I love vacation. I love my family. But I confess, I don’t always love the two combined. Those ill-planned road trips schlepping the kids from one tourist attraction to another, or when too many hours are spent zoned-out in front of a screen -- such vacation memories do not fill me with warm parental pride. But then there are those fun, breezy holidays that hold a cherished spot in the collective family memory book. There seem to be 2 key factors inherent to those happy sojourns: less time on the bum in front of the tube (or techno-gadget) and more time up and exploring. The active family vacation means more play and connection, less boredom and complaints. Here are a few of the best ways in which family plus travel fit joyfully together.
BE HAPPY GLAMPERS
Where to go: Marfa, TX; Caledonia, IL; Oroville, CA; and Walton, NY; Snowmass, CO
Getting back to nature with your family doesn’t have to mean a bad night’s rest on the lumpy floor of a tent -- not since the rise of glamping. Now you can sleep close to the stars, hear the cicadas as you drift off, and actually snuggle up under high thread count sheets, too. Our first stay at El Cosmico, a funky campground slash “nomadic hotel” with vintage trailers, yurts and teepees in Marfa, TX, gave us just that.
The elegantly simple Quaker-like tents of Feather Down Farms make a farm-stay vacation, or “haycation,” an old-fashioned pleasure. First hatched in the Netherlands, Feather Down now has 3 beautiful farms in the US -- in Caledonia, IL; Oroville, CA; and Walton, NY. The first time my then-3-year-old helped me scramble the eggs she had harvested from the farm’s henhouse herself, I knew that we were on to something good.
And leaning even more toward the glamorous in glamping, Snowmass in west-central Colorado curates private-led camping experiences way up in the Rockies, complete with a chef, some evening fishing and of course, a campfire with s’mores.
Where to go: Stockbridge, MA; Rhinebeck, NY
Craving a yoga escape but can’t leave the kiddos behind? At a family-friendly yoga center, you don’t have to decide between your own yogi desires and time with your family -- you get them both in one stress-free package. Not only can you indulge in some ever-elusive “self-care,” the kiddos discover how yoga can ground, inspire and balance you, no matter your age. Plus, it’s such good fun.
The revered Omega Institute, in Rhinebeck, NY, is another resource for families wanting to recharge together. Mom and Dad can indulge in one of their rest and rejuvenation retreats full of yoga, parenting and wellness workshops, while the kids roll out their own yoga mats in a separate activity-filled kid camp.
HIT THE SURF
Where to go: San Clemente, CA; Wrightsville Beach, NC
When my then 5-year-old daughter caught her first wave, she emerged from the water triumphantly beaming in her little black wetsuit; I knew then that we were hooked on the family surf trip. There is no sensation quite like floating across a cresting wave, and to share that with the wee ones makes it even better.
If you are a beginner and don’t want to go it alone, organized surf outfits make it easy for everyone to learn together. The original family surf outfit is Paskowitz, named for Dr. Dorian Paskowitz who, in 1972, gave up the 9-to-5 grind to pursue a life of itinerant surfing with his wife and 9 children in a small camper. Forty-something years later, the offspring of Doc Paskowitz are still teaching families to surf in San Clemente, CA, and other locations, and offer special healing camps for children with autism.
The UK-based Errant Surf arranges surf packages for families around the globe -- their top choice for US surfing is Malibu, CA. They arrange accommodations, private lessons and rentals -- all you have to do is show up.
If you want a group camp experience in more beginner-friendly waters, Surf Camp in Wrightsville Beach, NC, offers 3- and 5-day family surf experiences and weeklong overnight camps in the warm, mellow waters of various beach towns dotting the southeast coast of the Tar Heel State.
PUT YOUR BOOTS ON, Y'ALL
Where to go: Bandera, TX; Durango, CO
Trail rides, cookouts and campfires galore. Oh, to be a kid on a dude ranch, sitting astride your horse in dusty boots as you head off to explore the great outdoors. A well-managed family dude ranch can feel like your home on the range.
The down-to-earth Colorado Trails Ranch in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado also offers big fun for aspiring cowboys plus excellent fly fishing, rafting, and good old cowboy arts like cattle wrangling and square dancing. At the end of the day, everyone can bunk down in cozy rooms and wake up to the morning’s big cowboy breakfast. Yeehaw.
OLD-SCHOOL FAMILY CAMP
Where you should go: Elkhorn, WI; Walland, TN; Bend, OR
Remember the movie Dirty Dancing, how Baby and her family all went to a early ’60s-era summer camp together? When I saw that movie as a teenager, I couldn’t think of anything worse; but now that I am a mom myself, I can see why it’s such a brilliant plan. You get to boat, hike, cook out … but someone else makes it all happen, so Mom and Dad breathe easy.
Blackberry Farm in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains is another profoundly delightful family retreat. With a James Beard Award-winning chef, ultra-comfy rooms and a “farmhouse spa,” Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN, is a gorgeous, swanky idyll for people who don’t like to rough it.
And if you love the rustic ease of the Pacific Northwest, Sunriver Resort in Bend, OR -- home to golfing and fishing in the summer, skiing and dogsledding in the winter -- is a lovely woodsy escape for the whole clan. Now start planning your summer family fun!