True confession: I’ve always been a bit of a homebody, but since I became a mom, I love the idea of a staycation with my kids almost as much as taking an actual vacation with them.
I mean, of course I love white, sandy beaches and tropical breezes. A cozy cabin in the woods with a crackling fire. Hotels with spa treatments, heated pools and room service. The sheer magic of Disney World. I’m only human, people!
OK, maybe I do need a proper vacation, but I’m not going anywhere at the moment, so a staycation with the kids is the second-best thing.
How is a staycation different from an ordinary day at home with your little ones? It’s time that you’re consciously spending together as a family, as if you were on vacation, doing something extra special and beyond your normal day-off activities. Your kids will love it, and you won’t have to actually travel with them on an airplane—or take a second mortgage out on your house to get all of you on said airplane.
If a big trip isn’t in your immediate future—or even if you’re just looking for something fun to do on a random free day—you’ve landed in the right place. Here are 25 ways to have a blast with your kids without leaving your hometown and without spending a fortune.
Act like a tourist in your own town.
Take your kids to the big sites nearby that you take for granted. I live in New York City, and somehow I haven’t taken the kids to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty yet. (Though we have taken a ferry to Governor’s Island, one of the city’s best-kept secrets, and been for a spin on the very cool Sea Glass Carousel.) Sometimes the most obvious things are the things that you have to remember to do.
Ride the trains.
To be completely honest, you don’t even need a destination. Kids are fascinated with trains and the whole experience of being on them, so you can sightsee from the comfort of your (hopefully comfortable) seats. Add to the kiddie fun by letting your child pick which stop to get out and do a little exploring wherever you end up. Google Maps will be your friend with this expedition.
Be Iron Chefs for the day.
Issue a challenge to your kids with the ingredients in your pantry and see who will win the title of Iron Chef. If your children are too young to do this by themselves, you and your significant other can team up with them. Bonus: You’ll be cleaning out those never-used and almost-expired items in your pantry, and actually putting them to good use! While you’re at it, go ahead and craft a tropical cocktail for yourself. Here are a few ridiculously yummy ideas for the adult portion of your staycation.
Have a campout in your house.
Set up a tent (or a kid-constructed one made of blankets) and get out the sleeping bags—you’re about to get rustic. Or as rustic as you can be in your living room or backyard and with access to a hairdryer. Tell ghost stories with flashlights, make s’mores and do a ton of imaginative play. Keep up your campsite all day long—and maybe even for a sleepover at night, too.
Check out this adorable campfire set from Etsy to add to the imaginative play, and click here for some more ideas to make an at-home kiddie campout even more awesome.
Go to a hotel for a night.
On a recent trip away with some friends and their families, my preschooler’s favorite part was jumping on the beds in the hotel. Trust me when I say that even the most basic hotel in your hometown will seem exotic and insanely fun to your kids. Plus: Room service!
Go ice-skating indoors.
You might just have the next Wayne Gretzky or Tara Lipinski on your hands. Follow up your icecapades with a hockey game on TV or old Olympics footage on YouTube.
Indulge in a spa day.
Splurge at a local spa for a mani/pedi or set up your own little spa at home for a less expensive but still fun version of this idea. Your manicure may be, er, interesting, but you might also get a kiddie-administered massage out of the deal.
Burn off some energy at a local bounce house.
This is particularly great for those days when you’re going completely stir crazy—i.e., rainy days or Day 536 away from school. OK, fine, it might only be Day 5, but depending on what’s going on, it could feel like Day 536.
Have a kids’ choice day.
Let them direct the activities for the entire day. Just make sure to set some ground rules first so they don’t get completely disappointed when you tell them they can’t use your credit card to book a last-minute trip on a Disney princess cruise.
Compete in the at-home Olympics.
Set up easy challenges in your house and your backyard, and keep the kids busy, active and competitive all day. Ward off potential arguments with a judge/referee (um, that would be you), scorecards and lots of cheering.
Break out the old-school board games.
It isn’t old. It’s vintage. (Yes, that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.) Personally, I can’t wait till my kids are old enough to play Clue, but in the meantime, here are some other ideas for little ones who wouldn’t understand why Colonel Mustard would bludgeon someone with a candlestick in the library.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of old-school awesomeness, remember Shrinky Dinks? I do, and guess what—they’re still around and as fun as ever!
Take advantage of your town’s free stuff.
It’s there, trust me—you just have to find it. Local libraries often offer free passes to various attractions and museums, and you can check out awesome sites like Mommy Poppins and Red Tricycle for free (or really inexpensive) ideas in your area. Plus, of course, you can always head out for a hike and explore nature.
Learn a new skill.
This could be painting, making your own candy or playing Minecraft. Whatever it is, do it as a family so you’re all stumbling through it and having fun together.
Make a movie or music video.
This one might be semi-painful because you’ll be relinquishing your smart phone or tablet for filming duties, but hey, you just might be creating the next Steven Spielberg in the process.
Go on a food crawl.
If your kids are adventurous, pick a new cuisine and restaurant-hop. If they’re not adventurous and you don’t mind the sugar overload, you can work your way through different cookie and ice cream shops instead.
Turn your kids into mini CEOs.
Remember the lemonade stands of your childhood? Let them come up with an idea for their own business and develop it however they see fit. This is a chance to create something sweet and, potentially, to get them thinking in a whole new way. Have them save up the money they make and put it toward something they want, or donate it to charity.
Write a book.
Have each family member tell part of a story, then write it down and have your children create illustrations for it. They can even turn their newly written story into a play later in the day.
Send the kids on a scavenger hunt.
Make your own clues for around the house or your neighborhood, or cheat a little and find a scavenger hunt in your town. Watson Adventures hosts clever, quirky scavenger hunts in museums and historic neighborhoods across the country.
Host an international day at your house.
Pick a country and immerse yourselves in its culture—with food, music, language, books and cool facts. I remember doing the food portion of this project in elementary school and loving it. Enlist some friends and have them each bring a dish so that all of the cooking and other work doesn’t fall solely on you.
Perform random acts of kindness.
Buy a stranger a cup of hot chocolate. Bake cupcakes for a neighbor. Make cards for a children’s hospital. This is a great way to teach your children that a little kindness can go a long way—and to have a ton of fun with them in the process.
Slime seems to be all the rage these days, and let’s face it—goo is fun. But it’s a also great way to learn about science. Don’t stop there: Set up your own personal lab in your house to learn about (very safe) chemical reactions as you experiment with common household ingredients. Pinterest is always a good starting point, as is My First Mind Blowing Science Kit, which we’ve bought multiple times.
Have a themed day.
Let your kids choose a topic of interest (animals, the human body, music or whatever else) and plan some easy activities around it.
Get last-minute tickets to a show.
Sometimes last-minute equals highly discounted.
Let your kids play photographer.
I’m always hesitant to hand over my camera because I don’t want to have to erase 623 pictures of my preschooler’s left ear, but the resulting project can be really cool. Have them document their day, and help them print up a little picture book at the end of it.
Host a movie marathon.
Stay in your pajamas, microwave some popcorn, cuddle up with your little ones, and enjoy the snuggles and the downtime. You deserve it!
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