Pack your bags: Tips for family travel this summer

The following is a guest post written by Gwynyth Kier of Grapefruit Jam.

One of my favorite perks of homeschooling is the flexibility to travel unconstrained by the school calendar. No matter the season, there is always the possibility of adventure on the horizon, and we can all use a break from time to time.

So pack your bags! We are heading out the door.

But where to go?

We can’t always jump on a plane headed for the far corners of the earth, but there are still plenty of opportunities for adventure when you think small:

•    Do you live in, or close to, a city with a public transit system? Be a tourist in your home town! Grab a family day pass and transit map, and hop on train, bus, or streetcar, stopping wherever it tickles your kids fancy. Learning potential abounds; kids get to know the nooks and crannies of their city, they learn how to navigate with a simple map, and it’s a great way to sneak in important travel safety, like what to do if you become separated from your group.

•    Take your exploring further by making a family mission; “Today”, or “This week, we are going to find the BEST sushi/tacos/doughnuts!” or, “The BIGGEST tree/bridge/pool”. For extra homeschool points, you can document your findings with graphs, or make mock reviews composed for print or video.

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•    Set your kids loose in the wildest part of your local park, ravine, or trail, with a simple nature treasure hunt/I spy list. Load it with seasonal plants, animals and birds they are likely to see. You can up the ante by disguising the items in riddles. Throw in a couple field guides, blank notebooks and coloured pencils, and you’ve got a great natural science/art class.

If exploring your own town isn’t doing it for you, think a little bigger:

•    Road trip! Strap them in with some car bingo and audio books and get out of dodge. For a successful, sanity preserving adventure, try to keep travel time to 3-5 hrs. The destination can be completely arbitrary; think any hotel/motel with a pool, or a simple cabin, and spend a few days playing crazy eights, swimming and exploring.

Remember, the destination does not have to be flashy. We have driven to a world renowned city to visit family, expecting to take in all sorts of culture, architecture and delicious food, and all our kids wanted to do was go to the local playground and eat pizza in our hotel room.

•    Make this adventure extra fun and travel by rail instead. The freedom of movement, and the novelty of railroading is sure to be hit with kids and parents alike.

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Last but not least, don’t be afraid to think Big:

My husband and I catch the ‘travel bug’ fairly regularly. I’ll admit, with three young boys-one of whom is a toddler–I am always a bit apprehensive when planing a bigger trip. Will it be worth all the organizing and corralling? Not to mention the money?

Well, I am grateful that my partner is the eternal optimist, because we never regret taking the plunge. You can do this, and it will be worth it. If you need extra encouragement, check out Sarah’s post- My Biggest Homeschooling Mistake: Not Traveling More.

Here’s what we do to keep everyone happy on big trips:

•    Plan destinations around modest flight times and seat sales. In this season of my family’s life, we are going for manageable. For us, this usually involves a beach, and we love visiting places with vastly different flora and fauna from home.

•    Embrace the underbelly of traveling. Adults want to whip through baggage checks and customs quickly and get on with the fun, but for kids, this is an exciting part of the adventure! Get to the airport extra early, so you don’t feel rushed when the kids want to watch baggage trucks on the runway, or ask a zillion questions about security protocols.

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Above all:

•    Keep your expectations in check, and main goals in mind. It can feel like we have to pack our vacations and outings full of attractions and educational opportunities. Try to remember that learning happens everywhere, and the simplest things are often enough.

Sure, my kids loved LegoLand, but they were equally enthralled by eating citrus fruit straight off the trees. While the banana boat was fun, stalking lizards and geckos is what they’re still talking about.

So, of course, plan a few must-dos, but keep a lot of space open for unexpected discoveries, bumps in the road, and time to just be as a family. Because ultimately, that’s the point right?

We may spend enormous amounts of time together as homeschoolers, but when we take out the familiar, we are brought closer together. Our kids may bicker night and day, but on these adventures, they’re thick as thieves.

Happy travels!

Where is summer taking your family this year?

About Gwynyth Kier

Gwynyth Kier is mama to three rambunctious boys, a dog, and a whole lot of fish. When she isn’t out adventuring with her brood, you can find her writing, drinking tea, or cozied up with a good book. Stop by for a visit at her blog Grapefruit Jam.


