We are a family on a budget that loves to travel and experience life together. We absolutely love doing day trips – they’re easy to plan, budget-friendly and relatively easy to do, even for families with infants and toddlers. But outings with kids aren’t automatically fun and easy. In fact, they can be downright awful if you’re not prepared. Thankfully, with just a little prep work, you can set the stage for family outings that are both easy, and actually fun!
(There are affiliate links in this post, meaning we may get a small commission from any purchases you make. We only recommend products and services we actually use and love. Click here to read our full disclosure policy.)
How to Prep for Successful Family Outings That Are Easy and Actually Fun:
We can’t plan for everything, but it helps to plan for what we can. Here are some helpful questions to ask, whether you’re planning a remote mountain hike, or a day at Disney:
- Will snacks and water be readily available or will we need to bring our own?
- Are we going to be outdoors or indoors or both?
- Is our outing going to overlap regular nap or meal times?
- What essentials will we need to bring? Diapers/Sunscreen/Medication?
- Will we need cash on hand or will credit/debit cards be acceptable?
- What is the weather forecast for the day?
COMMUNICATE YOUR EXPECTATIONS.
What is the purpose of the outing? Is it focused on one single person – like a birthday trip or reward day? Are you wanting a family day to bond and relax? Is your goal to experience a destination, or just get out of the house to burn energy? If you know what you’re hoping to get out of your family outing, you are much more likely to accomplish it!
If you’re a budgeting family like us, you’ll also probably want to set a budget for the day. Day trips can be expensive if you’re continually dropping $30 here and $20 there – it really adds up! Setting a budget for the day before you go can help determine if you’ll need to pack a lunch, and whether or not you’ll be splurging at that pricey ice cream shop.
Depending on the ages of your kids, it’s wise to communicate these expectations with them as well. For our 5&6 year olds, we discuss:
- What our plans are for the day.
- How we expect them to behave.
- That we might not always get to do what we want to do, but we can choose to have fun anyway.
- What they most want to do or accomplish on our family outing.
- Our goal for this particular day trip or outing.
This is a really fantastic way to empower your kids to know what to expect, and to feel like they have a measure of control over the day. It also helps them to have realistic expectations – we really can’t do All. The. Things. on this trip, but that’s okay.
MAKE ROOM FOR DOWN TIME.
I’m likely not the only one who gets so excited about going and doing, that I end up overfilling our schedule? Case in point: Last year we took in all of IKEA and hours at the beach in one day with our (then) 4&5 year olds. We made it work, but only because they were able to nap and relax during the drive time between places, and it ended up being an overly exhausting day.
Take time to stop and smell the roses, relax at a coffee shop, or even just chill on a park bench for part of your outing. Especially if you have little ones, making room for down time is an essential way to prep for a successful family outing.
FILL THEIR TANKS.
THIS is a pro tip! Cranky, hungry and dehydrated kids are just no fun to be around, and can ruin a family outing in a nanosecond. Make sure you have healthy snacks and water on you at all times – you won’t regret it. Also, pay attention to their regular nap and meal times. At school, my kiddos eat lunch at 10:50 am. This is wayyy earlier than I ever even think about eating lunch. Forgetting about this natural difference in our meal schedules can leave me with hangry, whiny kids who are miserable and miserable to be around. To avoid this, we always carry a refillable water bottle, plus snacks in our day pack. (More on that below)
KNOW WHEN TO WRAP IT UP.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m an overachiever in the scheduling department, and many times have pushed my kids (who are awesome little troupers) far further than they can comfortably handle. There’s a sweet spot – when everyone is still having fun, and no one is overtired yet – and THIS is the time to wrap it up. Don’t wait until everyone is cranky and overstimulated. Do your best to wrap things up and head home on a high note… this will set you up for regular family outings in the future that everyone can look forward to.
TRAVEL LIGHT — Plus WHAT WE BRING IN OUR (MINIMALIST) DAY PACK:
Ever since we started on our family’s journey towards minimalism, I’ve become a huge fan of traveling light. Bringing ‘just’ the right amount of stuff and nothing more can make things way easier when you’re doing an outing with kids.
Of course, finding the balance between not packing enough, and packing too much is the tricky part. Packing too much is the worst – it’s so frustrating to be dragging around bulky strollers, backpacks, shopping bags, coolers, etc. I’ve found that unless you’re trekking into the wilderness, it’s better to err on the side of bringing less. These days, we can fit almost everything we need for a family outing in our lightweight day pack, plus a small cooler bag if we’re packing a lunch.
Our day pack (we call it our Go Bag) hangs on a hook by the door, and is always packed with the following essentials:
- a mini first aid kit
- anti-itch medicine for bug bites
- insect repellent
- a sheet of kid’s chewable benadryl tablets
- lip balm
- mineral sunscreen stick
- ball caps
- this set of towels which take up a tiny amount of space, but are super absorbent and fast drying, and can be used in a pinch as a blanket or tablecloth
- a large but lightweight cotton scarf
- individually wrapped wet wipes
- a small bottle of hand sanitizer
- a few shelf-stable snacks
When we’re headed out the door, we’ll stuff in:
- lightweight sweatshirts or cardigans
- swimwear & these lightweight beach towels (if needed)
- a change of clothes for each kid — usually lightweight tees and either shorts or cotton leggings.
- apples/oranges and other snacks if needed
- juice pouches
- a few refillable water bottles — we’re partial to this style.
- phone, wallet, keys, etc.
I’m always amazed at how much we can fit into our day pack, and how comfortable it is to carry around. This is (more or less) what comes with us whether we’re go canoeing, headed to the beach, or trekking around Disney Springs for the afternoon. Usually my husband and I will switch off carrying the pack, but it’s light enough that the girls can carry it if they need to.
So there you have it — this is how we prep for our many family outings and day trips, plus the (current) contents of our minimalist day pack. I’m totally in love with seeing the world through my kid’s eyes, and travelling light in the process.
What are your thoughts on day trips with kids? Any tips for on how to prep for successful family outings? Please share in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Jamie writes about living intentionally and finding beauty and perspective in the adventures of everyday life. When she’s not writing, she’s living her own adventures – working full time at an ER registration desk, parenting two spicy girls, and collaborating with her husband on the remodel of a former one-room schoolhouse on their homestead in rural Wisconsin.