Summertime Do’s: Getting the Most From Your Summer Months
We spend all year yearning for the warmth and longer days of summer. Time to make the annual bucket list: family trips, kid’s camps that foster new hobbies, downtime spent with sidewalk chalk, water guns and popsicles. But before we know it, those three months that we looked forward to have evaporated before we even stopped to enjoy them. If we’re not careful, our best summer intentions can give way to doing the same things year after year.
So how do we maximize those precious few months to make sure we’re fitting in our summer priorities? It takes a game plan that involves the whole family, some research and an open mind.
The good news is, some of the best summer plans don’t always have to involve trips to Walt Disney World. Catching up with extended family, taking a weekend road trip or making homemade ice cream doesn’t require much money, just some forethought.
“We think that things are just going to happen, but we have to be intentional,” says Suzanne Stevenson, the family life education program manager at The Parenting Center in Fort Worth. “If you’re not intentional about what you want to do in the summer, the days fly by and before you know it, it’s August.”
Stevenson advises holding a family meeting before summer begins and ask everyone about what they want to do. Some things, like trips, should be organized and budgeted for. Keep some time open for things like at-home science experiments or growing a container herb garden, she recommends.
Stevenson says her kids enjoyed visiting family in Louisiana where they could catch crawfish and swing their feet from the side of the fishing dock. One summer, she says, she and her children made it their mission to visit every park in Arlington. So they packed a lunch and set out, even developing a rating system for each one. Busy working families can set aside time together by turning off the television at night and playing games or going to the library on the weekends.
“It’s not always about the season pass to Six Flags or Hurricane Harbor,” she says. “Some of the best memories come from the simple things. Just time spent together is really important.”
Get The Kids Involved
Dan Dipert, who built his Arlington travel agency into a local institution, says summer is the ideal time to set out with his grandchildren to explore different parts of the country. He started the tradition with his wife years ago and now his grandchildren, ages 10 and 14, get in on the act by helping to plan.
“The most important thing is involving the kids in it,” he says. “They need choices because that gives them buy-in.”
To further encourage their involvement, he gives his grandchildren spending money each day that is equal to their age. They can spend it or save it as they go, he says. The family also camps out and prepares meals together, too, on some trips.
The group has explored Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia together as part of an American Revolution-themed trip. Last year, they flew to Las Vegas, rented a recreational vehicle and drove through national parks in Arizona and Utah. It’s all about making it an adventure, he says.
“The key to travel that people don’t realize is that it keeps you from having tunnel vision,” says Dipert. “It helps kids understand that people are like them and they can fit in based on their attitude. It teaches them that something else exists besides them.”
Don’t Break the Bank
Tom Parsons has made exploring through travel his life’s work. The CEO of Bestfares.com says that summer is a popular time to travel and that can mean more expensive flights. But he says families shouldn’t be deterred because with a little tenacity, flexible dates and planning ahead, they can put together memorable trips.
“Most of us have cabin fever from one of the weirdest winters I’ve seen in a long time,” Parsons says. “Summer is a great time to get out together as a family and travel.”
To avoid some of the high cost of travel, Parsons recommends booking trips as soon as you know your available vacation dates. If your dates are variable and you have your heart set on a particular destination, he suggests checking back often on flights because they often can change with little notice.
“You have to keep watching,” says Parsons. “Check back and change the days that you’re flying, especially in the middle of the week. Stay after it.”
Being a resourceful travel planner means considering all the options of summer travel, he says. For popular destinations like Florida, he suggests flying one-way into the state and renting a car. Some rental car companies in June are offering low-cost deals when you rent a car in one state and drop it off in another.
Mid-June also is a good time to keep an eye out for Southwest Airlines’ anniversary fare sale. Now that the Love Field-based carrier can fly non-stop due to the Wright Amendment repeal last fall, fares across the board have become more competitive, says Parsons.
International travel to Canada and Europe still is pricey thanks to landing fees and fuel surcharges. But fares to China, Hong Kong and Central America recently have become more reasonable, he says.
For short-haul flights within 300-400 miles of Dallas, Parsons recommends driving, especially with the current low fuel costs.
Parsons also urges families to be aware of additional fees on many airlines for booking seats together and for sending minor children unaccompanied on airline trips. Some of these fees can add up to hundreds of dollars.
Summer also is an ideal time to indulge your kids’ desire for independence or for them to develop new skills. Summer camps throughout North Texas offer everything from robotics to theater, horseback riding to jewelry making. Some are nostalgic - think canoeing, campfires and cabins - while others are cutting edge and offered on college campuses.
Tarrant County College has been staging its College For Kids enrichment program for decades. Local campuses offer students in grades 1-8 half-day camps and classes that run for several weeks. They bolster academic subjects like math, reading and foreign languages and teach other skills like music and arts and crafts.
“There’s no stress, no tests,” says Terry Aaron, director of continuing education for the Tarrant County College Southeast campus in Arlington. “We want them to come and learn something new and have fun while they’re doing it.”
Aaron says taking classes on a real college campus gets younger students comfortable with higher education and boosts their self-esteem and self-efficacy as well.
“It builds confidence and helps them know that they can do whatever they want to do in life,” she says.
Summer will be here - and gone - before you know it. So take some time to consider what you and your family want to remember about it. Then jump right in.