I recently saw a meme that brought a harsh reality into mind:
You only have 18 summers with your kids, so make each one count.
While thinking about this, I’m thankful that we’ve spent the past 15 years since our first son was born establishing summer family trip traditions. I’ve only got 3 summers left until we send our oldest to college, and every summer is a precious time for our family.
My husband and I have always loved traveling. Before kids, we took a lot of exciting trips, but scaled things down a bit once we had our family in tow. Since we purchased a timeshare early on (which, for the record, I don’t recommend), it’s forced us to take some great week-long adventures as a family. There are so many ways to stay at nice resorts and hotels affordably, even if you don’t have ownership in a vacation week or have a big budget.
Here are some of our summer family trip traditions that you might enjoy implementing with your family.
It’s ok to go small.
Of course, many people want to do Disney or travel abroad. Here’s the thing, though. You don’t have to go all out every year in order to create special memories for your kids. We’ve had Disney years, ocean years, big amusement park destinations, and then we’ve had years where we didn’t have an entire week to take from work. There were years we simply couldn’t afford to go anywhere expensive. This did not mean our kids had lesser experiences, though. Even weekend trips to Kansas City or Des Moines have been super memorable for our boys.
Instead of wishing you were somewhere more exotic, be thankful for the experiences you get to share together. Pick one big attraction you plan to visit and fill in the rest with time at the hotel pool, area parks, and favorite restaurants. Chances are, your kiddos will value that downtime with you and enjoy the extra time with you.
Start out at the visitor center.
I learned this tip before we even had kids. One of our first stops we make when we arrive at a new destination is the visitor center. We’ve received some of our best travel advice for new places from local experts: tastiest places to eat, coupon books, and attractions that will suit our family based on our interests and budget. This helps us make the most of our time and ensures that we find something everyone will enjoy doing. Plus, the coupon books help us save money, which is key for our family!
Make your local memberships pay for themselves!
This is one of my family’s BIGGEST summer family trip traditions—and a year-round tradition. We have a yearly membership to the Omaha Children’s Museum, which has some incredible reciprocal benefits across the United States. There are some amazing places your membership will grant you free or discounted admission when you visit.
We’ve been to several science centers, including the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and NASA in Houston. We paid next to nothing to go to these places because of our membership, which saved us hundreds of dollars for each trip. The memories that we built along the way have been priceless.
The same goes for a zoo membership. Check your destination to see if our zoo has reciprocal benefits for free or discounted admission.
Give your kids a souvenir budget.
With 4 kids, we could spend a small fortune on trinkets from our destinations that probably wouldn’t mean so much if we let them pick out everything they wanted from souvenir shops. A few years back, we implemented a $10-15 budget per trip for a souvenir of their choice.
Our only stipulations: it must be something that reminds them of our trip, and it cannot be consumable. My 7-year old was heartbroken over the slime I refused to buy him at NASA this summer. I knew that we could make our own slime at home, and I knew his souvenir would end up in the trash after a few times playing. Instead, he chose a waterproof beach case with our destination imprinted that will last for years—and will be a special reminder of our memories as a family.
We’ve found that giving our kids a budget for each trip provides value to their souvenir selection. Our boys have kept their souvenir finds in safe spaces at home, rather than letting it end up in a junk pile or donation box.
Eat dessert before dinner (or even for dinner)!
For those that know me, I’m pretty health conscious and we eat a really consistent healthy diet at home. So, when we’re on vacation, we splurge and treat ourselves—and enjoy every single bite! We don’t often eat ice cream before dinner (or FOR dinner like we did a couple years ago), but if we do we make the most of it.
Then, we return home to our normal routine and just have the fun memory of ice cream for dinner.
Choose something unique to repeat every time you go on a summer trip.
A few years ago, we came across an old-fashioned pan-shaped package of Jiffy Pop while we were shopping for our vacation groceries in Wisconsin. My husband grew up making Jiffy Pop on camping stoves as a kid, and it was a fond memory of his.
Our kids were mesmerized by this crazy foil contraption that would make popcorn. So, we bought it and popped it up in our condo kitchen. They thought it was the coolest thing ever! Since then, it’s our summer family trip tradition to pick one up on every vacation and pop it up if we have access to a stove.
These are a few suggestions of what has made some of our family vacations memorable and have worked well for us. Even though I know my time to make memories with my kids will go too fast, I love knowing we’re doing our best to make the most of the 18 summers we have with each boy.