Creative Ideas for a Summer Vacation 2024

Cindy Richards Avatar

creative ideas for a summer vacation
Family playing on a beach. Photo credit: Air Images via Shutterstock

Sometimes the hardest part about planning a summer vacation is deciding where to go. Maybe you have a traditional annual vacation but are ready to try something different this year. Or perhaps you’re looking for a new and exciting adventure. From low-key glamping and staycations to posh treehouses, villas and train rides, we’ve compiled this list of our 15 favorite creative ideas for a summer vacation. 

creative ideas for a summer vacation
Floating cabins on Green River Lake, Campbellsville, Kentucky. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

1. Sleep in a Floating Cabin

Sure, you can rent a cabin at a campground or a state or national park. But that’s so traditional. Attach the cabin to pontoon logs and — voila! — the cabin floats! We found floating cabins for rent in Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, California, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida.

According to marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, who wrote a best-selling book about Blue Mind science, seeing or hearing the soothing sounds of moving water triggers a response in our brains that induces relaxation.

It certainly worked for SheBuysTravel founder Kim Orlando, who says staying in a floating cabin is the ultimate relaxation. Not only are you lightly rocked to sleep at night, you are constantly surrounded by water and beautiful views.

The cabins on Green River Lake in Kentucky are moored at a dock, which makes it easy to rent a fishing boat or pontoon for the day. There’s even a store so you don’t have to go into town to get supplies. Or just walk outside and go for a swim!

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you are a mom with small kids, check with the cabin rental company to see if the cabins are fenced in. You can’t relax if you are constantly worried about kids falling into the water.

2. Rent a Houseboat

Like RVs, houseboats come with a kitchen so you can cook your meals. The lake provides constant entertainment and the “house” provides new walls and new views. lists 29 lakes in the United States and Canada where families can rent a houseboat. Move in, start the engine and take your “house” for a spin around the lake. Look for a nice, quiet cove and spend the night or the whole week in peaceful repose.

When we rented our houseboat on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, we had a blast driving it around the lake — until the speed boaters arrived and started zipping around our plodding vessel. We quickly recaptured our Zen in one of the many hidden coves and dropped anchor. It was a cozy, shady spot, well away from the choppy waters of the lake. We set up the grill and started dinner while the kids (then ages 8 and 10) took turns racing down the slide into the lake.

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Treehouse in Telluride, Colorado

3. Stay in a Treehouse

Imagine staying in a cozy treehouse above a running stream in Telluride, Colorado. But don’t worry, you won’t have to climb a tree. This one has steps! Not only that, it has creature comforts like a fully-equipped kitchen, a washer/dryer and cushy beds that rival any posh condo. And that running stream will lull you to sleep at night. 

Horseback riding at Tanque Verde Dude Ranch
Horseback riding, of course! Photo credit: Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

4. Indulge Your Inner Cowgirl

Dude ranches, the original all-inclusive vacation, are all about fresh air and exercise. Your family can have its own cabin, but the meals generally are shared experiences, so you’ll need to ask about that when you call to book your dude ranch vacation.

My daughter and I are enthusiastic horse lovers. We find it comforting just being around horses. Not so much for my husband and son. They’re animal lovers, but they could take horses or leave them — and they are apt to choose to leave them. Fortunately for them, most dude ranches offer lots of non-horsey things to do. Hubby found his inner Zen at the C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado: Chillin’ in the hot tub.

5. House Swap with Friends

Brainstorm with friends for creative ideas for a summer vacation. For example, home in on friends who live in a place you’d like to explore, then negotiate a family vacation schedule that works for both of you.

I haven’t done this, but Kim Orlando is an enthusiastic supporter. She likes houseswapping because there are fewer worries and logistics. You get all of the advantages of having a home — separate bedrooms for parents and kids, plenty of space to spread out and a kitchen already stocked with necessities like ketchup.

But, she warns, you need to ask lots of questions before you agree to house swap — like asking whether there’s a cat. She and her allergic husband learned that the hard way.

Dramatic rock formations at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.
Hiking trails wind among the dramatic rock formations at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. Photo credit: Starved Rock State Park

6. Get to Know a State Park

For families that love nature, there’s nothing like a visit to a state or national park. And while national parks are great opportunities for exploring waterfalls and trails, state parks have a lot to offer as well.

That’s why we recommend exploring state parks. Not only are they likely to be closer to your house, they are the less trafficked version of a national park. Just like National Parks, state parks offer hiking, biking, fishing and camping adventures. Plus, state parks are often free and generally less crowded than the best-known national parks.

Our family’s favorite state park is Starved Rock State Park near Ottawa Illinois. It’s less than a two-hour road trip from our home in Chicago but it feels like a world away from the bustle of the city.

During our first visit with kids, our daughter was still in a backpack. On subsequent visits, the kids learned the joy of hiking in the woods — an easy lesson when they were rewarded with a stunning view of a waterfall and some really fun mud puddles to splash around in.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Check your state’s rules for fishing licenses before baiting the hook. Some states require kids as young as 10 to have a license.

creative summer vacation
This villa in Costa Rica is among the many luxury properties available through Rental Escapes. Photo credit: Rental Escapes

7. Opt for Luxury

You might not have a Lear jet or a private island, but you can still spend a night in luxury. Check out Rental Escapes, which has an extensive collection of worldwide luxury accommodations like this lavish villa in Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica. Enjoy your private infinity edge pool, hot and cold Jacuzzi, fire pit and deck with views of the Pacific Ocean.

