If you want to break out of your usual vacation mold, try on some new ideas and see how they fit your family's sense of fun.
The key to a great vacation is figuring out what you want to do or where you want to go. Sure, there's a lot to be said for visiting the relatives, going to the lakehouse, or making the pilgrimage to Disney World. But maybe you want to mix it up a little. Make a family project of coming up with this year's vacation ideas -- you'll build excitement for your upcoming time off. Start by ordering a pizza and having a vacation brainstorming party. Here are 10 great ideas to get your party -- and your summer fun -- started.
By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea ... For grownups and kids alike, just being at the shore is enough. You can make the beach even more enjoyable by giving a sense of mission to the sandy proceedings. Go on a seashelling spree -- you'll have treasure-hunting good fun and come home with marine mementos that really tell a story. Your possibilities are as expansive as the miles of public coastline. If you're landlocked this vacation but still want that treasure-hunting rush, try rock-hunting. There's hardly a more hands-on way to learn about the marvels of geology -- and you'll be outside as a family to boot.
Outfitters all over the country can fix you up with the right kind of craft to get your family out on the water. There's everything from spectacular trips down the rip-roaring Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to quiet canoe excursions on calm lakes. No matter what the craft and where you put in, making a water outing the centerpiece of a vacation ensures memorable family fun.
Want to see how the western half lives? Dude ranches give city slickers the chance not just to see but to do. The American frontier's no longer a place where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play, but ranches retain a lot of rustic charm that's worlds apart from the usual. Boots, chaps, and a welcoming "Howdy, pardner" are just the beginning of authentic ranching fun. Trail rides, cattle roundups, and good chow come with the dusty territory -- so do lifetime memories.
You can't get closer to the water than this. Make your temporary home on a lake, bay, or swamp and discover a different way to live off the land. A houseboat can be your base of operation for fishing, boating, water-skiing, or just being. Your neighbors are birds and fish, and your clock is the rising and setting sun. Run the generator if you want power for the TV. Better yet, leave civilization behind and power your family life with the quiet joy of just being together out on the water.
A scenic trail, a good map, a backpack full of supplies, good weather, and enough gorp to go around. What more could a hiking family need? A couple of tents or a cabin to keep you sheltered at night, a fire to eat and sing around, a starry sky to contemplate, and all of Mother Nature to enjoy. That's what backpacking is all about -- and you can take advantage of it almost anywhere there's a trailhead.
This is one kind of vacation where the scenery is your family's spirit and the refreshing solidarity that comes from doing good for others. Building a house for the needy with Habitat for Humanity or a church mission group involves your family in the nuts and bolts of volunteerism, not to mention the hammers and nails of helping the homeless. It's a sure-fire way to teach conscientious living while you're making great vacation memories.
If the fares are good and the route's scenic, you should consider a train trek. Whether you're taking a scenic trip cross-country or just getting from A to Z to see the cousins or grandparents, the iron horse is an engaging all-senses experience. You can watch the world go by, get up and stretch your legs, eat in the cafeteria car, maybe sleep in a Pullman to the lullaby of the rails. Even if you don't take the train to your destination, trains can be the centerpiece of your itinerary once you arrive: Riding a small-gauge railroad or steam train at locations all across the country makes for historic fun.
You might be confined to planet Earth for your vacation travel, but that doesn't mean you can't have your head in the stars. NASA's big action is at the Kennedy Space Center in Houston, Texas, and the Johnson Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Both locations have spectacular public museums. But those are just two stars in a whole universe of possibilities around the country. If space exploration excites your family's imagination, make a pilgrimage to the heavens without ever leaving terra firma.
History was never this fun in school. At park locations all over the country, living-history sites demonstrate in authentic and colorful settings how life used to be. You could be transported in a most entertaining way to Spanish Colonial days in Florida, revolutionary times in the Northeast, pioneer days on the Texas frontier. Actors at living-history parks are in costume and in character. You and the kids won't even realize how much you're learning as you see candles and soap made in cast iron, food cooked in open hearths, cloth made on spinning wheels, horses shoed, cows milked, fields plowed. If you're looking for a time machine for your vacation, this is the ticket.
Taking the family antiquing and flea marketing is not about dragging the kids along on a vacation that's actually for you. The trick is to give your kids some buying power, too. Work out a budget and teach them not to spend it all in one place. Old toys and dolls, comic books, antique sports equipment -- you'd be surprised at how enthralling an antique store or flea market can be if you look at it with the eyes of your child -- especially one who has a little cash burning a hole in the pocket. Pick a part of the country that offers great scenery along with plenty of antiquing possibilities, and your drive time can be as enjoyable as your buy time.
At a Cracker Barrel Old Country store near you, you can pick up a free copy of their Travel Almanac. You'll find it to be just what the cover says: "A Useful Companion for THE AUTOMOBILE TRAVELER containing traffic information, distance charts, tips for proper automotive care, and advice for, [they] hope, making your trip a little easier." It comes complete with travel games, a list of festivals around the country, and a listing of Web sites that give travel ideas. At the company's own Web site, you can plan a trip, get directions, find their stores along the route of your trip (the Cracker Barrel restaurant, which is always is a reliable bet on any road trip), and look for festivals and other road-trip fun. Here's the Cracker Barrel.com link as well as their list of travel-idea Web sites (neither they nor Better Homes and Gardens is affiliated with or especially endorses any of the following):