Family

Moms, Kids, Weekends — and Fun

5 inexpensive ways to occupy the children in your free time

Your husband wheels his suitcase out the door with a cheery wave, as you turn to stare at dirty dishes, piles of laundry and a messy floor. Oh, and the kids wanting breakfast.

Meanwhile, his business trip offers dinner out, an exercise room, maid service and uninterrupted sleep. (Sleep!)

Hubby’s working, sure. But moms need adventure, too. So if you’re Solo Mom for awhile, why not load up the kids and hit the road?

You’d be right on trend. Eighty percent of women now make the household travel decisions, according to Forbes. And 75 percent of those who take nature, cultural or adventure trips are —surprise! — women.

So whether you have a napping baby or antsy teens, you can easily try something new.

1: See the next town over.
Chances are there’s a city just a few hours away that’s worth seeing. What does it offer? Check out museums, zoos, science centers and indoor play areas, as well as water parks, conservatories, splash pads and gardens. Try a new culinary experience — perhaps the best Thai restaurant in the state, an Amish Buffet, a Japanese steakhouse or the locally owned Bar-B-Que shack. Fancy and expensive are not required for a new experience. Bonus: You don’t cook or clean up.

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2: Go camping.
Not only is this a great way to experience Mother Nature (with hiking and and swimming, too), it’s inexpensive. State parks vary from $15 a night for primitive camping (no electricity or running water) to $50 for more amenities in desirable areas (think Florida in January). Expect to pay $25-$40 for a spot with electricity and nearby drinking water. Don’t own a tent? Borrow one from a friend – and set it up before you go. Or call your local outdoor gear store to ask about rental programs. Check out REI.com or Coleman.com for a camping checklist. Just don’t overpack — you won’t need it.

3: Make it educational.
Whether you homeschool or not, an adventure is a great learning tool for young minds. Look for ethnic festivals or local programs at the symphony and theater. Many parks, libraries, planetariums and arboretums now offer kids’ classes. Check online to see if your destination has a local parenting magazine with a calendar of events and contact information.

4: Use the trip to connect.
Are you long overdue to see Aunt Lydia? Perhaps your college roommate just had a baby. Even if you don’t want to impose overnight (but by all means, take them up on an offer) or your kids can’t handle long visits, plan a brief stop — lunch or a few hours to break up the trip. Not sure you can tolerate several hours of sitdown with Uncle Lou? Plan a picnic at a park (the kids can play!) or visit a garden or conservatory while you chat.

Bring a few jars of local jam or honey for an easy hostess gift. You get adult time and teach your kids that connection matters, even with those you can’t see every day.

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5: Plan and make progress.
Map your route out and print directions in case of spotty Internet or dead batteries. Plan breaks every few hours and do something fun where you stop. Check ahead for parks and indoor playgrounds for youngsters, or interesting tourist stops for older kids. Pack separate snack and activity bags for each child to avoid being asked for constant help.

If your children struggle with car trips, start later in the day and drive while they sleep. Or start out early and take a big break — a zoo or museum, for instance — several hours down the road. Hit the asphalt for another hour and then stop for dinner. You still make good progress, but avoid potential meltdowns when little bodies sit still too long.

Can something still go wrong? Yes, things happen even with good planning. Flat tires, road delays and reservation mix-ups occur. While it’s good to have a back-up plan (AAA or a list of hotels along the way), your kids benefit from watching you handle unforeseen situations with creativity and flexibility.

Just don’t be surprised to discover that the whole experience gives you a chronic case of Wanderlust – and that you can’t wait to plan another Solo Mom adventure.

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