Or take a look at VRBO or Airbnb and book a night in a unique vacation rental like this converted mill, just two hours from New York City, or this Texas property that has its very own waterpark.

creative ideas for a summer vacation
Top of Europe is a year-round vacation destination in Switzerland. Photo credit: Jungfrau Railways

8. Ride a Train to Top of Europe

Elsa was a fictional character in Disney’s “Frozen,” but you can experience a real world of ice – even in summer – at Top of Europe. Nestled at 11,332 feet elevation in the Swiss Alps, Jungfraujoch, Top of Europe has many year-round attractions including a walk-through Ice Palace.

From the base town of Grindelwald, ride the Eiger Express cableway to the Eiger Glacier Station. From there, hop aboard the Jungfrau Railway to Top of Europe. At the summit, there’s the Ice Palace, hiking trails and a Snow Fun Park. The park’s summer activities include snow tubing and ziplining. In winter, there’s skiing, snowboarding and other sports.

9. Explore Your Own Backyard

No, we don’t mean camping in the backyard. We’re talking about exploring your own area. That botanic garden you always meant to visit? The weird roadside attraction you’ve always driven past? There’s something to be said for staycations. They’re relaxing! And you’ll probably find something new to love about your hometown.

I don’t know about you, but I seem to always overlook the wonders closer to home, opting instead for heading to O’Hare Airport and a flight to somewhere more exotic. But there is so much to see in Chicago and within a day’s drive of the city.

Big multigenerational family at dinner
Travel with your besties — grandma and grandpa. Photo credit: Roman Samborskyi for Shutterstock

10. Make it a Family Affair

Gather the entire family for a memorable multi-generational vacation. There are small ships that cater to groups — think grandma and grandpa, sisters, brothers and their kids. Or rent a beach house where you can all spend time together. (Check out our beach vacation packing list before you go so you don’t forget anything!)

Rent a house with a pool for a socially distant vacation.
Rent a house with a pool. Photo credit: FamVeld via Shutterstock

11. Rent a House with a Pool

It doesn’t matter if the house is four blocks away or four hours — it’s NOT YOUR HOUSE. And IT HAS A POOL.

There’s something so relaxing for parents to sit on the deck and sip a glass of wine (from a non-breakable glass, of course) while the kids splash around. Unlike a public pool where I’m always nervously looking to make sure my kids’ heads are still above water, a private pool is so very chill.

When we stayed in a house with a private pool, I don’t think the kids got out of the pool except to eat (only because I refused to serve them lunch while they were still in the water) and to pee. At least I hope they got out of the pool to pee.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Find kid-friendly houses on VRBO by filtering results to include listings that have a private pool and that are highly rated for families. 

12. Book an RV

Forget the tent. Upgrade to an RV with the trimmings. Visit an RV rental site like RVshare and book one of the luxurious RVs. Some owners will even drive the rig to a campsite and set it up for you!

13. Go Glamping

This is camping for people (like me) who don’t really like to camp. It comes with a fancy tent and — this is the important part — an actual bed! Super glampy places even have air conditioning piped in.

When my husband and I glamped at Westgate River Ranch in Florida, we even got served coffee and muffins in the morning. That’s camping the right way! Check out these spots for glamping in Texas and glamping in California.

creative ideas for a summer vacation
Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone. It’s one of the biggest and most unique US National Parks. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

14. Visit a Unique National Park

We have 63 national parks in the US. In addition, the National Park System comprises 423 national park sites. The difference? Park sites fall into different National Park System categories like National Historic Sites, National Monuments, etc. That’s a lot of diverse terrain to cover! Here are some of our favorites:

  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve in Alaska. At 13.2 million acres, it’s larger than Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park and Switzerland combined.
  • Death Valley National Park. At 3.4 million acres, it’s the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the U.S.
  • Everglades National Park in Florida covers 1.5 million acres of wetlands, the largest tropical wilderness in the country.
  • Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Monument near San Francisco, California. It honors the worst homeland disaster of World War II. Some 320 African American sailors who served in segregated units at Port Chicago loading weapons and ammunition onto ships died when more than 5,000 tons of munitions exploded. The terrible tragedy was one of the events that led to the desegregation of the U.S. Navy and, subsequently, all U.S. armed forces. The memorial is on an active military base and reservations to visit are required at least two weeks in advance.

Whatever park you choose, expect crowds in summer. Especially for popular attractions like Old Faithful in Yellowstone. So, if possible, aim for late spring or early fall.  

15. Ditch the Kids and Head to a Vineyard

Staying overnight at a winery is a romantic getaway. Leave kids with Grandma, grab your significant other and head to the nearest overnight winery where you can relax and watch a sunset over the vineyards

Cindy Richards Avatar
Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of She also is the mom of two now grown kids who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
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2 responses

  1. We have rented a houseboat, traveled to parks and amusement parks in an Rv, gone camping, portaged canoes in the wilderness, experienced spas, stayed at b&b’s, etc But the older or disabled woman needs different types of vacations/experiences.. These also should be addressed.

  2. Thanks for these ideas! We’ve been exploring our hometown and surrounding towns, state parks, and other outdoor areas. We won’t eat inside a restaurant right now, but we are still supporting local eateries with drive thru or curbside service. My biggest issue is public restrooms while traveling. So far, we’ve stayed close enough to home that it hasn’t been too much of a problem, but it makes me so nervous!

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