Instead of this: Trip to the zoo
Growing up we went to the zoo once per year. It was an hour’s drive from where I grew up, we spent the whole day there and it was a really big deal. In New York City where I live, there are four zoos within an hour’s drive from my home — a couple of them within 20 minutes. But the reason we tend to visit the zoo so often is that we have all come to expect special things all the time. So shelling out $84 for “Total Experience” tickets at the Bronx Zoo, plus parking and overpriced tourist food would have set me back close to $150.
We did this: Nature hike
I quenched my urge to spend time with animals by visiting a bird sanctuary in Westchester County. We hiked around the preserve, chatted with some fisherman about the day’s catch (blue fish), spotted a couple sandpipers and a horseshoe crab and ate a snack of homemade PB&J sandwiches, cheese and carrots while overlooking the sound, choppy with wind. We also created a memory when I decided to off-road.
While walking around the perfectly safe path, Indiana Mom landed the three of us in a thorny thicket — from which our escape would have been made easier with a machete — that required me to take enormously high steps with my riding boots to stomp down the prickly growth. For this experience we gave a $10 donation. This was followed by a trip to the town where we strolled through the cute shops and lunched at the local pizza parlor.
Spendy activity price: $150
Budget activity price: $22
Verdict: Sure it can be scary — in a fun way! — to see snakes behind a glass wall. But it is even more scary — in a questionable way — to wonder if your children will be ensnared in thistles.
Plus, time in a quiet, unpopulated preserve on a beautiful fall day was far more refreshing than battling weekend crowds at one of the biggest zoos in the country. Exploring the underside of upturned logs and the rocky beach at low tide did far more to connect us as a family than pointing at encaged animals.