How to Plan a Successful Family Outing
The worst meltdown my son ever had was during a family outing in Dillsboro, NC. We were there to spend a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine™.
It was a miserably hot day. We were poorly prepared with not enough snacks and drinks, and our train tickets were smack in the middle of nap time. By the end of the day, the excitement, sensations, noise and activities were more than our preschooler could handle. And he threw a spectacular, hair-pulling, head-spinning tantrum! Needless to say, it was a memorable family outing!
Family outings with children (especially little ones) can be logistically cumbersome. The good news is that things get easier as your kids grow older and more independent. Still, a little planning can make all the difference and help to save your sanity! Here are our best tips for having a successful family outing.
1. Plan ahead.
Keep a list of interesting activities or places that look like fun. Make a note if a venue has special discount days or unique events at certain times of the year. Research the area you plan to visit. Where are the restrooms? The restaurants? Nearby child-friendly areas (aka playgrounds?) Pick a time of day when your kids are at their best. Pad your travel time so you can arrive early and enjoy the venue at a leisurely pace. When we attend the Brickfair LEGO Expo in Birmingham every January, we leave home at 7 a.m. so we have plenty of time to enjoy ourselves and still be home before bedtime.
2. Check the weather forecast.
The weather can be fickle, especially as the seasons change, so be sure to check the forecast and dress according to the season. Will you need jackets, swimsuits, a change of clothing? My husband and I both wear backpacks so we can carry everything and be hands-free.
3. Pack snacks. And more snacks.
Hungry kids are grumpy kids! Be sure to feed your kids before you go, and bring along plenty of snacks and water bottles. Depending on how far we are going, I also pack a lunch. Even if we dine out, someone is sure to get the “munchies” on our way home.
4. Pack a bag of tricks.
If your child is too young to distract herself as you travel, pack a bag with small toys, games, stickers, magnets, and coloring books. If your child has a favorite blanket or comfort item, bring it too. Now that my boys are older, they carry separate backpacks filled with their favorite books, tablets, LEGO mini-figs, and anything else that will amuse them while we travel.
5. Pack a bag of essentials – for you!
Trust me on this one! When my boys were nursing, their diaper bag substituted as my bag of essentials. I repurposed an old diaper bag and keep it stocked with essential items like tissues, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, a first aid kit, bug spray, phone chargers, batteries, and sunscreen. My bag stays in my car at all times. Before we leave on our family outing, I’ll include additional items, such as road maps, magazines, two-way radios, my personal tech, ticket vouchers, and other items that I need to keep within reach while we are out and about.
6. Brand them!
No matter how closely you watch them, kids can wander away. If you are planning an outing to an amusement park or a busy, crowded museum, write your mobile number on your child’s arm in case they get lost. When my boys were toddlers, I kept SafetyTats in my purse at all times. You may also want to invest in a wearable safety & GPS device for kids.
7. Meet a friend.
If you are feeling really nervous about chasing around your toddler while caring for your newborn when you are out and about, invite a friend to come with you. This way you will feel obligated to go, instead of coming up with an excuse to not go. Also, another set of hands is always useful, particularly at an all-day outing like the zoo.
8. Hurry up and Take your time.
Allocate enough time to arrive early to your destination. You can be one of the first people to step through the gate and beat the rush to your favorite ride. Additionally, the earlier you arrive, the closer you’ll be able to park in front of the gate. Early arrival also gives kids time to relax and make the transition to the new environment.
Depending on the age of your child, take regular breaks to rest or run around to get rid of excess energy. We like morning outings, then returning home or to our hotel after lunch to rest, swim and eat. We also learned to stay longer in fewer locations.
9. Have an exit strategy.
In the event you’ll be seated, plan to be on an aisle, in the back, or somewhere with an easy exit, in case your child needs to take a break or leave early. If you’re driving, park as close to your destination as you can. Be prepared to leave when problems begin, so you can end the outing on a relatively positive note.
Be sure to give your children a heads up when the outing is almost over. We have found that giving our kids a 2-minute warning goes a long way to avoiding arguments and tantrums when the time comes to move to other activities or leave.
10. Have a backup plan.
Always have a backup plan. Museums close for cleaning. Freak weather happens. Have a plan B (or C) in the back of your mind to salvage your day when things start going sideways. For us, an impromptu trip to Chick-fil-A or a local playground is a failsafe backup plan. It works every time!