You’re probably familiar with this year’s summer buzzword: staycation.
In his new book, “The Great American Staycation,” Matt Wixon, who enjoys taking staycations with his wife and three young boys, offers practical tips for making a vacation at home worthwhile.
Are more families looking into staycations this year?
Right now, people are realizing that in order to be responsible, a vacation may not be a viable option. At the same time, you don’t want to take two weeks off and not do anything fun. That’s why staycations are such a good option.
What tips do you have for getting the most out of a family staycation?
We always set a start and an end date to our staycation. Then, we try to get everything done beforehand so that we don’t have to worry about things like mowing the lawn and taking care of the car. We really try to treat it as a true vacation. After that, we pack the schedule and have something fun to do each day. Also, people are going to choose staycations for budget reasons, but I encourage people to splurge a little bit. Go to a restaurant that you have never been to; do fun things that you wouldn’t normally do. You don’t want to penny-pinch during your vacation.
In my book, I liken it to going on a cruise and starting your diet—you would make yourself miserable.
How can parents make a staycation special for their kids?
Train trips are great—whether it’s a half-hour trip or a couple of hours—especially for younger kids. Another thing to do with kids is educational trips—observatories, planetariums, tours of fire and police stations, factory tours. You can make a tour out of anything. You can visit your local movie theater and see how a projector works. My kids and I once saw pinsetters in a bowling alley, and their eyes were so wide with amazement. All I did was ask the manager if he had a couple of minutes to show us around.—Kristin Jones
HITTING THE ROAD
Considering taking a road trip with your family? Whether you’re thinking cross-country or a neighboring city, here are four great destinations, as well as some tips for keeping kids entertained along the way.
Three Great Family Road Trips:
It’s A Shore Thing: Drive Route 1 from Portland, ME, to Acadia National Park. Stops could include Freeport for L.L. Bean and the outlet malls, Popham Beach State Park or Reid State Park for a swim, Round Pond for lobsters, and Rockland or Camden for a tall ship windjammer cruise.
A Capital Idea: Start your vacation in Washington, DC, making sure to visit the monuments and kid-friendly museums, like the Air and Space Museum. Then, drive down to the beach in Cape Hatteras, NC, stopping at Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA, and spots throughout North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Coast: Drive California’s Coastal Highway 1 from Santa Barbara to Santa
Cruz, often called the best road trip in America. Among other things,
take a tour of Hearst Castle, enjoy Big Sur’s dramatic coastline, and
plan to spend plenty of time on the Monterey Peninsula, where you can
visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In Santa Cruz, Cowell Beach is a great
place for kids to take surfing lessons. —Nancy Schretter,
managing editor of the Family Travel Network (familytravelnetwork.com.)
TIPS FOR A SMOOTH RIDE
1. Bring Goodies. Especially bring small toys, both old
reliables and new ones, that kids can hold and play with while sitting
in a car seat. Travel games are good too. For added effect, you might
want to distribute the new toys somewhat strategically as rewards for
2. Share the Responsibilities. Consider
appointing older kids “resident (travel site) experts” so that they can
act as “tour guides” when you arrive at something of interest. This will
take some preparation, but the Internet makes that easy. Younger
children can also be prepped; it’ll enhance their experience as well.
3. Remember the Tried
and True. No-tech games like “Twenty Questions,” “License Plate
Game,” and “Name That Tune” almost never fail if the parents themselves
are enthusiastic. And, of course, high-tech games like Gameboy, a
portable DVD player, or even the GPS system can distract like nothing
4. Be a Muse. Prompt kids to create poems from words on
billboards, tell a story about the people in a nearby car, or make up
jokes inspired by a road sign.
5. Be Flexible (Or Not).
Allow extra time for offroad fun, whether a half hour to play in a
McDonald’s Funland or an impromptu Frisbee toss at a grassy rest stop.
