I have three kids. Two are mostly grown and one is almost 10 as of this year.
It’s slightly awkward redoing many of the bucket list things I did with my older children again with my younger one.
A lot changes in the world in a decade.
After reading many of these lists I decided to write my own because a) most lists list specific places that may or may not be very far from where we live and b) they aren’t really broken down into ages very well.
My list is going to start in early childhood and skip the toddler years. The only thing children under 3 will remember about family trips is how they felt so make them fulfilling for YOU the parent because you’ve got 15 years of family vacations ahead of you.
Early Childhood Ages 4-6
A Huge Playground
There are lots of really amazing playgrounds in the world and it is definitely worth your time to do a bit of research on the coolest ones near you. My niece is a bit of a playground connoisseur.
A Zoo or Wildlife Park
Sharing the wonder of nature should be high on your list of priorities for this age. Creating a sense of awe and reverence in your child will be character shaping. It is sorely lacking in our society today.
While Zoos may one day be a thing of the past there are still some around and they are largely committed to education and compassion for the animals.
Calgary Zoo is still around and so is SanDiego and Santa Barbara. There are local wildlife parks too.
A Children’s Museum
If you have never heard of the term ‘children’s museum’ then you’re welcome. These are magical places designed specifically for children. There aren’t a ton of them around but you might be lucky enough to live in a community that has one. They can definitely be worth the visit.
Manitoba has a great one. We do in my community too.
A Petting Zoo
I know I already did the animal thing but petting zoos are different. Children have the opportunity to touch, hold and pet animals they may not otherwise be in contact with. It is an experience that will foster a love of the natural world and touch that tender place in their little hearts.
A Day on the Beach
Whether it is on the ocean or a lake make sure you spend a few days each summer making sand castles and splashing on the shore line. Take a day-trip if you don’t have a beach nearby. Pack a picnic (keep it simple there is sand!), lots of drinks towels, bathing suits, a big blanket and some sand toys and let that be the end of your agenda for the day.
Instead of stopping at the dollar store for sand toys that will just end up in the landfill consider raiding your kitchen drawers and using things you already have like butter knives, spoons and metal bowls.
Middle Childhood Family Vacations Ages 7-9
A Natural History Museum
Waterslides or a Large Waterpark
This is also pretty fun for teens if you can wrangle the cousins or some friends.
Stay in a Hotel
Look for ones that have a pool and a waterslide. We stayed in one with all three kids a few years ago and the hotel pool was a highlight of our trip oddly enough.
Camp in a Tent
Visit a Place with Huge Trees
You don’t have to visit the Giant Redwoods in California to find old growth trees but you will have to do a little digging because sadly there aren’t very many places left.
Visit a Place with Amazing Geology
Think the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore or places like this Smithsonian top 10 list.
Trips to take with Tweens 10-12
A Theme Park
Think the classic Disneyland, Legoland, Canada’s Wonderland or even the PNE. This might be better done closer to 10 but older children will absolutely relish the chance to relive a little bit of that feeling of childhood innocence.
A National Park
Places like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Jasper etc.
Hopefully you’ve taken your children on lots of trips to various State or Provincial parks and they have developed a bit of an appreciation for our attempt to preserve some of the wilderness. National Parks typically have some special feature that makes them a treasure to the whole country. You can learn together about the geography where you live.
A Guided Adventure
A zipline, a gondola ride or a cave tour can be ways to make hanging with the family ‘cool’ enough to have a great day out together as tweens try to separate themselves from their parents.
Like a real one. They are sometimes open to the public you just need to find out when.
Stay up late and go watch the night sky. If you do this in the winter you won’t have to stay up so late! But you will have to drive home in the dark.
A Professional Sports Game
When my children were choosing their sport I always made a point of taking them to see college and professional level athletes playing. We tried to do this live whenever possible and are fortunate to live in a place where there are LOTS of options for such things.
Where I live we have hydro electricity and that means there are dams everywhere. It can be a really valuable lesson and perspective to visit a dam and learn about the watershed where it sits. Do your research before you go though because only half the story will be told at the dam site.
Family Vacations even Teens will Enjoy 13-18
A River Float
Grab a tube, a hat and some drinks and spend the afternoon together cracking jokes and watching the world go by. Particularly if you live in a community where this is done regularly it will be an opportunity for you to role model safe floating practices.
Visit A Big City
Visit a Small Town
Fly Somewhere in an Airplane
Flying is a bit of a life skill and it’s really hard to teach if you’re not there. My adult daughter flew to New York this week and my mom was really anxious about it but I wasn’t at all; I’ve flown several times with my daughter in her teens and I know she knows what to do to make her flight and travel safely.
A Road Trip
One of the cheapest ways to have a fun weekend with friends. Show them how to make even the simplest of destinations fun.
When my daughter turned 14 we took a 14 day road trip across the US visiting a ton of parks and places along the way. It was intended to be a right of passage as she transitioned into being a teenager and was such a fantastic experience. I highly recommend.
My son is a bit more of a home body so he and I have been driving the length of local highways to orient him to the Province. He has really enjoyed it and so have I.
A Hot Spring
If you are fortunate enough to live within driving distance of one this is an easy way to convince your teens to come with 😉
Tempting them with the promise of lava is a surefire way to get them out of the house.
Again there aren’t many left so go see them before they are gone.
Bonus Trip Ideas
And last but not least two trips that are fun for any age are ferry rides and water falls. I live in a place where there are all different kinds of ferries kind of all over. There are some local bragging rights to say you’ve been on them all.
While Niagara Falls might be on your list there are TONS of other waterfalls that are just as spectacular. Wells Gray Park in BC has at least 10 breathtaking falls and there are dozens more in BC alone.
That’s my list.
I hope you liked it and I hope it provides a framework for planning some of those big family trips you’ve always dreamed of taking with your kids. I’ve talked to many parents over the years who ended up doing a trip twice because they did it too soon or not doing it at all because they missed their opportunity.
We get 18 years with them and really only 14 if you’re lucky after you factor in the toddler and teen years.
I always call the ages of 7-14 the golden years of childhood. This is the sweet spot when you can do ALL the things.
So get out there and go on an adventure!