It’s summer (YAY!) and around here that means trips to the zoo, the discovery center, museums, water parks, amusement parks, really anywhere that will let me in with kids to beat the summer boredom! We also love a good road trip so here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way that makes getting out with kids just a little bit easier, safer, and sometimes cheaper!
Money Saving Tips
1. Research your destination ahead of time. Do they allow you to bring in your own food? Drinks? If not, do they allow re-entry, giving you the option to make a quick run over to a fast food drive-thru or to pack a picnic?
Food costs inside most attractions are ridiculously overpriced, so we try to bring our own or find a cheaper option outside, and then budget for one treat to splurge on inside. We’ve found that most parks will allow you to bring in empty reusable water containers, like our favorite Stanley’s, and then we can fill them with water throughout the park all day for free.
If they do allow food, bring some fun treats from the dollar store! Our dollar store sells tubs of cotton candy and big lollipops. I’ll pay for dollar store cotton candy, but $6 a kid at the zoo adds up quickly!
2. Bring your own souvenirs! Our local zoo and discovery center make you exit thru the gift shop. It’s genius on their part and torture for every mama of tired, hot, over stimulated kids. With a little planning you can bring your own slime, silly putty, stuffed animal, etc. and tell the kids you have a special surprise for them in the car! We make a game of walking thru the gift shop with their eyes closed (like a train with hands on shoulders) and I lead them right thru and out to the parking lot without a complaint…most times anyways! Nothing is foolproof where toddlers are involved! If you do want to shop in the gift shop, ask if your membership/pass includes a discount at the gift shop. A lot of them offer a 10-15% off discount with proof of an annual pass.
3. A lot of zoos, aquariums, and museums are part of organizations that offer reciprocity -meaning your local pass will get you into zoos, aquariums, or discovery centers in other cities and states. We love to explore on road trips and being able to check out new places for free is even better! Sometimes your pass is good for free admission and sometimes it’s discounted admission so be sure to ask ahead of time.
1. I have a whole van load of kids so at the beginning of every outing, I take a picture of them outside of our destination. It’s cute and fun for social media posts and memories, but it also gives me the exact description of what they are wearing should anyone wander off or get lost.
2. Identify a meeting spot that is easily found and remembered and have a plan for what to do if anyone gets separated or lost.
3. Point out what the employee uniforms look like should they need to find a helper. Role play ahead of time what they should say if they are lost and how to ask for help. It seems like common sense, but make sure your child knows their first and last name and also YOUR first and last name. Mommy isn’t super helpful when trying to reunite a missing or lost kiddo.
4. I like to dress my kids in matching/similar shirts too so that they are easier to spot and count. Yes, I count my kids in pairs of two like Noah and yes, my husband teases me relentlessly about it. Just one more reason to have an even number of kids, right? Part of the reason we LOVE Little Mama Shirt Shop is that they have shirts for every occasion so we can look adorable (and be comfy!) but it’s also a safety help too.
5. My big kids know my phone number (area code is important to include when teaching them) but I will “label” my younger kids who might forget if they got scared, shy, or are just too little to remember my contact info. You can use a sharpie and put your phone number on the back of their hand or you can order custom washable tattoos on sites like Amazon or Etsy with your contact info right on them.
6. Stranger danger talks are important and an ongoing conversation in our home. As a daughter of a law enforcement officer, my Dad always stressed the importance of teaching kids to scream “help! This is not my mom!” or “help! This is not my dad!” when in public places. Nobody will think anything of a tantruming/screaming child in a public place. Their cries for help need to be specific. A resources I’ve used for stranger danger that has good information, worksheets, and role playing ideas is: www.missingkids.org
7. Sunscreen! Apply before leaving the house so you don’t have to do it when the kids are excited and anxious to get started, but also bring it along to reapply throughout the day. I like to bring a lotion and a spray option. Lotion works great for faces and cheeks, but spray helps with scalps and parts in hair for cute hairstyles like pigtails.
Summer fun doesn’t have to be expensive! Hiking, swimming in lakes or rivers, camping, parks, splash pads, or even just roasting hot dogs and s’mores in the backyard are some of our favorite free or low cost options! Drive-in movies where you pay per car instead of per person and can bring your own food are super fun too! Movie theaters often have discount days during the summer and who doesn’t love cheap AC?
Don’t feel pressured to plan every single second of every day. Boredom can be good and with a little guidance, can lead to imaginative play! So go grab your backpack, throw some snacks inside, and make sure someone takes a picture with YOU in it, having fun with your babies!
This article was written by Jessica Southfield. She is a mom of 10 and is a photographer! Follow her on Instagram @afullnestdigest.