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What Do Kids Actually Remember And Love About Summer Vacation?

When Brian and I were 29 we spent 2 months backpacking in Southeast Asia during the recession when we had just moved to LA, had no work, and were pretty depressed (we used his uncle’s pilot passes to get over there). We saw so many parents traveling with young kids in Vietnam and Laos, kids in backpacks touring around. We promised each other that when we had kids we would be THOSE people, that we would take them around the world no matter what ages they were, that we wouldn’t let them stop our then “see the world” desire and they would have experiences that would shape them forever. But oh how things have changed. We are decidedly NOT those people, in fact kinda the opposite. Here’s another story…

5 years ago Brian and I took the kids to Australia when Birdie was 3 months old and Charlie was barely 2 years old. We went for Brian’s job – he had a video series he was hired to shoot (which now seems odd/irresponsible that the client flew in an American for it). But we thought it would be a “fun” thing for the whole family to do so we extended the trip to add some vacation time. We were there for 3 weeks, and during and after the trip we promised that we wouldn’t go anywhere internationally or far with them until they were at least 4 and 6. None of us were able to appreciate it. It was expensive and exhausting. At the time we couldn’t even enjoy a meal out, we prayed there wouldn’t be a meltdown at the restaurant and then have to rush home to put them to bed at a normal time. We were in a nap trap during the day, we couldn’t drive on the other side of the street (and hard to Uber with car seats) and then Brian got Listeria and was bed-ridden for 5 sweaty days before our 20-hour flight home where Charlie watched Paw Patrol until his eyes almost bled. Obviously, I’m grateful we were able to do it, but boy did we realize that traveling with young kids made for basically zero fun for us.

But I get it that sometimes you have to book “a trip” to take time off and before we had this mountain retreat we needed to get out of L.A. A LOT – and a staycation at home in the summer is hot and traffic is terrible. So the following summer we booked an Airbnb in the valley for us and two other families with small kids. Our friends were not impressed when we pitched it to them (it was only 20 minutes from home). But it was my treat and forced them to come. It was AWESOME. It had a pond, a barn, miniature horses, and ponies that roamed the property. We could be together, it was pretty affordable, and we didn’t leave the property in 3 days. It obviously helped inspire the idea to look for a mini-farm in a city. It solidified the idea that we didn’t need to travel to get a vacation.

Since we’ve had this house (four years now!), we haven’t gone anywhere else besides Ojai Valley Inn and Disneyland. Until last year right before Covid, we felt ready to attempt another “trip”.

They were 4 and 6 and while we weren’t going abroad, we were ready to take a “trip”. It was THE BEST weekend of our lives as a family – I’m not being hyperbolic, Brian and I debriefed afterwards and said it was the best 2 days we’ve ever had together. Why? It was so easy and flexible, full of manageable “newness” but very little work or stress. The kids were finally on the same schedule (no naps!) and old enough to not melt down in public (no risks!!).

We woke up on a Saturday morning and decided to take the train to Santa Barbara and explore. The kids packed their own backpacks for the first time – with help, but no schlepping on our part. We Ubered to the train station in LA and took the first train north. Brian and I remember being on the train with Charlie playing legos on the fold-down table and me teaching Birdie how to draw a butterfly right next to him. The kids were SO excited to be on a train and it was shockingly nice and comfortable with very few people on it. With a glass of white wine and a half decent train food lunch, we played with the kids, watched the ocean go by, and I wanted to cry out of pure happiness during the 2-hour short trip. It was SO EASY for us and so fun for them. It was a new experience but with almost zero planning and little financial stress. When we got to Santa Barbara everything was on foot and with just a backpack each we didn’t have anything to schlep. We found a motel with availability, dropped the bags, and explored the city. We had no car to deal with parking. No suitcases full of extra stuff. Just the four of us, four backpacks, and no plan. The kids had autonomy with their own bags so they felt like big kids, we didn’t have to worry about parking or having a drink at dinner and driving. There is such freedom in not planning and just having things be easy. I’d like to do THAT again, for sure, once it’s safe for kids.

It made me really think about what I loved about summer growing up and what really imprinted on me. Maybe the need for big trips is just a pressure we put on ourselves in the name of “showing them new things” and exposing them to other cultures. But then I look at these families that take a year off to travel all around the world and I think about how special that must be for them, too.

So in lieu of any big trips, we’ve been thinking a lot about what our summer family traditions will be. What touch-points we want our kids to remember when they are grown. What experiences will actually imprint? It’s my current hypothesis that the best childhood memories are all about simplicity, ease, and repetition (while they are really young), a sense of safety and security, and of course just being together with family and friends (ours and theirs). Camping. Road trips. And even going to the same places every year with the same people. While it might not be considered “cool”, I think that sameness and annual traditions they can count on are probably what makes them happiest. I wonder if the pressure to do something “different” and special is more for us to feel like we are still interesting, rather than for them? Or am I just getting old, lame, and lazy? (I don’t care if you think yes:)). When we move to Oregon we are excited to explore and have day trips, so there is some desire to still see somewhere new, but only if it’s easy, comfortable, and close. Is this just post-Covid latent anxiety and being scared about the world? Or is it just trying to recreate the nostalgia of a simpler era for our family? Maybe both.

