Creating a System for Adventure: Building a Master List

by ChristinaPilkington on January 4, 2012 · 12 comments

Post image for Creating a System for Adventure: Building a Master List

We love to travel. Ever since my kids were 14 months old and we boarded a plane to the US Virgin Islands, we’ve gone on great adventures with them both near and far. In fact, I’m in the middle of planning a big dream vacation that we’re taking later this year.

While we travel far from home quite a bit, most of our adventures are much closer to home. Since we don’t have to worry about a school schedule, we’re free to explore the places near our home as long as we like, whenever we like.

Something I love to do at the beginning of the New Year is make a list of places I’d like to visit. Now that my kids are older, I include them in the planning, too.

I love being flexible or spontaneous, but if I don’t put any thought into planning than we never getting around to doing those things we’ve been dreaming of. So, I’ve come up with a system for planning out new places to see and things to do throughout the year.

This can be a very time-consuming process. So, although I would gladly spend hours and hours each week researching places and planning trips, that’s just not possible. I needed a system set up so that I could keep up with the opportunities for places to see, special events to attend and tours to plan without it taking up much of my time.

In my next three posts, I’ll share my system with you. Today I’ll introduce you to the Master List. Next, I’ll take you through my beginning of the year planning, both for trips just with myself and the kids and with larger groups, too. Then next week I’ll share how I stay flexible and review things monthly and weekly.        

My Beginning of the Year System for Planning Adventures with My Family

Step #1 Create a Master List

 I’ve created a Master List of all the places that we could visit or see within a 40 minute drive of my house. I’ve broken down this list into these 13 categories, although I will probably be adding to these this year. My categories are:

  • Art Museums
  • Children’s Museums
  • Historical/Regional
  • Science
  • Landmarks (for example for me it’s  Navy Pier and Millennium Park)
  • Tours (this category is for miscellaneous tours like to a chocolate factory of a local quarry)
  • Theater
  • Nature Center/Forest Preserves/Parks
  • Park Districts & Village or City Sites
  • Conservatories
  • Zoos
  • Libraries
  • Fairs & Festivals
  • Stores, Businesses or Restaurants

I’m sure your categories will be different from mine. Just think about the types of places your family likes to visit the most.

So, how do you put together this list in the first place?

 Here are a few tips on how to find places to add to your list.

1. Find your state or region’s parent magazine and look in the calendar or Things to Do section. If you live in the US, type your state followed by “parent magazine” into the google search engine. I didn’t type in every single state, but of the twenty or so I checked out, each state I searched for came up with an online parent magazine. See if the magazine puts out a quarterly physical magazine. The Chicago Parent Magazine has listings for special events for the quarter followed by listings for most of the categories I’ve listed above. Scan through the calendar and you might be surprised to come across places you hadn’t heard of before, or places you’ve heard of but never got around to visiting.

2. I made a list of all the libraries, park districts, and village or town halls that are within a 30-40 minute drive of my house. Libraries have wonderful programs. We’ve done everything from dancing a hula dance, to watching a Chinese dragon dance, to climbing aboard a fire truck at library programs.  Park districts also have special events sometimes. One nearby park district puts on a free kids carnival each year. And village or town websites also list their special events, too.  I’ve learned about pet parades, cookie walks and musical events this way.

3. When you look for theater productions, don’t forget to list your local colleges. Most of them will put out a list of shows specifically designed for kids that take place during the day. But don’t limit yourself to kids’ shows, either. Check out the college productions that take place during the weekends, too. We recently saw The Miracle Worker – a play about the early years of Helen Keller- that was fabulous at our local junior college.

4. Pretend you’re a local tourist and type in “Things to do in (your town’s name)..” in a google search. Also, go to and type in your town and the towns close to you.

5.  Visit Field Trip Factory for some great ideas of group trips that can be planned in your area.  I was so excited to run across this resource. It’s a company that provides free trips to local retail stores in your area. You just type in your zip code or your town and it will pull of a number of trips available. And did I mention it’s absolutely free? These trips usually require a minimum number of kids to attend, so you’ll need to set up the trip with several different other families that are homeschooling, too. I’ll talk more about this in a future post.  Here are some trips that I could set up in my area: to a whole foods store where kids can sample food, pet a lobster and visit the in-store bank, Michael’s Craft Store and Petco.

6. Join an e-mail group where field trip ideas are shared. I’m really, really blessed that I’m a member of the yahoo group Chicago Area Home School Field Trips. It’s like getting a present every day when I look in my e-mail.  We’ve taken trips to pick apples, participated in a learning lab at the Shedd Aquarium and are going to a chocolate factory because of trips that were set up by others in the group. I’ve simply had to mail in my money and show up that day. I personally like taking trips with just myself and the kids the best, but some opportunities are only available with a group. If you don’t have something like this in your area, I’d encourage you set up one of your own and market it to other local homeschooling groups. The group that I’m a member of is comprised of dozens of other homeschooling groups.

7. Read through the book 1,000 Places to See Before you Die US or Canada edition – or if you live outside the US read the original 1,000 Places to See Before You Die book.  This book gave me several ideas I hadn’t thought up before.

8.  Pull up Google Maps and take a virtual tour of the area around your house. Look for parks you haven’t visited, restaurants you might like to try, new stores that look interesting.

9. Keep a physical or digital notebook with you at all times and note things of interest. When you drive past a sign that says there will be a grand opening of a new, interesting store, note the date and time. When you’re talking with a friend and she mentions a new exhibit at the children’s museum, jot that down. When you’re reading your favorite blog posts and you get a great idea for a similar place to visit near your house, write down that idea before it slips away.

Putting together a list like this does take some time, but its well worth it. It’s also something that you will continue to add to throughout the years as you learn about new things to do and places to visit. Your kids will also grow older and their interests will change, so the categories will change and evolve over time, too. For now, just brainstorm, look at some resources I’ve mentioned above and create your list.

I keep my list on a simple Word document.

The one thing you need to do while adding to the list is to create a link for every place you list. Look up the website and copy and paste the link into your document. This is very important and will save you lots of time later – trust me!

Next time I’ll share how I use my Master list to plan trips throughout the year.

 Photo Credit: Wiertz Sebastien

How do you keep track of the places you’d like to visit and things you’d like to do?

Previous post:

Next post: