21 Ideas for an Epic, Low-Cost Family Staycation

Stephanie GrandestaffMile Markers

Planning a staycation this year? We’ve got a lineup of fun and inexpensive activities for the whole family in the form of things that are sure to make memories and teach your kids new skills along the way.

These simple and low-cost activities promote bonding and offer families a chance to refresh and recharge by getting out of the usual routine of work, school, and extracurricular activities.

Ideally, you’ll want to think about your child’s age and interests and involve him or her in the planning. One-on-one time doing things with your kiddos is something they’ll remember for a lifetime, but also remember to build in free time for everyone’s sake. As we’ve talked about previously, it’s actually healthy and important for children to have unstructured play time and to experience boredom. Include a mix of planned activities and downtime and you’ll strike the right balance and create an epic staycation they’ll be talking about for years to come.

1. Backyard Campout
Kids love the adventure of camping, and the security of knowing they’re close to home is a bonus. Let them think through the packing list (tent, camp chairs, sleeping bag, flashlight, etc.) and encourage them to help with as much of the campsite setup as possible. Learning to pitch a tent, build a campfire, and search for constellations are great skills that build confidence in the hearts of young explorers.

2. Day Hike
Hiking is great for nearly all ages, though you’ll have to adjust your expectations a bit depending on the age of your child. When they’re really young you can carry them in a pack, but they may still tire easily, as they likely will in the independent but short-legged toddler and preschool years. Younger kids will probably find plenty of thrill in hiking a paved Greenways trail, while elementary and older will start to enjoy more adventurous trails. No matter their age, make sure you’re prepared for the great outdoors and take a backpack loaded with sunscreen, bug spray, tissues, sunglasses, and of course plenty of water and snacks. Seriously don’t forget the snacks. Kids love snacks.

3. Scavenger Hunt
Ah, the scavenger hunt. Classic fun, and great for indoors or out, depending on the weather. You can create the list OR make it even more fun and let your kids brainstorm with you. If you have an early reader/writer in your crew they’ll love writing out the items themselves and checking things off for the family. It’s a very official job, after all, made better with a clipboard or small notepad and pencil. Possible items for inclusion on the list are people, places, or things that can be found around the house, your yard, or a nature trail.

4. Explore Your City
Often there are fun things to do around the area we live in, we just don’t take the time to step outside of our daily routine long enough to explore them! Consider historic sites or buildings, museums, or landmarks that tourists in your area would be sure to hit. If you’re drawing a blank, try searching your city on TripAdvisor to see things from a fresh perspective.

5. Pool Day
Even if you don’t live in an area where it’s warm enough to enjoy an outdoor lake, beach, or pool, you can still make plans to visit a local indoor water park! Pack a few toys, towels and snacks (by now you’ve probably noticed we’re serious about snacks around here) and make an afternoon of it.

6. Unstructured Quiet Time
Picture the ideal vacation day spent lounging around a pool or on the beach without any distractions. Now try to recreate that feeling at home. Try a technology-free day or afternoon for the whole family. Pick up that book or magazine you’ve been interested in reading but just haven’t found the time to enjoy. Encourage your kids to do the same. This is a great time to break out their Busy Board or Imagination Box and let them do their own thing while you do yours.  

7. Movie Night
Let the kids help choose the movie and pop the popcorn. You can also put them in charge of making sure everyone has a blanket and a cozy spot to enjoy the movie. They’ll love having jobs to do and you’ll enjoy the time together.

8. Board Games
Board games are a great option for family time. You can typically find things that will interest kids as young as two, and are fun for adults, too.

Options like The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game!, and Shelby’s Snack Shack Game are fun and teach things like colors and counting to younger kids. Another popular preschool board game is Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It, which teaches cooperative play and encourages teamwork, promotes attention to detail, and reinforces object identification and matching skills. Who knew kids could learn so much from family game night?! Connect 4 or Jenga are great classics suitable for ages 6 and up, that teach skill and strategy. For kids 8 and up, Stratego is a fun capture-the-flag type game of strategy, and Uno Flip is a fun, slightly more challenging version of the classic favorite.

9. Yard Cleanup/Gardening
Getting your kids involved in household chores teaches responsibility and hard work and taking time to celebrate and reflect on a job well-done will pay dividends.

If the weather cooperates, spend an afternoon outside doing yard cleanup together, perhaps picking up sticks and sweeping the sidewalk. Let your kids help choose seasonally appropriate flowers or vegetables to plant and water with their own kid-sized garden gloves, shovel, and watering can. No yard of your own? See if you can find a community garden or an elderly family member who would enjoy the help. Then enjoy an impromptu picnic dinner or campfire while admiring your work and celebrating the season.

