Each year our vacation budget seems to shrink a little more and we need to get a little more creative with how we spend those hard earned dollars. Fortunately, living in the Chicago area you don’t need to go far to enjoy a lot of life and experience for not a lot of money.
My post last year summed up lots of unique spots to check out around the area and I don’t want to just duplicate that (but feel free to check it out here as much of that still applies), so this year we will look at different categories of attractions that even some Chicago residents might not think about while making the most of life in this great metroplis.
Because I’m a list maker and categorizer, we’ll break this down into Get Active; Grow ‘n’ Learn; and Give Back.
Of course there are the obvious: parks, forest preserves, bike trails, swimming pools, and sports teams. But here are a few places to definitely check out to add active fun to your staycation.
- Trampoline parks. A newer addition to the bouncy world of fun, these parks take trampolining out of the backyard and turn it into a group activity. Many include areas with trampolines made into activity specific areas like dodgeball, basketball, jumping into foam pits, just jumping and smaller tramps for little ones. This is not generally a cheap outing, but check for after hours and holiday specials throughout the summer. This is a great way to spend a rainy day when the kids are bouncing off the walls at home anyway. Check out different centers (different owners, but similar facilities) in Buffalo Grove and Carol Stream, Niles, South Elgin, and Naperville (note that trampolines do bring an element of risk with them. Encourage kids to jump safely, watch the safety videos, and you should expect to sign a waiver in order for them to jump)
- Disc Golf. Not your mother’s frisbee game, and growing in popularity especially among older “kids.” This is a great activity for families with kids that are a bit older and ready to take on a challenge. There are currently 163 courses in Illinois, although not all in the Chicago area. Perfect for those cooler days with friends or just family. Check out the Disc Golf Course list with links to locations and more details on some of the courses.
- Bowling. Not as heart pumping or muscle building as the others, but a fun afternoon of bowling keeps a wide range of ages happy and offers a great environment for active fun together. Brunswick offers free bowling to kids all summer long, one game per day per child. Of course you’ll have to rent shoes (unless you’re lucky enough to find them at garage sales or thrift stores), but still a nice deal. AMF also has bowling lanes in various cities. Many cities will have a local bowling alley, but another popular destination is Funway in Batavia which offers many activities from bowling to go carts to roller skating.
Grow ‘n’ Learn
The library deserves a section all its own because it is a huge doorway to tons of fun right in your backyard, most of it already paid for by your tax dollars, but I’ll highlight our favorites. Be sure to check out your own local library for programs, movies, outings, speakers, displays, and reading incentives to keep you learning all summer long.
- Summer reading program (and winter one if they have it, too, but that is not coming soon). Get your kids reading and earn free family outings. From the summer reading program we earn at least 3-4 of our family staycation outings. Each year we get a pass to DuPage Children’s Museum, baseball tickets, Medieval Times passes, water park tickets, meal coupons, and many more exciting and free passes to keep our summer fun at an all time high.
- Museum Adventure Pass. I mention this periodically, and it should not be overlooked. Each museum or location has a different deal that you activate through your library card. Stop in to see your librarian and with a few clicks she presents you with a pass for the Morton Arboretum, Chicago Botanic Garden, Cantigny, Brookfield Zoo, or a variety of other places. We have used these a few times now and have really enjoyed each one.
- Summer classes. Many colleges offer classes for various ages through the summer. Check out the closest one, and also take a look other places like Fermilab for keeping learning alive through this break in the traditional school year.
- Donley’s Wild West Town. Part fun, part learning, Donley’s will teach you to use a slingshot, entertain you with a gun fight drama, take you on a pony ride, and let you pan for gold. Younguns won’t quickly forget all the fun and adventure as they travel back to a little less tame period of history.
Hanging with friends, relaxing, and stimulating your intellect are all great parts of vacation, but you can also spend part of your staycation giving back to those less fortunate. We may worry about having enough money to make special memories with our kids this summer, but others worry about just having the necessities of life. Look for a way to lend a hand this summer.
- Feed My Starving Children. We have enjoyed taking part in this program a few times now and cannot believe how quickly 2 hours flies by. Sign up for a 2 hour time slot of packing nutrient dense meals to ship to countries in need. By the end you are chanting, “Chicken, veggies, soy, rice,” and in so doing are providing food for the hungry. My daughter enjoyed herself so much she wants to have her birthday party there this year. Kids 5 and over can attend with adult supervision. I loved watching my 6 year old scoop, weigh, and count, having fun in the process of making a difference. They have locations in Schaumburg and Aurora, so make sure to get a group together and find a couple hours to spare for this worthwhile cause.
- Food bank. Meeting a need closer to home, area food banks are also always looking for volunteers. Northern Illinois Food Bank is one with multiple locations that are always seeking volunteers of a variety of ages. Check out their page for other local food pantries that might be able to use your help as well.
- Check out other volunteer positions around the Chicago area at Chicagovolunteer.net. They have listings for forest preserves to museums and more.
This post may spark your thinking for some special ways to spend your staycation this year and may even begin a relationship that will open new opportunities and experiences for years to come. Vacations shouldn’t end with summer. Build some memories that will take you full force into the next school year and beyond. Hope some of these ideas will help your staycation stick with you a little longer.