How to Start Traveling With Kids: Be a Tourist in Your Own City

Some of the biggest obstacles to traveling with kids are time, money, and exhaustion. Travel can get pretty expensive, and I know it's tough to justify spending money on a trip when your kids might not even remember it. Many families don't get much vacation time, and when they do, they want to spend it with their extended family, catching up around the house, or relaxing.

So I get it! Before having kids, I had been to Mexico, Russia, Germany, France, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, and Colombia. So when I was pregnant with my first, I vowed to continue traveling. I didn't want to lose one of my greatest passions just because I was a mom.

And for a while, I did continue to travel. It was doable with one child, and we went to England, France, and Mexico with her. But then we moved across the country and had two more babies. Travel got exceedingly more complicated and difficult. But I knew I wanted to raise good travelers, so I decided to start local. I became a tourist in my own city.

Why Be A Tourist in Your Own City?

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Low risk. If the kids have meltdowns, it's no big deal. You can just head home! You also already know your way around, so there's less stress or fear of getting lost. 

Ties to the community.  When you start exploring your town through the eyes of a tourist, you'll gain a greater appreciation for it, and really start to feel a sense of pride and connection to the place you live.

It's cheaper. You don't have to pay for a hotel or airfare. You can even pack lunch and snacks from home to save on food. 

No vacation time. You won't need to take time off of work for this type of travel. If you want to do it as a whole family, you can go on the weekend. If you're a stay-at-home parent, you can go during weekday mornings. Bonus? No crowds. 

No packing. You don't have to pack or unpack a suitcase. Need I say more?

Related: Packing for A Road Trip with Young Kids

You're teaching your kids how to be a good traveler. When vacationing or visiting a new city, you'll expect your kids to come with you to museums or landmarks that might not be their favorite thing to do. It's important for them to learn how to occupy themselves and behave themselves in these situations, but it takes practice.

You'll also help them learn to cope when they are out of their routine or comfort zone. When you're out exploring you might miss a nap or have a different snack than normal. Kids are resilient, and they can handle this! Make sure to prep them ahead of time, bring plenty of snacks and water, and be prepared to leave if they can't handle it. 

The more you do this, the better they will get at it. It's hard at first, but I personally would rather experience meltdowns when I'm close to home and haven't dropped a ton of money on the trip. 

How to Be A Tourist in Your Own City

I'm going to walk you through the process I follow whenever I'm visiting a new city to get the best experience possible. This would also work for touring your own city!

Start with the tourism board. The first thing I do whenever I know I'm about to visit a new city is open my computer, go to Google, and type in "visit {name of city} " Usually an official tourism board will pop up right away. It might be Visit City or Travel City or Explore City or simply the name of the city itself.

The tourism board is there to serve the needs of visitors! I almost always find a section with suggestions for family activities. Sometimes it's on the home page or under a tab called Plan Your Visit or something along those lines. If I can't find it right away, I simply type family-friendly or activities for kids in the search bar. 

You'll find great suggestions for the biggest attractions your city has to offer, which parks to go to, and which neighborhoods are the most scenic. 

Next, read some travel blogs.  Usually, the tourism board gives you the most popular destinations. When I read travel blogs, I'm looking to dig a little bit deeper to find the best coffee shops, hidden gems, markets, ice cream parlors, free or cheap classes or workshops your kids can take, etc.

To find these travel blogs, I simply search "what to do with kids in {name of city} blog." So if I'm visiting Savannah, GA, I might type: what to do with kids in Savannah blog" and really do a deep dive by reading about what other parents have done with their kids in that area.

Related: A Day Trip Guide to Savannah, GA with Kids

Use your network! After I've laid the groundwork and done my own research, I like to see if there's anything I missed by turning to my friends and family. Word-of-mouth suggestions are often the best suggestions! 

You can put a request for suggestions on Facebook or Instagram, or simply ask people in person! The bonus to exploring your own city is that you've already got a network here, so you know everyone is going to have their own personal tips and tricks to share with you. (I don't know if you noticed this, but people love giving advice.)