So what do I remember about summer vacations as a kid? We always played softball, did 4-H, and competed our wares at the county fair. We built forts, slid on discs down the dirt hill, and swung on the rope swing. We jumped on the trampoline, rode bikes, and picked salmon berries. We rarely left the yard or the state (except to go to Utah/Wyoming to our uncle’s ranch) and never left the country but every summer was full of so much fun. Granted my parents had 6 kids and we lived way out out in the country there wasn’t this need to escape a big city or book a lot of playdates. We went camping a lot but mostly just hung out and did family projects. Because our parents are both teachers they were around a lot (so no camps except church camp when we were 12). Our family did one summer “project” together which included building a huge play house, planting, and harvesting a massive vegetable garden. When I was seven we even produced a family dinner theater musical with two other families (the real-life Waiting for Guffman – not joking – it’s AMAZING to rewatch the VHS tape). One summer when I was 8 we took an RV around the US for 6 weeks – all the way to New York and Disneyworld with 5 kids. I have no idea how much my parents planned for that trip and I’m sure it was “work” but it still felt easy and simple with a free schedule and lots of downtime playing games on the dining table.

Brian remembers an annual week-long trip every year to Balboa with a family with two boys where they could take the ferry by themselves to the arcade. He remembers the fourth of July at a friend’s house in Lake Tahoe with 5 other families (and a ton of kids). He felt freedom and autonomy as the kids played independently while the parents hung out and talked/partied. The rest of summer for him was riding bikes and little league with his crew in his neighborhood. He remembers it being THE BEST. He couldn’t really put a finger on why, just summers were the best.

These are magical years – where the kids are less work, more independent but young enough to want to just hang out with their parents. They will go fast, we know, so we are soaking it all up and maybe when they are bored of us when they are 13 and 15 we’ll get more adventurous.

So if you are feeling guilty that you haven’t taken your kids somewhere “special” or “traveled” since before Covid, I’m here to assert that maybe we don’t need to anyway – at least not for their sake. Maybe we all learned during Covid that camping, nature, and exploring locally is easier, just as fun and so much less work (not to mention cheaper and kinder to the planet). Not to guilt anyone who is planning a big trip – we all have different needs and boxes to check. But my boxes are very, very few these days and involve s’mores, sand, and swimming. I’m hoping that when they are 30 that they’ll have nostalgia for the feeling of their childhood summers, not just because of the big orchestrated trips if/when we take them but also the repetition of our simple summer days and nights. But I’m not a child psychologist 🙂

So I’m curious, what do you remember about your childhood summers that made them special? What summer traditions did you or do you have that your kids can use as touch-points? What were your favorite family “trips” that really imprinted and shaped your childhood? And are you feeling a big trip this summer or keeping it more low-key?

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iLa
2 months ago

How nice to read this. I have been having similar thoughts. Although, we live abroad so to see our families we are usually travelling to Italy, we stay with family and add a trip by the sea on our own. Last year was an exception. I agree to the fact that the need to travel the world is probably more an adult need that a need for kids. They can be exposed to cultures in other ways. The things I remembered the most about summer: vacation by the sea with my granma (how did she manage alone with 3 kids?!), trips on our caravan and summercamps.

Deborah
2 months ago
Reply to  iLa

We used to live abroad too, and we traveled a lot with our kids. Parts of that were fun, but it’s mostly exhausting with young children. Definitely worth it to see family, but exhausting.

The thing I remember most from my much simpler childhood summers is our community swimming pool. My mom put us in swim lessons at the start of every summer and then we showed up almost every day after that for free swim. My mom isn’t a swimmer. She sat in the shade with a book. But my siblings and I had the best time!

Susan
2 months ago

We went on a family vacation every summer in a different American city, whichever city my dad’s annual conference happened to be in. I remember Orlando, Dallas, St. Louis, among others. When I started college, my parents told us they’d take us to Europe, and they did — we went to England, Belgium (we had friends here), France (Paris for 2 days) and the Netherlands. My college graduation present from my parents was a trip to Sydney to visit my brother. I now live in Bangkok and can’t help but think that my parents are half responsible for my decision to live overseas.

Lisa
2 months ago

What a lovely read. My summers were exactly like this! We had two vacation spots we would go to every year when I was little one adorable little farm near the mountains that rented maybe 4-6 little apartments so there were always other children to play with (but not hordes – i was rathers shy so that worked really well for me) and lots of cows and kittens, a donkey and goats, a hayloft to have adventures in and loads of fields with flowers to roam. We took bike rides as a family and I played for hours and hours while my parents just hung out. The other place we went to regularly was a little island in the North Sea in the Netherlands (we’re from Germany) were we would rent a little apartment, swim in the sea, play at the beach, ride bikes and cuddle loads and loads of sheep that lived all over the island. All the time we didn’t spent there, were spent at my grandmother’s who had beautiful large house and a ginormous garden and this is were I spent the majority of my summers as a child – playing, reading, going on walks, planting flowers… Read more »

Dena
2 months ago
Reply to  Lisa

Wow, This sounds amazing!!

Emilie
2 months ago

My favorite family trips were “family nature summits” with the National Wildlife Federation. It was basically family camp, but with lots of educational content (and separate programming for kids and adults). They were in a new place every year, but lots of the same people and same general set-up. It was a great mix of familiar and excitiing, with little planning required by my parents.

Now our family vacations are either camping or short trips to near-by cities. We live in the northeast, so there is a lot to do within a day’s drive! We’ve had the same experience of surprising joy on these trips that you describe, and I love to see what I consider familiar through the eyes of my kids. We also are trying to avoid plane travel for environmental reasons, so I suspect this is the model we’ll stick to going forward.

DeniseGK
2 months ago
Reply to  Emilie

Wow! Where was this? pleasesayamerica. Is it still going on, when there isn’t corona?

