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Flexible Itineraries For Family Travel with Kids

Family travel can get stressful. Kids flip from lovely to grumpy in minutes, and a change in plans can feel like a royal disaster. However, incorporating a bit of flexibility and downtime into family travel can make all the difference.

Although we grew up in Minnesota and my parents still hold down the fort there, most of my five sisters and I have moved away from home and live on opposite coasts. I’m in Philadelphia, three of my sisters are in California, and one stayed near home. 

Despite living far away from each other, we get together pretty often given the distance between us, especially for big celebrations. 

A couple of weeks ago, we were all home to attend my sister’s induction into the state softball hall of fame. I brought J and my sister brought her two little ones, so we had a slew of sisters and a trio of preschoolers. With so many people together, we’ve found it really helpful to create a loose itinerary for our trip. M and my brothers-in-law can all attest to the fact that our family gatherings become just a bit chaotic when we don’t have definitive plans for most of the trip. 

This time, we kept the trip pretty low key and laid out some ideas but didn’t commit to a lot. We only had three days at home, but we made the most of the time we had and stuck to simple, kid-friendly activities. 

Fitting In Fitness

I’ve been working on being more consistent about squeezing in a workout, and my mom is a bit of an exercise fanatic. It didn’t take much convincing to sign her up for a class at Orange Theory, a growing fitness trend on whose bandwagon I’ve definitely jumped. Another sister and my dad tagged along, and we got our sweat on not long after landing at the airport. 

When I travel for pleasure, and especially when I travel with M, we try to make exercise a priority. Without the burden of work, it’s nice to use our extra free time to flex our muscles.

Exercise while traveling for work… that’s another story. I rarely even bring gym clothes. It’s not worth feigning to anyone that I’ll be stopping by the gym. But when traveling for vacation, I always have a few extra outfits for working out. 

Sweet Treats for Kiddos

Have you been to Duck Donuts? We had our fair share of fancy donut joints near our apartment in Chicago, and I loved them a little too much. We haven’t found any similar spots outside of downtown Chicago; even Center City Philadelphia donuts can’t compete with the ones in Chicago. Duck Donuts, however, is a slightly different and perfectly delicious alternative that’s particularly family-friendly. 

Instead of choosing from a small variety of sophisticated donuts options like lavender and espresso, you design your own donut. Fresh from the fryer, you select the icing, the toppings, and any additional drizzle to create a donut that meets your hearts’ desire. The donuts aren’t too big, and I love that they are still hot when you eat them. Sometimes, they are so hot and gooey that it helps to have a fork to eat them. 

My sister and I brought the three little ones to Duck Donuts for a post-breakfast indulgence on Saturday morning, and they loved every bite. 

Local Thrift Shopping

My parents live not far from a great Savers. When I lived in downtown Chicago, I didn’t quite appreciate how nice it is to live close to a great thrift shop. I have a fantastic, though small, consignment shop near me. The quality of the items is great, but the price is correspondingly higher as well. 

Three of my sisters and I hung out at the Savers fitting rooms for well over an hour, taking turns trying things on and scouring the racks. Between the four of us, we purchased 25 or 30 items for about $200. Because we donated before shopping, we also had a 20% coupon to apply to our purchase. (FYI: If you are planning to shop a thrift store, be sure to donate on your way in. Some of them have similar discount programs.)

I brought home some great new workout clothes (big surprise) while my other sisters found jeans, dresses, and lots of tops to replenish their wardrobes. 

Secondhand shopping, particularly in thrift shops that aren’t perfectly curated, takes time and patience. I’ve written an entire secondhand shopping guide if you’re curious. While it’s a bit of a learned skill, you might be surprised what great things you can find at really low prices if you learn a few tricks of the trade. You’re also keeping items out of the landfill and reducing the use of virgin materials used to make brand-new goods. Secondhand shopping is a win all around. 

Minnesota’s Largest Candy

This amazing spot, bright yellow and not to be missed, on a nondescript highway lives up to the hype. Upon entering, we wandered through aisles and aisles of candy. They had plenty of chocolate, but they definitely specialized in classic candy like taffy and gumdrops as well as old-school packaged candy I remember from my childhood. Pop rocks anyone? 

Overall, we enjoyed a trip with a loose itinerary but not too many hard commitments. I’m definitely on board with this type of travel. We never sat around wondering what to do but also didn’t feel pressure to fit in an overwhelming number of tightly scheduled activities. 

How do you travel with family and especially with kids? Do you focus on the detail? Wing it entirely? Or set a flexible schedule with general plans but room for modifications? 

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