Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Planning a Family Vacation - on a budget!

I put together a few of these tips for a Yahoo article but I thought I'd pass them on to all of you, since there are still a few weeks of summer vacation left. Matt and I chose not to take an official vacation this year in favor of a few smaller trips (Josh's wedding in Alabama, a visit to my Mum in NY, my recent Nashville weekend, and another trip to see his parents in South Carolina next week). This has not only been a little easier on our vacation budget, but has also given us the opportunity to see friends and family and to experience even more parts of the United States. It's been a win-win situation and definitely a plan I'd recommend. Of course, everyone's vacation ideals are different, so read on and see if any of these ideas appeal to you and your family!

1. Explore Your Own Backyard
It seems everyone is talking about 'staycations' these days, but this doesn't mean you have to pitch a tent in your literal backyard. Lace up your hiking boots and look for National Parks or other areas of natural beauty close to home. Pack a picnic basket and spread a blanket in your local park. Play tourist in your own city, complete with camera and guidebook (free, from the local library, of course). Focus on the sights, smells and sounds around you and suddenly a place you've seen a hundred times before becomes somewhere new and worth exploring.

2. Free is Your Friend
Most cities and even small towns have a variety of fun free attractions if you look hard enough, and summer is the perfect time to search these spots out. Visit the local farmer's market to pick up fresh produce and teach your kids about food prep and farming. Cheer on the runners at a local race or pack the stands for the community baseball league. Does your town offer outdoor movie screenings? Is your library hosting a book club? A free weekend jazz festival? All of these provide great, no-cost entertainment and opportunities to discover new interests.

3. Avoid Peak Travel Times
If you're eager to venture farther afoot, a little prior planning can save you a lot of money. Avoiding holiday weekends and peak travel times not only cuts the costs of hotel rooms and attractions, but might also spare you hours stuck in holiday traffic, burning a hole in your gas tank. Head out midweek, or right before school starts, to make the most of low travel times.

4. Do-it-Yourself Dining
Food is often one of the biggest vacation expenses, and one of the easiest areas to save a few pennies. Many vacation homes and hotel rooms come equipped with kitchenettes - use them! Regular readers know that I have a whole series on hotel room home cooking! Purchase fresh fruit, cereal and breakfast fixings (pancakes are inexpensive and festive!) before heading out, or visit a local grocery store to stock up on lunch essentials. You can still enjoy local cuisines if you plan a few meals out per week or budget a small daily indulgence (a pastry in a cafe, ice-cream on the boardwalk, etc.). If you really must go out each day, make it a lunch date - many restaurants serve slightly smaller, cheaper entrees for the midday meal.

5. Friends and Family
Splitting the cost of a trip is another great way to trim vacation costs, without sacrificing experience. Inviting another family along also means playmates for the kids and another set of adult eyes to keep things under control. Plus, going halves on that beach house, or cabin in the woods, means more room in the budget for entertainment, food and leisure.

6. Sleep Cheap
Considering non-traditional lodging can reap big rewards. This is another one of my favorites, and a tip Matt and I have used many times. Bed-and-breakfasts are often cozier than hotels - and cheaper, too! Hostels may seem rugged, but many have separate family rooms and are very kid-friendly. Camping is a great way to teach children outdoor skills and self-reliance.

7. Go Low-Tech
Remember the great, free things you did as a child? Roasting s'mores around a campfire, playing board games for hours or chasing fireflies in the evening? Your kids will still enjoy these things and you can give them a summer they'll always remember - without spending a cent.

These are just a few ideas for low-cost summer fun - get creative and come up with some of your own to suit the interests of you and your family!


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  2. Thanks a lot for sharing this post - you offer a lot of useful tips and advice! While we all want to get away and enjoy a vacation, they aren't cheap! I always encourage people to plan ahead and shop around to get discounts. In doing so, you can find cheap vacation packages, discount flight tickets, and save money so that when vacation comes you can use cash and not your credit card!