Before you’ve tired of lugging another noodle to the pool or hearing “I’m bored” from your children (or spouse!), it’s time to start planning your family’s summer vacation. Several new guidebooks can help you choose a destination that appeals to the whole family. Together these books present a variety of vacation options, whether your family is ready to splurge or needs to cut back this year.
No place like home
Don’t let the plunging economy or the stress of a long trip keep your family from going on vacation this summer. Matt Wixon’s The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family shows singles, couples and families how to downsize a vacation without skimping on enjoyment. Instead of heading across the country, get to know your own town and surrounding communities, Wixon urges. Grouping staycations in categories ranging from outdoors and adventure to “the pampered life” and “especially for kids,” he explains how to find local activities and make the most of them on a fixed budget. (Readers may want to combine this title with the next book, The 10 Best of Everything, for more staycation themes and ideas.) While Wixon offers plenty of ideas for getting away, he also contends that sometimes a staycation is more about taking time for one’s self, which is often overlooked during the hectic routines of day-to-day life. Spending time on a new hobby, splurging on a massage or finally eating at that fancy restaurant in town may be more energizing and fulfilling than a jaunt. The “Staycation Rules” (plan ahead, create mental distance and stay positive) are words of wisdom for both a backyard afternoon and a family road trip.
Just the best
For busy families (and who doesn’t have one?) it’s often the little things that matter, such as an outing to a playground or a favorite restaurant. Susan Magsamen’s The 10 Best of Everything Families: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers uses annotated “10 Best” lists to suggest travel ideas that stem from the exploration and amusement that begin at home. The book starts with the 10 best parks and playgrounds, farms and markets, ice cream spots and food specialties (from barbeque and pecan pie to quesadillas and salmon candy) for each region. Is your family interested in skiing, music festivals, stargazing or civil rights landmarks? They’re all included here. Some lists, such as family art camps, cooking programs and service opportunities, offer unique experiences for family bonding. If it’s the time of year that’s more important to your family, there are even 10 Best Easter, fireworks, fall foliage, Eid-al-Fitr and more celebration lists. An inviting layout with attractive color photographs, sidebars with trivia and helpful information and accompanying children’s book suggestions and web links make this guidebook easy, inspirational and fun to use. The concluding chapters offer tips on planning and documenting whatever best family trip you choose.
Traveling with children
A summer vacation often means heading into a big city. In typical Fodor fashion, with detailed reviews of hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues, and plenty of maps to navigate the city, the nearly pocket-sized Fodor’s Family New York City with Kids describes attractions and amenities with children’s interests and needs in mind. For instance, this guide reveals that the Metropolitan Museum of Art allows strollers, distributes free backpack carriers and features a Family Audio Guide and hands-on programs specifically for children. Hotel and restaurant “Family Matters” tips steer parents to sites with family-friendly appeal and conveniences and suggest fun foods to try or simple meals for picky eaters.
Following the same format is Fodor’s Family San Francisco with Kids, which offers a list of quick meals, fun stores, playgrounds, public bathrooms, ice cream places (for children to stay energized) and good coffee (for parents to stay energized) along the waterfront and within each major neighborhood. Both guides also recommend free attractions in these costly cities, attractions based on common children’s pastimes (e.g., dinosaurs, princesses and techno gadgets) and indoor “home base” locales when bad weather strikes. Extra features you won’t find in the travel guides for grownups include “Treasure Maps” of movie locations and family games to play while traveling or waiting in line. The Fodor’s Family series also includes Boston with Kids and Washington, D.C., with Kids.
On the heels of Very New Orleans, Very Charleston and Very California comes Diana Hollingsworth Gessler’s Very Washington, D.C.: A Celebration of the History and Culture of America’s Capital City. With bright and beautiful watercolor sketches and hand lettering, this guidebook complements the text-filled Fodor’s and the like with its gorgeous views of Washington. Divided into geographic locations, it begins with an overview of the city’s planning and early history and a tour of Capitol Hill and environs. It continues through the museums on the Mall, the memorials, downtown, Georgetown and outlying neighborhoods, nearby Alexandria and George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Also included is information on famous Washingtonians, festivals, universities and exclusive restaurants.
What’s found here that you may not get in any other guides are rich descriptions and illustrations of Abraham Lincoln’s possessions at the time of his assassination, a traditional meal eaten by George Washington at Gadsby’s Tavern, examples of artifacts from the International Spy Museum and other unique Washington delights. The appendix includes contact information for each point of interest and also works as a checklist of sites to visit. Whether your family actually makes it to the nation’s capital or not, you’ll find that Very Washington, D.C. is a tour in itself.
Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and freelance writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.