Audrey Cade
My kids will be out of school in about a month–I can’t believe it! I’m a planner by nature, so my annual tradition in April and May is to start planning what to do with my kids over the summer.
While I know my kids will enjoy sunny days at the pool, art camp, and some fun and free activities put on by my city’s police department (yay for bike safety and junior detective camp!), I am always intrigued by the idea of going somewhere new together. Last summer was my first experience packing up the kids and taking them somewhere all by myself. We had a great time, and it built my confidence to give it another try this year.
Last summer’s trip was inspired by my son’s 14th birthday in mid-July. I decided that a shared experience may have more long-term value to him than a present that he may outgrow or lose interest in after a few months. I wanted our excursion to pack a punch with a variety of unique and fun activities unlike those we could do at home, but I was concerned about having enough money to do something truly special.
READ MORE: 9 Smart Travel Tips for the Savvy Single Mom
My budget and the state of my vehicle dictated that our trip would be by car, and somewhere we could access within 3-5 hours. I didn’t want to waste too much of our precious time sitting in a car, yet I doubted we could fly anywhere interesting and still have money for hotel, food, and entertainment. So, my field narrowed to a radius of approximately 300 miles.
Now, what would we even be interested in doing? This part of my trip planning took the most time, as I weighed the options for one city after another and considered where we would stay and what would appeal to an 11 and 14-year old. Then, it hit me! My son loves music from all genres and also really enjoys museums. My itinerary started to form around the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
The internet became an invaluable tool to scope out the rates and amenities at nearby hotels and find suggestions for other activities. I ended up booking everything online, which really helped me keep track of my money, and provided me with valuable information such as hours the attractions were open, parking and other additional costs, and tips from others who had traveled there. I found a gorgeous hotel downtown that was close to the rest of our destinations: a dinner cruise for the first evening we arrived (after the museum), and the aquarium for the second day before driving home.
I’ll admit that I was nervous about embarking on this adventure. Could I trust my car? Would I get lost? Could I really do this by myself? Well, let’s just say that my GPS let me down a couple of times, but we survived any little bumps in the road, and we had an amazing time! I found value in this little vacation with my kids that extended beyond picture perfect moments and t-shirt souvenirs. We had a beautiful opportunity to bond and share something special together, and I had the chance to prove to my kids (and myself!) that mama can handle anything!
Why should you go on a trip with your kids?
Time is precious, so finding ways to explore and share time with our family is a treasure beyond compare!
It’s amazing practice to be a citizen of the world. How will kids learn simple tasks like checking in at a hotel, ordering dinner in a restaurant, using a map, or appreciating different cultures if they’re not exposed and shown the way by us? Even simple things, like getting lost in another city, teach observation skills, problem solving, and the ability to take frustration in stride and not give up.
You will model a can do attitude! How great is it for a child to see their mom lead the charge to conquer new worlds without feeling insecure or as if someone else should take the reins? That doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes or always know what we’re doing. But let’s demonstrate how a woman can put her mind to something amazing and make it happen!
The same four walls get boring! Kids look forward to breaks from school all year, then when it happens they often find themselves bored. Let them see that there’s more of this world outside wherever you live. Whether you choose a small sleepy town and farm country or a big bustling city, anywhere with different geographic coordinates than where you call home is an adventure waiting to unfold! Check out nature, sports, other cultures, history, and anything else new to expand their minds!
What should you consider when planning your trip?
What can you afford? I decided that I wanted to stay under $800 and three days or less off from work. Everyone’s parameters will differ, but it’s important to know what you have to work with so that you have some structure for your planning. Our trip was less expensive because we traveled during the week, and I found great coupons and deals online.
Be prepared for all the extra costs that can really add up, however. Just because the cost of admission to your main attraction is well-publicized, there can be many other expenses that may easily be forgotten during the planning process. What about parking, tips, souvenirs, snacks, and spontaneous fun? Be sure to pad your overall expected cost to accommodate extras, then stand firm on your set budget so you don’t end up short of what you need later!
Many hotels offer package deals when you stay overnight with them and visit two or more area attractions. For instance, many hotels in Indianapolis offer reduced rates to stay when combined with admission to the zoo and the children’s museum!
What activities are available? My trip was inspired by a teen who likes music, but you may find inspiration in many other favorite activities and interests. If you have a city in mind, start reading up (or talking to people who know the area) about good places to eat, stay, and visit. Perhaps a specific interest, such as the ocean or a sport, may prompt your search, resulting in possibilities like an aquarium, athletic event, or festival.
Even something small can be meaningful! Don’t feel bad if you can’t manage a cruise, plane tickets, or a voyage to your first choice of destinations! We all need something to aspire to, so if you can’t make those dreams happen this year, keep saving until you can, and devise a less expensive, likely closer to home outing for the near future. Consider camping (even if only in your backyard), day trips that won’t require a night over in a hotel, or splurge for an extra fun day at the water park, amusement park, or other kid-friendly places. Your kids will love whatever you do!
Get the kids involved! If you want your trip to be a winner, think about pulling your kids into the planning process to help make decisions about where to stay and what to do. Of course, most kids have taste that may far exceed the contents of our wallets. But with some guidelines (pre-determined by you), they can experience the thrill of having a say in what you do together. A shared goal of a trip together may even become inspiration for saving and making smart budget choices throughout the rest of the year. Why not even hold a family garage sale to purge unwanted items and help fund a vacation?
Fun and sunny days are just around the corner! With some planning, an excursion with the kids may soon find its way onto your summer agenda! I’m still weighing my options for where my tribe and I might go this year, but I am happy to report that last year’s vacation provided us with plenty of memories and motivation to see some more of the world together!
About the Author
Audrey Cade is the author of Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision (on Amazon) and the matriarch of a blended family of eight. She is an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, step parenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage, and enjoys sharing these experiences with others who are also committed to raising happy and healthy kids. Audrey’s professional experience is as a case manager social worker with the developmentally disabled, families with young children, and homeless populations. She holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. She enjoys family outings, a variety of arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, and writing. She is a featured blogger for Divorced Moms, has work regularly appearing on Divorce Force, and articles appearing in Step Mom Magazine, The Good Men Project, and others.