Emilie
2 months ago
Reply to  DeniseGK

Yes, in the US! I believe they are still going on: my parents had hoped to take my kids this summer, but it was canceled.

DeniseGK
2 months ago
Reply to  Emilie

Thank you for responding! I’m looking it up for the future!

Laura
2 months ago

I am blown away by this topic. I’m a mom to a toddler and also one day envisioned big trips around the world. I was very fortunate with a lot of trips in my childhood, but what I remember most about summer was the yearly trip to OBX with all my aunts/uncles/cousins, entire days spent at the nearby pool and summer camp with my best friend.

Ive long thought that most things done for the kids were really done for the parents. Reading this really does make me consider what experiences I want to give my child. Thank you!

Dena
2 months ago

I think repetition is key to it being memorable. And I think even though it’s the same trips every year it does develop a longing for travel. A sprinkling of going different places is great too! I remember everything about our yearly vacation to see my grandparents! I grew up in Miami but my mom is from Sacramento and Dad is from NYC. We went to Sacramento every single summer and it was the best and so memorable because we did do the same things and we were lucky because the topography is so different than Miami. We went to Mendocino for a week and stayed in the cutest cabin and hiked, etc. We went to San Fran and did all the things. My grandparents house was right down the street from Tower records so my sister and I rode our bikes their all the time and thought that was the coolest because there wasn’t one in Miami. My grandmother had her homemade chocolate chip cookies ready in her cookie jar for us! And she always planned the same yummy meals. We played poker with them most nights before bed! We didn’t go to NYC as much, but we went… Read more »

Ashley
2 months ago

I grew up in a “big trip” family— Hawaii, Disney cruise, Mexico— and while I always felt those were really exciting and special, I was always jealous of my friends whose families did annual lake trips. Since you’re moving here— Triangle Lake & Billy Chinook were some of the faves! And Detroit Lake, but the town burned badly in the fires last fall. Anyway, the familiarity and repetition was so key. I would’ve traded having something like that each year for big trips, hands down. I don’t fault my parents— they are not camping people and they genuinely loved doing grand, special things for us. But I have to wonder whether the cost and stress is really worth it. I would love to be a “travel the world with my kids” person but I think you’re probably right that it’s best saved for at least the pre-teen years!

Marisa
2 months ago

Three years ago we bought a little camping trailer with the plan for it to be used for all our family summer vacations until our kids are too old to want to do it anymore. It’s been AWESOME. Every summer we book one week long trip to somewhere farther away, and a few weekends closer to Portland. The first couple years when my little daughter was still a baby were really exhausting, but now that she’s 4 and will sleep in her little bunk bed, it’s just the most fun thing ever. The kids love the independence they get to explore when we’re camping. We do also try to do a winter trip once a year to somewhere warm (Hawaii, Palm Springs) to escape the cold rain. And that’s all our family traveling with young kids! I don’t think it’s worth the money to take young kids to far away places, personally, but I’m also so impressed by families who do it.

Megan
2 months ago

When I was a kid we had a great summer rhythm. I went to a music camp in western Michigan and after my parents picked us up we would drive up to sleeping bear dunes or mackinaw island and it was wonderful. We also spent a lot of time at our family cottage which was not fancy but was great as kids. My parents essentially only let us inside for meals and because there was nowhere to go we just played on the beach and in the water with minimal supervision (the water was extremely shallow and we wore life vests).

Joan Olson
2 months ago
Reply to  Megan

I grew up going to my grandparents cottage on Black Lake near Onaway, MI where the water was extremely shallow as well. It was an ideal spot when we were little. We would go to Mackinaw Island – I still remember the fudge.

kt
2 months ago

I think the truth is that it is less about where you go and more about the time you have. Good memories come from authentic interest and engagement and just being in the moment… and that can happen in some exotic location or in your own backyard!

Erin
2 months ago
Reply to  kt

I completely agree, kt! There is a kids show on Disney+ calley Bluey that my daughter and I love, in one episode when they continually encounter delays on a family road trip, Mama Chili Dog reminds her husband that instead of “making good time” (getting to the campsite) the family was “making good times” and memories of family time together. Great sentiment and a reminder that despite our busy schedules, need to work, lack of money or any reason you might have to skip a vacation, taking time out just for family is so important and memorable in itself.

Rusty
2 months ago
Reply to  Erin

Bluey is an Aussie show! Yaaay!🤗

rachelle m france
2 months ago

Growing up, I didn’t go on many vacations at all. Not because of money but my parents just seemed to enjoy being home and loved working around the house and yard in their free time. So as a parent myself, I have of coarse over compensated for what I lacked. We work really hard during the week to get all the chores and errands done so every weekend can be built making memories. Our weekends home we have dinner parties, visit family or explore our local rivers, beaches and forest. At least once or twice a month we take our travel trailer out to explore a new camping spot in California. We have two annual trips with friends one at a lake and one in the snow. And then we do one big international vacation a year, to resorts when they were smaller and now that they are older more adventure style trips. All of our disposable income goes to these experiences, and we sacrifice in other areas to afford it.. What is interesting is that our daughter who has adventurous spirit always talks about how magical our adventures are. But our son who tends to be more of a… Read more »

Jorie
2 months ago

This is so well put and so interesting, Rachelle! You’re right—it definitely isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of what kids will cherish, even for siblings raised in the same family. I think a good mix of both, new adventures and familiar traditions at home, is key.

