August 21, 2017

Success in the City: Travel Resources

Thank you for having me at Success in the City. Based on questions I received before the Feb. 28 luncheon, here are some helpful tips and advice for planning adventures with kids. 

Best Free Activities 

National Gallery of Art: Free weekend workshops and programs for various age groups, offering kids a hands-on interactive look at the galleries. May read a story, then discuss a work of art, then sketch, write poetry or make other connections with the work of art. (ages 4-14)

Corcoran: Free Family Day on Saturday (March 2) with performances, face painting and kids’ gallery tours. Ask for a Family Exploration Guide, which offers tips and activities for looking at works of art with your child, as well as games you can play like I Spy to get your kids engaged.

National Building Museum: They have a Lego Build event coming up on Sunday (March 3). They also have various scout activities worth checking into if any of your kids are in boy scouts or girl scouts. Last year, they had a lot of craft and activity stations for the Cherry Blossom Festival.

** So many opportunities now to help your kids explore and fully appreciate all of the museums we have here in the city. When I was a kid we just wandered around aimlessly. Before you go, I’d definitely recommend going online to the websites to see what family programs they offer.

National Book Festival (September): This year, they had PBS characters, musical performances, book readings and opportunities to have books signed by favorite authors. Save the date: the National Book Festival will be September 21-22, 2013 on the National Mall.

Junior Ranger Programs: Great for kids ages 7 to 12. Pick up a Junior Ranger Booklet at a visitors center or ranger station (many times you can also download them online). Inside you’ll find activities like word searches and observational activities. Once completed, show it to a park ranger for a badge or certificate. Many state parks also have similar programs.

Passport to Your National Parks: National parks across the country have stamping locations where you can record your visit with a cancellation stamp as part of the Passport to Your National Parks program. You can get a passport book online for $8.95 or you can pick them up at many national parks.

** I would also hop on Groupon & LivingSocial for daily deals because at least twice a year I see museums, like Crime & Punishment, Spy Museum, Madame Tussauds and Lincoln’s Cottage, at half-price. Other sites include Specialicious and Certifikid for local deals. 

Best Day Trips for Elementary Kids 

Museum Sleepovers: Many museums, aquariums, zoos, etc. offer overnight adventures. Try Port Discovery, National Aquarium and the National Zoo. These are great opportunities to talk to staff and get a behind-the-scenes look at some museums.

Mount Vernon: We went to Mount Vernon in November. It’s very kid-friendly and had a good time with the Adventure Map of Mount Vernon, solving puzzles and hunting for clues. They also have a Hands-On History Center there for kids up to age 8 to play and learn.

Presidential History Day: There’s so much presidential history in the area, much of which would even be fun for little ones like the First Dogs exhibit at the Newseum. President Lincoln’s Cottage and Woodrow Wilson House are good spots, as is Madame Tussauds for the Presidents Gallery. You can check out 10 must-do activities here in a post I wrote for National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel.

More Presidential History: If you want to get out of the city, head to past presidential homes at Monticello, Montpelier and Ash Lawn-Highland. These can all easily be done in a day with time to spare.

Best Big Trips for Families 

There are so many great places to go. It really depends on what you want to get out of trips with your family, how old your kids are, how much activity you want, etc. Here are a few quick ideas:

Walt Disney World: Sure, everyone goes to Walt Disney World, but strive to check out different attractions, free activities, even venture outside the theme parks for a few days to Kennedy Space Center or St. Augustine.

Road Trips: We took a two-week road trip last summer from DC to Boston and back. We checked out lots of museums and attractions we’d never seen before while winding through Lancaster, Philadelphia, Mystic (CT) and Boston. It was very educational and more fun than spending a week or two in the same destination.

Home Exchanges: I mention home exchanges down below, but they are a great way to go somewhere you thought you’d never go for a fraction of the cost. See my post, 5 Tips to Nab the Perfect Family Home Swap, for more on home exchanges, plus a Q&A with Shelley Miller of HomeExchangeExpert.com. 

Multigenerational Trip Ideas 

* River cruises are hot right now, particularly among seniors. Try Tauck Bridges and Uniworld, both of which offer family river cruises that feature interactive scavenger hunts, on-board cooking classes, biking, kayaking. These are smaller cruises and offer lots of opportunities for learning.

* Big ship cruises are also great for multiple generations because there is so much to do for all age groups. Plus, some members can stay on board, while others can go off on excursions, then you can all come back together for dinner. Talk to a cruise specialist to book so you choose the right line.

* Try the Caribbean. We went with my in-laws last year to Puerto Rico and there was so much for everyone to do, whether going to the beach, the El Yunque Rainforest or historic Old San Juan.

More than places to go, it’s more about setting expectations before you pick a place to go so you know what people are really up for before you get on the ground. After going to Puerto Rico, I wrote a post on Kidventurous called 5 Multigenerational Travel Mistakes to Avoid. 

Best Budget Travel Ideas 

Lancaster: This is a great, budget spot to visit. Check out Strasburg Railroad, Turkey Hill Experience, National Toy Train Museum, Amish Village, Dutch Wonderland and Farmland Fun (here’s a post on these attractions). Also, check out the Red Caboose Motel and Verdant View Farm Bed & Breakfast.

KOA Campgrounds: I’m not a camper at all, but last year I took the kids to two different KOA campgrounds to stay in air-conditioned cabins. It’s cheaper than staying in a hotel, you can bring your own food and there are tons of kids to play with.

Vacation Rentals & Home Exchanges: Clearly not a destination, but renting vacation homes and doing home swaps are great ways to save money on accommodations. We’ve rented vacation homes multiple time, including a six-bedroom house near Walt Disney World for $300 a night (there were 10 of us on the trip). Two of my favorite rental sites are HomeAway (you can see a quick HomeAway review here from when I took two of my girls to Austria) and FlipKey.

We’re doing a home exchange in Ireland this summer for three weeks (free accommodations!) with my in-laws. We’re swapping their house in South Florida for a home in Cork, Ireland. Two home exchange sites to check out are: HomeExchange.com and Love Home Swap.

Trip Planning Resources 

* There are two sites I like with lots of great advice and ideas for families planning trips. One is Family Vacation Critic and another is a newcomer called Minitime, which is more social and has more reviews by parents that also share the ages of their kids so you can get a better feel for whether the attraction or destination is right for your crew.

* One site that might be useful is called Plnnr, which claims to automatically generate personalized, ready-to-use itineraries. I checked it out myself last year if you want to see my review. TripTuner can also help you choose where to go based on budget, weather and activity level.

* Another idea that may sound old-fashioned is to simply check in with the convention and visitors bureaus for the destinations you’ll be visiting. Many times they have on their websites a variety of sample itineraries depending on what you want to do and how much time you have.

* To save money on airfares, I like to set airfare alerts on sites like Kayak and Airfarewatchdog. Enter where you want to go and it will send you emails when the fares go down. Here’s a useful post I put together in January called 5 Must-Know Sites for Finding the Best Airfares.

* Look for free things to do in cities you’ll be visiting. Sometimes the free activities are even more fun than the ones you’ve paid for. Just head to Google, type in “free things to do” and the name of your city for lots of great lists of free activities. Also, check out 10 Cities to Check Out for Free Family Fun.