Thinking about vacations and travel for this post, I've taken my cue from a FamilyFun Facebook fan, Pam Andrews. The Boston-area mom commented recently: "I realized that we've never done the touristy things, so this summer, we are going to walk the Freedom Trail, climb the Bunker Hill Monument, and check out the USS Constitution. Then it's on to Salem and its various museums. In other words, we are staying local and acting like out-of-towners."
Visiting home-grown attractions is a smart way to stretch your budget, get a better sense of your backyard, and keep couch-potato slouch and brain drain at bay. Of course, it's easier to do if you live near a historic and cultural hub such as Boston, or any major city, for that matter. But acting like out-of-towners is very doable even in a small town, if you follow these leads.
For starters, go Googling. Websites maintained by newspapers, chambers of commerce, tourist boards, city and state tourist agencies, even your local city government site, are good sources of information about what there is to see, hours, directions, and other details. Low-tech approach: if you have a hotel in your town, they probably have brochures by the entrance for real out-of-towners.
Visit the library. As well as local guidebooks, many libraries offer free passes to art museums, historical sites, nature centers, and other attractions, making day trips more affordable. You could do like one FamilyFun reader, who planned a "day trip to China" around passes to a Chinese-themed garden, supplementing the visit with a cooking session (wok-cooked fresh veggies from a farm stand, anyone?) and craft-making (here's how to make a dragon mask). Libraries themselves can be cool venues for story hours, movie showings, live animal demonstrations, art exhibits, and other events. While you're there, your kids might be able to sign up for a summer reading program.
Scout out behind-the-scenes sights. Manufacturers from Ben and Jerry's to the Louisville Slugger Company offer factory tours that reveal how complicated it can be it make, say, a jelly bean. And the free samples that some hand out might satisfy a little one's gimmes—for a few hours. (Check out our recent survey of some of the best factory tours here.
While the production lines of world-famous brands can be fascinating, sometimes it pays to act local vs. think global. One intrepid FamilyFun reader took her daughters to a bagel shop to see how bagels are made, toured the fruit storage area of a supermarket, and went backstage at a puppet theater, where her girls got to work the curtains and learn how the shows were produced. Another reader took her kids to a recycling plant. Fire stations, farms, artists' studios, and college campuses can also be (not-so) hidden gems to explore. To be on the safe side, just give the place a call to find out when you might be welcome.
Take a hike. They may not boast the spectacular scenery of Yellowstone, but area nature trails hold their share of treasures: rocks to climb, streams to cross, hills to scale, stones and bugs to scrutinize, and flowers, trees, and bird calls to identify. (Stick to photographs for souvenirs, though.) Before you set out, check out our how-to hiking guide.
Last but not least, get your game on to ramp up the fun. Make your downtown travel into a scavenger hunt or a family challenge. Seek out the colors of the rainbow, do the chicken dance in front of a restaurant (have the camera ready!). Invite another family along and form teams—girls vs. boys, for example. Take some props and "collect" secret getaways, such as "places where fairies nap" or "perfect spots for a teddy bear picnic". One reader's had the great idea to go on an alphabet quest around town, matching places to letters. We predict the fro-yo shop—for F and Y—will be a big hit on your search.
"There's no place like home," declared Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. After embarking on a few close-to-home outings, we think you'll come to the same conclusion.
FamilyFun's copy chief, Faye Wolfe, and her kids have checked out footprints and fossils on "dino day trips" to Amherst College's natural history museum and a state park—among other summer excursions.