The older I’m getting the more I believe in keeping every-day life simple and saving up for experiences rather than things. Even from a young age, travel has always been a passion of mine. So much so that I majored in International Studies at university. There’s a lot to be said for the lessons you learn and for the sense of self you adopt as you go around to new places meeting people with different ways of life. I hope to pass my love of travel on to my boys with the goal of helping them become more aware of the world and where they fit into that picture. And not only that, but travel is such an incredible way to build relationships and memories that truly last. Over the years I’ve made a growing list of places I’d love to take my sons before they go off to college. Here’s a list of my top 8 places we’ve already been able to see that I recommend visiting before your kids before they grow up.
1. New York City
We’ve been to New York once as a family and only began to scratch the surface of everything you can do there with kids!
Why we love it: There’s something for everyone to enjoy! When we went, we let each of our boys choose one place they wanted to visit and we made sure to stop by. As parents, my husband and I also appreciated how we could acclimate our children to experiences that they’re less willing to experience at home, such as Broadway plays. There’s something about being in The Big Apple that made my boys much more open to trying new cultural experiences.
What to do: There are so many experiences I could suggest here, but be sure especially to visit Ground Zero. It is something my boys have often reflected upon since our visit and has truly shaped their reverence for life. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are also must-dos, as well as some kind of Broadway show.
Tips: Our absolute favorite experience was taking our boys to a live jazz show. They were very reluctant at first but had so much fun while we were there.
2. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone was an annual Spring Break trip for my family while I was growing up. We would go fishing with Grandpa at Henry’s Lake nearby and then spend a few days exploring the park itself. I know take my boys every few years or so and we look forward to every return trip.
Why we love it: It offers a great opportunity to disconnect from the normal rush of life while connecting instead with both nature and each other. The geysers never fail to impress (or to share their pleasant odors)!
What to do: Visit Old Faithful and the other geysers and hot springs. We always like checking out the flower-shaped Morning Glory Pool. You can also visit the Old Faithful Inn for a bit of shopping while you’re waiting for Old Faithful to erupt every 90 minutes. Also be sure to explore for some wildlife including bison, elk, bears, and Bighorn Sheep.
Tips: Hotels and other accommodations usually book out even up to a year in advance. Be sure to plan ahead or be willing to drive in from a hotel outside the main hub of action. My family has most recently been finding accommodations through Airbnb and have been very happy with the offerings. Also, be sure to really relax! My husband and I always talk about how refreshed we feel when we come back from Yellowstone because we do our best to leave our devices alone and dial into our family.
3. Colonial Williamsburg
I first visited Williamsburg in the 4th grade. I thought for sure I’d hate the whole trip but, alas, it was one of my favorite family trips from my childhood. I laughed when my boys went through the same exact pre-vacation woes and came home talking about all the great experiences for weeks after we returned. Williamsburg might sound like a boring history lesson brought to life, but it is so, so much more!
Why we love it: Williamsburg is experiential travel at its best! Not only to you see many wonderful things as a tourist, but you also experience many wonderful things as though you’re part of the history. This is a must-do for kids before they grow up because it helps to build a real relationship with our American heritage.
What to do: Get involved! Join a tour group to experience history as directly as possible through the eyes of “Colonial historical figures”. You’re children might especially enjoy the child-led tours that give you a unique look at history through the lens of Colonial youth. Also get involved by joining the militia, learning a Colonial America trade, going on a candle-lit ghost tour, and eating delicious food from one of the various Colonial era taverns. Read more about what do to from Minitime.com.
Tips: Although there are PLENTY of activities to keep you happily busy within the Colonial Williamsburg grounds, a day visit over to Busch Gardens Williamsburg is well-worth the time! It was an instant favorite amusement park for all of us!
4. Catalina Island
What a truly unique little island! Located just 30 minutes off the coast from Long Beach, Catalina is a quiet, easy-going little island that offers great beach and family activities alike.
