As much as some of us love to travel, not everyone can travel all the time. When our family can’t get away, we like to take day trips or have a staycation.

Kayaking on a day trip

Kayaking on a day trip

These mini-trips are the perfect time to play tourist in your local area, for sure — seeing all the stuff that tourists might check out but which locals often take for granted. It’s also the perfect time to get out in your local natural areas. (Some parks are offering extra programs in the month of July, which is National Park and Recreation Month.) Our family finds that taking a day or weekend to get out of our routine helps our family recharge and make memories.

Planning your staycation or day trip

So where to go and what to do? Do a little planning to make the most of your time.

Talk to your friends and neighbors. Somebody you know has likely been somewhere or experienced something you haven’t. Ask the people around you what they’ve done nearby that they really enjoyed. Go on and let them brag! They’ll love telling their stories, and you’ll benefit from the details (even if the details tell you it’s something you definitely don’t want to do).

Find new trails near you on a day trip or staycation

Find new trails near you on a day trip or staycation

Explore your local natural areas. In most areas, summer is the perfect time to hike, camp, canoe/kayak, and generally be outside. What parks, forests, and refuges are right there where you live that you might not have ever explored before (or not in a long time)? If you don’t already know what’s nearby, it’s easy to find your US national parks (and Canadian national parks), US national forests, and US national wildlife refuges. There are public lands for recreation in Canada’s Crown Lands (search by province), as well as the US Bureau of Land Management. You can find state/provincial parks, forests, and wildlife areas by simply doing a search — and the same goes for recreational or environmental lands set aside by your county or city. There are also nature preserves set aside by organizations like the Nature Conservancy.

Use Google Maps or your vehicle’s GPS unit. Find where you live, then look around for geotagged spots of interest. Or, on Google Maps click “Nearby” in the sidebar and search for “nature,” “attractions,” “fun,” “camping,” or other activities that interest your family.

Check your region’s tourism board for ideas and deals. It might be called the convention and visitor bureau or visitor and convention bureau, or another name. If you don’t already know how to find your local travel-promotion organization, try searching for the name of your city or county (or the largest city/county in your area) and the words travel or tourism. You will probably find a site with a list of interesting places to visit. Sign up for the email newsletter if the site has one.

See what group buying discount sites have to offer. Groupon, LivingSocial, and the like will help you find discounted hotel stays and activities in your hometown (and other areas — just change the location to look at what’s offered in other cities).

Keep your family’s needs and preferences in mind. Babies and toddlers still need to nap. Some family members might have physical limitations. Someone might have a fear of heights or other trait that needs to be taken into consideration. It can be hard sometimes to come up with something everyone can do. Would your family be better off splitting up for part of the time — with part of the family doing one activity while another part does something else — then coming back together? Depending on how you want to spend your time, this might be an option.

Kids find a hermit crab while camping at the beach

Kids find a hermit crab while camping at the beach

…But consider stretching yourselves, too. If your family has never been camping before, for example, this could be the perfect time to try one night at a city or county park not far from home. If you’ve always wanted to try boating, visit a local marina that offers short-term rentals. Doing something for the first time always makes for a great memory!

Make the most of your “trip”

Once you’re ready to get out and have fun together, make it count!

Start early. Getting out of the house as early as you can will help you beat traffic and get you on your way to having fun sooner. This might mean you have to have everything prepared the night before.

Pack the essentials. One of the great things about going on a day trip or having a staycation is not having to pack so much. Make a list of only the things you really need for packing. This will make going somewhere less of a chore and make it seem more like fun.

…Then take a couple surprise extras. On our family trips, my husband and I will surprise each other and the kids with something small. It might be a seldom-eaten treat like a favorite candy bar or artisanal soda, a book or magazine, a small toy, or a new movie for the passengers to watch.

While on your staycation or day trip, take pictures just as if it were a "real" vacation

While on your staycation or day trip, take pictures just as if it were a “real” vacation

Take pictures. Treat your staycation or day trip like a real trip by taking pictures of landmarks, landscapes, and your family doing things. Share your pics on social media, or make a photo book later. Save your memories. It will make you feel like you’ve really been somewhere and done something with your family, even if it was just for one day.

Give yourselves some down time. By their nature, day trips and staycations are about down time because you’re not going far from home. But they can be deceptive sometimes. My family tends to overdo day trips, with destinations that can be up to three hours away. When you spend six hours driving in one day, you need a restful activity once you get where you’re going — or at the very least, the chance for the driver to relax the next day. Too much fun isn’t fun if it wears everyone out to the point you’re all cranky with one another or drained of your energy the next day.

Don’t let a problem weigh you down. A flat tire. Bad weather. Someone who at the last minute can’t go. We’ve been there. Problems can put a damper on your day, but make up your mind right from the start that you won’t let anything ruin the trip for you. Get the tire fixed and move on. Wait out the weather. Go without the person. Or reschedule your trip the first chance you can. Stuff happens. No big deal, right?

Making memories with your family is what it’s all about.