On the other hand, if sticking to your timetable allows you to visit the
largest ball of string, talk it up as your incentive for staying on
THE BASICS OF RENTING A SUMMER HOME (PLUS, AN UPDATE ON THE HAMPTONS)
Renting a home for the
summer, or even just a week or two, requires a lot of research,
especially if you’re a first-time renter. Starting out knowing the kind
of home you’re looking for is key. Marcella O’Callaghan, a senior vice
president at Corcoran Group Real Estate, advises that the first thing to
decide on—once you’ve decided on a town to rent in—is what part of town
you’d like to be in. “Think about if you want to be in a village
atmosphere, in the woods, or by the ocean,” advises O’Callaghan. The
second question a family needs to ask is how many bedrooms they will
need for the summer and also what special features they would like the
house to include. Parents should consider how important it is to have a
pool, tennis court, central air conditioning, and/or space for the
children to play. The deciding factor, however, is how much you can
afford. For families considering renting a home in the Hamptons this
summer, experts say not to expect the economy to deeply influence rental
prices, which can still range anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 per
summer for a standard 3- or 4-bedroom home. “In general, the prices the
owners are asking are, by and large, in line with where they were the
last year or two,” says John Gicking, senior vice president at Sotheby’s
International Realty. “The difference is that owners are more flexible
in accepting a lower offer from a qualified tenant.” If you do find a
rental home you love, it’s best to act sooner rather than later.
a family sees a house they like when they come out, they should take
it,” says O’Callaghan. “They shouldn’t wait, thinking maybe the price is
going to drop or a better house will come onto the market.” — Theodora Guliadis
LOCAL FAMILY ADVENTURES
Lowenstein, author of the new book, “City Weekends: Greatest Escapes and
Weekend Getaways in and Around New York City,” shared her top picks for
family adventures both in and outside the city.
Family Weekends In The
%uFFFD Cycling on Governor’s
Island: We love to rent bikes from the folks at Bike and Roll on
Governor’s Island and cycle on this quiet island with stunning views of
the city. If your child isn’t old enough to bike, they have bike seats
and bike trailers, so your little one can enjoy the sites without
breaking a sweat. They also have helmets. Being a native New Yorker, I
grew up seeing the island but never having access to it. Now that it’s
open to the public, I’m thrilled.
%uFFFD Camping in the city: The
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation hosts free Family
Camping sessions at parks in NYC. It’s a one-night campout (either
Friday or Saturday), and they provide you with the tent, the
food, and a nature walk—all for free! All you need is a sleeping bag. My
daughter and I went to the one on Alley Pond Park in Queens and had a
blast! It was the first time my daughter saw stars in the city. Quick
tip—you must call the Monday before you want to camp to reserve a spot;
call early, because they fill up fast.
%uFFFD Touring the Chinatowns
of the city: All city kids should check out the Chinatowns of NYC.
We love to walk around the crowded, vibrant streets of downtown
Manhattan’s Chinatown or to walk through the Flushing Mall in Queens,
which has no American chain stores.
Since we are from Brooklyn,
we often get dim sum on 8th Avenue in Sunset Park, which is Brooklyn’s
Chinatown. Sometimes we get to see a wedding or special event at the
restaurant, and my kids love seeing everyone dressed up.
Family Getaways Outside The
Brandywine Valley, PA: Getting away from the urban grind is good for
all family members. We love to head to the Brandywine Valley, where we
can get some fresh air while teaching our kids about American history.
a day touring large gardens and old homes from the industrial
revolution. Many of the museums, like the Hagley Museum, have great
kids’ rooms filled with kidcentric exhibits.
PA: You don’t even need a car to escape to this kid-friendly gem of a
city located just two hours from Manhattan. With science, children’s
and art museums, and an amazing zoo, this is a great place to take kids
of any age. There are also good eats and nice parks.
browsing markets and feasting on cheese steaks and pretzels.
%uFFFD Mystic, CT: From
wooden sailing ships at a historic port to an operational cider mill,
the Mystic area has tons of attractions for families. We love walking
through the quaint Mystic Village and also dining on some fresh seafood.
There are also extremely kid-friendly beaches just minutes from Mystic
that are quiet and timeless. —Alison Lowenstein