For years, I had spring break envy and was always beyond jealous of my Facebook friends who posted fabulous cruises, far-flung beach shots, and tony intercontinental adventures. We never had the cash to take those kinds of trips, and I hate to fly so much I once pulled 4 kids off a surprise Southwest flight to Disney World and drove them there instead. In place of traveling, we just stayed home and “enjoyed” a spring break staycation.
Then, four years ago we went to Des Moines to visit my grandparents and took the long way home. We stopped at the Herbert Hoover presidential site and stayed a night in Iowa City where my mom went to college and where my own family used to stay sometimes, for nostalgia’s sake. My 6 year-old was really excited to tell his class about our spring break, and we realized a new tradition was born: A spontaneous spring break road trip.
The next year, we promptly ruined our tradition by having a baby over spring break. Then we sat out one more year because babies are no fun on road trips. But the next year! The tradition was back on, and it is definitely here to stay.
In 2015 we headed west to see Mount Rushmore, and it was our most fun vacation to date (topping three separate trips to Disney World and a handful of beach stays). We saw Mount Rushmore (duh), stopped at the Corn Palace, went to Wall Drug, saw buffalo and donkeys up close at personal at Custer State Park, checked out the Crazy Horse monument, gawked at the Badlands, and had plenty of time to swim in the hotel pool and watch the Badgers play in the NCAA basketball tournament. We ended up staying in Rapid City, South Dakota, which was a little bit of a drive from Mount Rushmore, but had a good hotel and restaurant selection. Bonus: It was only 11 hours from home!
Crazy Horse monument: worth the stop!
Clowning around at the Badlands in their de rigueur caps:
Super excited to finally see what we drove eleventy billion miles to see:
In 2016, we drove to Gulf Shores, Alabama, which is a bit further from Madison but only about 12 hours from my parents’ house, so we started the trip there. That meant we could also stop at my parents’ on the way home and do a week’s worth of sandy beach laundry. We loved Gulf Shores! It was family friendly, budget friendly, gorgeous, and full of great activities for little kids. We rented a condo at a resort and enjoyed access to many pools and hot tubs, as well as restaurants and a private beach. The kids’ favorite part was using their resort wristbands to rent movies from the Redbox in the clubhouse. Of course it was. Bonus: You can hit up NASA in Huntsville on the way to the beach, and the museum is wonderful for kids and adults, plus there is a kid friendly Marriott right on NASA’s campus.
This year, we hemmed and hawed about our silly spring break destination. We thought very seriously about heading to the dead center of the US and seeing the world’s biggest ball of twine and the Omaha zoo, as well as the Truman and Eisenhower presidential sites. Then we considered Niagara Falls, but we realized the Canada side looks like more fun and we don’t have passports. We thought about going to Clearwater beach, but that drive is a little ambitious for a single week. Finally, we decided to head to Washington, D.C. to see all of the kid-friendly sites we can cram into 4 days and still have a day to go to the National Zoo because I have a thing about zoos, meaning I love them with the fervor of a thousand toddlers. Bonus: We might be in time for the cherry blossoms!
Silly spontaneous spring breaks are easy, but I have a few tips to get you started:
- Think cheesy. You can bet we will hit that big ball of twine one of these days.
- Pick a mid-priced chain hotel and become loyal to them so you can enjoy their member benefits, like points and room upgrades. We love Hilton Garden Inns and Marriotts, especially Courtyards, for a family of 6. Both of these chains have large room/suite options for big families, pools for the kids, amenities in the lobby (our kids love the cocoa and cookies at most Garden Inns), and breakfast deals.
- Find a podcast your kids can listen to on the road. We love The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian.
- Spring for a USB expander and extra long cords to keep your kids’ screens charged up on marathon rides.
- Always stop for the funny roadside photo-op.