Cheap (Vacation) Thrills

Families everywhere are tightening their belts, and many feel they can no longer afford a vacation. All work and no play is not your only option. With these tips, you can plan a fun, family getaway without breaking the bank.

Avoid peak travel times

Many airlines and destinations have specific peak periods when they expect heavy volumes of travel – think Miami Beach during college spring break weeks. Do a little bit of research on your destination to determine the least busy months, or contact a travel agent to help you. (Hint: May and September are non-peak months for many destinations.)

Look for deals

Airlines and hotels are feeling the pinch, too, and they need to make it more attractive for travelers to do business with them. Fortunately, there are middle men to negotiate these great deals for you. Companies such as Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline and Hotwire have tremendous leverage, enabling them to secure sizable discounts on airfare, lodging and car rentals, making your trip much more affordable. To make things simple, you can search several of these sites at once via Sidestep.com or Kayak.com.

Plan ahead... or don't

While careful planning can help you stay within your travel budget, sometimes it's smart to wait until the last minute. Smarter Travel lists fabulous deals on flights leaving your nearest airport. Instead of selecting a destination and then checking prices, pick a price first -- and see where you can go for the money.

Keep an open mind, and you may discover an affordable vacation spot you had never before considered!

Stay close to home

Many people never visit local attractions. This year, instead of looking across the country, investigate adventures that lurk nearby. You may find some real gems that you never realized existed – and you can use the money you would have spent on airfare on anything else!

Go Camping

One of the most affordable family vacations is camping. According to Affordable Family Vacations, a family of four can camp for under $1000, and that includes buying new gear. Save even more by borrowing or renting the equipment. Your kids will be around other kids and they'll get a good, healthy dose of the great outdoors.

You don't have to be Grizzly Adams to enjoy camping – most campsites include planned activities, bathrooms and showers, and some even provide Internet access!

Bring a friend

Family friends may be in the same vacation-wary predicament, but together you can create an affordable vacation. Save money by sharing accommodation costs. Book a vacation rental with a kitchen and make your own meals -- restaurant dining is one of the biggest expenses families face on vacation. Your kids can hang out together while the adults enjoy some grown-up conversation. Take turns babysitting so each couple has an opportunity for one romantic night out.

Forget vacation -- just have fun

Maybe a vacation just isn't within your financial reach right now. Fortunately, you don't have to look far for plenty of inexpensive daytrips that don't require a big investment!

Here are some ideas:

  • Grab a field journal and venture to a nearby park to identify leaves, wildflowers, insects and birds.
  • Visit historical landmarks to learn more about your region and local community. (Also see The benefits of staying local for cheap vacationing.)
  • Seek out local music festivals to expose your children to more than just what they hear on their iPod.
  • Get a taste of other cultures by dining at ethnic restaurants. (A little research beforehand will hive the experience more context.)
  • Visit a farm to see produce and livestock in their purest form.
  • Check out the local farmer's markets, and then go home to make something from your purchases.
  • Attend local fairs, carnivals, exhibits and galleries.

Set an itinerary for these activities and it will feel like a real vacation. (Get more ideas for a family "staycation" right here.)

 

All in all, vacations should be relaxing. If you're stressed about money, you won't enjoy a minute of your getaway. But with a little creativity and flexibility, you'll find that wonderfully affordable family vacation, regardless of your ultimate destination.

 

more about family travel and vacations

Stress-free family travel guide

Summer vacation ideas the whole family will enjoy

Turn your vacation into a staycation!

10 Must-haves when vacationing with kids

8 Great destinations for making memories that last

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