A grand summer vacation or spring break may not be in the cards for every family. The costs for family travel seems to go up every year and you may not live close enough to an amusement park, so what do you do? Well, if you are like me I plan lots of small day trips instead and most of them revolve around free or low cost activities that take us outside to explore. This is all part of our family simplicity project. We work as little as we can, taking the lower pay with it, so that we can spend more time together. When we want to do special things that means we have to get a bit creative. A Disney Cruise is not in the cards for us, it may never be, but we can still have a lot of fun while staying close to home. Just think outside the box!
Explore Local Waterfalls – Finding local waterfalls and swimming holes is the BEST! When I lived in Arizona there was no shortage of stuff like this to find so imagine my surprise when I checked out the Go Waterfalling site and found there was a waterfall about 20 minutes away from me. It was a blast and the kids loved it. Plus we now know there are some more about 1-2 hours north of us. Sounds like a nice day trip to me!
National Parks – Most Americans live within a day’s drive of a national park. Ranger tours, hiking trails, campfire talks… sounds pretty nice to me and you don’t even have to sleep in the park if camping is not your thing, you can find a cheap motel nearby instead. Make it an educational event by identifying local plant life, trees, and wildlife, discussing survivalism, etc. Mom and Dad can bring a camera and work on their photography skills so they can make a National Park scrapbook when they get home. Check out your local library for guidebooks specific to any park you want to go to.
Look for Covered Bridges – My mother and I LOVE to go driving around Ohio and scope out the covered bridges. No doubt when I take the kids up to spend time with her this summer we will make several of these trips. The photo above was taken on one such occasion. We ran into our first Ohio rattlesnake on a covered bridge so the kids are always excited to see if we can find more.
Historical Site Exploration – Do a Google search and see if you can find local battlefields, Indian ruins, or other places of historical interest. Visit homes that were part of the underground railroad or check out famous grave sites. We are very fortunate to live close to an outdoor amphitheater to witness the epic life story of the legendary Shawnee leader, Tecumseh as he struggles to defend his sacred homelands in the Ohio country during the late 1700’s. When I was a kid we used to drive to it in a motorhome and camp there overnight during the summer. In Arizona we would make day trips to Tombstone… good times.
Explore Caves and Caverns – Does your state have caverns and caves to explore. It probably does. Do some searching and see what you can find. You can usually go on tours and learn all about the history of the cave and what it was used for in centuries past. We have been wanting go to visit Mammoth Cave in Kentucky (5 hours away) but there are also several that are closer.
Scavenger Hunt! – A nearby city puts on a scavenger hunt each year where you have to drive to all sorts of local cemeteries, landmarks, and historic places and get a unique stamp in your adventure passport. It is a lot of fun and can be recreated easily. Spend a few evenings outlining an adventure tour in your local area, the kids will love it.
Check Out a Day Trips Book – Most major cities have published books with fun things to do in your area or within a days drive. It was by perusing books like this that we discovered that there are honest to goodness Castles in Ohio. We had fun visiting a few of them and want to hit up more this summer.
Go to Local Festivals – The availability of festivals and fairs will really depend on your state. In Ohio we have TONS of counties so their is a county fair practically every week in the nicer months it seems. We also have a Bratwurst Festival, a Strawberry Festival, a Popcorn Festival, a Tomato Festival, the Country Music Festival… it goes on and on. They provide funs ways to get outside, explore local communities, and eat some tasty food.
Harvest Some Food – Summer to us means raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and sweet corn. We like to visit You-Pick farms in the area and pick our own food. The kids have a blast harvesting it and they are super excited to get home and eat, bake, freeze, or can our treasures.
Visit the Animals – Take a trip to the zoo, a wildlife sanctuary or preserve, local stables, anywhere where you can interact with the local wildlife.
What are your favorite family vacation day trips?