10. Yard Games
Whether you purchase something or make up your own backyard games, the kids will have a blast. This 3-in-1 set with a low net is designed with younger kids in mind, and even if the kids can’t handle the ball or birdie yet you can try letting them hit balloons around with the badminton rackets. Bean bag toss, Ladder Toss, or Wooden Dice also look like fun options.

11. Picnic
Let the kids help pack up sandwiches and fresh fruit, or pick up some takeout, and go have a picnic at a nearby park. You may want to pack a blanket or camp chairs in case the picnic tables are all taken (#prepareddad) and throw in a football or bubbles for something fun to do after you eat. Another perk of the park is that you can let the kids burn off some energy on the playground equipment or go on a walk.

12. Build a Fort
Remember building a fort as a kid? Whether you’re talking blankets, sheets, pillows and chairs in the living room, or a more permanent outdoor structure this is sure to be a hit. Not only do they get to help build the fort, they’ll have hours of fun playing in it.

13. Cook Together
Teach your kid how to make simple, age-appropriate food items together. Even toddlers can help dump simple ingredients into a bowl to mix up muffins or make a smoothie. Preschoolers love to help make peanut butter sandwiches, bake bread, put toppings on pizza, and cut a banana into slices with a butter knife. Elementary-aged kids will love having a bit more independence in the kitchen and learning more advanced recipes. Make breakfast sandwiches, parfaits, or a colorful salad – there’s a chance they’ll try something new or different if they get to help make it.

14. Dance Party
It doesn’t take much time to have fun and make lasting memories. Turn on some tunes and bust out your best dance moves – the giggles are sure to ensue, and you’ll get some exercise at the same time. For even more fun, you can create a family “staycation” playlist, and have everyone add their favorite songs.

15. Play Catch
Get outside! If your kids are young you can introduce them to playing catch, kicking around the soccer ball, or throwing a frisbee. A classic playground ball makes for hours of entertainment, whether kicking, tossing, or bouncing. If your kids are already involved with a structured sports team, let them just goof around and try something new, rather than turning this into an official practice session. It is vacation after all! Time for free and unstructured play is valuable.

16. Visit the Library
Check out a local library together. Not only can you find books by a favorite author or on a topic your kid is really into (turtles, police cars, a historic figure, another country, etc.), but many libraries often have toys, puzzles, iPads, and/or other activities for kids to explore.

17. Stage a Photo Shoot
Do you have a budding photographer in the house? Show them how to use your phone or a camera (do they still make those separate from a phone!?) – oh yes, we found a digital camera for toddlers here or an instant print one for your preteens here – and let them take some photos of family members, their toys, or interesting things around the yard. It’s even more fun if you can print some of the photos out to hang in their room.

18. Get Ice Cream
This is a fun and easy treat for the whole family, whether you head to the grocery store to pick out ice cream and toppings to make sundaes together at home, or you head out to your favorite local diner or fro yo shop.

19. Check Out an Aquarium or Zoo
Kids love checking out animals and you can get some exercise while walking to see everything. For little kids remember to load up the stroller and water and snacks, and you’ll want sunscreen on everyone if you’ll be outside at the zoo.

20. Arts & Crafts
Pick up some basic art supplies from your local discount or dollar store and let the kids have fun. Crayons, markers, pipe cleaners, pom poms, popsicle sticks, stick glue and some construction paper and you’re golden for toddler through elementary-aged kids. If you’re feeling adventurous and really want to light up their world you can introduce glitter and paint into the mix. Pro tip: Put down a plastic tablecloth before they go crazy with any glue, glitter, or paint for easier cleanup.

21. Volunteer Together
No matter the age of your kids, it’s rewarding to find ways to volunteer together. It doesn’t have to be a major project, either, though those are great too. Whether introducing them to the concept of donating toys or books that they no longer use, putting canned food items in a bag and taking them by a food pantry, or picking up trash (pack the gloves!) at a park, you’re teaching them the importance of serving and caring for others without any expectation of something in return. As they get older you can look into volunteering at the local Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity, or any other number of local nonprofits.

The Bottom Line:
In the end, no matter how you choose to spend your time, the important thing is that you’re together. Making memories doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Involve your kids in the planning, watch their wheels start turning, and know that smiles and excited giggles are not far behind. 

Now go have some fun and remember we’d love to see pictures of your adventures on Facebook or Instagram!


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Author

Stephanie Grandestaff is a wife and mother, and enjoys handling all aspects of marketing and media for Good Dads.