8 Vacation Ideas That Make Kids of Different Ages Happy (Yep, Even Teens & Toddlers)

family vacation
Planning a family vacation is always challenging (to put it mildly), but choosing the right getaway when your kids are a wide range of ages is especially tricky. Toddlers and teens don't have many interests in common, after all -- unless staring at a tablet counts -- and it can be tough to find a destination that has something for everyone. But there are plenty of ways to make this year's getaway one that the whole family can enjoy -- maybe even you!


The trick is to plan ahead, and to be realistic about your children's individual needs. If you have a tween who's in that phase of being mortified by anything "babyish," you probably want to avoid places with people dressed like talking animals. Likewise, if you have a toddler who's not quite steady on his feet, you'll probably want to hold off on that group mountain-climbing excursion. With a little bit of luck (and compromise), the following suggestions can work for all ages!

1. Go on an outdoorsy adventure

If there's one thing we can all use more of, it's time spent in the great outdoors. Luckily, there are lots of great ways to get your fill of fresh air: Depending on your family's location (and/or how far you're willing to travel) and interests, possibilities include rafting trips, hiking, or camping. Most activities can be tailored to suit both beginners and experienced types; for those that are only appropriate for bigger kids, parents can switch off (mom and teen go kayaking while dad and toddler look for frogs in the stream, for example).

2. Explore a new city

Whether it's within driving distance or you need to hop on a plane to get there, most major cities offer a huge range of activities -- some of them even free! -- for every age. Spend your days snapping selfies at tourist spots (think the Statue of Liberty or the Golden Gate Bridge), checking out museums, seeing musicals, and sampling local cuisine, and your brood won't have a chance to get bored. As with the adventure option above, moms and dads can take turns if necessary (one takes the tween to an art exhibit while the other takes the preschooler to a children's museum, etc.).

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3. Hit the beach

Sure, heading to the shore seems like an obvious choice for a family vacation. But it's still worth mentioning, because the beach can't be beat when you're trying to tailor your trip to suit a wide range of needs, and you can make it as low-key or action-packed as you want. Many beaches offer lessons in surfing or sailing for big kids and teens, and toddlers are always content to build sandcastles, explore tide pools, and hunt for shells. Extra points if there's a beachside bar or restaurant for mom and dad.

4. Take a food tour

Pick one food that everybody in your family likes (ice cream, pizza, cheeseburgers) and research the top-rated spots in a region, then take your collective appetite on a culinary road trip! Let kids take turns picking other spots of interest to visit in each town.

5. Saddle up

Experienced and novice riders alike will love visiting a dude ranch (an increasingly popular family vacation destination). Whether you're looking for an authentic experience complete with campfire singalongs or a more relaxing stay that involves the option of Wi-Fi and spa services, there are lots of different kinds of ranches to try!

6. Go back in time

Pick a place of historical significance, like Gettysburg or Salem, and plan a tour that's as entertaining as it is educational. Most towns and cities like these are filled with family-friendly dining, accommodations, and attractions, so even the littlest kids can get in on the action.

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7. Take a classic theme park trip

There's a reason why we think of roller coasters and cotton candy when we think of summer: Theme parks are a perennially popular vacation choice because there's always something for everybody, from kiddie rides to waterslides to the kind of crazy contraptions that hurl you through the air upside down. Plus, there are major parks all across the country, so you can stay as close to home (or go as far away) as you want.

8. Ride the rails

If you don't feel like getting behind the wheel, consider taking your family on a train trip through a scenic area like Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, or the Northwest Passage. There are often family packages available that let children ride at half price and include deals on resorts and attractions, too. Getting there really can be half the fun!

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