Updated: Jan 17
Where are we going and what are we doing again?
I don’t usually identify myself as being a single mom because I’ve been single so long and this family is more like a well-oiled machine than the term “single mom” allows for. But really I wanted to use that "single" status to demonstrate that if I can do these things, anyone can. Did I mention I', a teacher? I am on a tight budget. And "by these things" I mean take family adventures :-)
I’m a true believer that in order to really enjoy my kids I almost have to get them out of my house! On a typical day I am getting ready for work, they are getting ready for school, we are all hurrying and rushing, probably complaining and fussing at each other along the way. After school there are often sports, clubs, other commitments, hopefully yoga when I can actually get there, dinner if we all get lucky LOL and someone actually has to clean up the kitchen at the end of the night. On the weekends we typically have one day of commitments and a second day for hopefully relaxing. Although it doesn’t always play out that way! Especially as they get older and technology serves as a constant time consumer - it is harder than ever to make time for each other in a capacity for enjoyment.
I have learned that the best way to actually have quality conversations and enjoy each other is to get out, and my favorite choice is into nature. We are surrounded. Fortunately, we are 14 miles from the ocean. So the beach is an easy choice. It’s not always the best choice because in Florida, it can be brutally hot at times, and we are not trying to bake. We have some really nice parks locally too. But as the kids have grown, they’ve outgrown many of the places we’ve frequented.
We have done them for years. Here is a link to all of our amazing theme park experiences, for your planning purposes. Often this is an easy day because there is so much to do all you have to do it show up (with the crew) and the place speaks for itself. There is definitely a vibe for this! I especially love a good theme park discount. Some local places will work with schools or other groups to provide passes at a discount, I encourage you to take advantage when the price is right! We live about an hour from Orlando and have done all of those parks!
I really want to focus on some of my favorite family adventures and how to make it happen on a tight budget. I am a single mom. I am a teacher. I am often penny pinching. But - I am making memories with my family and truly grateful for the time that we spent together. My kids share their memories or come out with references because of our trips we've been on and that makes my mom heart proud and overjoyed. Last year, I became a grandma and now I am revisiting many of my favorite places with a fresh set of eyes, and brining my little Nasali on our trips, teaching her how we roll. She is catching on quickly too I must add!
My favorite part of being a parent is that I actually like my kids. They are all basically grown now, my youngest is 18! Still, we find crazy things to laugh about and talk about in the car and on our journeys. I discover how intelligent they are and all of the things they are thinking that on a day-to-day basis we just don’t share. Then there's the sibling connections. This is not all about me (although I am the organizer, planner, bank, and rational one) my real intention behind all of this is for them to have great memories together as a family, and yes remember me for something other than nagging them to do chores or get in the car for school.
I would start wherever you are: What is close and what is special about your area?
18 Summer Vacations
About six years ago I came across an article while scrolling online and it was all about the top places you have to take your kids before they leave home, graduate and go. If your children go to college after graduation, they are thrown into the world of friends, school, and life away from home. Really, they are only yours until they graduate and leave from under your roof. I couldn’t find that article now if I tried but suffice to say it started me on this mission. As I read, I was quite surprised that almost every single destination mentioned we had already seen. And not for nothing but I didn’t think much of going, most of it was just opportunities that arose and we took them.
The Preface of the 18 Summers was: Plan the places you think your children should experience from the beginning and create a bucket list that will expose them to the culture, history, and beauty of the world we live in - Travel is a great teacher. Some of the places they suggested were: The Statue of Liberty, The Golden Gate Bridge, Washington DC, Niagara Falls. The Grand Canyon, The Southern Most Point in Key West, even Disney World was on the 18-year plan. The point being that if your children have diverse experiences, they will be more likely to be successful in whatever they set out to do. And if you have taken them places and talked about the significance of those places, they will appreciate history and the world they live in. Who doesn't want a self-aware intelligent kid?
At the time I had read that, we'd been to many of those places, but not the Grand Canyon, and I decided to plan a trip. That trip planning is what opened the next door for a blog because of how extensive that plan became, and all of the research I did.
