Ages 7 to 9
Go ahead and encourage special interests. Try planning your trip around their favorite activities and hobbies, or something learned in school that they took to. Kids who are into science will delight in a planetarium or hands-on science museum. If they are all about sports, take a behind-the-scenes tour of a stadium (go to Nflfootballstadiums.com) or hit spring training (Mlb.com/tickets for schedules). If he watched either National Treasure flick and started asking questions about Ben Franklin or DC landmarks, run with it. Read up a little beforehand and then visit the locations. "Adults tend to focus on dates and facts; we've just been conditioned that way" says Holly Hughes, editor of Frommer's 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up. "But with kids this age, it has to be storytelling." She recommends telling your kids the tales of the people who lived or worked in the places you visit.
Ages 10 to 12
This is the age for friend or multifamily trips and national parks. Lindblad-Goldberg says that bringing your tween's close friend along makes the experience more meaningful, especially with an only child. You'll want to keep such a trip short and fairly close to home, partnering with the parents on plenty of ground rules well in advance. If taking on the extra responsibility still seems a little overwhelming, think about taking the trip with the other family, or with in-laws who have kids the same age or a little older. (Remember how cool you thought your older cousins were?) This is also prime time for the national parks because kids are physically ready to do the hiking, jumping, and climbing -- even if you aren't! "Around ten or eleven, they will really be able to appreciate the giantness of the place," says Hughes, because they can get away from the high-traffic trails and parking areas that strollers and younger kids are limited to.