5 reminders if you want to squeeze in that last-minute summer vacation!

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1. Be spontaneous.

Kids love road trips!

Kids love road trips!

The calendar says it’s time for the next school year to begin, and you’re fretting because that magical family vacation you dreamed of never materialized. It’s okay, the infamous school essay, ‘What I did on my summer vacation,’ is a myth.

The good news is that there’s still time for you to make a memory your children will carry with them into homeroom and beyond.

Consider a “mini-vacation,” such as a road trip to the beach  (Click here for a video trip to Bay St. Louis) or a day trip to Gulfport, where you can swing through the trees at the Zip’N Fun Adventure Park. (To see how much fun our Travel Girl had on the 50-game obstacle course, click here!)

What will create the most smiles? Maybe there’s time for a quick train trip – or go to City Park and splurge on a gondola ride! You can feel as if you’re in Venice, if only for an hour.

2. Most kids don’t care if you’re taking them across town or across the ocean. Just take them!

Picking flowers in the country is a great memory.

Picking flowers in the country is a great memory.

If you’re down to the wire, think: STAYCATION. That’s when you stay close to home but act like you’re on vacation. More good news: We live in New Orleans, where there’s no end to the list of activities families can enjoy together, many of which are free!

Remember, it’s all about creating a travel mindset, and staycations can be just as effective as faraway journeys if you do them right.

Go for a hike in Couturie Forest in City Park. Pick wildflowers and press them in a scrapbook. Ride your bike down the levee along River Road — or, if you need to beat the heat, head for Laser Tag, the Insectarium or one of the multiple Chuck E. Cheese’s  in New Orleans.

If your budget allows, consider a Swamp Tour, the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, or one of the historical tours in the French Quarter. If you really want to feel as if you’re away, check into a local hotel — look for mid-week deals or flash sales.

Click here for the ‘official’ online guide to New Orleans, and be sure to sign up for the newsletter too, so you can #followyournola.

3. Let everyone play ‘travel agent.’

Kids can help plan a vacation.

Kids can help plan a vacation.

If you want your kids to care deeply about your vacation, give them a job to do! This can work for staycations or journeys across the planet.

This is a great opportunity to allow the teenagers to stay attached to their electronics — but put them to work at the same time.

Everyone gets a travel assignment: someone looks for great restaurants, someone else checks out the nearby activities, another family member is in charge of digging up deals. Tourism board websites are always a great place to start.

Small children (who love to draw!) can be in charge of making luggage tags for everyone. Take them to the local office supply store and get them laminated — your tot will be super-proud!

4. Have a themed dinner to kick off planning for a big trip.

Have a picnic-style meal to discuss your future picnic at the beach!

Have a picnic-style meal to discuss your future picnic at the beach!

Dreaming of a picnic at the beach? Have a picnic-style dinner to discuss it.

This is also a great time to consider your travel plans for the rest of the year, and even Spring Break 2017. Get everyone in the spirit by announcing that you’ll be discussing holiday travel plans so they need to wear red and green to dinner. Or tell everyone to dress according to the destination they would like to visit during spring break. The kids might roll their eyes, but they will do it and you’re already creating memories.

If you know you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, have a luau. Heading to Mexico? Tacos for dinner!

With the holidays approaching, now’s the time to check prices on tickets that you are absolutely certain you’ll need to buy. Sign up now for “e-mail” alerts so that you find out immediately when the price dips. This can save you hundreds of dollars.

TripAdvisor is one site that offers that service.

Something else to think about: the shoulder season between Labor Day and Thanksgiving – and the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas – are both times when there are great travel deals to be had. So, if you’re a flexible traveler (e.g. empty-nesters who don’t need to worry about school schedules, or parents with little ones young enough to fly without school concerns) it’s a great time to take a trip at a discount.

5. Don’t stress about packing for the kids.

Swimming at the hotel pool across town can be fun too!

Swimming at the hotel pool across town can be fun too!

If it’s the idea of packing that has you clinging to your home address, stop stressing!

All you really need on vacation is cash/credit cards, your identification and the right attitude.

Unless you’ve hired a photographer to take a once-in-a-lifetime family photo on the beach, who cares if the kids are wearing clothes that don’t match? And if your 8-year-old wants to wear her cowboy boots to the beach, so what?

Maybe you forgot your bathing suit or a beach towel. Don’t get upset, just get a new one. Weren’t you planning to purchase a souvenir anyway?

Follow our Travel Girl, Stephanie Oswald, on Twitter @travelgirlsteph and on Instagram at #stephanieoswaldwgno.

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