Are you looking for some fun ways to spend some quality time with the family? Plan a family weekend getaway to make some memories and have some fun! We’ve put together a collection of tips to help you plan the best family vacation, even if you just have a few days to sneak away. You’ll get some ideas to help prepare your kids and set your family up for success. Plus, we shared a list of various types of destinations to help you start brainstorming your wishlist today.
So, let’s get through the business of planning and preparing so you can be ready to relax and have some fun with your family as soon as possible.
Record your family’s travel memories!
While preparing for your family’s weekend getaway, don’t forget to pick up a copy of our Adventure Travel Journal! Use it to save your packing list, record vacation firsts, and document the attractions you visit and interactions you have with others. It’s the perfect companion for any trip!
How to Start Planning Your Family Weekend Getaway
Let’s start with the 10 tips that will help set you up for success. These practical guidelines will help you make sure that you haven’t forgotten anything and have all the important pieces figured out before you leave.
Choose a destination everyone will enjoy.
Picking a place to spend your time is arguably the most important part of the planning process. Involve the entire family and see what ideas people have. You might be shocked at some of the unique ideas your kids come up with. Maybe they have friends at school that have talked about a trip they went on and it sounded cool. Maybe your kids have an interest in something they’ve learned about that you didn’t know.
By involving the entire family, you can agree on a place together and it will help everyone get excited. The last thing you want is pouting children because they have to leave home to travel somewhere that they don’t know anything about. Remember, you are ultimately in charge, so set whatever guidelines in place you want to help with the selection.
Set your budget, and start saving.
There are plenty of budget-friendly destinations, especially if you are taking just a weekend trip. Determine how much money you want to (or can) spend on the family vacation. Make sure to consider everything.
Many people only figure it transportation and lodging, but there are likely going to be other costs along the way. Think about admission to museums, attractions, and dining out. Add in some extra money for souvenirs, especially if you want the kids to get a memento from the trip.
Once you set a budget, figure out the timeline you need to save up the money. Even if you’re going to use a credit card to make purchases and earn points, you want to be able to pay it off before it accrues any interest. That will give you an idea of when you can depart for your weekend away.
Purchase airline tickets before prices begin creeping up.
If you are planning to travel somewhere that requires a plane, make sure to book your tickets at least two weeks from the travel date. Last-minute tickets are expensive, so the sooner you can purchase your flights, the better deal you will get. There are also some websites that can help you locate cheaper tickets. Free services, like Faredrop, are great if you know what city you want to visit and you want to get alerts whenever there is a deal.
Another option is to sign up for promotional emails from the airlines you like to fly with. You’ll know about seasonal sales and deals. Plus if you have frequent flier miles or credit card points, you can cash those in to save some money on your tickets. Purchasing travel insurance might not be a bad idea. You never know when something could come up with the kids and the more people you are bringing along, the higher the odds are that something changes and you don’t want to lose that money.
Consider all lodging options.
Hotels aren’t the only option for lodging on a family vacation. There are tons of kid-friendly rentals through Airbnb, VRBO, and other rental sites that might suit your family a little better. It’s nice to have some space to spread out and hotel rooms can get a little cramped. Plus, having your own kitchen can allow you to cook some meals or at least have some snacks on hand at the place you’re staying.
If you want a more pampered vacation, check for all-inclusive resorts where you just pay one bill and everything is included, from meals to activities to drinks. Some resorts even have spa services that can help the parents really relax on vacation in between all the fun family activities.
For the opposite experience (but no less fun), you can camp in a tent or an RV. Don’t have a camper yourself? Rent one and take your family out into nature and enjoy the simple things in life for the weekend. Glamping has become more popular in recent years with yurts and nice canvas tents set up in beautiful locations so you don’t even need to figure out how to set up the tent.
Just keep an open mind to the options and choose the one that will best fit your family and the vacation you’re trying to have with them.
Plan out a (loose) itinerary.
