Travel is so important for kids. It’s how they learn about the wider world around them. It gives them the opportunity to see beyond their backyard and meet people from all walks of life. It helps reinforce the geography, history, and cultural lessons they’re learning in school.
I truly believe travel is the key to turning self-centered children into responsible, empathetic adults.
The problem is our budget doesn’t allow for a lot of vacations. We have always tried to take a trip every few years, with as much as our budget would allow. It seemed to be just enough to whet our appetite while also making us long for more. And then we landed on a compromise that has allowed us to travel more frequently — day trips.
Our family travel focus has moved from scraping together a meager vacation budget every few years to taking short day trips every month. We can load the kids into the car, drive a few hours, and spend an afternoon exploring new places. It helps to live in the midwest — there are so many great places to visit within driving distance of Indiana.
We spent a day on Lake Michigan in New Buffalo, MI. We sampled cheeses at Mars Cheese Castle on the way to an afternoon in Racine, WI. And we tackled an overnight drive to spend a day at the ocean and walk the boardwalk in Rehoboth, DE. (Our concept of a “day” trip may be a little skewed.) So far, we’ve been focused on beaches, but as we head into the colder months, we’ll be branching out a bit.
To earn the title of Day Trip, we simply have to avoid staying overnight. Our kids are good travelers, and we’ve always preferred to drive through the night. We take turns with driving and can often manage to arrive fairly well rested from our sleeping shifts, even if the trip does take us a lot longer than Google Maps would suggest.
For our Delaware trip, we shifted between the two adults and one teen driver throughout the night, took turns sleeping, and then did it again that night for the return trip. It was a long 36 hours, but we pulled it off, enjoyed our day, and avoided a hotel stay. With a large family, an overnight trip means booking two hotel rooms or an entire suite — both cost-prohibitive options. Coming straight back home after our day allows us to skip that cost altogether and saves hundreds of dollars on each trip.
We are currently spending $100-200 per road trip, depending on the mileage and what activities we choose when we arrive. One of our kids did the math on our new “vacation” budget; if we take one trip per month, we have a 12-day vacation for $2400 or less every year. There is just no where on earth we could vacation for nearly two weeks on that kind of budget.
Plus, we have the chance to explore a dozen different places instead of spending all our time at one destination. We’re crossing states off our list constantly. In the last few months, our kids have visited three different states none of them had never seen before — and passed through several more! That would have taken us most of their lives with a single vacation destination every 3-5 years. I like our way better, even if it is a little weird and crazy.
Maybe because of that. Weird and crazy suits us well.