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6 Ways To Make Getting Out Of The House With Kids Simple, Spontaneous & Fun

by Meagan Francis on July 31, 2014

Every now and then I like to look through the archives to see what was going on in my world around this time in previous years. Here’s a post I originally wrote in 2011. I loved this glimpse into my summer three years ago – and these adorable pics! – and am still 100% behind the message of this post! Enjoy.

A few weeks ago my family and I drove up to Grand Haven, Michigan and decided to check out Rosy Mound Natural Area. We figured the water would be within easy walking distance of the car and thought we’d just make a quick stop before heading into the downtown area with the more popular beach.

As it turned out we’d very much under-estimated the path to the beach, which turned out to be close to a mile long and featured 1,000 feet of stairs which rose and plunged, rose and plunged, culminating in a long climb to the top of a dune with sweeping views of the water and then a slow descent down to the beach. And Jon and I were wearing flip-flops. (Clara, pictured to the left, was barefooted. Guess who got to carry her the whole way?)

It took a while, but when we finally reached the highest point, we were rewarded by a gorgeous view of lake and dunes, and descending the stairs, we found ourselves all alone on the beach.

We only had one towel and no swimsuits, but that didn’t keep the kids from hunting for smooth rocks, digging, and wading. We only stayed at the beach for about thirty minutes, and we were quite a bit sandier, wetter, thirstier, and more tired than we’d expected to be.

But though short and a bit of effort, it was one of the nicest beach trips we’ve had all together as a family…and if we’d taken too much time to think about the long walk, or what we should bring, we might have ultimately decided just to skip it entirely.

And that would have been a real shame.

I was thinking about our impromptu expedition when I wrote yesterday’s post featuring a very different kind of beach trip. Don’t get me wrong, our highly-organized venture a few days ago was a lot of fun, too. It’s just that preparing and packing for an outing like that is kind of exhausting, and if you try to plan that way every time you leave the house, well…you just won’t want to leave the house that much.

So how can you enjoy outings with your kids in an easier, simpler way? Here are six tips I’ve found that make exploring with kids simple, fun, and low-stress:

Reign in your expectations

Not every trip to the zoo will be a leisurely, photo-op-filled animal encounter, and sometimes it’s just as fun to roll up your pants legs and wade in the lake as it is to enjoy a full-on swim. When admission fees are involved, I find that – especially with small kids – it takes the pressure off to purchase a yearly membership to just one or two favorite attractions rather than trying to cram in a dozen different experiences in a single summer.

Embrace short excursions

If you think about it, the majority of “must-pack” items are only necessary if you’re spending serious time away from home. Sunscreen needs to be re-applied about every two hours; slather it on before you leave the house and make sure you’re back home or in the car within a couple of hours, and you probably don’t need to lug a big bottle along. Or try to plan outings after dusk or earlier in the morning when sun and heat aren’t as likely to be a problem. Either way, the shorter the trip the less you need to pack and prepare. Don’t let the fantasy of an all-day outing get between you and the reality of a short, easy trip.

Use your car, stroller, or bicycle trailer as a base station

Consider leaving a few necessities – say, a couple of diapers and a travel container of wipes – in your transportation of choice at all times. Our (ratty, dirty, beat-up) umbrella stroller always has a diaper in the basket at the bottom just in case; and after forgetting to replenish my diaper stash in my purse a few key times, I’ve taken to leaving a canvas bag in the car packed with the basic essentials.

Team up with a friend and split the packing

No need for two moms to carry wipes, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent and water. Plan your outings with a friend when possible (the adult company and extra set of hands and eyes makes it well worth the effort) and split the packing down the middle.

Distinguish between need and comfort

I liked what Nihara had to say in her comment: “By planning for their every possible need, we may be accidentally teaching our children that they should face no discomforts in life (e.g., they should never be hungry, wet or tired).” Yes! Think back to when you were a kid. When you were out with your parents and got thirsty, what did you do? I bet you found a drinking fountain or waited until you got home.

I’m not suggesting we withhold liquids and food from hungry and thirsty children, but it really is OK to head out on a mild day for a short time without a full 40-ounce Kleen Kanteen and a sack brimming with snacks. When moms fall into the trap of trying to plan for every possible discomfort our kids could ever face, it becomes really hard to pack light…which makes it that much harder to get out the door in the first place, let alone enjoy ourselves once we’re out.

