Smaller is Bigger When it Comes to Building Memories on Vacation


Side of the road attractions can offer valuable family vacation time on a dime.

It’s summer’s eve with schools dismissing and everyone, I mean EVERYONE, seems to have summer vacation planning on the brain. If I had a dollar for every mention of Disneyland, I’d probably be able to take my own family. I get it, school is out and it’s prime family time. Weather is good. Schedules are cleared. Why not spend a month’s salary at a mega-theme park with your nearest and dearest?

I want to challenge the notion that we must initiate our children into the world of the theme-parks each summer. Instead, why not seek out the quaint, classic and, dare I say, aged mini-parks that we all seem to have in our own neck of the woods. With these smaller parks, we are spending less, travelling less, and with that, hopefully stressing less. Instead of grandiose ideas and record-setting vacation plans, maybe smaller scale is where it’s at. Perhaps through scaling down our intentions of family vacations we can gain more of what we are intending to find.

Consider these major factors the next time you plan a family vacation:

Schedule – Big parks cater to long days and full schedules. There is a lot to see and do. So much that they can justify asking you to buy a multi-day pass, right? The smaller parks might not be able to entertain you for longer than an afternoon, but that doesn’t mean they fall short in the quality family-time arena. Aside from the ability to slow the pace for little legs, which should not be undervalued, consider the additional time you have left as a time to explore your family’s interest in a special attraction or feature you discovered. Tap into the natural curiosity of the kids, rather than the piped in theme music. Utilize the bonus hours you’ve gained as a way to further your time spent with your kids. They’d always rather be entertained by you than my Mickey.

Cost – Let’s assume we can all afford a few days in Disneyland, shall we? This non-inclusive theme park has a very magical way of draining every last cent you have. At the end of the day, do you have anything left for spontaneity? Smaller parks offer not only relief to our pocketbooks but to our frame of mind as well. With high priced tickets comes a natural tendency for high expectations that children neither see nor understand. Parents are constantly faced with the inevitable guilt of saying “no” to any extras. It’s not fun to have to say no all day. Before plunking down hundreds of dollars on theme-park admission, perhaps it’s necessary to determine the pace of your vacation and consider that a smaller park, with minimal crowds and less financial stress can help you create a vacation where you relax and a vacation where you can say “yes.” That is, after all, the point.

Lines – While you want to spend some time with your wee ones, it’s probably safe to say you didn’t want to do it standing on your feet for several hours, schlepping half the house in preparation, while getting cranky and anxious to enjoy a popular ride during the heat of the day. The grand gesture of a large theme park can be really great for the right age group, but more importantly for the right frame of mind. Hustling the tots from ride to ride is stressful for all involved and could result in the very opposite of what you had planned. Setting expectations for your family, your kids’ abilities, and sometimes most importantly, yourself, are vital. It’s not unusual that a smaller park can help keep us in check when we aren’t faced with having to get the most out of a $300 days’ worth of admission fees.

Memories – We have been brainwashed into thinking that if we are not making tangible, literal memories with our children, they will not love us. How better to prove a memory than with a photo? And we do LOVE cameras, don’t we? How much time are we on our phones and posting those precious snaps of Junior on every social media site we can find? It begs to be asked: Who are we doing this for and what are we missing in the process? When was the last time you intentionally decided NOT to shoot the process? Tell yourself: Those precious moments are OK to keep for yourself. By foregoing photo documentation, you might get lost in the actual moment of watching your kid and find a few more gems. And through this process, you’re burning memories onto the minds of your children where they see the faces of their parents, rather than the back of an iPhone.

With the illusion of quality time and the dreamy expectations of magical moments forever burned into our memory, shouldn’t we take a step back and ponder some of these harsh realities? Only then are you truly getting your money’s worth.



The Beginning
About Brienna McWade

Brienna lives in the great Pacific Northwest where she writes and grows a family. She travels, watches baseball and loves live music. She has previously written parenting articles for and music reviews for Seattle Wave Radio.

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  1. Brad the Dad says:

    “Aside from the ability to slow the pace for little legs, which should not be undervalued, consider the additional time you have left as a time to explore your family’s interest in a special attraction or feature you discovered.”

    Such good stuff here from the pace for little legs to having time to explore and discover. The whole article really nails the benefits of the smaller, local venues and you overlay the whole thing with stepping back and enjoying the moment with family. Great piece.

  2. happiestdaddy says:

    I love your comment about NOT taking pictures. It’s a choice I’m making more and more these days as I realize the serendipity of a moment is a cherished memory unto itself. Thanks for sharing.

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