How to plan a vacation that is educational and fun

As I was getting off of the school bus, I was excited to be on a school field trip. Here we were, my classmates and I, in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian Institute. A whole day of not being in school. I was really looking forward to this “vacation day”.  

I don’t remember anything about the museum that we went to. I remember getting off the bus, and later we all had to sit on the sidewalk in a straight line and eat our lunch. I remember that Mom packed me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a Hi-C orange drink box, packed in a little brown paper bag, with my name on it, printed nice and big. 

I learned a lot from that school field trip, didn’t I?  Don’t make the same mistakes that those school leaders did, with that so-called educational field trip.

Step One: Identify your Destination & Mode of Travel

Time to have a family meeting. Unless this trip already has a primary objective, like a wedding, funeral, or family reunion, figure out where you would like to go.

Would you like to go to an ocean and beach setting? How about the mountains during the fall season? Maybe a ski resort in the winter, or a state or country that you’ve always wanted to visit.

Wherever your desires take you, next you have to decide on how to get there.  Do you like driving, flying or trains?

Step Two: Make a Possible Route to Travel

If you’re travelling by plane or train, the route is already determined. But if you’re travelling by car, you have a ton of options.

Start with the fastest route. Do you go through or pass by any points of interest? 

If you do, you’ll want to do some research and find out what kind of activities there are for tourists in that area.  When you find something that interests your family, put it on the list, and fine tune your travel route to include this as a possible stopping point. 

You’ll want to research each city/state/point of interest along the way till you get to your final destination.  Don’t forget, some of the ideas on your list you can leave for your ride back home.

Make your stops educational!

Any stop can be educational and fun. It just takes a little extra planning and information. 

Visitor Centers can also help you find areas of interest or fun things to do. I’ll never forget the South Dakota Visitors Center, they gave the kids  their own SD pin and a coloring book. 


You can’t go wrong with science center museums. They are great for kids. All of the science centers that I’ve been to, have had hands-on displays and experiments for any age group to do and try.

This one was in North Carolina.

science center exhibit

This one was in Tennessee. 

making big bubbles at the science center


Aquariums and zoos usually have specific times posted for special feedings, demonstrations, or performances. Make sure you check on this when you get there, so that you don’t miss anything that’s truly awesome, like a dolphin show or a horseshoe crab interactive exhibit.

Dolphin on platform
Horseshoe crab at the aquarium


We went to an amusement park when the kids were younger and they had a high dive performance. That was neat to watch.

high dive performace


A museum in Ocean City had a scavenger hunt for the kids to do while they toured the building. It was a list of questions, and when they found all the answers they got a prize. It kept the kids engaged at each display to find their answers.


Jamestown, VA had live demonstrations of musket shooting and they also had plenty for the kids to do, like trying on this armor. 

Trying on armor at Jamestown
Musket shooting demonstration


The Ingall’s Homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota caters perfectly to children. They have buildings to tour, like a one room schoolhouse (Oh, I’m sorry, you already have one of those at your house!) , they have covered wagon rides, horse and buggy rides, hands-on activities like washing clothes, and making a corn-cob doll. 

Driving a team of horses.
pumping water at a hand pump


I’ve heard that the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. gives you the beginning of a biography of a person when you enter the building. As you go through the museum, you follow that person’s life and then you find out what happened to your person at the end. 


The more you can find where your kids get to actively participate, the more they’ll remember.

Another great idea is to have your kids journal their activities and feelings about each of your stops. They’ll have a good time looking back on their journal in the years to come. 

Step Three: Time out your Trip

Look at the opening/closing times at your areas of interest. Also, see if their websites give an estimate time of how long it takes for your visit at this location. 

When you gather this information, it’s time to figure out exactly when to leave your house, when to arrive at your first stop, when to leave there and go to your second stop, and so on. 

Step Four: Don’t Forget to Sleep

Now that you know when you’ll be arriving/departing each city, you can find hotels. Search it out online for the best deals and amenities that your family likes. If you can, it’s always nice to keep the travel distances short from your activity to the hotel. 

Go ahead and book those rooms. Don’t forget to place a hold on any extra cots or a crib that you may need.

Step Five: Organize your Packing List

If your destination is a long way away, and you’ll be staying at a few different destinations, then you’ll want to organize your luggage and packing. It’s no fun to have to get everything out of the car for an eight hour night of sleep at one hotel. 

Your bags will be smaller and you can label them if you need to. I always keep one bag that has all personal items in it separate from the rest. I know that I’m going to need everybody’s toothbrush/toothpaste, medication, hair supplies, etc. every place where we stop to stay. This little bag goes in every hotel.

In the second bag, with the hotel name or the date, this will have our clean clothes for the next day, and a bag for dirty laundry. If the hotel has a pool, then our swimming clothes and toys will be in this bag too. 

You continue to think through your stops and plan your clothes accordingly for the family. As your kids get older, they can do this for themselves, but when everybody is small, it’s best for Momma to do it.

How to plan an educational vacation.

Step Six: The Car List

The ride in the car, hopefully, will be one of ease, comfort, and relaxation. With some careful planning, it can be.

Here are some ideas that we have brought along on our car trips when the kids were small.
Audio books or audio dramas like Adventures in Odyssey or Patch the Pirate.
Snacks such as pretzels, dry cereal, starbursts, lollipops. I avoid chocolate that can melt or anything too sticky.
Small plastic/paper cups. These can be for drinking, but I used them to put the pretzels or dry cereal in. This way there’s no spilling of an entire box of dry cereal.
Small trashbags
Neck pillows or regular pillow and a small, light blanket for each child. 
An over the seat hanging bag in front of each child. My kids knew that their papers, souvenirs,  maps, etc. went into the hanging bag and not on the floor. It helps when travelling to keep the car as tidy as possible.

As my kids have gotten older, I’ve made these travelling personal care stations that get buckled into the middle seat of each row of seats. I use an organizer from the dollar store that has a handle on it, and the seat belt goes through that. In this way, if the car has to come to a sudden stop, the organizer stays in place. In this organizer I put a purse size tissue pack, travelling wet wipes, small bottle hand sanitizer, masks for each person, a plastic bag for trash (this can be tied to the handle), pen/pencil, pad of paper, individually wrapped snacks like cookies, chips, cheese crackers, etc. And then there’s extra space too for a water bottle, cell phone, or something else small. 

No matter what the ages of your kids, you’ll want to have these items.
First Aid Kit
Cell phone charger
Gallon of water
Motion sick medication/Advil/Tylenol
Plastic bucket/bowl for anyone who gets car sick

So, I hope this helps as you plan out your next vacation.  Let me know how it goes for you, will you?

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