Traveling is such a great way to build a shared family history, teach your kids valuable skills, and also remind yourself of the beauty of the world around you.
But…how do you “travel” during a year like this one, where there are so many restrictions, so many cancellations and you may not even feel safe taking a normal vacation?
Thankfully, SO many of the benefits of traveling are available even for small trips, local trips and, yes, even staycations. [If you haven’t heard the term “staycation” before, it’s a vacation where you stay home.]
But in order to reap the benefits of traveling with one of these great alternatives, you have to understand what it is about traveling in the first place that builds memories for your family:
- Focused, quality time together
- Breaking out of your normal routine
- Doing something NEW that engages your senses and uses your brain in a fresh way
- Working together as a team — solving a problem, exploring the world, experiencing something new together, etc.
To say it simply: The key is focused, quality time together and breaking out of your routine to do something new.
Now that you know the key elements that making traveling so beneficial…
Here are 5 Creative Ways to Vacation During a Pandemic
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1. Explore Your Own City or Hometown
If you can’t go far from home, why not explore the place you live with new eyes? Take time to discover the wonderful things your own city has to offer. Visit a museum, discover a new coffee shop, hop in the car and explore.
I lived in Cleveland, Ohio for most of my life and, as you may have heard, Cleveland gets a bad rap. There’s been this stigma about Cleveland for decades that it’s a terrible place to be and nobody would want to go there.
People have even referred to it as “the mistake on the lake” and we were known for being the city with the river that caught on fire. Great, right?
Still pretty regularly, I’ll be watching a movie or reading a book with my kids and Cleveland gets mentioned — always in the context of being a city that nobody wants to visit.
But what most people DON’T know is that Cleveland has a lot of amazing things to offer! As part of the job I had in Cleveland, when we would host guest conference speakers or teams from out of town, my husband, Michael, and I would give them a tour of Cleveland and show them some of our favorite spots.
People were amazed!! Nobody knew that Cleveland had become a foodie city, with tons of local restaurants and coffee shops that had been featured on tv shows or magazines. Nobody knew that Cleveland was in the top 5 in the nation for its art museum, its orchestra and its theater district.
And when we took them to see the sunset on the lake, it took their breath away.
Wherever you live, there is something special about it that you probably haven’t explored or that you haven’t taken advantage of in awhile. Now is the perfect time to do it!
See your city through new eyes. Research online and see what comes up. There are museums you can visit safely, new restaurants you can grab takeout from, and sites to see without even having to get out of the car.
Consider doing a photo scavenger hunt with your family. Identify several different places or types of photos you want to capture and then drive around, hop out of the car and grab a selfie at each spot.
If you don’t live in a city with options like these, consider taking a day trip to a nearby city or making it an exploration of nature and local landmarks that you DO have by you.
2. Take a Road Trip — Even a Small One.
Traveling by car during a pandemic feels a little less daunting than hopping on an airplane, so plan a road trip!
It could be just a day trip or an overnight somewhere or longer, but road trips are a great way to build memories with your family.
I asked my husband one time what his favorite vacation was when he was a kid. I know his parents had taken him to Alaska, to Holland, and to Disneyworld, so I was interested to hear his answer.
You know what he said? His favorite vacation was in…drum roll please…West Virginia–the same state he grew up in.
I was like, “What? Why???” He said that, one time, his Dad planned a surprise trip for him and his mom. All they knew was to pack a bag with clothes and toiletries. Then, they got in the car and he took them on an adventure.
They drove through the gorgeous hills of West Virginia, following a map with a secret route that he had planned in advance and stopping at random places to explore.
It wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t expensive. But it was his favorite vacation because his Dad was invested in making it something special.
Here’s the point: It doesn’t take much to create those types of memories with your kids. Focused quality time together and breaking out of the normal routine to try something new together is all it takes to create a “favorite vacation.”
3. Turn Your Home Into A Destination
Maybe a tropical vacation isn’t possible this year (or next), but you can bring the tropics to you with a few fun decorations!
- Check out your local party store or search online for some fun palm trees, paper lanterns, or other “destination” decorations to create a dreamy locale in your home.
- Play some tropical music or a bird soundtrack to help set the mood.
- Put a video of the ocean on your tv screen and watch the waves come rolling in.
- Make some fun kid-friendly drinks like virgin Pina Coladas (you can make the adult ones real) with those little paper umbrellas. I promise it will be just as exciting and memorable to your kids as if you actually flew to St. Lucia.