You will find no shortage of fun activities for the family at any destination and it’s good to make a plan ahead of time. Just be careful that you don’t overpack the itinerary. You don’t want to be rushing through something that you’re having so much fun at only to find out the next place isn’t all you hoped it would be. Be in the moment and allow for some wiggle room in your schedule.
The best way to do this is to plan one big activity each day and have a couple of smaller options to fill in any open times. If you are going on a day trip that will take a little longer, don’t pile on other commitments the same day because you need a little space to relax as well.
Do the research ahead of time and figure out which attractions and activities require reservations or advance tickets. Anything else can be a bit more spontaneous. If you don’t do everything on your list, it will just give you a reason to come back in the future. The last thing you want to worry about on vacation is obsessively watching the clock.
Research babysitting options.
Family-friendly resorts, campgrounds, and sometimes hotels might have babysitting or child care services available to guests. If that’s an option, consider planning a night or even a visit to one of the local breweries with your partner to enjoy some adult-only time.
Another option is to bring along a grandparent, aunt, or uncle that can enjoy the family vacation with you and also give you a little break at some point. Having an extra set of adult hands is never a bad idea, especially when you are exploring someplace new with younger kids. See what options you have if you think a little help would improve your vacation.
Make plans for the animals and plants.
Are you leaving behind any pets? Make sure you set up a pet sitter or a boarding reservation for them. Sometimes, those reservations fill up quickly, so you want to make sure you are getting your spots booked far enough in advance. If you have a sitter that can come stay at your home, that might be the easiest option.
Even if you don’t have pets, it’s a good idea to have someone keep an eye on your place when you’re out of town. It might be as easy as checking the mail and watering a plant or two, but it’s just a safer option to have someone keep an eye on it when you’re out of town.
Allow an extra day for transition time.
Weekend trips can pack a lot of things in. If your plan is to head out Thursday evening and get home Sunday evening to get back to work early Monday morning, you may be absolutely exhausted. Consider planning your arrival for at least Sunday early afternoon so you have some time to unwind (and unpack).
Weekend trips should be destinations that aren’t hard to get to so you don’t have to spend hours on the commute both ways. Maximize your time with your family by making the transportation piece as easy as possible and that will allow you to have a little time to recuperate before diving back into the normal grind of daily routines and busy lives.
Start the countdown.
Once you have dates locked in, start getting excited. Unless you are keeping it a secret from your kids, get them in on the excitement. Write the number of days on the calendar and talk about it each day. Put a countdown app on your phone and check it each night before bed. However, you can incorporate the excitement that vacation is coming, do it. The anticipation can add to the fun.
Have fun with the planning process!
The process of planning vacations should be a fun process. There will be some moments of stress or an overwhelming amount of options to sort through, but if you approach the entire planning process excitedly, you can help set the tone. Involve the family once you’ve narrowed down some options if you want their input. Let yourself have fun dreaming about the hotels you’ll stay in and the views you’ll enjoy. This can be a special time for you each week as you put everything together.
Managing Kids’ Needs During A Family Trip
One of the most stressful parts of a family vacation is how to manage the kids and keep them happy. If the kids are melting down and not having fun, it doesn’t really allow anyone else in the family to have a good time. We’ve put together a few tips on this topic to help set you up for success.
Ask for their input.
We mentioned this above in the planning tips, but it’s worth repeating. By involving your children in the planning process, they will feel partially responsible for a successful trip. If you just default to a place you think they might like, you may miss out on places that they are interested in that are really high on your list.
Get everyone excited about new things!
Being able to watch your children experience new things will feel like you’re discovering them for the first time as well. Vacations are a great time to see new places and things. Take a minute to watch your child’s face when they see the ocean for the first time or spot a new animal in the wild that they’ve never seen before. You might even love their reactions to a candy store or a silly little ride that costs a quarter.
Kids view the world in such a different way than adults. Getting to experience these moments of discovery with your kids will be pretty magical. Point things out and enjoy the experiences alongside them because they will remember that.
Bring a bag of tricks.
