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October 13, 2015 1:05 PM EDT

In the weeks leading up to our first child’s second birthday, my husband posed a simple but unexpected question.

“Why do we need to throw a birthday party every year?”

On our daughter’s first birthday, we had thrown the big, traditional house party with all of our friends and family invited. We were first-time parents, so as she was about to turn 2, the answer to his question was something I had never even considered.

It wasn’t that he felt we shouldn’t celebrate the day. He just didn’t see the need to have a big, expensive party every year when there were other things we could do to mark the occasion.

As a person who admittedly loves planning the parties more than I love hosting them, I resisted, feeling that something was being stripped from me. I was caught up in the practice of the annual party planning after looking at all of the parenting magazines and websites that presented such adorable ideas.

But money was tight in those days when I was only working part time, and the kids were young, so I agreed to go along with it, at least for a trial run.

What I found totally surprised me.

The first non-party year was a complete success. We chose to take our daughter on a memory-making adventure and then return home for a quiet family dinner. We had a blast. Our daughter felt so special because she was the total center of our attention all day, and for us, it was nice not to have to share her with a crowd of people. It was a family day, and we still remember it fondly.

Of course, this new plan was a lot easier to pull off too. I skipped all the cleaning and baking. I wasn’t worried about how many items each goodie bag had in it or when to pick up the balloons on order. What we would have spent on feeding the kids and parents at a party, we spent on admission at our destination. I was relaxed and enjoyed our day together, focusing all of my attention on our sweet little birthday girl.

Two kids in and several years of birthdays later, we have continued the tradition. We alternate party years with trip years.

We have gone on trips to the Philadelphia Zoo, Cape May Zoo, Ocean City Boardwalk amusements, the Delaware Children’s Museum, Adventure Aquarium in Camden and even to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Our kids like the pattern as well. Their even ages, like 6 and 8, are party years, and the odd ages like 5 and 7 years old are trip years.

We all get into the planning of it, scouting locations and coming up with an itinerary. And as a birthday gift to us as their parents, we get the bonus of getting to capture a few more private moments from what is escaping us each year they become older – their childhood.

Here are some of the places we have either been or are scouting for next year’s adventure if you’d like to try it out:

  • Insectropolis: The Bug Museum of New Jersey, a learning center that is home to thousands of insects ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre. Go to http://www.insectropolis.com/
  • Garden State Discovery Museum in Cherry Hill boasts interactive exhibits such as the Subaru Service Station where kids can work on a car to the Cooper Children’s Regional Hospital Station where they can test out their surgery skills. Go to http://www.discoverymuseum.com/
  • Delaware Children Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, is another great place for kids to explore. It contains a banking area with an ATM machine and simulated drive-through banking services in addition to an interactive stream that lets kids get wet in their exploration of the power of water. Go to http://www.delawarechildrensmuseum.org/
  • Edelman Planetarium at Rowan University just began offering family-friendly shows that will excite the kids about what lies above in outer space. Go to http://www.rowan.edu/planetarium/ for an updated schedule.
  • Stratosphere Trampoline Park in Hainesport contains a hurricane simulator, a mechanical bull and dodgeball arena in addition to plenty of space for open jumping and tumbling. Go to http://www.hainesporttrampolinepark.com/

Laura Stetser is a full-time reporter and mother of two school-age children. She lives in southern New Jersey and writes for www.shorenewstoday.com. Connect with her Facebook and Twitter @TheMomsBeat or via email at laura.stetser@catamaranmedia.com. This article originally appeared on Shore News Today

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