  1. On a road trip now!
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Best of Blog Break: Navigating a Debut Year

  2. Enjoying the ‘underbelly’ of traveling is a great tip. When we pick my mom up at the airport looking at incoming flights keeps us there longer!

  3. On a Florida to Maryland road trip now – one mom, six kids, lots of mishaps, lots of fun. Photo blogging here:
    Virginia Knowles’s latest post: Swimming in the Patapsco River (Traveling North)

  4. Mama 2 AWE says:

    A vacation road trip to Key Largo on a rainy day left us wanting more…I hopped out to grab the last gluten free pie from the Key Lime Pie Company. Armed with 4 plastic spoons and 4 postcards I picked up with the pie, we pulled over between the airport and ocean. Folding down the middle seat in our rental SUV to make a table, I passed out spoons and announced, “lunch! Dig in!” We followed up with filling out postcards and stopped at a post office on the way home to mail them. The postal clerk gave us a coconut to draw on and mail home (without a box!) and sent us up the road to the state beach where the locals hang out. After a couple hours and a bag filled with sea shells, the kids rode home in their underwear after getting sand and ocean everywhere. (The beach recommendation came with showers to rinse off.) Most fun, UNPLANNED day in a long time! Be flexible and enjoy the journey instead of the destination.

  5. We just got home from a Big trip! Went to California (from Ohio) to visit Yosemite National Park for a week!! LOVE the National Parks, talk about constant learning and exploring! HIGHLY recommend making Yosemite a must-do for those who can travel there. Amazing experience, something the kids will always remember. Climbed to the top of Sential Dome, over 8,000 feet above sea level, and even crossed a shallow (but wide and freezing from snow melt!) lake when we realized there was no other way back. Those are the things memories are made of!

  6. My kiddo isn’t old enough to home school yet, but I am a public school teacher turned stay at home mom (who considers home schooling a possibility one day), so I find your blog interesting! Anyway, with a 6 month old in tote, we moved from Lincoln to Omaha where we are living for 3 months. We’ve flown twice to Chicago already, spent a weekend in Minnesota (with other friends & babies). Next week, we head to a lake house vacation in Wisconsin. And shortly thereafter, it’s off to Florida (driving!!!), then moving to Boston. Though my little one is too young to make memories with, I appreciate your reminders in this post. We’re going to soak it all in and probably look back on this summer in a few years and think we were crazy 🙂

    • It’s never too early! Think of all the stories and photos you will share with them later! My eldest loves to hear about our move across the country and back again, when he he was a babe. Also, it’s hard to believe, but its almost easier to travel in the stage you’re in now-enjoy it!

  7. John Decker says:

    This is a great article with some good tips for vacationing. The summer is my favorite time of the year because my family gets to go on vacation. One tip I would recommend is making sure the room has enough space. I have found that sometimes the rooms look bigger in the pictures then they do in person. Hotels can be expensive so you want to make sure there is enough space for your kids. When I visited Nantucket last summer, we decided to rent a condo. It was the first time we did that so I researchedNantucket Summer Rentals. I am glad I did because we had plenty of space. This is one out of many important tips to think about when booking a trip

    • Thanks John! We have also had good experiences renting homes/condos. It’s really great for the kids to have space to move around, and relaxing for the parents-not worrying about normal kid exuberance irking others around you.
      Gwynyth’s latest post: Lake Side

  8. Mike Loshe says:

    Thanks for the share! Any tips on taking your children to their first amusement/water park? In August I am taking the family out to the Great Wolf Lodge and really want to plan everything out so that the kids can have fun and so mommy and daddy can relax as well.

    • We have been there, and it can be really fun! I don’t know about relaxing though, depends on the age of your kids really and how close you need to be in the water. My advice would be to embrace the crazy, find the kid in you, and play alongside them!
      You can also bring a lot of your own food there, which is great because water play makes kids STARVING. Pack lots of quick snacks to have on hand to save money and time in line ups. Have a great trip!
      Gwynyth’s latest post: Lake Side

  9. Wow,great find!!! Love these!! Little details like this is what really makes a home so unique that no one will ever forget when they walk out of your home. I love how such little things can make such big statements!

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