Margaret
2 months ago

My favorite summer memory is my dad coming home after work, piling us all in the back of the his pickup truck (!!) and driving down to the lake in our town. We’d swim for an hour or two before going home for dinner. There were four kids very close in age and we all loved it, but now that I’m a mom myself I think my mom must have loved the peace and quiet while we were gone most of all! Seriously though, that regular swim at such a beautiful time of day is my favorite childhood memory.

Kara
2 months ago

Honestly as kids we mostly traveled via road trip to WI to visit family. It was a river town so I will say lots of memories on boats and swimming and …cousins! These were the best and I have so many simple memories. With my own kids — we have taken a couple of “big” vacations and usually did a beach house vacay every summer and I always remind myself that the destination is not the most important thing. My kids are college age now and vacations are in a lull moment… so any family time we grab is precious.

Mary B.
2 months ago

The things I remember most about summer – afternoons at the community pool, nights running around the neighborhood catching lightning bugs or playing “ghost in the graveyard” barefoot (and the disgustingly grimy feet when I did come inside, haha), a family vacation to the Jersey Shore for 1 week every year, and one especially magical summer where I watched Newsies pretty much every single night before bed. This post gave me all the feels – my kids are still little (almost 5 and almost 2), and our summer is consisting of outings to the local ice cream place, weekend afternoons in the backyard inflatable pool, s’mores when it isn’t hotter than the surface of the sun, and walks around the neighborhood. I enjoyed a lot about the slower pace last summer, and we are embracing it again this summer. As for international travel with small kids, changing time zones gives me anxiety and I don’t think my husband and I would enjoy it nor would my kids appreciate it yet. We have dreams of showing them the world when they are a bit older and we can all enjoy the travel a little more. Our lives aren’t on hold right… Read more »

EW
2 months ago

I’m in the minority but I have very few happy summer memories. My parents owned their own business and summer was their busiest season so we went to work with them every day from age 5 to 12. Their business was open from 10am – 10pm, seven days per week. With cleanup at the end of the night, we often didn’t get to bed until after midnight. It was hard. It was hot. Flash forward and I have two kids that are a touch older than yours and my husband has a job where summer is his busiest season. In addition to owning my own business and working full time, I spend all summer hanging on by my fingernails and hoping we all survive the intense season of solo parenting (April – September). It is hard. It is hot. Will our kids have good summer memories? I’m not sure. They start year-round school next week so we can get some breaks when we actually enjoy them. Maybe there will be magical Fall Break (3 weeks) and Spring Break (3.5 weeks) memories for them? Thanks for posting about this. I’m excited to read the comments.

Catherine
2 months ago

I love this. I was so blessed as a child to have grandparents who lived in Alaska (I grew up in Texas). Every July/August, for 3 weeks, my family would escape the heat and humidity of Houston and go on an adventure in Alaska. Every trip was unique. We stayed at world-class fishing lodges and camped in tents by the river. We stayed at my Grandpa’s VERY remote cabin (involved a 5 hour drive + 1 hour boat ride + no electricity/running water). One year we spent a week on my uncle’s deep-sea boat pulling in halibut, salmon, and shrimp pots. We flew in float planes, rafted rivers, and spent days casting lines in waist-deep water. Every trip was different but always involved camping, fishing for salmon, picking blueberries and salmonberries, bear/moose encounters, shopping for treasures crafted by Native artisans, playing games, reading books, and creating new inside jokes. I can picture the Garfield-edition Old Maid and Go Fish games my brother and I would play in my grandparents’ RV. I can hear the sound of the dominoes clanking against the tile-topped kitchen table at my grandfather’s cabin while playing endless games with my grandmother. I can feel the wiry… Read more »

Lori
2 months ago
Reply to  Catherine

This sounds completely magical!

DeniseGK
2 months ago

I remember stars and the Milky Way. Sometimes I would lie on my back on the picnic table in the front yard until I started to feel like I was drifting up right off the planet and I had to sit up and look back at the house. That’s how clear and numerous the stars were in my hometown. I’m only 43, and I could do that right up through high school and into college. You can now see more stars from my home about 7 minutes outside a medium city than you can from my old hometown. My kids are 15, 11, & 7, and they have never seen the Milky Way. It’s the only thing I really care about making happen for them. We’re working on it for this summer and my husband is on board for making it part of the regular thing we do every year.

Roberta Davis
2 months ago

We just had my 4 grandkids here for 5 days and we did lots of fun things with them, but their ages really restricted us, too. 15, 13, 5 and 2.5. So we had to be home by 1pm for the little one’s nap. The 5-year-old proclaimed, while eating an ice cream cone at the beach, “the best thing about vacation is ice cream!” When you move up to the northwest, you will need to make a few trips to Seattle. My grandkids’ favorite thing to do (for about 12 years now) is go to the Hiram Chittenden Locks and watch the boats go through. https://www.ballardlocks.org/ And also to ride on a ferry.

Erin
2 months ago
Reply to  Roberta Davis

Yes, Roberta! Ballard locks are so fun with Discovery Park and the Botanical garden flanking both sides, lots to see in that area. I always love scoping out the beautiful houses on the drive.

Robin in NoCo
2 months ago

One summer I asked the kids where they wanted to go for our summer trip. My oldest said, “Hawaii!” (We went years earlier to visit friends on Oahu shortly after 9/11, when airfares were dirt cheap – total cost, $1200 for a family of four, including everything but the little shred of sanity gone forever as my then 7 month old son began to unravel about an hour before landing on both ends of the trip). My son (now 4) said, “or Grand Lake! Remember the dead fish?” Grand Lake is about a 2 hour drive from home. The 3 kids quickly agreed that the dead fish trumped Hawaii and we booked the weekend. Bless their sweet hearts and low expectations! Growing up, our summers were simple out of necessity, but I always enjoyed visiting my grandparents in Texas where there was a pool, endless granola bars, and hours and hours of movies from free weekends of HBO videotaped by my grandma like it was her job. Our move to a mini-farm when our youngest was 2 was the best decision we ever made for our family, and I hope you find it to be the same for yours.

