First of all, this article is not for you if you’re ready to take your toddler on a flight to Hawaii or Costa Rica or Europe. You’re doing fine, you brave soul, you. Go read some of Suzi’s articles about Costa Rica.
This article is for you if you are intimidated by long-distance travel, but you want to go on some kind of vacation with your family. Or maybe the budget is tight, but you just need to blow the popsicle stand that is your house. Never fear! There are options!
The following list are types of places I often didn’t consider vacation options until I had a child, and now they dominate my vacation scene because the fact is, they totally suit life with a two-year-old.
Beaches are my absolute favorite vacation to go on with our toddler. Hands down. Unlike some options on this list, everyone wins. Toddlers love sand and water and running around in nature. Adults love being near the water and watching the waves. Depending on the beach you go to, you can mix in some carnival rides, go out to eat, walk on boardwalks, go hiking, or whatever toots your flute. Our favorite place to go is the Oregon Coast (Seaside in particular), but I’ve also hung out on beaches all around the country and feel like there’s no wrong answer when it comes to beaches. Pick one with the right amount of infrastructure for your family’s tastes and enjoy.
I have only recently discovered state parks, and I can only specifically speak to Washington and Oregon state parks, but I imagine most states offer similar state park facilities. State parks generally do have a fee to use, but the fees are super reasonable. Not all, but many have camping facilities that range from camping sites to yurts and some even have basic cabins. Where before kids, camping in the backcountry might have seemed appealing, with a toddler I want to have some running water and trash cans nearby. State parks offer a nice balance of nature and infrastructure. No, you will not be out in the middle of nowhere. No, you will not be the only ones there. But when your kid has a blowout from eating a million pouches, you also won’t have to pack it all out. You can go put the resulting wipe hoard in a garbage can where God intended you to put them.
Don’t discount local getaways. This was something I had to learn in more recent years as vacations always meant flying for me, but I don’t always feel like flying with my toddler…but I do always feel like going somewhere. We have thrived on going just about every place we can get to within a two- to three-hour drive because that distance is just about perfect for a snack and a nap in the car. Beaches have been a big hit with us because we live exactly two to three hours from the coast. But if you’re inland, look to recreational lakes, cute little towns that have great playgrounds and family-friendly restaurants, farms where you can stay and interact with the animals or help with the animals, or a cabin in a forest where you can seek out little critters and new plants. I have come to love these getaways best because they’re easier on all of us in many ways, but still help us get out and expand our horizons a little.
Just about everywhere has a waterpark nearby, be it small or large. Where I never in a million years (like…really…NEVER) would have considered any kind of waterpark vacation before my daughter, now I’m all peeping on the Great Wolf Lodge pages looking for deals. What toddler doesn’t want to splash in pools and play in the water all day long? They all do! Sure, we still like to go places that we love to go, but we also love going places that make our daughter happy because that makes us happy (yes, I could write Hallmark cards, thank you very much!). Waterparks…here we come.
Yeah, I said it. I said travel to a mall. Yeah, I know that’s lame. Fight me! Or rather hear me out. I live in the Northwest where it’s rainy for a chunk of the year and where local trips definitely get a bit soggy. Know what’s on my list? A visit to Bellevue where I can stay in a hotel that’s attached to the Bellevue Collection (a complex of not one, but three malls) and the hotel and malls are all connected. And the mall has an indoor playplace. And places to buy sweet treats. And stuff for me to buy while I contemplate my life choices, like going to a mall for a vacation. What could be wrong with that? Nothing at all. I’m not saying go to your everyday, average mall for a vacation, but if there happens to be a mall near you with an attached hotel, especially if that hotel has a pool, I’m just saying…it’s an option. So sometimes you just need to castaway ideas of what a vacation should be, turn off Instagram that’s filled with travelers going to farflung places and having amazing (and exhausting) travel experiences with their kids, and get out of dodge. Then go shopping.
Yes, this one is obvious. I have it on good authority from more than one mom that Disney vacations are amazing with toddlers. They think Mickey, Minnie, and everyone else in costume are REAL! Toddlers can also go on a good number of the rides. However, these aren’t the cheapest vacations to take with a toddler and you’ll probably still have to deal with nap times (or live on the edge and skip the naps!).