Now that you have kids, your idea of a relaxing vacation has probably changed. Gone are visions of a tropical beach and pina coladas in hand. Instead, many parents want a destination that will keep the kids active and engaged. The best kind of summer fun for a health-conscious family involves a balanced combination of outdoor activity and exercise.
“Active family excursions, whether day trips, weekend getaways, or long vacations, help kids learn to love exercise,” says fitness manager Jennifer Shook. Shook works at Pritkin Longevity Center and Spa in Miami. “Active kids become active adults and are much less likely to suffer from some of the preventable health conditions caused by sedentary lifestyles.”
Plus, active vacations make unforgettable memories and help families bond. “Years from now, no one will remember eating lunch on the beach, but they will remember the hike they took down the Grand Canyon or the fun they had mountain biking,” Shook says.
And if the kids can learn something from their summer vacation, even better.
The most important thing when looking for active family vacations: keep it kid-friendly. “Avoid resorts that cater more to adult tastes and offer spa-like excursions,” Shook says.
With the goals of exercise and engagement in mind, here are five suggestions for great summer fun activities:
1. Spend a week at a national forest or grassland. Whether you choose to rough it in a tent or retreat to the comfort of a hotel at the end of the day, a week spent in a national forest offers endless possibilities for summer fun. “You can take a hike; climb some rocks; float on a river; mountain bike through an old growth forest; build a sandcastle; or try horseback riding -- the list goes on and on,” says Suzi Dow, co-author of the U.S. National Forest Campground Guide. “The fresh air and physical challenge promote a good night’s sleep, so you wake up ready to do it all again…or something different,” she says.
2. Take an educational walking or bike tour of a city. What about summer activities that incorporate learning experiences for kids? Jasmine Kim, general manager and vice president of TravelTicker.com, suggests walks around cities and towns rich with history. “To get the kids involved, tie in things they are studying in school; having a point of reference helps them remember the places they visit and the history behind those places,” she says. To further spark kids’ interest prior to your trip, Kim recommends showing them a movie or book that features the city you plan to visit.
3. Forage for food. To incorporate exercise and healthful food, take your family on a fruit or vegetable-picking hike as a summer activity or part of an active vacation. Then carry your harvest home and use it in a recipe that you make together as a family. Picking strawberries or apples? Make a whole wheat strawberry banana bread or apple-stuffed chicken. “It’s good for kids to know where their food comes from and for them to get involved with cooking a healthy meal,” says Manhattan-based wellness consultant Barbara Mendez. To find a pick-your-own farm near you, check out the Internet for local farms.
If you don’t have a farm nearby, check out a farmers market in your city. “Farmers markets are becoming incredibly popular destinations, especially for active families; they are a perfect combination of exercise and good food,” Kim says. In most cities, farmers markets are safe and lively places for families to stroll. Plus, they teach kids about fruits, vegetables, and other fresh foods and crafts local to the area. “Children can pick out some healthful fruits and vegetables to take back to the hotel room instead of the junk food they usually eat on vacation,” she says.
4. Activate a relaxing vacation. If it’s sun and surf your family craves, you can create the perfect balance between relaxation and summer activity. Vacation rental properties often provide bikes, kayaks, and other equipment to keep a family active. Some rental management companies go as far as to offer free services such as access to recreation centers and volunteering to help protect sea turtles. And there are plenty of all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean that include water and land sports, gyms, fitness classes, and children’s activities. Talk to a travel agent about how to select a relaxing vacation that offers maximum access to summer activities.
5. Seek adventure locally. Look for fun summer activities to do with your kids that are local to your area. If you live near the beach, take a stroll along the shore and see who can find the most unique seashell. Or hike through a local park and try to spot animals native to your area along the way. Have only a few hours? Grab the kids and take a bike ride to get tacos or ice cream. Vacation is a state of mind, and any summer fun that can temporarily put you in it is good for the whole family.