I am originally from New York, and I still have family there. We have driven up and down the East Coast many times and visited many of the places in between. Washington DC yes. NYC yes. As Florida residents we’ve done many Florida day trips and a few weekend trips. I live on the East Coast, and my sister and best friends live on the Tampa side. We covered a lot of ground in our vicinity. We’ve been to many natural Springs and tourist spots in Orlando. We love Miami. We love the Keys. We do have cousins that live in California and have made a couple of trips out there. There was one huge gaping hole in my list of places we have attended, and as I read the family bucket list I started to concoct a way to get there: The Grand Canyon. (click links for that trip/ itinerary).
The Love of Travel is Planted
What's crazy is my kids now travel without me because it's a part of who they are. My oldest Wes, has taken cruises and been on skiing trips to Breckenridge CO with his friends. My middle sonJosh, has flown to Aerospace training and Colorado for school events solo. He has also gone up to North Carolina for snowboarding. My youngest DJ, travels with his aunties and cousin to the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, I am hoping to write a blog about how they used their credit card points to pay for those exclusive trips! Also crazy, is I left the classroom for a new position as an Early Childhood Specialist, and this job affords me travel opportunities. I am not able to explore places for fork as part of my job. At first, I had some serious mom guilt, but I am still planning GREAT trips for us to all take together, and I am learning some new favorite spots for when they come with me. As they get older, it is harder for them to all take time off and come on my every adventure, but we are making it work with real life.
My second thought is: What do you have access to? Places that aren't close but extended through family or friends? Beware - this means you may also need to extend!
The Beach is as economical as is gets. You can pack light or bring it all with you, for the cost of some towels, parking, and the time/ gas to get there let nature do the work for you. Go stand in the water. Build a sandcastle. Swim a little. Body surf. Treasure hunt. Enjoy the tides washing up and down. You don't actually NEED anything other than your senses to completely experience the ocean. Just breathe and listen. It's a powerful place to be on the edge of the shoreline! I do recommend anywhere you go you see the surrounding area to appreciate all of the beauty that exists.
Your stage of life will often create the lenses of your experience. Visiting a city exposes you to history, culture, and can be invigorating to your psyche. See new trends and styles, discover how other people live, and try foods you may not have access to in your day to day world. Traveling has been found to break cycles of depression, increase creativity and give perspective that can't be learned in any other way. In the same way children gain the most knowledge from hands on experiences, we also discover more about the world and our own selves in our travels. This increases vocabulary, understanding, and builds connections in your brain.
State Parks/ National Parks
There are tons of State Parks in Florida, (175 to be exact) and we have made it a mission to explore them! Florida is a beautiful state surrounded by water and that is it's signature, but where ever you are there is unique beauty. Pretend to be a tourist where you live and look at your county with new eyes. What is worth exploring? Buying a State Park Pass can be a great family gift, and can quickly par for itself.
America the Beautiful Parks Pass – Cost $80.00
Many parks have a $30.00 or $35.00 car fee, this pass allows unlimited access for the year to all National Parks. Click link for website.
I share my itinerary and trip details for those who would use them because I am a neurotic planner. I love the planning process, and sometimes it's too much work for just one trip! Our Grand Canyon experience ended up being the trip of a lifetime. We saw many things in a short time frame and for us it was perfect. I’m sharing my experience so that many other families can take advantage of the information that I learned along the way and during the planning process. Because I literally planned for two years. And the entire trip played out exactly as planned. Our Great Southwest trip was surely the biggest trip I'd ever put together, but I worked up to that. It wasn't our first adventure.
Where do you REALLY want to go? What does your family enjoy? Start close and small and work your way up to the bigger trips.
Talk to your family. Where would they like to go?
Where would you like to go? Write it down! Once you write it down it starts to become a plan.
I want to go to Egypt, but I haven't let it stop me from going to the easy places while I plan that big trip. I firmly believe traveling increases your self-esteem and value in the community. I also believe I should see all the things in my own back yard before going across the world to see the wonders I most want to see. While my kids were little, I took them places that we could enjoy together that didn't break the bank. One day I will truly prioritize my biggest adventures.
I give complete credit to the grace of God absolutely, but I can't discount the real effort I made to avoid problems and think of every solution ahead of time.