Have you ever wished you had Mary Poppins’ famous bag? You can by packing your own bag of tricks. The simplest things can be incredibly distracting which can help avoid meltdowns while traveling. Stock up on a few goodies from the dollar store that you can bring out to keep kids entertained. Small new toys can help shift their entire demeanor.
Bring things like stickers, homemade playdough, coloring books, and small toys. These can help you keep kids entertained on the airplane or for long car rides, but they can also work at restaurants and in the hotel for some quiet time. Use it as a bargaining chip or a reward for good behavior. New toys and small gifts will really get your kids’ attention and help you keep them entertained so everyone has a good time.
Consider your dining options.
Hanger is the emotion you feel when you’re so hungry that you’re angry. It’s a situation you never want to find yourself in and you definitely don’t want to deal with hangry children. Having snacks on you at all times can save the day if anyone is starting to get hungry. Even if you don’t have a cooler, you can pack nuts and granola bars.
Mealtimes are also important to consider ahead of time. Obviously, eating local foods is a fun part of vacation, but not every child is an adventurous eater. Try selecting restaurants that have kids menus and are welcoming to families so you have some simple options for the kids to eat. If you are in a small town or might not have access to restaurants that are comfortable for your family, make a grocery stop to stock up on some easy meals that you know your kids will eat.
Don’t forget to include sleep in the plan!
Naps are crucial for young children to keep them happy. When you’re planning your excursions and organizing your itinerary, make sure you’re thinking about those times each day when kids normally take a nap. If you have a child that can sleep anywhere, you can just bring a stroller and let them nap wherever you are. Other parents are not so lucky and they need to be somewhere where the kids can sleep in a dark room on a bed.
Just make sure you’re considering your options and maximizing the time each day when everyone is up and ready to explore. Also, consider any time changes if you are traveling outside of your time zone. Even an hour can mess up a kid’s schedule and throw off your plans.
Keep the schedule simple.
You may want to hit the ground running and take in everything you possibly can in a new destination, but the reality of that happening without any meltdowns or issues is very unlikely. Kids don’t have a full to-do list of things they want to see, they are focused on having fun and getting time to play. By allowing yourself lots of flexibility and wiggle room in your schedule, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best offerings in your destination and have time to relax and just be together.
Give the kiddos info ahead of time.
Once you pick your destination, make sure to share fun facts about it with your kids. Research places together on the internet, watch YouTube videos, and spend time learning a little bit about your destination. This will help the kids put things in context when they arrive. For example, if you are going to Yellowstone, learn about some of the wildlife that you might see there and teach them a little bit about Old Faithful before you arrive.
Imagine if you’re learning how to do something new and you get the chance to practice after learning about it, the information is more likely to sink in. That principle works with your trip as well. If kids have some understanding before arriving and then they get to experience it themselves, they’ll be more likely to remember the information and will enjoy things with more context. You’ll also get the pleasure of seeing what pieces of information they find most interesting.
Final Prep for Your Family Weekend Getaway
Once the trip is planned and you’ve done everything you can do to prepare the kids, you just have to wait until the time comes. These prep items should be taken care of right before the trip. I wouldn’t wait until the night before, but maybe as the weekend approaches, check these few items off your list.
Document medical information and emergency contacts.
Put together a list of doctor’s phone numbers in case anything comes up on the trip. You can also locate the emergency locations near the place you’re staying so you aren’t searching frantically if you end up needing to take anyone. Better to be prepared and never need the information than be scrambling to figure it out in a tough situation.
This is also a good time to verify that all prescriptions are up to date and filled so you don’t run out on your trip. Make sure that you have backups packed whenever possible of things that you cannot go without (like contacts or glasses). The last thing you want to do is track down a pharmacy when you only have a few days to have fun.
Get everyone packed and ready!
Some families allow everyone to pack for themselves, but with little kids, that’s probably a horrible idea. Make a quick list of what each person should have for the time that you will be gone. The easiest way is to address one person at a time and lay out each of the outfits needed. You can pack multiple people in one bag and with packing cubes, you can keep the bags super organized.