Kids learn to expect what they’re used to, which is why, when I decided to stop routinely buying bottled water, it took my boys a while to stop begging for water during every short car ride. But after a while they realized I wasn’t going to pull over and pick up a bottle to help them survive a half-hour in the car, so they learned to get a bigger drink before we left or wait ’til we got there.

For a 1-2-hour trip to the beach or another hot, energy-sucking destination, I’d probably pack one big bottle of water and a few cups (unless I know there’s a water fountain), plus a small snack each. No need to cut up fruit or dirty every reusable container in the house to have a three-course picnic every time you go on an outing.

Adopt a spirit of adventure

You just don’t know how that hike is going to go. You might end up knee-deep in mud. The trail might be longer, windy-er, and a lot steeper than you’d have anticipated…and life will go on. In fact, sometimes it’s the trips where you wind up filthy and in way over your head that wind up the nicest memories.

I like to ask myself what’s the worst that could happen if…if the youngest has to poop while I’m on the trail (which she might), if we get too tired and have to turn around, (a definite possibility,) if the kids track sand all over the house (which they definitely will.) Most of the time those worst-case scenarios are almost comforting to imagine, because you realize they really aren’t so bad after all.

What are your favorite strategies for keeping outings simple and low-stress?

Want more ideas
for creating a happier home life?

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky July 5, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I really enjoy your blog. This post was great – as usual.
I whole heartedly agree with the season pass thing. Plus I figured I would just do a zoo memory book with all the pictures from all the trips (last year we lived down the street from our local zoo & went every week) – no matter what the zoo.
The other thing I have started doing is using a bag for each thing. Like I have a swimming bag – which has a bottle of sunscreen, some swim diapers & hats for my boys, swimsuits & towels (unless they are drying). So just grab & go.
But I only have 2, so I can imagine how packing would get out of control.
My toddler knows that there are snacks in the diaper bag – so he trys to sneak in there almost every time he sees it around the house :S
Anyway, my 2 cents
thanks for helping me in my quest to be a happier mom :)


Angela July 6, 2011 at 5:04 am

I agree with the idea of not planning until you’ve trained your kids to always expect comfort, BUT….I cannot forgive myself for trying to deal with a cranky 3-year-old and an 11-month old just because I didn’t bother to throw some snacks into my bag. I don’t know about you, but my kids won’t even ask for food when they are hungry, but often my preschooler will get really whiny and uncooperative when he needs a snack.

I’m with you, Becky–I have a few ‘grab & go’ bags in our front closet to help expedite the adventure of just getting out of the door!


Meagan Francis July 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Andrea, I totally hear you. What I usually do when we’re talking about short, near-by trips with young kids is eat right before we leave, take a loaded sippy cup, and plan to return before they’d usually have a snack. Two- and three-year-olds can go an hour or two without eating if they started off full. If I’m not sure I can make it back before the snack attack attacks, I might toss a couple of bananas or a box of crackers in my bag. But if I had to worry about digging out containers, slicing fruit and cheese, finding a cooler, and basically preparing a full-blown meal on wheels every time we wanted to take a casual trip out of the house, we just wouldn’t get out nearly as much!


Olivia July 6, 2011 at 6:19 am

All great advice. I feel like I need to brink snacks and drinks still for my 2 yr old, because telling her to wait is not going to work. Whenever I forget to pack snacks I end up buying something. But when she is older I’m sure I’ll stop carrying them for every little trip.

I have started leaving a diaper and wipes in the car, and the stroller in the trunk to a quit trip to the mall play area when the weather isn’t nice is more doable.


Meagan Francis July 6, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I think there’s snacks and then there’s SNACKS – the complicated kind. Little boxes of raisins or a baggie of crackers are low-fuss and easy, but I’ve seen moms at the park pull out an arsenal of foods that look like they took all day to prepare. The kids spend more time snacking than playing and they’re rarely there longer than an hour.


Olivia July 7, 2011 at 5:21 am

Oh no, I do not prepare SNACKS, lol. I just try to remember a banana or a baggie of animal crackers, which I usually break out after she’s done playing to keep the ride home peaceful.


Carol Scott August 3, 2012 at 5:39 am

I make sure to prepare the exact snacks for my kids when we were going to go out.


Nihara July 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

Thanks for mentioning me, Meagan! Such good tips, as always. Sometimes I am so tired from packing up the house for an excursion with my kids that I can barely enjoy myself once we get to our destination. Leaving the car pre-packed with a few basics (as you suggest) has been a huge time-saver for me. I always have a small diaper bag in the backseat filled with diapers, wipes and a change of clothes for my toddler. And I usually keep an activity bag full of markers, crayons and paper — in case we end up at a restaurant or someplace “boring.” These two bags at the ready have saved me over and over!