Cortney
2 months ago

These comments are great and life giving. My brothers and I just discussed our “best” childhood memories. For all 3 of us it was camping and skiing. We loved visiting our grandparents’ lake town in the summer and camping within 3 hours from home. We also had time to play baseball/softball and hang with friends in our hometown. We had a few “big trips” but mostly it was family reunions, visiting grandparents, and camping… It was so great.

My husband and I talk about this often wondering which way to go. Just this past week we bought a small camper and now our summer with no vacations has 3 weekend getaways planned and we’re planning a longer trip to Yellowstone next summer. We’re going to start adventuring together as often as possible.

I agree with other commenters about repetition and the time together. Some can’t make vacations happen at all. I think that regular family barbeques, city pool swims, and sand lot baseball make for a great summer as well!

gabrielle
2 months ago

I seem to be in the minority here, but we have had big success with traveling abroad with young kids and my kids remember their experiences from very, very early ages. The key for us has been to go to one place and stay for as long as possible so we can really soak it in, develop rhythms, have quiet days when we are exhausted and not feel like we are missing out, etc. For instance, we stayed two weeks in JUST Rome. When we were there we walked absolutely everywhere/carried our 3 year old piggy back, anchored our days with “big” lunches, and ate every single dinner at home so kids could chill out and relax after busy days. We did a home exchange in Copenhagen one summer and stayed a month when my kids were 1.5, 3.5, and 6.5. It was literally the best month of our family life (sounds like the train trip!) and was low cost since housing and car was $0 due to the home exchange (I worked remotely for about half of it). We have also done two “big” trips in November where we took kids out of school for 4 or 5 days… Read more »

Amy
2 months ago
Reply to  gabrielle

Gabrielle – My family took big trips in the summers. When I was seven, we did a trip to the UK, Israel and Egypt and then did a repeat of it when I was nine. We also travelled all over the US. Finland and Russia when I was fourteen. I loved this trips. And it gave me a lot of confidence in middle school. Just to have those experiences and know the world was bigger than my little town… My daughter is two and we took her to Hawaii this summer. She loved it AND it was hard to go so far but I could envision how much easier it would become as she got older. I’m planning on much bigger trips when she hits four or five.

KatieR
2 months ago
Reply to  gabrielle

I am happy to see your response, Gabrielle. We’ve taken our 3 kids to Europe and the youngest was 6 months old. We can’t wait to go again! Our 8 year talks about it constantly and wants to move to Salzburg when he’s older. It made him more adventurous, open-minded, and ready to see the world. We do smaller vacations too but my kids LOVE the idea of a trip. We are lucky that my husband’s job makes this really affordable (almost free) and even allowed for us to bring a babysitter. And I’m a teacher so I have summers off so lots of vacation time. There were of course meltdowns and other issues but I wouldn’t change the experience ever.

Alissa
2 months ago
Reply to  gabrielle

I so agree Gabrielle. We’ve had great success (and fun!) on trips to London and Amsterdam with our three kids (at 7/4/1 and 9/6/3). A real upside to Europe from the east coast is with the time change kids actually sleep in!I think a lot of it is having appropriate expectations for what traveling with kids will be – factor in downtime and know you won’t be at a museum for five hours. But it has been so worth it, and our kids can’t wait for the next big trip!

Amanda
2 months ago
Reply to  gabrielle

I was glad to see your comments, Gabrielle, Amy, Katie, and Alissa. My husband and I have had wonderful experiences taking our son on big trips: Germany and Prague when he was 11 months old, Switzerland and Italy when he was 3, Germany again when he was 4 (my brother lives there), and Croatia when he was 5 (a week of which was spent on a boat!). He has loved the trips so much and I think our extensive travel has helped foster a sense of adventure to explore the world, eat new food, learn about different cultures and appreciate different ways of life. We had our second son in 2019 and cancelled a planned trip to London in August 2020 due to Covid, of course. We have enjoyed smaller trips, once to a beach a few hours away and weekends at a nearby lake… but our oldest son has asked several times when we can go on a “Big Trip” and lists all of kinds of places he dreams of going to… Denmark, Thailand, etc. I realize that we have been very privileged to take those trips and the simpler, easier, closer to home summers described here in the… Read more »

Rusty
2 months ago

“Road trips. And even going to the same places every year with the same people.” THIS!!!🥰

My favourite bephew and his wife are raking next year off (both nurses/midwife) and travelling around Australia with a x4 wheel drive and caravan! His sister did it a few years sgo with their two kids at similar ages (4 and 6). They’ll hkme svhool via resources from Distance Education and see this huge, beautiful country all the way around. This … is the stuff that builds deep memories, not so much fancy trips to theme parks.
It’s the natural world vs the plastic glitter world.🌿
🌏
Air travel is the worst thing out for our planet!

Rusty
2 months ago
Reply to  Rusty

LOL (but sure not funny at the time) I remember you writing about Charlie’s meltdown in Sydney!