Toiletries can be shared among everyone in most situations, so just grab one bag for those items. Once clothes, shoes, and other overnight needs are packed, you can grab any of the fun items. If you are flying, pack a carry-on with books, tablets, and anything else your family needs to stay entertained on the plane.
Don’t forget to bring a camera!
Capture the memories. Many people caution travelers to leave their phones behind and be present, but if your phone is also your camera, you’ll want it with you. Taking pictures allows you and your kids to relive these moments again in the future. They capture specific memories and when you look at them in months or years, you’ll be transported right back to the vacation.
Kids don’t really start holding on to memories until elementary school, but if you have photos and can share stories with them when they are older, it will help them feel extra special and improve the overall family connection.
So pack your camera or keep your phone charged. Enjoy the moments with your own eyes, but capture a few to enjoy for the future as well. You’ll be happy you did.
Remember the water bottles.
Hydration is easy to forget about when you are running around and having so much fun. Pack a reusable water bottle for each member of the family that you can bring anywhere and get refilled. This will save you money because you won’t need to purchase expensive bottled water at the airport or gas stations.
This is just one of those easy things to overlook. Especially if you’re traveling somewhere in the heat, it’s important for everyone to get enough water to stay comfortable and take care of themselves.
Consider shopping when you arrive.
The younger your children are, the more things they require on vacations. If you are traveling with a baby, think about picking up some of the essentials at the grocery store when you arrive at your destination. Pack a few diapers for the commute there and then pick some up when you land. That will help keep your luggage free for other things.
If the thought of an errand stresses you out, you can either pack everything you need or you can set up a delivery from Amazon to the place you’re staying so it’s there when you arrive.
Have a Back-Up Plan
Spend a few minutes thinking of the three biggest things that could go wrong and brainstorm a quick backup plan. Being prepared can help reduce stress. Think about things like not being able to check in at your hotel when you arrive or if your flight is delayed or if they don’t have the right rental car for you. Just knowing what your possible backup plan is will help reduce the stress in the moment. Don’t spend too much time on this, just put a little thought into it so you aren’t starting from scratch in the event that something does pop up.
Family-Friendly Destinations for Weekend Getaways
There are so many classic American destinations that are perfect for family vacations. Some require longer than a weekend, but if you choose something that isn’t too far from your homebase, you can make anything work.
Go camping at a state park.
Every state has a selection of state parks that showcase some of the best natural features of the area. Depending on what part of the country you live in, you can enjoy activities like biking, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Most states have a small fee to utilize the parks, but some are free.
If you want to really experience everything a certain park has to offer, stay in one of their campgrounds. You can have a bonfire (if the area allows them) and make s’mores or play card games and hang out in the great outdoors.
Make it a wildlife adventure.
Do you have kids who love animals and could spend hours at the zoo? Plan a trip somewhere they can see some wildlife in its natural habitat. Consider a long weekend in Hawaii where you can take whale watching tours and see the largest mammals swimming and playing in the turquoise waters.
You could also look for some outdoor adventures in the western part of the US. Dude ranches are popular family spots with horseback riding and tons of up close animal encounters. The United States has so many unique species throughout the country, so just do a little research if you’re looking for the best spots to see animals in the wild and you might get lucky on your trip. Plus, you’ll likely have more fun than at the zoo.
Relax with a beach trip.
East coast or west coast (or even the south coast or the Great Lakes), there are so many spots for a beach vacation that it’s accessible from anywhere. Spend a weekend playing in the sand, riding rides on the boardwalk, or shooting a round at a golf course overlooking the water.
From Miami, Florida to Cape Code, Massachusetts, the East Coast has great options for the family. The Carolinas are pretty central and you can choose from the quiet Outer Banks in North Carolina or the busier Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. California beaches are popular on the west coast, or you could head south of the border to Baja, Mexico.
Many destinations have an assortment of water sports that you can try as a family, like surfing or fishing. Stay in a beach rental with great access to the water or look for an oceanfront resort & spa which will have all the amenities you could dream of.