Holly July 6, 2011 at 8:12 am

I keep a bag in the car with diapers, wipes, snacks and a change of clothes for both kids in the car. My small umbrella stroller and a small first aid kit also live in the car. That way it’s no big deal if we just decide to do an outing or if I need to stop somewhere on the way home from picking them up at daycare (when I wouldn’t have a diaper bag). Plus I figure I can always stop and get them something to eat or drink if I absolutely need to.

On the weekends when we do a lot of running around with the kids I have a bag that we take with us and to make things easier on myself I will just take my wallet out of my purse and throw it in that bag. It’s much easier to only carry 1 bag around. Now that the little one is 1 I think I can switch to just carrying a couple diapers and wipes in my purse though.


Christy July 6, 2011 at 9:59 am

Thanks for the post! Haha its exactly how I feel towards outings for sure. I’ve got three kids 4 and under and I couldn’t help but laugh while reading your tip for packing. The other day my husband and I took our kids to a nearby lake for just a short park/wading visit and my husband chastised me for only bringing one water bottle. Less packing is always the best!


Ann Cotilard July 27, 2012 at 6:43 am

Great post. I brought my kids in the beach last month and we had a good summer time together. We enjoyed our time at the beach. My kids really love their summer vacation..


Mel@MySunshine July 6, 2011 at 10:53 am

Great tips, thanks for the post. I have a 1 year old and am still feeling my way through ideas that work best for our family. Right now, leaving an emergency bag in the car is really helpful. I take just basic items in the diaper bag if we are out for 2-3 hours but then I know I have some back up in the car if needed. The emergency stash lessens the stress on packing for the outing.

I really like the comment about not allowing our kids to be uncomfortable if you pack for every need. It’s important for them to learn there are situations that are uncomfortable but you will always return home.


Meghan July 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm

We always carry water-just a smallish camelback sport bottle (it’s works for smaller-the cup set-kids too because it’s a squeeze type, so they can all share), wipes, a small ziplock of candy (little boxes of nerds and smarties are nice because there’s lots of little pieces or dumdum lollipops-they go further=less candy)-this is good for prizes for good behaviour and not having to stop and buy something; a snack-something like a few granola bars or trail mix or fruit snacks, enough for one small snack each, and a small first aid kit (and necessary meds-we have to carry latex free bandaids, benadryl and an epipen), one of those sunscreen sticks, and a small thing of hand sanitizer. Everything but the water fits in my purse-sometimes even the water does. We live in Chicago and it can be really expensive to buy things on the fly, but we also like to keep it simple because we often go for long walks that can end up lasting the whole day or end up downtown unplanned.


sybil July 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I just had to comment. My parents live in Grand Haven and we are here visiting. We drive past the sign for Rosy Mound all of the time but still haven’t been there. If you can, check out the beach at Kirk Park. We love that one :)


Meagan Francis July 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Thanks Sybil! When we go back (and we are definitely going back!) we will check it out.


Nina July 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Definitely agree with simplifying and not packing too much. Before, I used to always bring a huge diaper bag with everything: snacks, sippy cup, wipes, diapers, etc. even if we were just going to the mall.

Nowadays I’ll probably still bring diapers and wipes but leave them in the car. I figure if he really needed water, there’s a food court there. And I try to plan outings so that he’s not hungry and won’t need a snack, or isn’t likely to need a diaper change, so sometimes we don’t even bring diapers (we live really near).

I really like feeling like we can just up and go and not need to lug a ton of bags around!


lynne July 24, 2012 at 7:24 am

Funny, I’m also recently re-embracing the experience of packing light. Now, for even most-of-the-day trips, we have one kid’s backpack with a diaper, wipes, and spare clothes for both, the other kid gets the raisins/crackers/granola bars/whatever, sandwiches, and water (Happiest Little Traveler recommended the Vapeur bottles and we have been loving them!) and my purse has the sunscreen stick, bubbles and chalk, plus a couple of extra small toys. They each get to choose 1-2 small toys to take and usually it’s Matchbox cars. That’s it. If we’ll be walking a long time I’ll throw the Uppababy over my shoulder til someone gets tired. Bliss.


Born27 August 1, 2012 at 4:36 am

I think planning before hand is very important. And pack the things needed for the break. When we used to go out with kids, I sometimes bring her friends with us, in order to be more fun.


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