2 months ago

I have such fond memories of summer vacations as a kid! We were pretty poor but my parents made it a priority to get a cheap cabin somewhere in nature every summer growing up. We’d drive there, eat a lot of cooler packed lunches, see the national parks, grill, and do any free activity we could find. We crossed off a lot of states visiting that way! I really think just being somewhere else besides the 4 walls of your house helps you remember the trips and the family time together — but it doesn’t have to be far away by any means. 🙂

meredith
2 months ago

Photos! We did lots of fun things when I was a kid but it’s the photos we have of those fun times that cemented the memories in my mind.

alexa
2 months ago

The major variable is time. You got to spend 2 months in SE Asia, acclimating to the time change, climate and everything else inherent in being in a new place. Parents who take their kids on a year long trip across the world also have the benefit of making their way slowly. (They also likely plan for a trip like that and prep their kiddos for months or years in advance). There is no immediate shock of being somewhere unfamiliar, or hurry of having every day or minute be memorable.

Time is one of the biggest luxuries, and very few of us have the privilege of being able to take a “slow vacation.” But, for anyone with the privilege, I think that would be a great opportunity for kids. If all you have is a few days or a week, I agree that it makes sense to budget that time by taking a family stay-cation or a short, domestic trip.

While 3 weeks sounds like a lot, Australia is really far away. Plus, Brian was sick and that will always put a damper on a trip.

Teresa
2 months ago
Reply to  alexa

TIME! I think you nailed it! Also, if you are going to do a year long trip, plan it soon. It is definitely harder to make the leap once the kids are invested in their school and extra curricular activities routine.

Cristina
2 months ago

I love this post. My kids are 4 and 6, and we were just starting to enjoy bigger trips with them before the pandemic. This year has kept us in CA, and I think our local trips will end up being our annual traditions. We have also tried to create traditions where we get together with the same families, so I think they will remember that part as well, bring with friends they see less often. For me, the memories that stick out the most from my childhood were 4th of July fireworks (which we always watched with the same family friends), and traveling to visit extended family (they are spread out all over the world). I am excited to make the most of the next 5-7 summers with the kids, we have a long list of ideas for trips as they are old enough for us all to enjoy them together!

Cici Haus
2 months ago

Personally, I remember the big trips far more than the little ones (camping or to visit family). While we didn’t often go abroad, we traveled a lot for a family living in rural Michigan. We went to Alaska (for 6 weeks!), the Dominican Republic twice (my aunt lived there), a Caribbean cruise, a 2-month road trip to the West Coast, skiing “up north” Canada and trips to Arizona, Texas, Kansas to visit parents’ friends. We also went camping a lot, but those don’t stand out to me at all; the big trips do. Or the adventures on the way to family trips. My mom’s 7-member family lived in Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee – so we had at least one road trip to one of those locals each year, but it’s stopping in Lexington, Kentucky and Washington, D.C. on the way down that I remember, not the time spent with family. That has definitely translated to who I am today – adventurous and always wanting to try something new (54 countries and all 50 states so far!). I do have wonderful memories of running all around our small town in the summers, and that independence was a big part of my… Read more »

2 months ago

We took some great plane trips as kids but BY FAR the best vacations were always the road trips to hang with family in Wisconsin (we lived in Chicago).
For my 40th birthday this year, my sister and I had the choice to fly to Boston or stay at a swanky hotel nearby and explore new places in my city. Since I already have a plane trip planned for later in the year, I wasn’t comfortable, environmentally speaking, taking another. Just too much carbon. We were both SOO happy we stayed local. It was cheaper and therefore less stressful. We didn’t feel like we had to spend our time wisely and see the “right” sights. We just chilled, found some great new restaurants, went vintage shopping, took naps. It was AMAZING!

A
2 months ago

I don’t remember many summer traditions but I remember travelling to visit my mom’s uncle in England on a few occasions and taking a week in the same beach town with my mom. I have vague memories of one family holiday we all took together when I was small, but my siblings are much older so were teenagers and too cool to holiday with me and my mom. My dad had no interest in holidays. I used to spend so much time in the sea when we went to the beach. I remember being so excited when my mom let me do a horse riding trek. And I remember going on an amazing shopping day with her as a teenager when we holidayed in Spain. I have lots of memories of summer time spent with friends and cousins. I used to go to their houses for week long sleep-overs and we had so much freedom and fun. I do a summer bucket list with my kids each year to make sure we prioritise fun, outside of our ‘holiday time’. Family holidays are so important to me as an adult. We have travelled abroad and do staycations every year with our… Read more »

Karyn Meadows
2 months ago

We did a lot of these things when our son was young. He was on swim team until end of July so we either had to go someplace early before it started or wait until August. So we went overseas with him early, along with trips in US to Washington DC (TONS of things for kids there, especially the International Spy Museum!!! https://www.spymuseum.org/)
If we delayed going until August, we often stayed close to home with day trips in SF and the beach. Once our son was 4, one of us would fly down to San Diego with him and leave him with his cousins for an extended vacay where he got spoiled rotten. Even when he stayed 3 weeks there, he’d beg me to NOT come get him!! LOL, that was kinda heartbreaking but good for his autonomy.

Katie
2 months ago

I grew up with a little of both. My extended family was all out of state, so every summer we would travel to visit them. This did mean some airplane travel, but we stayed with family and ate meals at home, so much less expensive then a full destination vacation. We had neighbor friends and favorite beaches or parks, and the repetition was something I still enjoy as an adult returning to those same spots. That said, I did go on two big, overseas trips when I was 4th and 6th grades. Again, it was visiting family, though, so I imagine that alleviated a huge amount of the stress of language barrier, navigating a foreign country, planning activities, etc. Definitely still stressful! But I think of those trips—the annual, domestic ones, and the big, international ones—all the time.