I'll be honest, you'll probably hear a lot of really obvious suggestions and repeats, but you just might uncover that hidden gem simply by asking. 

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Better yet, ask strangers! Can I tell you about the biggest thrill of my life? I was wandering around St. Augustine with my kids when a few rough-looking biker dudes approached me. They were there for bike week (or something...I don't know anything about motorcycle events) and wanted a suggestion for a place to eat. 

I told them all about our favorite spot to grab a great burger with a unique atmosphere and sent them on their way. Later that day, I ran into the same guys and they started raving about how much they loved the spot I recommended. As a non-native Floridian who doesn't even live in St. Augustine, I was thrilled to be able to help someone make their stay a little more enjoyable.

Related: What to Do on St. George St in St. Augustine

People LOVE sharing these kinds of tips. Go ahead and ask the cashier at the grocery store her favorite coffee shop! As the barista where he or she likes to hike. Ask around, and I guarantee people will open up and spill the beans. 

Pretend you have a visitor. What's that thing you've been meaning to do, but haven't? Is it the trolley tour of your city? Is it a museum? A specific hike? Renting bikes? Whatever it is, try it! Even if you live in a popular tourist destination, it's unlikely that you've actually experienced it from a tourist's perspective. When you change your point-of-view, suddenly things feel a little bit more magical. (Plus you'll actually have some great recommendations for when friends and family do come to visit!

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Explore a new neighborhood. One of my favorite cheap and easy ways to find new spots in my city is to simply try a smoothie joint or donut shop I've never been to, then walk around the neighborhood afterward. You're not spending a fortune on tickets or experiences, and you'll still get that traveler's high by discovering something new-to-you. 

Go hiking. If you have young kids, hiking might just mean taking your stroller or baby carrier on a new paved path. Maybe you're more adventurous, and want to try more difficult trails with your kids! Go for it! Getting out in nature is one of the best ways to fall in love with the place you live.

Go on a photo tour. One of my favorite parts of traveling is taking photos and videos of our experiences. There's absolutely no reason you can't do that in your own city! Whether you're posing like a girl who's studying abroad in Europe in front of your town's most famous landmark, or capturing your kids' goofy poses in a new location, taking photos is the perfect cheap way to see your city through a new, ahem, lens. (sorry. Puns are awesome). 

Ideas for Exploring

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  • Take a guided tour.
  • Look up travel guides for your city on Pinterest. 
  • Take a trolley tour.
  • Find a new spot to hike
  • Rent bikes
  • Attend a festival
  • Rent a kayak or paddle boat
  • Try a new restaurant
  • Visit a new-to-you museum
  • Check out a playground you've never been to
  • Look for state or national parks nearby
  • Ask around for hiking trails you've never tried
  • Attend a local sporting event
  • Check out the local farmer's market
  • Go on a hunt for the best ice cream in town
  • Do your best to get lost
  • Visit the most notable landmarks in your city
  • Pick a nearby city you haven't been to and walk through the downtown area
  • Go for a walk in a new neighborhood
  • Get coffee somewhere new each month
  • Shop local: find the best locally owned boutiques in your city
  • Read up on the history of your city
  • Keep a bucket list of things you want to see/do/try in your city
  • Stay in a local hotel, Airbnb, or bed & breakfast
  • Do a Google search for "hidden gems in ___," "travel like a local in ___," or "free and cheap things to do in ___ with kids." 
  • Explore your location on Instagram. Look for photos that catch your eye and figure out where they are.
  • Join a Meetup group!

As you can see, there are countless ways to see your city with fresh eyes. Not only will you feel refreshed from this shift in perspective, but you'll be broadening your children's horizons without ever leaving the city limits. When it finally comes time for you to take that dream vacation, your kids will be experienced explorers.

Happy exploring!

>>> PIN FOR LATER <<<

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