It’s time for more ambitious family travel goals. The kids are older and they’re ready for more than an overpriced Disney weekend. Maybe it’s time to take them camping. Perhaps you want them to start appreciating art. Or maybe you just want your little ones to be more adventurous. Whether in Broward County or Buenos Aires, there’s a great big world ready to be seen. Follow these family travel resolutions — and start exploring it.
1. Spend more time in the great outdoors.
You know you should be introducing the kids to the splendor of the outdoors, but somehow hiking with little ones seems too daunting, and the most popular parks are always jammed. If you follow these simple tips — like choosing family-friendly trails and going early in the day — you’ll find it not so hard get the kids started on a childhood of hiking.
Plus, you should look into state parks, which get less attention than national parks but can be equally epic (and less crowded). And at a place like Anza-Borrego State Park, your kids can also check out amazing metal sculptures, like one of a dragon that seems to be swimming through the sand.
2. Introduce the kids to arts and culture.
Adding culture that your kids will appreciate into your travels is easier than you think. Sometimes it’s as simple as picking a place where cool art is part of the landscape — as it literally is at above-mentioned Anza-Borrego. Or, if you’re in Barcelona, don’t say you’re going to see the work of admired architect Gaudí at the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Instead, challenge your kids to figure out what natural features inspired Gaudí’s bizarre shapes. (And pre-book your tickets to visit.) Or skip the Sagrada Familia and see Gaudi’s Casa Milà instead, where the roof spires look like Star Wars stormtroopers and, inside, you can see an early-20th-century-modeled apartment.
Strategies abound to sneak culture into your travel. You can even get kids to enjoy museums by, say, turning a visit to a fine arts gallery into a scavenger hunt for certain images or trying to find all the paintings depicted on a museum map. As long as you keep the kids rested and well-fed, and do the cultural stuff early in the day, you’ll be surprised how much they’ll get out of it.
3. Explore your own city.
There’s hardly a more worthy travel resolution than exploring the richness of your own backyard. You’ll save money and stop spending Saturdays taking the kids to the same neighborhood playground. It’s also a great way to get ready for bigger vacations later — by sparking your kids’ curiosity sooner.
Say you want to introduce the kids to culture on your travels (see Resolution #2). Before jetting off to an expensive city, take them to more ethnic restaurants in your own town. Also, cities everywhere are embracing street art. Go check some out in your own city, or find outdoor summer plays, or just go to a science museum. Even if you live in smaller towns like Flagstaff, Arizona, or La Crosse, Wisconsin, both of which are some of the coolest towns in America, you can visit excellent museums like the Lowell Observatory (Flagstaff) or Dahl Auto Museum (La Crosse).
4. Be more adventurous.
Whether exploring your own city or a village an ocean away, travel can be a great way to teach your kids to be more adventurous. One way to do this is with new foods. Try foods that seem unusual but that your kids are pretty sure to like. Opening a banana leaf for lunch may be intimidating, but the nacatamales inside are a yummy Nicaraguan dish that’s sure to please. Fishhead pie in Mousehole, Cornwall, is probably overdoing it, but a tasty pasty (a Cornish empanada) will go down well.
The other way to be more adventurous is to do something new on every trip. Surfing is a pretty obvious must-try on your Kauai vacation, but a less typical beachside activity could be riding on fat bikes. If you’re in Italy, take the kids to a cooking class in Chianti or learn to ride gondola boats in Venice.
5. Go somewhere everyone will actually enjoy.
Travel shouldn’t be an either-or situation. If parents like a place, it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice for the kids — or vice versa. We can think of a whole bunch of epic family trips that everyone can appreciate. Whether Chile or Chattanooga, most great destinations offer a mix of things to do — from sandboarding to river-rafting — so there’s usually something for everyone.
Even locations that seem geared to adults (we’re looking at you, Napa Valley) can end up being fun for little ones too. You just need to do your research and scratch the surface. In fact, a long weekend in the California wine country with the kids may turn into an annual outing.
6. Save money without being stingy.
Let’s be real: Travel costs can add up, especially when there are more of you doing it. The good news is that kids don’t care about five-star hotels all that much. A motel with a pool is usually all they need. If you go with Resolution #3, travel can mean exploring places closer to home or car camping in a beautiful forest area — as per Resolution #1. Both are money savers.
You can even get creative and combine camping with a trip to the big city since several US cities have campgrounds within city limits, like San Francisco’s Robb Hill Campground, complete with Golden Gate Bridge views.
If you do fly places, follow these tips and use apps like Hopper to score cheaper flights. Or study the costs of capital cities and choose Lisbon over Luxembourg. If your kids are school-aged, you’ll have to work around their vacations, which can sometimes be a more expensive time to travel — although we think some destinations are worth pulling the kids out of school for.
7. Make lasting memories.
If you’re spending the time and effort to get your kids to a new place — be it Minneapolis, Maui, or Montenegro — you want them to get something out of it. Photographs will, of course, help them remember the good stuff. But, besides the afternoon you take them zip-lining, with time recollections of the specifics will all bleed together. Memories get hazy quickly.
Give your kids travel journals and make sure they write one thing in it every day. If writing is not yet easy for them, ask them to draw a picture. Not only will it force them to reflect on their day, and ideally get something more out of the whole experience, but it’ll also be a great memento years later. Chances are they’ll ask their own kids to do the same.
8. Remember to relax and have fun, too.
This may seem like an obvious goal, but too many parents are scared off from traveling with kids because they focus on the tough stuff. They’re worried about long flights, endless waits for baggage, even hungry kids at island restaurants with painfully slow service.
First off, a change in attitude is needed. If this were your honeymoon, all these things would just mean more time to gaze into each other’s eyes. Just because you screwed up the lovely dynamic by adding kids to the mix doesn’t mean those long waits have to hurt. Make them fun.
Turn on your iPhone timer and make a competition out of who can guess how many minutes it’ll take for the bags to arrive. Or play a food game while waiting for your dinner to arrive. (The first person names a food, such as “apple,” and the next has to name a different food that starts with that last letter of the previous, which in this case is “e.” Say “egg” and the next person can say “garlic.”) The point is that you are on vacation with your kids. You’re neither at the office nor loading the dishwasher. Enjoy those moments together, even the burdensome ones, and remember that it’s your vacation too.