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How to take a fun and restful staycation with your kids

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Budgeting for family fun

What's on the agenda for your holiday weekend? A cabin at the lake? A week camping? For many, these "away vacations" just aren't happening this year. Why? Have you seen gas prices lately? Fueling stations have been left to print up extra numbers to accommodate the unprecedented use of 3s and 4s. But just because you aren't going anywhere out of town doesn't mean that you can't have a fun and fancy-free vacation with your family!

Mom taking pictures of daughters
When money is tight and the budget is pinched, it can catch your breath . . . but it doesn't have to end all the fun. Lloyd's BBQ Company Family Manager Kathy Peel says that staycations can be a lot of fun for families. "Arm yourself with ideas and supplies for activities and outings, and prepare your backyard for fun," Peel says. She advises keeping old clothes handy for messy projects, stocking up on the essentials -- like paper plates and cups as well as pest control and sunscreen.

But what are you going to do? Well, no matter how much - or how little - you spend, you can create great memories for your children.

Here are some ideas for no cost, low cost and a splurge staycation fun:

No cost

Check out the parks in your area. They can be a load of fun. Some have playgrounds and trails available for use. Others even have grilling areas set up. Load the kids into the car and head to the park for a bike ride, walk, rollarblade or picnic. Pack a lunch from whatever you have in the cupboards and spread out an old blanket. Let your children direct the play and have a fun afternoon outside. "After a picnic at a park, turn an ordinary walk into an alphabet hunt. Help your pre-schooler find things that begin with "A", then "B", and so on," Peel suggests.

Also, read your newspaper (it may even be available for free online). Local orgnaizations like nature centers often have free activities for young and old -- hikes, crafts, etc. You can also keep an eye out for local fairs and festivals with free admission. Local libraries also often have free programs for the public.

Low cost

Head to the farmer's market! Walking leisurely through the farmer's market and chatting with the business owners can be a lot of fun. Let your kids each choose one or two foods to try. Then go home and cook together. Don't know how to make something? The Internet is full of great recipes -- you just have to look.

You can also plan a day of searching for the best "tag sales." Give everyone in your family a budget and have them manage their own money. Go from tag sale to tag sale in your town (they are often advertised in the newspaper classified ads). Then go home and look at how each family member spent their money. You might even learn something about them!

A splurge

Plan a day trip in your area. Try to choose somewhere that is no more than an hour and a half away so that you don't lose precious time driving. Start by researching what's available in your area. Are there children-geared museums that you aren't familiar with? A small amusement park? "Just like you would research things to do at any vacation spot, do some online research about activities and outing ideas in your area. Decide how many you can work into your budget and schedule, and put "staycation" days on your calendar," Peel says.

Once you choose your spot, get ready for it like you would any vacation. " Before an outing, do everything you can in advance— go to the ATM machine, stock your diaper bag, lay out everyone's clothing, pack non-perishables in your picnic basket—so that you'll have minimal preparation and more time for fun. Be sure to dress your kids in clothes that are easy to get on and off during restroom visits," Peel says.

End note

Just because you aren't going away doesn't mean you can't get away. Plan carefully and treat your staycation as a chance to bond with family -- not a chance to catch up on housework. And, Peel says, take lots of pictures! "Don't forget to save the memories just like you would on vacation away from home."

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