Everyone knows that summer is the time for family vacations. Without the pressure of school schedules and extracurricular activities, families have the freedom to get away to the beach or lake and just enjoy each other.
But the freedom of a flexible schedule isn’t the only type of freedom parents need to make a summer vacation happen. They also need financial freedom, which isn’t always there. Perhaps even more crucial is the need to be free from “the mental load” of parenting … when your mind is overloaded with the attempt to coordinate multiple schedules (doctor’s appointments, sports practices, dance lessons, playdates, birthday parties, etc.) while keeping the laundry in check, the pantry stocked, dinner on the table, and the toddler clothed. It can seem too overwhelming to even contemplate planning a summer vacation, much less executing one.
But guess what? It’s totally okay to skip summer vacation for those reasons. It’s even okay to skip summer vacation for no reason at all. Nostalgia sometimes prompts us parents to put disproportionate pressure on ourselves to live up to what we think is “expected.” But the cool thing about being a parent is that we get to create our own family culture, year after year. Sure, maybe vacations happen most years. Maybe they never happen. That doesn’t mean you can’t create a new kind of summer vacation that fits where your family is right now, without stretching your limits: a staycation.
Staycations can be so much more than staying at a hotel in your city. They don’t even have to involve a change of venue — you can have a magical staycation in your own back yard. Here are three kid-friendly summer staycation ideas that won’t add to stress level or stress your budget.
1Back yard camp-out
I’m not much of a camping person. Aside from one memorable attempt, my family didn’t go camping growing up. But the appeal of sleeping outdoors, waking with the sun, and cooking over a fire is not lost on me … nor on my own kids. So we created our own version of a camp-out — one that doesn’t require expensive supplies, extensive travel, or navigating the difficulties of outdoor restroom-use.
You can make this camp-out as extravagant or minimal as you want. We use flimsy tents and lots of blankets on nights when the weather is nice, but sleeping bags under the stars work too! And if you don’t have a grill or a fire pit, you can cook your “camp food” on your own stove and bring it out (way better than beef jerky). Just makes sure you don’t leave out the 3 crucial elements of a camp-out: flashlights, spooky stories, and s’mores. Your kids will love the novelty of sleeping in the backyard, and you might be surprised by how well-rested you all are after a night with no blue lights or electronics!
2Tour your town
If you’re raising your family in a town you’ve lived in for a while, chances are things that are familiar to you might be totally unfamiliar to your own kids … especially if you grew up in the same place. Think about it … that cool museum or weird little log cabin village you went to on a school field trip in 5th grade? Your kids have no idea that exists. That huge park with the random waterfall you found tucked into the middle of the city when you got lost trying to get to a job interview in college? Your spouse might not even know about that. What better way to bring a little magic to your family this summer than to show them unexpected and delightful surprises in your own stomping ground? Of course, if you live in or close to somewhere that’s relatively new to you, then you can all enjoy exploring it!
Sometimes summer can be too crazy even for these things. But you don’t have to devote a whole night or day to a fun staycation — all you have to do is wait until the sun goes down. Instead of starting bedtime rituals, tell your kids to put their shoes on, grab a handful of flashlights, and head to a nearby park or playground (or even just the backyard!) for a few rounds of flashlight hide-and-seek.
We used to do this on summer nights, and it’s one of my favorite summer memories. For young kids, there’s nothing more exciting than staying up past bedtime — and when you combine that with hide-and-seek in the dark, it makes for an epic summer night. The best part for you parents is that this staycation requires zero money, zero planning, and can be as long or short as you want.
Ultimately, summer vacations are meant to do one thing: give us a chance to reconnect with the most beloved people in our lives. But it’s hard to reconnect amidst the hustle and bustle of the daily grind, when there are chores to be managed and squabbling to break up. Transporting ourselves to an unfamiliar place is a chance to see our families with fresh eyes, and appreciate the ones for whom all the work is done.
A staycation can have the same effect with half the effort. And the cool thing about staycations is that they’re usually much shorter than vacations … which means they don’t lose their novelty and descend into petty fighting and exhaustion. It also means they can be repeated more than once a summer.
So instead of pouring all your effort into one week of summer vacation, try sprinkling some staycation magic throughout your summer. You might be surprised at the cumulative effect — a summer full of staycation magic can seem like one long, epic summer vacation.
How to keep up your prayer life on summer vacation
How to plan a vacation that’s truly restorative