Hana
2 months ago

My favorite memories growing up was backpacking in the Sierra Nevadas with my brothers. So as soon as my kids were old enough to carry their own gear we started taking them into the wilderness. At first really short hikes of about two miles and kept everything super easy and fun with a lake to camp by. My kids are in their 20’s now and have become very strong backpackers. When they were little we rented a cabin in a vacation community with a pool and playground as well as access to trails. It was easy and fun and they still talk about it with great affection! We went on one family trip to Washington DC when they were middle schoolers and it was so easy and fun as they were old enough to not be a burden. I think vacations should be enjoyable for everyone, parents included!

Courtney
2 months ago

We spent weeks every summer with family up in Maine, and it’s still our favorite place to visit (going up for a month soon!). It’s a small community–on an island–so we loved the freedom to explore and be on our own with no real structure, being outdoors/on the water, and being with family. Those trips are some of my best childhood memories. Luckily, my husband and kids love it too.

I totally feel you on waiting to take bigger trips until the kids are older. Trying to deal with naps, possible time changes, all the gear, etc. totally isn’t worth it. Plus, they’re too young to appreciate or even remember it. We were so excited to have a trip to the Grand Canyon planned when our older kids were 10 and 7–seemed like the perfect ages!–but it got canceled due to COVID, so we’re trying to reschedule.

Suzanne
2 months ago

My daughter said that our best summer vacations were Hawaii, which happened every two to four years. We feel very privileged to go on vacations, since both my husband and I rarely had family vacations growing up, and summers were very much in the world of our homes. Prior to our daughter starting school, we didn’t do long vacations, just long weekends, typically a short drive from home. Our place of choice was Monterey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Those weekends were always slow paced and relaxing, with a little time in the aquarium and a little time on the beach. Being in California also made Disneyland trips convenient, but we also embraced a slow pace to that, scheduling afternoon breaks. Other favorites were national park trips. Our daughter was really into dinosaurs, so we did a dinosaur dig through the Museum of Western Colorado ( https://museumofwesternco.com/things-to-do/dino-digs/). We actually took Amtrak there, rented a car, and visited a few parks in addition to the dino dig, then flew home. Our daughter is 17 now, and says she’d love to do the dino dig again. It’s a real paleontology site, supervised by a real paleontologist. So fun! We’ve also done a… Read more »

Carrie
2 months ago

The things I remember about summers as a kid: playing in the woods behind our house, swimming in the creek and catching crayfish, riding my bike everywhere, swimming in the neighbor’s pool, slip & slide on another neighbor’s hill, church camp, vacation bible school crafts, our huge veggie garden, camping and swimming in the pool at the campground, family road trips (from Ohio) to Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Niagara Falls, Chicago.

Chelsea
2 months ago

I think a good question we should ask ourselves when planning a trip is, if we were not allowed to share our vacations on social media or talk to our friends and co-workers about them, where would we go? Are we choosing a destination because we think our family would love it, or so that we can tell everyone else we went there?

Nicolettte
2 months ago

I love this discussion so much! As kids, we had two annual summer trips. First was camping in the high Sierras. We would go to the same area each year and do nothing but fish, sit in the natural hot springs, then jump in the freezing river. The second thing my brother and I got to do was ride the train from our town, 3 hours north to San Francisco where our grandpa would pick us up. Like Brian, both these stick out as being GREAT because of the freedom we had. We got to run around the campground with whatever pack of kids we found and ride the train by ourselves. It was also something we did annually for years so there are strong memories and something we could count on each summer. Sure it’s great going new places, but there is something to be said about returning to the same place year after year.

K
2 months ago

Thank you. This is such a thoughtful post and one that I really needed to read. Earlier this week I had seen a post on social media that said poignantly that 18 summers is all we get with our kids until they’re gone. It was a beautiful post urging us parents to make the summer full of magic and bliss because the time we have with them is so precious … and it made me feel terrible all week. I’m in my 17th summer with my only son and because he plays baseball almost all o four summer travels for as long as I can remember have revolved around his sport. Think motels in Peoria, AZ. Not luxury resorts in Hawaii. Or travels to foreign lands. As an extra perk, because he’ll likely play college ball, I will lose out on my 18th and final summer with him when he reports to college early. So, in the midst of my panic and feelings of inadequacy that I hadn’t filled our 17th summer with bliss and magic, reading your post made me remember all the simple times we went to our family cabin or hiked with family or hung out on… Read more »

Teresa
2 months ago

My kids are 20, 16, and 14 and their fondest memories of summer are the simple family trips (camping, backpacking, and a cabin near a lake) that are repeated year after year. The formula for us is outdoors, water, family friends, and repetition. It actually made the bigger trips that we have gone on more appreciated because they were such a novelty.

Patti
2 months ago

My 2 kids are now in their 30’s but they say they loved all the little surprise trips I gave them as kids. I tried to really be spontaneous and channel each of their individual interests. I sometimes took them on one on one trips for this and they loved those too. Sometimes I would wake them to tell them we were taking the day off school on a Friday and we would take off for a 3 day weekend! It doesn’t have to be a full vacay out of town to be memorable either. My mom used to take each of her 3 daughters out for one day a month. We loved having her all to ourselves for a day and we got to have lunch at our restaurant of choice and maybe a movie, live theatre show or concert. She took me to a fashion show when I was around 9 and I still remember it. I felt so grownup and special! As you said Emily, it doesn’t have to be the Grand Tour of Europe to be memorable!