Why we love it: The golf carts! Determined to keep the island clean, the only “cars” allowed on the island are golf carts (with a few exceptions). It’s such a fun way to get around! Catalina also offers fun maritime and beach activities to keep you busy for an entire trip but is somewhere where you can also slow down in a very Catalina-unique fashion. You’ll just have to go to understand what I mean.
What to do: Play at the beach, go fishing, catch a movie at the Catalina Island Casino and Avalon Theater, go miniature golfing, get some tasty food on the water front, explore the town in your golf cart, or spend time at your condo playing card games as a family.
5. West Coast Road Trip
From The Redwoods to sunny beaches and down to eclectic San Francisco, a road trip down the West Coast will be a hit with the whole family! We rented a van and drove down the coast for a week making stops all along the way.
Why we love it: Not being from a coastal town, my family really enjoyed all the fun and activities the beach has to offer. We especially enjoyed renting the FUNcycles to ride on Cannon Beach and buying some fantastic kites to fly from local shops. My boys had fun exploring the different beaches and making discoveries at every turn. Take a coastal road trip before kids grow up because it offers excellent family time while allowing kids to experience the natural beauty of coastal settings.
What to do: Explore the many beaches, have games nights in your hotel or rental at night, explore the exciting quarters and villages in San Francisco.
Oh, Orlando! We visit as often as we can and never tire of the magic that can only be found in that city, as tacky as that might sound. You go to Orlando for thrills, excitement, and wonder at every turn.
Why we love it: There are a variety of amusement parks, beaches, and learning opportunities all within reach of each other. Between Disney World, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, and the Kennedy Space Center, you truly get caught up in magical memories that can be experienced no where else. Take your children to experience all or just one of these destinations before they grow up because they help everyone remember to stay a child at heart, even years after your first trip.
What to do: Where to begin? Do it all! Do all the parks plus the Kennedy Space Center or focus on just one and do it all at that destination alone. But also remember to take a bit of time to slow down and have lazy afternoons at the pool or slow meals at any of the many spectacular restaurants. Our favorite way to visit Orlando is to station ourselves within Disney and then plan a day where we take a taxi to either Universal Studios or the Kennedy Space Center. It’s a good mix of focusing on one destination while also seeing something outside of Disney for a day.
Tips: Stay on site at a Disney resort. Not only do you get special treatment but you’ll also get special access to tickets, events, activities, and extended park hours. Also be sure to take advantage of lower crowds in the mornings when parks first open. Then plan to take afternoon siestas or pool breaks before heading back to the parks in the evening. Our favorite way to experience Disney is by booking specialty tours.
7. Montreal & Quebec
I lived in Quebec for a few years during my days before marriage. It wasn’t hard to fall in love with the culture, the people, and the natural beauty of the land. I always knew I wanted to go back with my family some day and man am I glad we did!
Why we love it: Although Montreal and Quebec aren’t too far removed from our typical American lifestyle, they’re different enough that children can have a fantastic introduction to international travel. This is particularly true in Quebec City where French is the primary spoken language. We also love how you can visit some of the most breathtaking waterfalls and hikes in the same day as you stroll through exciting cities such as Montreal.
What to do: Be sure to attend a performance of Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, the birthplace to the now world-famous acrobatic performances. Also do some shopping in the underground malls, visit Vieux Quebec, and ride the subway.
Tips: Eat poutine! Just do. Beaver tails are another tasty treat and Montreal’s bagels are good enough to rival the best New York has to offer. I also recommend you visit in autumn when the colors are absolutely spectacular!
8. Backyard Campout
I know, I know… your backyard isn’t really a travel destination. However, we all know that there are just times when travel isn’t an option. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the many benefits of travel without the expense!
Why we love it: It’s a break from the regular routine of life without all the stress and hassle of actually traveling. We also appreciate that we can experience as much or as little of the comforts of our home as we’d like.
What to do: Make s’mores, tell ghost stories, play backyard games, and watch an outdoor movie. Stargazing is another family favorite.