Vacation Here, Not There

Family travel doesn't have to beak the bank or go the distance

April 05, 2009|By Michelle Deal-Zimmerman | Michelle Deal-Zimmerman,

With the continuing economic meltdown, vacation plans for many families are hanging in the balance. Spring break looks bleak, and summer may be a bummer.

But local author Susan H. Magsamen says families don't have to break the bank to experience the wonders of travel. Planning ahead, knowing your surroundings and making the most of the time together are the keys to a memorable journey - around the state or across the globe.

In her new book, The 10 Best of Everything Families: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers (National Geographic), Magsamen offers lists for a variety of topics, from children's museums (Baltimore's Port Discovery makes the list) to family reunions to extreme adventures.

The front section of the book is organized by regions of the country and features "10 Best" lists for categories like parks and playgrounds; farms and markets; ice cream spots; and regional specialties. The back of the book includes a place for families to make their own packing list, wish list or "10 Best" list.

Magsamen, a mother of four who lives in Hunt Valley, said the point of the book is that vacation is about more than being away; it's about spending time together as a family.

"One of the greatest things about going on vacation is capturing memories," said Magsamen, whose own family enjoys short hops like visiting local food markets. And when her kids, ages 16-26, gather for spring break this year, she plans to do mostly day trips, an area where Magsamen says Marylanders have an advantage.

"We have mountains and seashore, we have great urban areas," said Magsamen. "There's such a rich array of things to do. You can go to Western Maryland to ski or to the Eastern Shore and go crabbing. More than many states. We have an incredibly rich community."

So if you were thinking about giving spring break a break, hold that thought while we go over the options. We've found close-to-home affordable alternatives to some typical spring destinations. Places that don't require airfare, baggage fees or car rental.

Family travel tips

Q&A with Susan Magsamen, Hunt Valley resident and author of The 10 Best of Everything Families: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers, National Geographic, $21.95:

Why are vacations so important for families?

Because it allows you to escape and reconnect to each other. And it doesn't have to be expensive. It can be simply taking time out to refresh and renew.

What are your best tips for traveling on the cheap?

Create a trip for yourself. If you had guests coming to Baltimore, what would you show them? Then use that to make an itinerary for yourself. There's a lot of ways to see a place. ... Find ways to approach some place and see what's new in it.

Any other tips for families?

Add a real nature component to what you're doing - a lot of the parks you can go to are free. ...Think about incorporating nature. Nature is free.

What's a common mistake that traveling families make?

Overbooking; so many expectations on vacation. But what you want most is to have downtime with your family. So not overscheduling is key. Just being with your kids. Even something as simple as playing cards at night. When we're not in our routines, we get a chance to see each other in a different way.

Where do you go with your family?

Every other year we try to organize a trip to bring everyone back together. For spring break this year, we are doing a lot of day-tripping and big breakfasts. We're going to have a special dinner with all of the kids and have steamed crabs. But taking the time to do it. Time is so valuable.

Michelle Deal-Zimmerman


Sure, airfare to Vegas is a lot cheaper than it used to be, but Atlantic City is a lot more chic than it used to be. Even though casino revenues are down, they may no longer be the main attraction here. Ritzy restaurants, hip entertainment, boutique shopping and even chi-chi spas, are challenging gaming for the spotlight. For families, the Atlantic City Boardwalk remains a traditional destination, along with the fun and games of the Steel Pier. Many discounts can be found at


The Obamas have made the switch. You can, too. The Potomac River may not be the beehive of activity that Lake Michigan is, but the activities and museums along the Mall are second to none. And many of them are free with family activities, to boot. For example, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's How Things Fly gallery has recently been upgraded to first class with new interactive displays and hands-on exhibits. Visitors can walk through a model of a Boeing 757 and imagine the cost savings of not needing a boarding pass. Best part: Admission is free. Details at


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