KS
2 months ago

One of my favorite stories….start of the new (elementary) school year and the teacher asks us to tell the class what we did over the summer. Lots of kids were like, we went camping, we took swimming lessons, we went to see grandparents. Then Beth, one of the smartest kids in the class, says – we went to the swimming pool. The teacher was like ‘the swimming pool? Anything else?’ Beth ‘ummm…no.’ Then the teacher says ‘Didn’t your family go to JAPAN this summer???’ And Beth said ‘yes, and to the swimming pool’. I was 10 years old and I thought, oh man, her parents should have taken ME to Japan instead of Beth!

Concerned
2 months ago

Someone forgot to blur the license plate in the car wash picture.

Katie
2 months ago

We’d drive every summer from Eugene, OR up to Canada then take the ferry out to the Canadian San Juans. I was allowed to buy an Archie comic on the ferry (super treat!) and long island days of building rafts out of driftwood and poking around in tide pools were the best.

Tricia
2 months ago

This isn’t a summer thing necessarily but when my now 9 year old daughter was in Kindergarten I surprised her by taking her to Disneyland on a school day. Meaning I had her get into her school clothes, packed her lunch and backpack and then instead of heading to school in the car we drove to Disneyland. The reaction when she figured out that we were not going to school was priceless. It’s such a privilege that I was able to do this. I did let her teacher know ahead of time and she was fine with it. My daughter still talks about it to this day and really wants to do it again sometime when Covid dangers are past :).

Sarah
2 months ago

We only took one long vacation, when I was in 3rd grade. Went from the Midwest to Texas. The rest was beach weekends, camping, day trips close to home. Almond windmill cookies and being happily exhausted from the waves and climbing sand dunes are what I remember. Kids are just fine with no big trips and no spring break trip. The last year or so was a good reminder of that. The people you were with stick with you more than the places.

Christina
2 months ago

I’m not feeling like it’s time for a big trip yet. I’m hoping the whole world is normal enough next summer that it feels like a good idea, but I think I’m ok with just staying in Canada and exploring our country for a while. Pre-pandemic we did big trips every year or two since our eldest was a toddler and the key to it being fun instead of work is to often have grandparents or other family along for part of the trip and then part of it just be us. Longer, slower trips are what worked for us so that naptime didn’t feel like it was stealing our whole vacation. We also like staying in Airbnb type places because restaurant meals with little kids are exhausting, and being able to make your own food allows 1) grocery store tourism (one of my favourite things about being somewhere new) and 2) more flexible daily schedules. Our oldest kid had been to Italy, France, England, Spain, Hungary, Germany, Greece, Sweden, Lebanon, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan, Mexico, Cuba and the USA before he was 10. He and his brother only remember some of those trips, but they do remember some and… Read more »

Meredith
2 months ago

I have been thinking about this a lot too! Every summer as a kid, we drove to the beach for a week with the same family who lived in a different state, and we stayed in the same beach house right on the ocean. THAT was summer. We rented bikes, we cooked all of our meals, and we played on the beach all day. The rest of the summer was swimming at the pool, and leisure time. I have missed the simplicity of childhood my whole life – everything seems to move so fast, there’s so much information and so many decisions to make and so much to do. Capturing that summer leisure feeling of the 1980s is basically my life goal! And I want to create that for my 4 year old. I love the ritual and repetition of an annual summer trip, with one or two small weekend trips sprinkled in. And maybe a bigger trip that involves flying every 2-3 years. As a kid, we didn’t travel internationally, but my mom was always exposing us to different cultures and local cultural events, and I have always had the trawl bug and have lived abroad and all over… Read more »

Em Double You
2 months ago

If you asked our 22 & 24 year olds, they would tell you the best vacations were the ones we took with close friends house boating on Shasta. They have great memories, still talk about those trips, and I suspect will continue the tradition. We are a waterskiing/wakeboarding/Seadoo family, so boating already speaks to them as summer (side note: being a(n educated & responsible) boat owner is wonderful for the family. You can only have so many people on it, which allows for family time, but also a couple of friends, if you want to invite them. It teaches them respect for a space (clean up if you spill orange soda on white vinyl upholstery), responsibility (have to put everything in place and wipe it down after pulling it out of the water) and water safety (life jacket rules, up- and down- river directions, currents, etc). Anyhoo, renting a houseboat is work. But! The younger kids can take off their (required outside) life jackets inside, so that’s helpful and freeing. Adults get up early and ski, then make breakfast when they get back. Adult and kids wakeboarding after that. Lunch, then when the water isn’t great because of wind in… Read more »

ASL
2 months ago

National Parks. That is all. ❤️

2 months ago

Lots of good things to consider! I don’t think vacations (or “trips,” as I prefer to call them) with kids necessarily need to be international, and kids are pretty much happiest when their preferences are the priority, so a laid back, kid-friendly local trip will usually be a hit! That being said, I think your Australia trip might have tainted the whole idea of international travel, when I do think it can be manageable. My husband is from the Netherlands, so we’ve been there with one toddler, then with two toddlers, then with a toddler and a preschooler. The middle trip, arguably the hardest ages, we flew in/out of Brussels and spent a few nights there where we weren’t staying with family. 8-10 hours or so of plane time is a lot easier to figure out than 20, and a city with public transportation solves a lot of problems. We also rented bikes with kid seats in Amsterdam! We were able to get by on stroller/baby carrier naps, but I crave a break mid-day, so I love regular nap time too! Plus I liked being able to have our kiddos see us outside of our comfort zone and experience a… Read more »

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