Have fun at a theme park.
Amusement parks are fun for the entire family. Whether you go big and head to Disney World in Orlando or you stick to something a little more low-key, the family will have a blast. From the Beast roller coaster in Cedar Point in Ohio to the historic Cyclone in Coney Island, NYC, there are thrilling rides within a few hours’ drive of your home.
Challenge your kids to try a zipline or just cruise down a giant slide, whatever their speed is, they will love going with their siblings and parents to a theme park. You can stay in a hotel nearby and spend a full day from open to close if everyone is up for it. That will help you really make the most of your admission tickets.
Explore a national park.
Similar to state parks, the national park system protects some of the nation’s best gems. Explore mountains, waterfalls, canyons, deserts, ocean coasts, and much more. With hiking trails, visitor’s centers, and tons of scenic drives, these make great family vacation destinations.
Don’t miss out on the free ranger walks and presentations that will help you locate animals and unique plants in the park, spot stars and planets in the night sky, and learn more about the historic events that have taken place in these locations.
Check out big city museums.
Big cities offer so many options for families with kids of any age. Most large metropolitan areas have great children’s museums to explore along with aquariums, zoos, science museums, and other unique attractions.
In the midwest, you can visit Chicago and visit Navy Pier, the John Hancock Tower, take a river cruise, and enjoy some deep-dish pizza. Atlanta, Georgia has a huge aquarium, a museum dedicated to Coca-Cola, and you can learn more about Martin Luther King Jr at his former home. And obviously, we can’t talk about big cities without mentioning New York City which has weeks’ worth of activities to do.
Step back in time at a historical site.
Use your family vacation to help your kids see some of the places they have learned about in school. Instead of just reading about it in class, they will be able to see some of the important historic locations around the United States and they can even bring pictures and souvenirs back to share with their class.
Walk the Freedom Trail and see where Paul Revere famously rode his horse warning people about the Red Coats in New England. Step back in time in Williamsburg, Virginia where the people working there dress as they did centuries ago and help visitors see what life would have been like for the settlers of the original colonies. See the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Or take the most popular option and visit the nation’s capital, Washington DC.
Pack your swimsuits for the water park.
Indoor waterparks are open year-round and offer a great escape from cold weather climates even when you can’t jump on a plane with the whole family to the beach. The Great Wolf Lodge has multiple family resorts around the US. It’s filled with tons of water slides and indoor and outdoor pools.
In the summertime, look for some fun outdoor options. Rent cabanas by the pool and spend an entire day playing and lounging with your kids. It’s a great way for everyone to burn energy and practice being brave on the slides and on the diving board. Add some ice cream and mini golf when people need a break from the chlorine.
Head out on a road trip!
If you want to take a more spontaneous trip, pack up the car and take a little family road trip. Maybe you live in California and can cruise Highway 1 down to San Diego or you might drive through Texas Hill Country or explore a collection of small towns in Tennessee. No matter where you are in the country, you can plan a fun little road trip with the family to break up your normal routine.
Grab a paper map where you can plot out some options for your adventure, then prep some road trip games and snacks. There are also some fun apps that will help you locate the strangest and most unique roadside attractions!
Hopefully, we’ve given you more than enough info to help you ensure that your family weekend getaway goes off without a hitch. If you want more inspiration and advice, stick around! Find out which kid-friendly destinations come highly recommended by our travel experts, and get tips to travel like pros. Our family fun and travel posts offer tons of valuable advice.
We hope you enjoy your trip!
Frequently Asked Questions
If you are planning a family weekend getaway, ask your family for input on where you should go. Heading somewhere that everyone is excited about will help boost the overall feelings on the trip. Plan one activity each day and allow for some spontaneity.
Family weekend getaways come in all shapes and sizes. It depends on the age of your children and how adventurous you want to be. You can plan a relaxing beach vacation or take the whole family to an amusement park in a different city. Just find something that you think everyone will have some fun doing.