14 Things You Can Do Now to Prep for Your Best Summer Ever

In the past week, I have experienced Polar Vortex-level temperatures in the upper Midwest and then back-to-back wind and rainstorms in California. I have not seen the sun in days. All this weather has got me dreaming about what my family will do this summer.

But I can't just dream an epic summer into existence. I need to plan and prepare. Here are some things you — and I — can do in the gloom of winter to lay the groundwork for the best summer ever.

1. Reserve a Campsite

In some states, like California, state park sites book up devilishly early. In fact, a quick search of a couple of favorite beach campgrounds found them already booked for weekends throughout the summer. So if you haven't already booked any summer camp-outs, go to Reserve America and snag them before it's too late.

2. Arrange a Home Exchange

If you're able to take a sabbatical or work from home, consider swapping your house with someone far away for a change of scenery, even without using vacation time. If you have to report to work every day, try a temporary relocation to a different part of your region. For instance, since my husband has a 40-mile commute to his Silicon Valley job, I'm eyeing swaps with families who live within the same distance from his work, but in other directions, on HomeExchange.

3. Send the Kids to Camp

If you're a parent, time away from your job might not be as relaxing as time away from your kids. I should know, I have three little buggers of my own. Fortunately, there exists a wonderful institution to give you a vacation from parenting: sleep-away camp. Camp catalogs go out soon. Girl Scout, Boy Scout, church, and YMCA camps offer some of the best values. (See also: How to Save Money on Child Care This Summer)

4. Book a National Park Trip

The big-name parks book up fast. In fact, a random check of Yellowstone lodges for June showed that rooms are already getting hard to find. If you're planning to stay in — or even near — a National Park this summer, get going.

5. Buy Baseball Tickets

It's not as if it will be impossible to get seats in most ballparks after Opening Day, but still, wouldn't it be nice to see a big circle on the calendar around a July day and know you'll be spending it at the ballgame? My family received tickets to a Cubs game as a Christmas gift, and I'm already looking forward to that August event.

6. Figure Out Where You'll Be for the Solar Eclipse

In case you haven't heard, there will be a total solar eclipse August 21, but the full monty will only be viewable from certain parts of the United States. You'd better believe that campgrounds and other lodging in the path, which will follow an arc from Oregon to South Carolina, are selling out fast. August 21 is a Monday, so if you can do a long weekend and get there, it should be a sight to see as the moon takes a big bite out of the sun and then blots it out entirely, bringing out the stars in the middle of the day. We haven't had a total eclipse cross the whole country like this for about 100 years.

7. Plan Your Garden

Your dirt may be buried under snow, but that doesn't mean you can't sketch out new garden beds (there's even gardening software to help you do that now), ordering seeds, and starting seedlings indoors.

8. Research Major Summer Purchases on Your Wishlist

Is this the year you buy a boat or a camper, or even an inflatable dinghy? Most of the boat and RV shows are in winter and spring. Even if you're just going to dream, walking through a boat show can help pass chilly days with dreams of fishing and snorkeling.

9. Get Medical Procedures Out of the Way

This may not be as fun as booking vacations or boat shopping, but think about it: If you need a knee replacement, do you want to be laid of up for six weeks in summer or now? Might as well get those bunions removed while you're stuck inside anyway.

10. Learn to Scuba Dive

If you live near water, you might love exploring the underside of it this summer. Did you know you can start learning even if it's too cold to jump in right now? First of all, scuba certification involves a classroom portion, which you can take online. Then, there are classes you can take in heated pools to get you ready for dive season.

11. Buy Tickets to a Summer Theater Festival

For me, one of the highlights of summer is watching Shakespeare out in nature, whether it's at Wisconsin's American Players Theatre or the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Tickets are already available for some of these festivals, and even if they're not, the schedule is probably posted, so you can decide which shows you'll see. And if you're unable to travel to see these, check for local shows in your area.

12. Book Amtrak Tickets

Even more than flights, Amtrak trains can fill up early, especially those sleeper cars that make the journey more pleasant. Buy it now or you may find yourself sleeping in a seat.

13. Buy Theme Park Season Passes

Early bird discounts can net you some real savings on these. For instance, Six Flags Great America in Chicago is selling season passes for $75-$93 right now; full price runs $189-$250.

14. Work Out

I'm not talking about a "get your beach body" weight-loss program, because all bodies are welcome at the beach. I'm talking about cardio and strength training to build your endurance for those summer hikes and swims you're going to do. You won't regret it.

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14 Things You Can Do Now to Prep for Your Best Summer Ever

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