Ahh, spring break. The beach, a beer, and your buddies, right? Sure, that sounds about right when you’re in college, but what about when you have to figure out what to do with your kids for a random week off before the last push toward summer?
I have four kids and I work. Here are a few ideas of what to do with your kids during spring break. I’ll be doing a few of these myself.
Have Fun at Night
As much as Spring Break is all about kids, every parent knows any kind of fun starts with her. For starters, if you have a regular job and can’t get time off, you probably have already made arrangements for your kids with either a local daycare, sitter, family member, or organization like the YMCA.
But even if your job rules out daytime fun with your kids—thanks, pesky adulting!—that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with them on their break. Here are a few ideas, if this fits your scenario, of things to do with them in the evenings.
- Go to the movies, with a twist. The movies can be expensive—a family of four can cost $100 with tickets and snacks. Do a little research and see if there is a Groupon in your area or perhaps a cheap seats theater. Where I live, there’s not only a theater that offers new movies for $5 per ticket, but you can also get kids ice cream sundaes for $2. Movie night for less than $35? Yes, please. Not to mention, there’s several great kids movies out now, including “How to Train Your Dragon 3,” which my kids adored.
- Go swimming. If you live somewhere far from the beach, that doesn’t mean you can’t dream up a little water vacation for an evening. Go to your local community center and buy passes for the kids. Now order pizza and get in the water with your kids like a decent parent, why don’t you? Or if they are too cool for you, you could always bring a book, kick back, and sneak an adult beverage in a coffee mug—but you didn’t hear that from me.
- Have a “lateover,” and swap your kids. If you’ve worked all day, the last thing you might want to do is have your kids’ friends over, and a sleepover is out of the question. The solution? A “lateover”—a term I discovered when one of my kids’ friends wanted to hang out but wasn’t allowed to sleep over.
With a little work, a giant playdate can create a scenario where all the odds are ever in your favor, particularly if you can convince the same kids’ parents to swap kids later in the week. Here’s how it works: Invite a few friends over (this is easiest if they’re all siblings and friends!). Order supplies to make your own pizzas and buy cookie dough—yes, you’re a foodie, but this isn’t the time to be precious.
Rent a movie or pick something new on Netflix or Prime. Let the kids make pizzas and throw the cookies in the oven, then eat, play, and watch a movie. Meanwhile, you keep your ears open for bloodcurdling screams or damage and enjoy a glass of wine with a new show. (If you need some suggestions, try one from Federalist Publisher Ben Domenech’s extensive list.) If you can get a family to return the favor and have your kids for a “lateover,” the kids will have a blast, and you’ve got the night to yourself.
Take a Road Trip
I never used to like road trips, and to be honest, they’re not my favorite thing, but we’ve done several, mostly because it’s a cost-effective way to experience new adventures. A lot of families genuinely enjoy them and it’s easier if kids are old enough to self-entertain in the car.
Spring break is the perfect time to wield this card if you 1) live near some cool cities or states, 2) have a flexible job where you can work on the road or take a few days off, and 3) still want to remain within budget. Here’s how I process road trips, although for transparency’s sake, I’m not the world’s most organized parent.
First, determine where you want to go that fits with your work schedule, finances, and (obviously) driving distance from your home.
Second, book lodging. I always do this first because, well, nobody wants to be sleepless on the side of the road. Also, I think this is one of the most fun parts since there are so many options now: Anywhere from camping and Airbnbs to expensive resorts or even, if you have the funds and sanity, an RV. I try to balance road trips with one or two inexpensive nights (perhaps with friends, a cheap hotel, or camping) and then one night or two at a really cool, memorable place I know my kids will love.
Third, map out the places you want to see and the things you want to do. I start with the destination’s top adventures and narrow it down. Which of these will my kids actually like? Which ones can I actually afford? For example, we recently visited San Antonio, Texas. One of the cool things to do there is to ride in a boat down the river, in the middle of the city. It looked so neat!
But it was really pricey for a short ride, and an even longer wait just to get on the boat, so we bailed. I find it’s easiest to plan for one big excursion a day and a couple smaller things to do on the way to it (like a park).
Lastly, plan the food. Like many parents on a budget, I pack a lot of food and I aim for at least one hot meal a day. Once at our destination, we typically eat pretty inexpensive fast-casual food and maybe choose one or two restaurants well known for that area.
A foodie tip: Try to avoid eating at familiar places (like Chick-fil-A) and choose the local joints. That way you really experience the feel of your destination. Use Yelp and other similar apps to help you find the best food in the area.
Find Day Trip Adventures Nearby
If going away is either out of your budget or something you feel would make you go out of your mind, you can always think a lot smaller and make day trips around where you live. This also is a good strategy if you need to work some.
This is a good time to hit up Groupon or Living Social or your local community centers and see what they have going on. Try a new museum, park, or other advertised activity. Even a trip to the library can be fun when paired with reading hour and a fun treat afterwards (I’m always trying to sneak in dessert somewhere).
Play dates with friends to the park, pool, or museum can also add extra fun. If you work remotely, this can really work to your advantage.
If there’s a fun city you’ve been wanting to see or restaurant you’ve wanted to try an hour away, plan the day around that activity and see what else there is to do in that area. As great as Google is, I’ve found that smaller towns often post fantastic, inexpensive events right on their web pages.
Go Big or Go Home
If your spring break is still a few weeks out, which it is for many states, and you’ve got time off and a pretty expansive budget, this could be the time to go big or go home. I’ve been broke and I’ve been more well-off, but whatever state my finances are in, I’ve never regretted trips with my kids.
Experts say family vacations have lasting effects on kids and their happiness. So to that end, if money and time is at your leisure, the sky is really the limit. Here are a few fun ideas:
- Fly to Colorado and ski Keystone. If you stay there, the kids ski free—a pretty sweet break. The mountains are gorgeous, the air is refreshing, and there’s bound to be snow, which kids often love. Skiing is also exhausting, so they will hit the hay at night and give you a couple hours to yourself.
- Southwest just announced pretty sweet deals to Hawaii. I ruled that out a long time ago, but tickets for under $200 might seriously change my mind. Check it out—can’t hurt, and they’ll probably open it up again soon. If you make it, say Aloha to Maui for me.
- Break for the beach. Nothing says classic spring break like a trip to the beach. I still remember one college break at Daytona—ahh, the good ‘ole days. The beach is also super fun for kids, because it’s days upon days of sun and surf—and all you have to do is make sure they don’t drown! None of this schlepping all over this place with all kinds of outfit changes or driving all over kingdom come.
Pick a great beach (here are a few), find yourself a condo, and drag everybody to the sand with your umbrella, Long Island Iced Tea, and lots of sunscreen. As far as vacations go, it’s pretty inexpensive if you’re able to drive there and secure decent lodging.