Think about all the fun themes you could do! Make your own version of Disney World, or take a tour of Italy.
One time, I created an Italian theme in our home….I got a red & white checkered tablecloth and some fresh sunflowers for the table. I bought some inexpensive clusters of plastic grapes and hung them from a string overhead like a vineyard.
I whipped up some pasta, because who DOESN’T need pasta in a pandemic, right? I even made an Italian soda bar —just setting up seltzer water, flavored syrups, and half & half with some fun glasses & straws–and let everyone make their own, choosing their flavors and everything.
My kids still talk about making their own Italian sodas.
I printed out some photos of Italy and hung them around to help set the mood. It was so simple, but so much fun.
In order to recreate a destination at home, think of these 3 things:
- Setting: How can you set the mood with decorations, sounds, scenery?
- Food: Taste and smell are two of our most powerful senses. What’s a fun way you could experience your destination through taste and smell? Do something a little out of the box. Try a new dish. Set up a food station of some sort. Order takeout from a local ethnic restaurant.
- Experience: What would you do if you were actually there? If it’s a beach location, you could bring in your beach chairs or lay out beach towels in the living room. Want to do London? Find a video tour of London online and watch it together. Recreating Paris? Take an online tour of the Louvre and then do a paint night as a family. Watch a painting or drawing video on YouTube and create art together! Recreating Disney World? Create a princess tea party and let your kids dress up or Peter Pan’s tree house or find a free roller coaster experience video online and give your kids a “ride” in a laundry basket. Be creative!
Even if you don’t want to create a full destination in your home, remember the 2 things you need to do in order to make a staycation fun and memorable for your kids:
1. Focused quality time together as a family —-The hardest part, and yet the most valuable, is not letting yourself get sucked into the work, dishes, laundry…all the stuff that you do any other week.
Find some creative ways to take a week or even a weekend off from that stuff. Order takeout, get easy meals, use paper plates, hire a cleaning company to clean your house for a one-time clean, turn your phones and devices off during certain hours of the day. It will be hard at first, but if you can push through, it may just be your favorite part of the staycation!
2. Do something new and fun that breaks out of the routine–This doesn’t mean you have to go get tattoos together; it can be as simple as putting a blanket down on the living room floor and having a dinner picnic.
It can be having a family game night. Try an escape room in a box together! You can buy one here or you can even book a virtual escape room experience online. Solving problems together is a really fun way to connect and grow as a team.
4. Go Camping!
Alright, my husband’s eyes are probably bugging out right now if he’s reading this, because he knows camping is not exactly my first choice for a vacation. But here’s the truth (I will admit it)….camping is INCREDIBLY memorable for kids.
Not only does it check the 2 primary boxes for creating memories, but there’s this added feel of adventure and exploration, braving the wild, and being immersed in the outdoors.
My family went camping when I was a kid, but we had a small camper so it was a little easier for me than tent camping. We even went to the Yogi Bear campground. I mean, it had a gift shop for crying out loud, so it’s not like my life was in any real danger. But still, camping is not usually my first choice.
Whether you’re a fan of camping or not, tell your kids you’re doing a camp out and they will LOVE you forever! You don’t even have to GO anywhere to camp if you don’t want to. If it’s warm out, set up a tent in the backyard and make a night of it! Don’t have one? Borrow one from a friend or pick up a cheap tent online.
If it’s too cold outside (there’s snow on the ground where I am right now—so outdoor camping is DEFINITELY not happening), you can “camp out” in the living room!
- Break out the sleeping bags or set up air mattresses or blankets on the living room floor. If you have a big enough space, you can even set up a tent inside!
- Find a campfire video on YouTube and put it on your tv.
- Make s’mores in the oven or roast marshmallows over a candle.
- Play a soundtrack of outdoor sounds (crickets chirping, etc.)
- Stick some glow-in-the-dark stars on your living room ceiling.
- You can tell stories, sing songs, eat hot dogs for dinner and your kids will have just as much fun as if they were camping outside…maybe more.
And then once they’re asleep you can sneak back to your real bed and try to get some actual sleep, right? Shh…don’t tell them I said that.
5. Do a Simple Overnight or Weekend Getaway
Maybe a whole week is too much or you don’t feel safe doing that in the current climate, but what about a socially distanced 1 or 2 night stay at a hotel or resort?
