If you’re ready for a little family down-time, you don’t need to
look beyond your own front door…

Family vacations are terrific. But they’re not hassle-free. Between making travel arrangements, getting the family to agree to an itinerary and watching your credit card bills go up, up, up, vacations can be downright stressful. And let’s not even think about the price of gas!
But we all do need a break. Plus we love those wonderful family vacation memories. You can do it all, by vacationing at home. Here’s how:

REALLY GET “AWAY”

*    MAKE CHORES OFF LIMITS. Unplug the phone or let the answering machine take calls. Make a “no-laundry” rule. (After vacation, have “clean-up day.” The entire family hauls the mountain of laundry to the laundromat to use the “big” machines. Afterward, stop for pizza.) And don’t scrub that tub!

*    CREATE YOUR OWN MOTEL. Have the kids make room- number signs to be taped on bedroom doors. Put fresh sheets on each bed. Reassign sleeping quarters for everyone (maybe even for Mom and Dad). Assign your youngest child the task of putting little chocolate mints on everyone’s pillow before bedtime. (My 10-year-old’s suggestion.)

*    TURN OFF THE COMPUTER. No e-mail or Web browsing for Mom or Dad and no computer games for the kids. (And no cheating, you Blackberry addicts!) If you’re like me, you can’t leave the computer on and just promise yourself you won’t check e-mail during your vacation. Go cold turkey and pull the plug!

*    GO CAMPING. Pitch a tent in the living room (or just use sleeping bags). Make s’mores in the microwave and have “room service” delivery. Eat hot dogs for dinner and tell ghost stories. Or make it a “no-electricity” night and light the room with candles (handled by Mom, Dad or older kids). Read bedtime stories by flashlight.

*    GET MOM OUT OF THE KITCHEN. Cook some meals in advance and freeze. Use paper plates and cups. Serve bagels, cream cheese and juice for breakfast. For lunch, picnic in the park or in your backyard. For dinner one night (watch the kids’ faces!), serve just ice cream with lots of fruit. Plan to eat at least one meal a day at a restaurant‚ or get takeout. Post Rule Number One in a prominent place in the kitchen: “Mom Is Not Allowed To Do Dishes.”

*    CREATE YOUR OWN RESTAURANT.
Instead of dining at one big table at home, set up folding tables and chairs to resemble a mini restaurant. Older kids can take turns being waiters, diners and short-order cooks. (Have ingredients handy for making mini pizzas, sandwiches or other kid-friendly meals.)

PLAN AHEAD FOR FUN

*    FIND CLOSE-TO-HOME ACTIVITIES. Try the zoo, bowling, art museums, nature walks, local amusement parks, water parks, movies or a local children’s play. Go to the library and get info on free local events (puppet shows, concerts in the park, story hours). Or visit the local historical society or natural history museum and find out if dinosaurs lived in your neck of the woods millions of years ago. You may want to check out this magazine ahead of time and make a list of special family events that cost little or nothing.

*    PUT ON A SHOW
. Pretend you’re on a cruise ship and let your kids provide the entertainment. Pre-teens can host bingo games while the younger kids pretend to be pirates taking over the ship. And every family member can participate in the evening’s talent contest. Hang sheets for curtains and use a flashlight for a spotlight. (Don’t forget to serve fruit smoothies in tall “souvenir” glasses.) And keep your camera handy.

*    PLAN A DAY TRIP
. Check out a neighboring town you’ve never visited. Head to the local mountains, lake or beach. Or drive to the nearest train station and take a morning ride to the nearest town for lunch. (The kids can buy a postcard and mail it to themselves, or to Grandma, from the next town.)

*    ENJOY FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT. Open up the sofa bed in the living room (or use the floor) and pile on the pillows. Pop popcorn, watch old home movies or rent an old family favorite.

REMEMBER THE SOUVENIRS


*    GIVE EACH CHILD SOME SOUVENIR MONEY
. As you go to the train station, the natural history museum or the zoo, keep an eye out for train whistles, arrowheads, animal books, toy dinosaurs…

*    MAKE YOUR OWN FAMILY-VACATION SOUVENIR
. Make or buy a kite. Then create a special tail using markers or fabric paints on strips of white cloth. Have family members decorate the kite and add their names. (Be sure to add “Vacation 2008” to the tail.) Consider making a new kite during each at-home vacation as a fun way to preserve your kids’ artwork and to remember special times.

—    Kathy Sena is the mother of a 12-year-old “family-movie-night-with-popcorn” fan. Visit her blog at www.parenttalktoday.com.