My advice to parents everywhere is: Just go! If your children are small, start small. But begin enjoying them now. Enjoy getting them out and be in the great outdoors. There is a lot of research showing that more time spent in nature decreases symptoms of ADHD and depression and builds creativity and appreciation of the environment. We actually attended a training at our local zoo where we received a curriculum called “growing up wild” which is entirely built to use the outdoors as your classroom. There is such a wealth of beauty around us and when we do get out and engage with the environment we feel more at ease about our place in the world.
As the children grow, the adventures grow. I remember wondering if there would ever be a day I did not have to lug strollers and diaper bags everywhere I went. And now I couldn’t even tell you the last time I carried a bag. All four of my children now tower over me. My sons are especially tall. And because I laid the groundwork early and set the expectations for enjoying our time out we really truly do enjoy our time out. Start simple and cheap, pack the picnic lunches, make the peanut butter and jellies, grab the snacks from home and don't feel the need to buy everything along the way. Hopefully you will be adventuring for years and if you buy everything now the pattern will create expectations. But to whatever degree you are able, even if it's outside into the yard or walking around the block, begin to get them out and then set your eyes on local options. Parks? Preserves? What do you like to do? What is your real goal for traveling? Let's work our way up to it! Please feel free to use as much or as little as possible of my experiences to connect to the world around and within.
Some of the info you will find on my site:
Affordability meter: 7/10
On a scale of 1-10 how affordable is this day?
With 1 being utterly unaffordable and 10 being basically free, I rate this adventure a...
You will see this on most of my itineraries.
Everything is rated from Cocoa Beach (almost free) to Disney (practically unaffordable) with my tips for making the day cost less, or how to splurge if you are feeling a little fancy with yourself.
Combining Costly Activities with Free Stops
Here's one thing my friends can vouch for my expertise on: I will take 1 thing I really want to do that is a bit out of my budget, and save and plan for this to happen. Then, I will make a full day or a weekend out of that one activity. Let's say for example I want to go horseback riding on the beach (this was a rea life example for my B-day last year) which is $50.00 per person. When bringing 5 this is already $250. just for a 90-minute excursion. But I want to do this. So, here's my plan...
Drive an hour and a half, do our activity, then eat (picnic lunch or whatever I plan for) and enjoy a free place such as a park or beach. So, in my above example we went horseback riding, ate tacos affordably in the Fort Pierce center square, then hung out at the Fort Pierce Inlet State Park. Many of my trips will look like this, and the Fort Pierce itinerary can be found HERE.
Holiday Traveling - Click for all the details.
As the kids grow, and quality time becomes more important than stuff, we began to look at how we spend our time around the holidays. With one in college, one a busy mom of a toddler working full time, one working full time, and one in High School still - it's HARD to plan things. Luckily, the holidays typically offer some school breaks, and the others can request certain days as needed. Being a teacher for so long ALL of our travels were when school was out.
Intention. We've begun to plan some great trips with the understanding that this was our holiday celebration. We still had a tree and some gifts but the real gift was the excursions of a new place. Being from New York we'd done Christmas in NYC a handful of times, taking friends and family with us and perfecting all we love to do while we are there. 2020 I put a letter in each stocking that lined up like a puzzle spelling out: Miami. They were all going to Miami for a few days.
In 2021 we went to the Keys for Christmas. And YES YES YES it was a winter wonderland. I was amazed how decorated and beautiful the Keys were. We rented scooters and drove through Key West stopping at all the cool landmarks, and watching the sun set in Mallory Square.
In the education field there are occasional opportunities to attend a conference or training. I have been able to take advantage of this by traveling to both Miami and Atlanta with coworkers. Let me just go on the record as saying I am fun when I am somewhere new. I want to see the place and experience the vibe! By keeping an open mind and being willing to venture out I have made new friends and added some great memories to my heart.
I love to hit all the cool stuff in one area while I am there.
May all of your travels by great wherever they take you.
Visit us on our adventures and enjoy the journey of self-discovery travel creates.
Be present, and live in the moment, remembering to breathe, laugh, and play!
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A note from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.