Are you going anywhere this summer?
How many times have you been asked this question? It’s mainly the starting point of many, many conversations I’ve had over the years – small talk or real – towards the end of the school year. With the exception of last year, when we visited the Motherland for the first time in five years, my standard response was, “Not really, we’re just staying put.”
Staycation can be taxing for working parents, as well as work-at-home and stay-at-home parents. In our school district, the children get 13 weeks of summer break. You read that right - THIRTEEN WEEKS! Without schoolwork and school-sanctioned activities to occupy themselves with, the kids are often bored and restless, and will act out on you as a cry for help in getting them out of that predicament.
Summer or no, I've never been one of those parents who book their children's schedules with dozens of extracurricular activities. I'm a huge advocate of letting children get bored to allow them to figure out what to do with their free time for themselves. Boredom leads to creativity. However, if you're a working parent in the U.S., you either hire an at-home sitter or enroll the children in summer camps with structured daily schedules. With at-home sitters, you have the option to choose the pricey, experienced professional or the casual, unreliable teenager. With these sitter scenarios, you'd definitely understand why most parents resort to structured camps.
Thankfully, I was a WAHM until recently, and I managed to pull a win from time to time to balance letting my children find the cure to their boredom and getting them enrolled in programs they're actually interested in (contrary to summer programs to just pass the time).
My family and I have had years of practice staying put, so we may have turned into some sort of staycation connoisseur. I'm sharing some tried and tested tips to survive and enjoy the summer break.
Accept help when it is offered
...but don’t abuse it AND be sure to offer help back (or pay it forward).
I really lucked out that my children made awesome friends who, in turn, think they're awesome, too. So much so that they can't seem to be separated from each other. Most of these kids' parents know that my husband and I both work. I lucked out even more that they happily offer to pick our kids up to bring them to the movies, park, beach, their houses or wherever so that they can hang out with their kids.
Set alternating hangout venues
As a WAHM, I had the luxury to drive the kids to their friends’ place and/or have their friends over under my supervision for quite a number of years. Now that I'm working at an office and the kids are older (the eldest is now 14) and more responsible, they get to have their friends over when it’s our place’s turn to be the hangout venue.
A lot of people tend to overlook their town or city when searching for fun things to see and do for the family. For instance, a 13-year resident of our neighboring community scoffed at how much we enjoy visits to Grounds for Sculpture (just 15 minutes from our area), and rave about the nature preserve and restaurants in our neighborhood. When asked if she’s ever been to any of these, she gave us a sardonic “no.”
Don’t be a stranger in your own backyard. No matter where you live - big city, small town, somewhere in the country - there’s always a nook or cranny that you haven’t explored, or is worth exploring again. Put yourself in a traveler’s shoes and ask yourself, “If I were visiting this place for the first time, where should I go and what should I do?”
Take advantage of little- to no-cost stuff
Travel-related businesses, in general, tend to jack their rates up during peak seasons. Fortunately, there are resources that allow you to work around that. Our local library, for one, has partnerships with various museums and cultural attractions in the New Jersey state, New York City and Philadelphia. Being a patron grants us access to use free admission passes to these attractions. That's one library service I definitely take advantage.
We may be recycling this tip from our blog post, The Antidote to Post-Travel Blues, but it’s good advice for staycationing, nonetheless. Plan small trips for a couple of hours, a day or a weekend to nearby destinations - the next town, neighboring state or the closest metro area, perhaps. No matter what you decide to do, you can’t go wrong!
I'm going to cap this off with the most important thing to remember: make the most of the weekends. Maximize the time that the kids aren’t preoccupied and stressed out with school work to spend with family. In my case, I have 13 weekends - that’s 26 days! Summer is all about making new memories with loved ones. It doesn’t matter if it’s one grand adventure, a handful of quick jaunts, afternoons at the park or low-key quality family time with board games at home. Make them count!
Carol is one of the founders of get there | get lost. She is a New Jersey-based content producer and social media specialist, and a digital nomad wannabe. With regards to travel, she writes mostly about getaways with her family, and is a strong advocate of the “experience over things” mantra. Follow her everyday adventures @fcbsantiago.
Born and raised in Manila, Philippines and briefly lived in California before moving to the east coast of the USA. I'm a digital marketing executive currently based in New Jersey and a digital nomad wannabe. I write mostly about family travel.