Big theme park vacations are not the norm for us, so visiting Legoland and Disney World this year is something we’ll always remember. I do recommend making memories on a big splurge at least once in a lifetime if you can. But the fact of the matter is, big vacations are not always possible.
Spring and summer breaks are coming up soon, and it can be difficult for us to see one another’s vacation photos on social media. It’s hard to tame the green-eyed monster sometimes. Even after getting back from my own vacation, I feel it.
It can make you feel inadequate as a parent if you can’t always do a big vacation.
But I promise you, no matter where we are and what we do, all our kids really want is for us to be present with them. That’s the rock solid bottom line. Pretty locations help, but they aren’t the end game.
I think back to my own favorite childhood vacations. They weren’t grand. They involved togetherness and family and cousins and jumps on the trampoline, just basic stuff.
There are several awesome ways to make memories when you can’t do a big vacation. Here are some suggestions and my favorite go-to budget outings:
1. Feed the Ducks at the Park
My little one is a bird chaser. In the yard at home, at the park, at the beach in the Bahamas, it doesn’t matter. He loves chasing birds and it’s so funny to watch. It brings him so much joy and he laughs the whole way.
We warned him about chasing the geese because they might chase you back and bite, but he rarely gets close enough. We loved visiting this park in Hendersonville, TN because it has a cool bridge, a nice playground and lots of ducks and geese.
Hence the bridge poop that got a lot of talk during our visit.
Also, for the record, don’t take bread to the park to feed the ducks. We did and then saw signs posted everywhere here that bread kills water fowl. The feeders cost 25 cents and we luckily had change. So just fyi.
2. Go Out for Doughnuts
We love doing this, especially in shops where you can watch them make the doughnuts. Doughnuts and coffee for our family of four costs less than $10 and kids are always down for sweets.
3. Get Out of the Usual Routine
Get extra doughnuts to go and have some for breakfast the next day. Cookies or cake for breakfast, you name it anything that breaks the routine is fun for kids and you feel like you’re on vacation without even leaving the house.
Or just change where you eat. Spread out a blanket on the living room floor or outside on the porch. Kids cheer when they get to do something outside the norm, no matter how small.
4. Find Odd, Local Attractions
Is there something unusual in your hometown or anything you haven’t seen before? We found a cool stack of cannonballs and a cool view of the city that we never knew was there by venturing out to explore the history of our town.
We also found a great walking trail. It’s easy to drive past the things you see every day without checking them out. So stop and smell the roses.
5. Visit a Museum
Most museum admissions are low cost on their own or discounted during school breaks. There will be at least one new thing the kids will find interesting or cool in a museum.
Experiencing new things together is good for the long haul. Plus, there are a ton of new children’s museums out there today with a lot of entertainment.
6. Find a Walking Trail
A good nature walk is refreshing for the heart, soul and mind. Most walking trails have benches or clearings that make great spots to bring a lunch. Point out the fresh air, singing birds and sounds of running water and drink it all in yourself.
Walks have a way of fostering great conversation, especially with kids. Ask them questions about how they’re doing and what they want to talk about.
7. Picnic in the Yard
I’ve probably said it a thousand times, but one of my favorite memories was under the big magnolia tree in our front yard. We spread out a blanket and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grapes and fruit snacks. The kids rolled around on the blanket and chased each other around and the weather was awesome.
We were so broke we couldn’t afford to pay attention and it was one of the best days ever.
8. Movie Night at Home
Get out sleeping bags and a smorgasbord of treats and watch a movie on the living room floor. If you have a few leftover Amazon boxes, let them put their pillows and blankets in the box and let them pretend they’re at the drive-in. Bonus points if you let them draw on the boxes beforehand to design their car.
9. Drive-In Movie
Another thing we did to break up the monotony of watching movies at home: we all piled in the car as it was turning dark and watched a movie in the car. I laid the seats down in the van and they laid on the floor in their pajamas with blankets, pillows and treats and we played “drive-in movie” that way (without the engine running.)
Kids love anything outside the norm.
And speaking of outside the norm, on our trip to Disney Springs recently, the kids were fascinated with the escalator. The escalator. They wanted to ride it over and over again. At Disney.
So kids are kids are kids no matter where they are. Endearing and sweet. Interesting during family travels.
And so unbelievably worth it no matter where you are. Big family vacations aren’t always possible. But your presence is. That’s what they really want anyway.