Last month, my husband and I took our 2 girls to a resort about 2 hours away from home and we had a blast! We got a great deal on Travelzoo that made it super affordable.
We made sure ahead of time that they were taking proper precautions and we were careful to follow the guidelines.
We got takeout and ate in our room, we took the kids to the pool when it wasn’t crowded, and we found some fun local activities where we could bundle up and be outside without a ton of people around.
And our kids LOVED IT.
They talked about it for weeks and my 3 year old asked if we could move there. We literally ate burgers in a hotel bed and swam in the pool twice and it was the best trip of their lives. Hey, we’re high rollers, what can I say?
If there are people in your life that you’ve been getting together with, close family or friends in your “pod,” this could be a fun trip to take with them!
Check out some local deals. Lots of times they offer deals during off-season, which means there are less likely to be as many people there, which is perfect.
Kids love to swim. If you live somewhere that’s cold right now, even just taking your kids swimming is the best thing ever. My sister-in-law reserved the pool at a local hotel so she could take her grandkids swimming. See what’s possible!
Another great, safer option is to use a website like AirBnB or VrBO to rent someone’s home for a night or two. You can have the feel of a vacation without going too far from home and still maintaining safety guidelines.
And if you’re like, “Why in the world would I pay money to sleep somewhere that’s 20 minutes from my own house?”
- This is breaking out of your normal routine. This is the exact kind of thing that activates a different part of your brain and your kids’ brains and makes it more likely to be a lasting memory for them.
- You know what ISN’T at that place 20 minutes from your home? Your laundry. And all the other responsibilities you’re swamped with regularly. Sometimes one of the most important parts of a vacation is giving yourself permission to NOT do the stuff that you do every other day of the year. NOT to cook, NOT to do dishes or laundry. Let yourself take a break from that stuff.
Here’s the thing…traveling has SO many benefits for kids and for the entire family! Thankfully, you can take advantage of a lot of those same benefits without going far from home…or without even leaving home at all!
But let me give you 3 quick bonus tips to make your staycation or local getaway as enjoyable as possible:
BONUS TIP #1: Lean into your strengths. If you read the part about creating a destination in your home and you think to yourself, “I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a spork,” then DON’T do it.
Don’t think that in order to give your kids a good time you have to become something that you’re not, or do a bunch of stuff you don’t have time or energy or money for.
Lean into your strengths. If you love the outdoors, then be creative about a way to get outside with your kids in a fun way. Rent a cabin for the weekend.
If you love to cook, then clear your schedule and make some of your favorite foods for your family. Let your kids set up a restaurant and draw the menus.
If the thought of camping is about as exciting to you as cutting your grass with a pair of scissors, but you love movies, then do a movie marathon. Pop some popcorn, set your living room up like a theater and have at it.
Talk to your spouse and ask them, “What could we do that gives us focused quality time as a family, breaks out of our normal routine, and also feels like ‘us’?”
My husband is an Eagle Scout, so he loves building fires. He’s been teaching our kids how to build a fire and manage fire safety and they love it. One of our favorite staycation-style things to do is having a fire in the fireplace and making hot cocoa and either reading books or doing puzzles.
You don’t have to look like anybody else. Lean into your strengths and do something that you will enjoy as well.
BONUS TIP #2: Don’t Let Your Happiness Depend on Everyone Else’s
This. Is. Huge. So many times I have caught myself rolling with the tide of my children’s happiness or even my husband’s happiness. And I was miserable.
I realized that I was making it my responsibility to make sure EVERYONE was having a good time. But no matter how hard I tried, there were always too many things outside of my control. And always someone who wasn’t entirely happy.
Not only is it impossible for you to make everyone have fun, but it will steal your joy quicker than anything else. Here’s the truth: Your family’s happiness is not your responsibility. In fact, you cannot control it…no matter HOW hard you work or plan, you cannot control your family’s happiness and that’s okay.
Choose to focus on your own attitude and how to enjoy the moments and, most likely, your family will follow suit.
BONUS TIP #3: Go With the Flow
When things go wrong…because they will…laugh, adjust, and move on.
This is the #1 key to successful traveling. And it’s DEFINITELY the key to traveling with kids.
One of the best things you can do for your family is to not sweat the small stuff. Remember that the challenges, the mishaps, and the hilarious stories that happen when traveling make some of the best memories and stories for years to come.
So let yourself laugh and your kids will laugh too.
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