The idea of getting away for a family vacation often comes easier than the planning involved to make it happen. But taking a break from the usual grind doesn’t have to mean months of saving money, taking a long string of days off from work and the tedious process of boarding an airplane. Instead, take the family on a mini-vacation in your own backyard and enjoy a variety of fun activities that are just a car ride away.
If there is a zoo or aquarium within driving distance, ask about special family all-day packages or overnight events that allow everyone to slumber among with the animals, suggested Margie Jordan, a member of the American Society of Travel Agents and owner of Jordan Executive Travel Service in Jacksonville, Florida. “At your local zoo, feel like you’re on safari as you camp out in the zoo and hear the sounds of the wild at night.”
Take advantage of great weather with a day trip or overnighter at one of your state's parks. Map out a fun hiking trail or stake your claim on a cozy campground and have a cookout over a campfire. “Hiking and camping adventures in local state parks are staycations waiting to happen,” Jordan said.
Experience your state’s natural beauty from a different perspective. Look into educational Jeep tours that take you into geography that is off-road-vehicle-friendly. Be sure to ask if the Jeep is also child-friendly, has appropriate seatbelts and whether there are discounts for children, advised Walker Remington, owner of Arizona Territorial Adventures, a Jeep tour company that guides visitors through the Sonoran Desert. “If I do my job correctly, everyone gets an education as they’re being entertained.”
Skip the grocery store and head out to a pick-your-own farm and select fruits or vegetables straight from the source. Most kids will enjoy the experience of picking their favorites, and often farmers are around to answer questions and teach them a little bit about where their food comes from. Some offer seasonal features like corn mazes, hayrides and pumpkin patches. To find a farm near you, visit the website Pick Your Own (pickyourown.org).
Discount Pass Packs
Do some online research to find out if your city offers discounted passes to events or venues when purchased as a package. You can score great deals to attractions, and sometimes the package is good for a few days so you don’t have to squeeze it all into one. For example, the Philadelphia CityPASS is a booklet of admission tickets to five Philadelphia attractions at 45 percent off the combined admission price and is good for nine days.
To kids, museums often have a stuffy and dull reputation, but more are offering exhibits and hands-on activities designed for younger age groups. Do an online search for the museums near you and find out if they have family-friendly options that will keep all ages entertained. For example, at the Phoenix Art Museum, a KidPack is available to children ages 6 to 10 that includes a backpack of activity cards, puzzles and other games that correspond to the museum’s collection.
Experience how a visitor experiences your city. But instead of going to the typical sunset lookout point or iconic statue that you assume is a tourist attraction, start from square one and grab a tour book for ideas, suggested Stephanie Dembowski, public affairs specialist for AAA Arizona in Phoenix. “Check out guides, such as the AAA TourBook, for must-see attractions for tourists who visit your hometown.”
Plan the day around doing something or visiting a place you always wanted to see but never had the time or assumed it wasn’t doable. Head to that weekend farmers market that’s an hour out of town or buy tickets to that new water park the kids have been curious about. “Make it a point to do something new during your staycation,” Dembowski said. “Have you ever wanted to try an activity, dine at a certain restaurant or visit a landmark in your state that you’ve never seen?”
Go against the grain and plan your staycation during off-peak times to get the best deals and incentives, such as resort credits or additional free nights, Dembowski suggested. If you live in a cold, non-ski region look into winter rates, and for hot, desert areas, check out resorts’ summer deals.
Ask An Expert
Concierges make it their business to know what activities are going on and which ones are best suited for all ages and preferences, so take advantage of their expertise. If you make local hotel reservations, contact the concierge and let the pro plan your adventure. “The concierge can handle so much of your vacation planning needs and eliminate the stress from the guest,” said Marion McKenna, lead concierge at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort in Phoenix. “Ask about special events and activities that will be happening during your visit.”