Sure, Spring Break is cool when you and the family are jetting off somewhere fun, but what about those of us who decide to stay close to home? Are we not entitled to enjoy some rollin’ good times, too? Short answer: Yes! Indeed, we are. So I’ve put together 6 smart tips for parents to help transform family staycations into… yay-cations? (Yeah. I know, kind of cheesy, but stick with me here.)

Related: 6 smart travel apps to save you money


1. Mark down your staycation dates, just like any vacation

Google Calendar app for iPhone
If you were going to the Grand Canyon or Barbados or to visit family in SoCal, you would have the dates highlighted on your calendar, a big list of To-Dos in preparation for the trip, and possibly crossing off the days on your kitchen wall calendar before you go. Do the same thing for your at-home vacation, and it helps gets the kids more amped about it.

Mark the date on the family calendar — we love the Google calendar app (above) which is now available for all you iPhone using families too, and is perfect for sharing dates, plans, reservations. With those dates marked off, it will keep you from scheduling appointments, work calls, and the typical day-to-day stuff that you tend not to do on traveling vacations.

Then, let the kids help you count down and help build the excitement. The cool thing about kids, is they can get excited for anything!


2. Plan ahead for your staycation

6 great family staycation tips to treat it more like a vacation

Photo: CaZaTo Ma via cc

Spontaneity can be fun for a day, but if we’re talking a full week over Spring Break, having a plan can save you from running out of ideas, scrambling to find activities, or losing out on events or museums with limited tickets. Or worse, falling into routines where you’re just hanging out at home on the computer while the kids watch videos.

Even better, kids will love have a hand in planning your family staycation events. Ask yourself questions like:

-Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but never made the time?
-Is there a special event, playspace, or activity that’s just a short drive away?
-Are there any other friends or family you want to plan an activity with?
-If you were a tourist in your own town or county, what’s the one thing you’d want to do?
-Are there recommendations from local sites to help spur ideas? We tend to have good luck with the Mommy Poppins site which is available for 8 major metro areas across the country, and check out the Mommy Poppins app for Android and iOS too.

Then, make it legit by creating an actual list of Things To Do and Things To See on this vacation.

And don’t forget lots of talk about how much you’re looking forward to it. Instead of, We’re just sticking around here for spring break, try hyping things up with, I can’t wait for our rad staycation to begin!


3. Give the kids a say

Liz has coordinated staycations for multiple kids and cousins, and the system that’s worked best for her involves getting everyone’s opinion down…and on paper.

Family staycation tips: Search local activity sites like Mommy Poppins and ask kids to prioritize their favorites

  1. Make a list of all the possible things to do in one huge brainstorm. Anything from ice skating to have pancakes to go to a movie or play in the park. (You might be surprised how basic kids’ requests can be.) Write them down.
  2. Next, ask each kid to go through them and mark their own personal 5 top choices of things to do.
  3. Write down the adults’ own top picks — which you may decide count for say, three votes each. (Trust us, that helps when you have to veto “get a puppy.”)
  4. Finally, list the winning top activity picks in order so everyone agrees on priorities, type them out and hang them on the wall or put them on a table where everyone can check in.

As the week goes on, this has the added benefit of allowing your kids to see just how many of their choices you’ve actually done, for those times they become “forgetful” and start to complain about being bored.

Also, it enables you to have a few Plan B’s in place and ready to go, should weather or other circumstances beyond your control interfere.


5. Create virtual adventures in your own home

National Museum of Natural History virtual tour

If you’re staying super local (i.e., in your own home), think outside the box for entertainment ideas that go beyond what you normally do on a regular weekend home:

  1. Take a museum tour — virtually. Now you can admire up-close the beauty of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome, check out the various exhibits of the Louvre in Paris and embark on a spectacular, panoramic, self-guided, room-by-room walking tour of the entire Smithsonian Natural History Museum (above) all in one day, and without ever once leaving your house.
  2. Organize a scavenger hunt at home. (Great for bad weather.) Or write up age-appropriate Choose Your Adventure stories for your kids to live out in the backyard.
  3. Plan a Movie & Dress-up Day by putting together a theme for the movies you watch that afternoon while wearing appropriate costumes.
  4. Set up a Master Chef Kids: Home Edition show and have your kids put together a menu for the family meal — international pancake brunch, pick-your-toppings pizza dinner — and work with them to make it. You could be the sous-chef to the next great culinary sensation.
  5. Have a massive Family Game Day competition with prizes for the winners. Hey, you actually have time to finish a real Monopoly game.


5. Act like tourists in your own town

Staycation tips for families: How to be tourists in your own town

Photo: mrmoneda via cc

This is probably the most typical advice you see for staycations, but it’s really so true, and it liberates you from feeling like you’re acting “like a tourist” – like that’s a bad thing.

So grab your camera, then head out on many day trips to those destinations in your town or city that you have always wanted to check out, but never got around to seeing.

You could also tackle some “firsts” with your younger kids. For instance, my son liked watching the extra-long city buses rolling by as we drove near them, and said he wanted to go for a ride in one. So I planned a little excursion for the two of us a day last summer: We took a 30-minute bus ride to the nearby children’s science center. That kid still talks about that day, especially when we drive by a loaded city bus.

Or indulge a little and book a night at a local hotel for a grand family sleepover, with promises of room service, pay-per-view movies, big bubble baths, and maybe even a heated pool.


Fujifilm Instax Mini 8The Fujifilm Instamax

Not that you need a reminder, but of course be sure take lots of photos, just like you would if you were touring another town or country. You can plan a photo project — like organizing a slideshow, making a neat travel journal or cool photo book — for later in the week, too.

Related: 6 smart, easy tips for teaching kids photography  


6. Take a break from your online routine or it’s not actually a staycation.

Setting out of office notifications: Great tip for family staycations

Make the staycation a true break from the everyday by altering or, in some cases, completely nixing some of your usual home routines. If it’s not going to be too disruptive, consider letting your kids stay up past their bedtimes. You could even pass a No Chores edict for the week and — bonus! — spring for a cleaning person at the end of the staycation week when everyone returns to school and work.

Also, the same goes for you! Set your email to an out-of-the-office or vacation notification so you don’t feel obligated to respond to emails. This makes a tremendous difference.

Also try taking a break from (or cut down significantly on) social media, emails, texting, which really lets your kids see that you’re taking this staycation seriously. We have some great tips on minimizing cell phone distractions so that you can focus on family time.

Then, you could always make like you’re halfway around the world with no international mobile phone plan. Think roaming charges, amirite?

Top photo adapted from: robzand via cc