Family Travel: 4 Ways to Stray From the Beaten Path

So, I was talking with my sister the other day — emailing actually, because we’re so 21st century and talking is très Old School — and I asked if she’d seen our Charleston vid. She said it looked fun, then added (paraphrasing), “But really, aren’t all trips fun? Or else, what’s the point?”

All trips should be fun, sure. Not all of them do go that way. Just ask my friend down in Texas. Her family packed up for a great spring break this year — then spent the whole week with all four of them doubled over in their camper, taken out by a very nasty stomach bug. Fun trip?

And there are some trips you take that are just…forgettable. I took one last year to…um…uh…nuts, I forget.


My sister’s almost right. Most trips are fun. But you can stack the odds in your favor and increase the likelihood that you’ll have an unforgettable, amazing family trip with a little creative planning. Some ideas to get started:

Volunteer at your destination. Yes, I covered this when I talked about our oyster bagging experience. But it definitely bears repeating. Because not only do you get to see an insider’s view of the place you’re visiting, but you’re showing the kids how good it can feel to help out, be part of the bigger picture, and do something that’s not in the tour books. Check out Hands On Network to find something that fits your family.

Eat local grub. When I look in the tour books for my home town, I see a lot of restaurants that a) I’ve never eaten at and b) I’ve never heard of. To me, local food really sings about the area, where fancy-schmancy restaurants — while they’ve got great eats — kind of mumble. That’s because while the food is amazingly prepped, the chef is bringing in his/her own concepts. With real local cooking, it’s all about the roots of the area. So tell the kids to step away from the chicken nuggets and try something from a place where the locals hang out. Start your quest by looking up the area at the Roadfood website.

Check out the local quirky. While in Charleston, we saw the iconic Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge cable-stay bridge. We saw the downtown market. We visited the aquarium and Patriot’s Point. And we also saw the spinning cow at Coburg Dairy on Route 17. Which of these do you think we were most tickled by? Hey, lest you think we’re simple-minded (my kids aren’t, but I might be, actually), we’ve seen aquariums all over the Eastern seaboard. We’ve been to historic sites. Travelled over all manners of bridges. But we’ve never, ever seen a spinning cow before. Find some local oddities by visiting Roadside America and be dazzled by American ingenuity.

Seek local treasure! This is a nonstop fave activity of ours here at PDS. Hidden treasure? How can you beat that? (Well, spinning cows…) But when you hit the road, travel to a place you’ve never been before, and go geocaching…well, not only are you probably going to go somewhere that’s off the beaten path, but you get a treasure, too. Kids and grownups love this stuff. Wander over to the Geocaching website to start the hunt.

Okay, now I’m ready for another trip! Shoot, I’m always ready for another trip. Oh…huh? What’s that? The Polka Dot Suitcase is going on another trip in two weeks?! Sweet. Check back in a couple weeks to see if I took my own beaten path advice.

In the meantime, if you know of another way to discover the hidden gems in the local scenery — spill!