Looking for a last-minute getaway with the kids before back to school? Don’t worry about planning way ahead, because a spontaneous vacation can be fun for everyone — and a great investment in your family.

In fact, a Harris Interactive survey found that adults remember childhood vacations more vividly than birthdays or school events — meaning that even a long weekend away together can create lasting memories.

Survey results inspire tips for “spur of the moment” family getaways

“For kids, a meaningful vacation is one where they get to do interesting things — and this is more important than where they stay or where they go,” says Eileen Ogintz, author of the syndicated column TakingtheKids.com.

With this in mind, here are four tips to planning family vacations this summer:

1. Let your children make some big decisions

Children surveyed agreed that the things they get to see and do on vacation creates memories that will last a lifetime. Build a vacation itinerary that incorporates activities (or even a specific day) dedicated just to your children, whether it means visiting a water park, taking an arts and crafts class together or spending the day at a hands-on children’s museum.

Explore a scenic destination like Niagara Falls, offering a Discovery Pass to adventure activities, boat rides, museums and observation towers.  Or try a family-friendly resort like the St Regis Aspen, which offers off-road Jeep tours, fly fishing and white water rafting.

2. Learn a new activity, together

If your 10-year-old has always wanted to try stand-up paddle boarding, summer vacation is the time to make it a family experience.  More than two-thirds of children surveyed want to try new activities that they cannot do at home while on vacation.  Find a town (drive distances are ideal, making it easy to pack gear in the car) with a hotel, resort or inn that is connected to numerous outdoor activities.

>> 4 reasons you really should use up your vacation time

There is no better place for outdoor adventure activities than Colorado. Check out the Durango Mountain Resort, offering activities from mountain biking and rock climbing to hiking and a jump on a bungee trampoline.  If you are looking for a beach getaway, check out Northwest Florida’s Destin, Ft Walton Beach, and Okaloosa Island for fishing, snorkeling, paddle boarding, parasailing and other fun stuff.

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3. Be local in a new locale

Rent a vacation home or stay in a local hotel (forget the gated resorts) to experience a new mountain, beach or city. Visit local eateries, encourage your children to try new foods, check out the local town history and experience local parks, farmer’s markets and festivals.

This is the perfect opportunity to bring the entire family: more than 60% of children who traveled with grandparents on family vacations reported that they feel closer to their grandparents after they return home.

Located just south of San Francisco, California, Half Moon Bay is a seaside town perfect for a relaxing family getaway, offering activities like milking a goat, learning to make fresh cheese, and horseback riding on the beach.  Across the country, history buffs can take the kids to Colonial Williamsburg (shown at right) for tours of this Revolution-era city — a sort of living museum — and historic Jamestown.

4. Divide and conquer

Dad wants to play golf and you want to spend the day at the spa? Instead of dropping the children at camp, take them with you! More than half of children surveyed say that vacations are an opportunity to spend quality time with their parents. Try a father-daughter golf lesson or a mother-son yoga class. Doing things together outside your comfort zone will encourage everlasting memories.

Families can visit the full-service Red Jacket Beach Resort & Spa on Cape Cod, which offers a wide variety of family-friendly summer activities, including on-site parasailing, jet ski and kayak rentals, a private ocean beach and three pools.

Westerners can check out Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona, is a family-friendly destination with activities including hiking, mountain biking, tennis, Native American programs and more.

Top 10 hotspots for families

According to the 2017-18 U.S. News & World Report’s Best Family Vacations roundup, these are among the hottest vacation spots for parents and kids:

  1. Orlando/Walt Disney World
  2. Anaheim/Disneyland
  3. Branson
  4. San Diego
  5. Grand Canyon
  6. Yellowstone
  7. Ocean City, Maryland
  8. Washington, DC
  9. Maui & Oahu, Hawaii
  10. Outer Banks, North Carolina

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About: This article includes information provided courtesy of Travel Effect/the US Travel Association, the national, non-profit organization representing all components of the travel industry that generates $2 trillion in economic output and supports 14.6 million jobs. U.S. Travel's mission is to increase travel to and within the United States. The "Family Vacations Create Lasting Memories" survey explored the vacation habits of American families and how memories from family vacations are valued, captured and shared. Harris Interactive conducted the online survey in December 2012 on behalf of the US Travel Association. The survey included 2,531 adults and 1,130 youth ages 8-18.

Original publication date: July 17, 2013

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