Family of four fishing on coast

How to Make This the Fall of Field Trips

Depending  where you live in the world, your ability to travel may be very limited for the rest of the year, or you may be opting not to go anywhere.

But staying home doesn’t have to mean staying in the house. Field trips give kids and parents alike some of the benefits of travel, on a mini scale—fresh scenery, a new experience, a break from routine, the chance to learn from your surroundings.

A few weeks ago, I dug out the gear from my archeology-student days (see what I did there?) and took my family out to hunt fossils. We scoured the ground with picks and trowels; our daughter imploring us to examine every “million-year-old” shell she extracted. Not only did it keep us busy for hours, she got a geology lesson that was better than she would have received from any textbook.

You don’t have to wait until the kids holler “we’re bored!” Just check out these six ideas for daylong adventures—and then come up with a few of your own.

Go Full Indiana Jones

If you don’t have fossil beds near your home, consider investing in a cheap metal detector and try treasure hunting in local parks, public areas or former industrial sites (where it’s permitted). In the eastern U.S., amateur treasure hunters routinely turn up Civil War relics, especially musket balls. Even if you don’t find anything of note, your kids might get an insightful history lesson along the way.

Go to Day Camp

Who says camping has to be an overnight outing? Make it a day trip by getting an early start and heading to a local park or wilderness area where camping is permitted. Pitch a tent, build a campfire, and spend the day exploring woods, stream beds or whatever nature offers—between lunch and dinner, that is.

During the day, kids learn about teamwork (setting up the tent) and basic survival skills (building a fire and keeping it going), and get a small taste of what it’s like to be disconnected from modern comforts. They’ll love cooking their own hot dogs over the fire—and don’t forget the marshmallows!

See if the Fish Are Biting 

A quiet day at water’s edge is a great way for both kids and parents to unplug, whether from virtual learning or Zoom meetings. Parents of teens and tweens take note—fishing is also an opportunity for unforced parent-child bonding as you sit, talk and wait for a nibble on your line.

Before you head out to your local body of water, make sure your fishing license (if required) is up to date, and check to see if your kids need one, too. Test out your fishing rods and reels (or rent gear from a local supplier). And don’t forget the bait—I fondly recall how my dad used to send my brother and me to the backyard to dig earthworms before our fishing outings.

Visit a Local Farm or Orchard 

Apples, pumpkins, corn mazes, baby goats, oh my! Have a day of fun this fall—or any time of year—at orchards, pumpkin patches or fresh produce farms. While in the U.S. most of these places remain open year-round for sales of seasonal produce, they go all-out in autumn, with diversions like petting zoos, pony rides, hayrides, climbable hay mountains, and yes, corn mazes.

Pick a pumpkin, a bag of apples or a basket of blueberries, and come home for jack-o-lantern carving or pie-baking. Talk about a real farm-to-table experience…

Forage for Food 

It’s fun to go to a farm to pick fresh produce, but how about heading into the woods to do the same? Depending on where you live, the forests and scrubland around your home might yield a bounty of wild foods—including nuts, berries, mushrooms and even asparagus.

Before you set out with your mesh bags, read up on what’s in season in your area, and the best places and conditions to go foraging. (If you’re foraging for mushrooms, be 100% sure you can distinguish the edible ones from the toxic.) It’s so rewarding to find your own food this way, and the sense of adventure might get kids to try foods they’d otherwise shun. Mushroom risotto, anyone?

Grab Your Map and Compass 

Back when gas prices were low and before smartphones, my grandma would take me “bumming”—her term for piling into the car and taking a ride to wherever the road led us. You can try a more focused version of bumming by grabbing a map and compass. (If you don’t have a paper map, print out a map of your region, with your home in the center.)

Using the compass—we mean the old-school kind you used in math class — draw a circle with your house as the center point. How far do you want to drive from home in a day? Fifty miles? One hundred? Plot your circle for the driving distance that suits you and see what points of interest lay within the circle. Pick one or two, and there’s your (nearly) spontaneous road trip!

Elizabeth Heath is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Telegraph,, Thrillist, Frommer’s Travel Guides, and many other publications.