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8 Secrets for a Fun Family Outing

As a parent, one of my favorite things is taking family outings. It’s the perfect time to get away from household chores or the lure of the computer, and to make some fun memories together.

family outing

Over the years, we’ve had lots of fun ones (and a few . . . less successful ones), but as we get more practice as parents, we’ve learned some tricks to make sure everyone comes home at the end of the day gushing about the highlights instead of sobbing in their carseats.

Here are a few of our family’s tricks for making the most a family outing or adventure, most of which we’ve learned the hard way:

8 Tips for a Fun Family Outing

  1. Prep your kids for what you’ll see. When we went to San Diego in 2015 for a few days to kick off Christmas vacation, and went to the San Diego Zoo on one of those days. For weeks beforehand, we’d go around the table at dinner and talk about what kinds of animals we most wanted to see at the Zoo. We watched videos about the different exhibits, looked at the map so everyone could pick out what sections we were most excited about, and pulled up pictures from our previous zoo visits. By the time we went, everyone had a feel for what our day at the Zoo would look like and was excited about what we’d see.
  2. Bring a jacket. I learned this growing up in Las Vegas, where I’d go to movies and it’d be 113 degrees outside, but so freezing inside the theater that I’d be uncomfortable nearly the whole time and instead of enjoying the movie, I’d spend the whole time wishing I’d brought along a jacket. W’ve been on plenty of trips where we spent one day wearing sunscreen at the beach and the next day wearing coats while it drizzled. I can’t stand to have our trip derailed because I just didn’t think to grab a few sweatshirts.
  3. A stroller is always a good idea. My children are always swearing up and down that they won’t want to ride in the stroller, and then forty minutes later, we’re trying to figure out how to get three children into our beloved double stroller (no ways that are approved by the stroller manufacturers, I’ll tell you that). Especially if you’re going to a zoo or amusement park, that thing is worth its weight in gold. I imagine that someday we’ll visit Disneyland without a stroller, but it’s hard to imagine that day will be anytime soon (I still remember our first trip to Disneyland and as we left the park at midnight, my six-year-old sister was the one in the stroller).
  4. Don’t rush your children along. I first started noticing this at Christmas a few years ago, when the urge to say, “Don’t play with that present! Let’s open the next one!” is strong. Now I try to fight that urge when we visit somewhere new too – if my girls want to watch a baby giraffe for thirty minutes, I try not to rush them along so we can also hit the koala exhibit. I’d rather they remember having all the time in the world to watch a jaguar with their nose smashed up against the glass than their main memory being me hustling them along to the next exhibit.
  5. For a special occasion, be willing to adjust your child’s schedule. I generally am pretty strict about nap times and bed times, but I think this makes it even more special when occasionally you toss the rules out the window. At Disneyland last year, Ella was thrilled to be up hours past her bedtime, riding rides and watching the fireworks. On the other hand, the other three girls were so dead by 6:30 that Bart took them back to the hotel for pizza and a normal bedtime.
  6. Don’t stay longer than your kids can handle just to “get your money’s worth.”  I’m definitely one of those people who wants to feel like I got my money’s worth, but Bart always reminds me that once you’ve paid an entrance fee, it’s a sunk cost. If nap time is approaching or someone has a complete meltdown or whatever, there’s no gold medal for staying longer. Be happy for the fun time you’ve had and know when to call it quits. I need this tattooed on my arm.
  7. Snacks. Always snacks. I’m that mom who never has snacks along (because it’s so annoying to me when my children don’t eat at meals), but when we’re going on a family outing, we always pack snacks so that everyone is fueled for more than five minutes. I know this is a ground-breaking tip, right here. And of course, I’m always the one downing half the snacks (the other reason I don’t generally pack snacks . . . ).
  8. If you don’t have time for everything, let everyone pick one thing. We started doing this years ago in Boston when Bart’s brother came to visit and we went to an enormous museum we knew we’d never get all the way through. We looked through the map and everyone picked two sections they wanted to see. Now we do the same thing with our kids – even if we don’t get to the whole museum, the whole zoo, or the whole amusement park, at least everyone got to see at least the one thing they were most excited about (and if you’re not that thrilled about what your child picked, at least you get to see YOUR biggest priority).
I’d love to hear your favorite tips for a successful family outing!

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  1. Okay, I have to admit that when I went to the San Diego Zoo with my (then boyfriend) husband I was irked because there seemed to be strollers everywhere we tried to walk…and now we have four young kids and never dare to go anywhere without a stroller. 🙂

  2. Nice post thank you for sharing this. My opinion is kids are always swearing up and down that they may not need to ride within the stroller, after which forty mins later, we're seeking to parent out how to get 3 youngsters into our double stroller (no methods which can be approved by the stroller manufacturers, I'll inform you that). I'm working at Outdoor advertising ad companies in Coimbatore in particular if you're going to a zoo or entertainment park, that thing is worth its weight in gold – we walked MILES at the San Diego Zoo, plus it changed into accessible to have an area to stash our maps.

  3. Agreed! Especially the “pick one thing to do” rule. And strollers. I will never not use a stroller. (Where else will I put our STUFF?!)

    I would add one. We lay down the souvenir law. As a rule, we don’t do souvenirs ever, but we remind our children before every outing. “If you’d like to bring your money just in case, feel free, but we won’t be purchasing anything for you.” For special things (like Disneyland) we do allow ONE souvenir per kid – but only on the last day. We give them a budget and let them peruse and drool all the want for the first few days. They change their minds about a thousand times, but by the end of the last day they are pretty certain of what they want. It’s been a lifesaver. Because if you buy a souvenir on the first day, they will inevitably be furious with their purchase within the hour – or when they see a sibling get something better. (For one-day special outings, the rule is that the souvenirs must be purchased during the last hour.)

  4. So as my kids have gotten a little older, and we are visiting national parks/etc, we ended up getting the kids hydration packs. (this was 2 years ago, so they were 5/7/9) I would fill the water, put snacks in there. I also put a small notebook and a pen in as well. They were responsible for carrying their own stuff. And they could eat their snacks whenever they wanted, but when it was gone it was gone. I was surprised at how well it worked, even for the 5 year old. But the kids have pulled those hydration packs out for day trips at the lake, activities with church. It was the best buy!

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