spring, fun, park, local, outdoors

Family Travel: 10 ideas for a cheap, local ‘staycation’

spring, fun, park, local, outdoors

These boots were made for … well, this kind of stuff, we guess. It’s all part of spring fun at the local park. (Nicole Keck/Vacay.ca)

Advice from Nicole Keck
Family Travel Columnist

Can you smell it? Spring fever is in the air, and whether the fickle thermometer is in agreement or not, there is undeniable proof that warm weather is near. The days are getting longer, we’re breathing deeper because the air outside smells delicious, and the birds are returning from their extended vacation down south. And while those birds are busy making their nests and setting up house, we may be itching to spread our wings and get out of ours. However, with the kids still in school and our vacation budget likely going toward a summer trip, travelling may not be possible for families right now. That is why spring is the perfect time to get creative and vacation in our own towns.

If we take the packing, airfare, lodging and meals out of the picture, what’s left is low cost, low stress, local adventure that gets  us out and about with our brood, enjoying some fun and fresh air on the cheap. Here are a few ideas to get you started, but the possibilities are practically endless. Why not start this week?

1. Go on a photo tour of your area. Arm each of  the kids with a camera, even the inexpensive, single-use variety, and take a walk through your city, or anywhere that feels inspiring. Take your time and let them shoot whatever they want; it’s fun to see what catches their attention. My kids really surprise me with the shots they take when they have free reign with a camera. Their size alone gives kids a unique perspective on things. My son is the only one who has ever made me look at asphalt in a whole new way; he once took an extreme close-up of a parking lot that I found so interesting and artistic. Another twist could be to give the outing a theme; ask little ones to find and take a picture of each letter of the alphabet, or make it into a photo scavenger hunt, giving them a list ahead of time of things to find and photograph.

2. Arrange to take some behind-the-scenes tours. Practically any business is a potential field trip, just ask your kids what they would be interested in. The police station and fire house are usually willing to show kids around and those trips have the added benefit of helping little ones to not be afraid to ask a police officer for help or to not hide from a fire fighter in a scary-looking mask should the unthinkable ever happen. Other ideas could include factories, printing houses, train stations, local theatre groups, bakeries (samples anyone?), sports venues, recycling centres or television stations.

3. Make it your aim to spend the spring visiting as many parks and nature centres as you can. Keep a list, check them off, and mark your favourites so you can return.

4. Try Geocaching, a real-life treasure hunt using GPS. While you’re out there, you can also choose to take part in the accompanying “Cache In Trash Out” environmental initiative, collecting litter along the way.

5. Spring means rain, and rain means mud, so get out the rubber boots, head for a nature trail and let the kids stomp in puddles till their hearts’ content. Hey, why not join them? Just don’t forget towels and clean, dry clothes for the ride home!

6. Take advantage of the tried and true spots around town like the library, science centres and museums. The programs and exhibits are constantly changing so it’s never the same trip twice.

7. Pick a country to research as a family and immerse yourself in its culture for a week. Is there a far-off exotic place you have always wanted to visit?  Is there a country that has special relevance to your family’s heritage? Maybe you could just spin the globe and see where your finger lands, then check out books on the subject, rent DVDs, try some recipes common to that region or learn a few phrases from their language. International travel doesn’t always require a passport, just an imagination.

8. Take advantage of spring’s windy days and go fly a kite; it’s such a simple but fun outing. All the running around makes it almost qualify as a workout and it’s a sure way to let the little curtain climbers expend some energy.

9. Look into local environmental volunteering opportunities. Some communities organize a spring clean up or gardening day to spruce up the neighbourhood as the last of the snow finally melts. Just a few hours of donated time can make a big difference, and everybody benefits.

10. Just take a walk. Get the family together a few times a week, even for 20 minutes, to get outside and walk, or bike, together.  The resulting exercise, fresh air, and conversation are simple but impactful rewards for a small amount of invested time and energy.

So, if you’re short on cash or short on time, do not despair; there is plenty of fun to be had close to home, and spring is the perfect time to get out there and enjoy it.

Nicole is currently a homeschooling, stay at home mother of three young boys, (a.k.a. the three stooges, the little rascals – you get the picture.) Her passion for writing was sparked at a young age when an English teacher said, “It is a noble thing for one to have command over his or her own language and to use it for good.” Nicole studied at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan and before the children came along, she and her husband enjoyed active travel such as hiking, backpacking, canoeing and kayaking. The detailed journals and poetry she wrote during those adventures remain among her most treasured possessions. You can read more about Nicole at nicolekeck.com.

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